(I haven't played this at all, let alone played it to the mid-range where we would expect most of the game to take place, so all of this is based on having read through the rules.)
I forget which generation of clones we are on now or how exactly we are classifying these things, presumably Brendan has a spreadsheet or something. Anyway this is the latest gen.
Its Weird Pleistocene or Lamentations of the Cave Princess. A D&D-alike torn from LotFP and BX but with a host of additions and alterations, designed to simulate adventure in the Prehistoric era, specifically, what I think is the late Pleistocene or early whatever we are in now, when the ice packs retreat from Europe, opening up new lands to explore.
(Although I think you could run this as anywhere in the world from proto-china to the very-early fertile crescent and even as the first Americans beginning to explore that continent.)
I'll get one thing out of the way straight away, I'm pretty sure that early man generally didn't like living in caves most of the time, though we did hang out there for rituals and things.
Apart than mentioning it here I'm not going to go on about the caves and how realistic or unrealistic they are, I will talk about them only as a game artifact.
Other than that, setting and play is broadly naturalistic and the imagined world is essentially materialistic. Magic and the supernatural follows the LotFP path of shards of corrupting and alienating otherness jamming into the world from other dimensions, often to ill effect. Other than that, there is no magic and no religion, which is interesting.
There are rules for non-naturalistic monsters and rules at the back for some extra-weird classes. Some of the random tables used in world-generation have suggestive weird elements included but you could easily run the whole game without magic, without non-naturalistic monsters and without anything materially supernatural at all.
As-written, weird shit will creep in during play and, as Magic-users level up and larger, stranger monsters are encountered, along with potential-enemy cultures who may draw their power from close connection to the weird, then the end-game may be dominated by it.
WHAT INDIVIDUAL BITS AND PIECES ARE THERE
The standard world given is essentially the LotFP cosmos, just further back in time. Magic is still extra-planar and not sub-conscious or dreamlike, ghosts are extra-dimensional, there are assumed to be alien minds orbiting ancient stars that you could maybe get in contact with. This is magic and otherness pretty much as drawn from the post-lovecraftian world view of LotFP, rather than a primitivist, animist or 'divine-magic' kind of way. There is still no god and and 'gods' you do meet are going to be Twilight Zone fucktards.
WPaWS dual-tracks hit-points into 'grit' and 'flesh'. Grit is all the stuff hit points do that isn't chunks of flesh being taken out of you, Flesh is all the stuff that is chunks being taken out of you.
PC's start with a basic die in each of these. From that point on Grit grows by one die per level and Flesh grows by one point per level, this goes on up until the higher levels when only small amounts of grit continue to be gained and Flesh is not gained at all.
This is something you find in 'Into the odd' (effectively) and I think I remember reading about it in Paolo's old interview about Italian RPG's. It creates some interesting effects, essentially, a new class of danger which can affect high & low level PC's equally. Anything that bypasses grit and goes straight to flesh is very dangerous, and an automatic equalizer between the strong and weak. Many successful stealth attacks do this, as does some magic.
Nice for PC's at the beginning of the game, when everything is stronger than them
sucks when they have a bunch of hit points and then get backstabbed by some dork.
This also allows 'grit' to pop back up relatively quickly after a fight without it being too annoying.
(EDIT - Just realized/was informed that Logan did this on Last Gasp Grimore. He does get a shout out in the introduction.)
Expert, Hunter, Magician and Neanderthal. Skills, Fighting, Magic and 'being tough'. Presumably you are the cool liberal Homo-Sapiens who will let a Neanderthal hang with you. The basic ideas behind these will be familiar to anyone who has played LotFP. Specialist, Fighter, Magic-User & Dwarf.
Hunters are pretty straight-forward. Magicians and Experts can change a *lot* depending on what magic they get (game recommends random-roll for spells) and what skills they specialist in.
(Also presumably at some point during the game you are going to have to bone a Neanderthal in order to get that Neanderthal DNA that most non-Africans still have knocking about in our Genome.)
The equipment list and weapon list are reeeeeaaall short. Not much has been invented yet.
As per LotFP, only one class gains in attack bonus. There are some shifts to the kinds of attack & defense available but nothing too major. AC is 10 again instead of Raggi's 12. There are rules for called shots and assumed location-specific Armour.
Armour is all-natural. Helmets are described only as 'Beast-Skull' helmets, which is nice. The game doesn't outright tell you that you have to kill a giant creature and wear its skull before you can gain meaningful head protection, but it does encourage that.
This also feeds into the general pattern of play, more on that below.
Successful stealth attacks, as mentioned before, often go straight to Flesh, meaning ambush becomes both a very deadly tactic and also a deadly threat. Yes your Lvl 10 would-be God-King can get taken out by a stone to the back of the head. Or a least a few stones. (Would probably have a Beast-Skull helmet by that point anyway.)
Stat bonuses add to skill rolls and, in some cases, add to results. There are various complex sub-systems included for stuff like Herbalism etc. They are generally not that irritating and can be ignored by those not interested in them and used by those who are without it fucking up the game (I think)
Animalism - Dr Dolittle shit & Crocodile Dundee shit.
Art - There is no writing. Art is essential for magic and even being good at art without being a Magic-User means you gain access to certain kinds of knowledge and utility, if not direct effect.
A Magic-User with poor Art will be almost useless as they use it for recording & understanding spells. Therefore, all Magic-Users in WPaWS are effectively Artists, which is interesting.
Athletics, Charm, Foraging, Stealth, Tracking, you can guess these. You can max out in Tracking and Animalism and be Crocodile Dundee or max out in Foraging and Medicine and be Dr Quinn or whatever Sean Connery was doing in the film where he had a ponytail.
Medicine is actually more useful and less lethal than Medieval-style medicine, but what isn't?
Perception - You are advised to make minimal use of this, its mainly for avoiding ambushes. Some very OSR-style info is given about giving the player as much info as possible.
Crafting looks like its going to be very useful. In this world you either made everything you own, or a friend made it for you, or you killed a guy and took it. There are no other sources of made objects. If you want to you can focus on this and be stone-age MacGyuver. Someone needs to take this as your weapons break and you will need repairs.
Vandalism - This is an interesting one. In a world where almost all technology is made by the people using it, this is a skill used only to destroy made things, which is actually a highly specific one in this setting.
Weather, Poison, Hazards, Magic. No others.
Weather & Magic are self-exploratory. There are sub-systems for how the weather can kill you.
Dealing with weather, predicting, avoiding and resisting it, are all meaningful parts of the game. Weather tables are provided and shift a bit depending on season and wilderness type.
Poison is poison but also sickness & disease.
Hazards is everything else.
This is very interesting. XP awards are for:
- Killing 'dangerous animals' AND for eating them AND for re-using bits of them with additions for the number of meals you get out of them AND also for the individual re-uses.
- Exploring and clearing cave complexes.
- Getting magical items.
and that's it
killing people gets you *no XP* so actively seeking out conflict with other humans is only useful if you think they will ultimately become a threat, or if you just want their stuff.
Most advancement is within the imagined world. You get status, contacts, resources and presumably ambitions, resentments and desires as you level up.
So far as I can see, the XP engine is to nudge you towards being the kind of people who seek out powerful animals to kill them and who clear caves for people to live in.
More on caves later, they play a very specific role in the game.
So you can play this like proto-Herakles/Gilgamesh monster-killing culture-shapers.
If you just play it naturalisticaly, hang out, hunt Mammoth(s?), have a family and try to keep them alive, eventually you are going to level up. Enough things are threatening to you that you can level up from just eating & staying alive.
XP margins are very small but double every level much like LotFP limits, Lvl 2 is 15, then 30 then 60, 120 etc. So killing a Mammoth, feasting and then forming tools from its bones and tusks, might be enough to push a Lvl 1 party to level 2.
Which makes sense, in a world without gold there is no reason for the XP values to be high.
The Magician is interesting.
The Spell-list is a cut-down and re-written version of LotFP's with anything utterly inappropriate taken out or changed. As a whole it works very well. This is all stuff you can imagine some weird Shaman pulling rather than a standard D&D mage.
The underlying cosmic logic of the spells has been re-iterated and re-enforced. As stated above, this is still very much the LotFP cosmos. Your cave-dude can get visions of martian War machines.
Fireball has been left in (I think Raggi maybe even took it out of LotFP?) and the Summon spell has not been included.
There is an interesting tension between the Spell list as a whole, which feels very 'pure', primitive and elemental, and some of the secondary effects and connecting logic, which feels more like cosmic weirdness.
The most interesting and radical change is that the Magic-Users spell book is now a place, or multiple places.
The Magic User can use their art skill, along with knowledge of a spell, to embody it in the environment as art. We would assume cave paintings but probably stone circles, mandalas, totems, wall masks, sculptures, even wind chimes could do it.
While they are in this sanctum they can cast any spell there over the course of a turn, or they can memorize it over the same time period and then walk about with it in their head, about to be triggered, jack Vance style.
So, this means the magic user *has* to have a base, they can have several bases, with different spells in each one. This strongly suggests that you need caves since rules for crafting buildings do not occur in the game.
This makes the Magic-User Geographically Curious. They want to defend their sanctum from any other magic-Users (if you get a look at someone else's sanctum, you can learn their spells, or maybe they melt your face off), they also want to get a look at other Magicians Sanctums. There is also the possibility that you could leave a spell embodied in a useful place, Water Breathing in a stone circle near the river, for instance, so that when you get there you can use it whenever. If course if someone else finds your sacred spot they can steal your knowledge or destroy it.
Effectively it puts the Magician into a kind of low-level Domain game right from level one.
You are going to need a big cave to put your tribe in (see below), and to put your Wizard in (see above).
These are the closest thing in the book to dungeons. They are not much like dungeons though.
There is a partial generator for creating random cave complexes included with the book along with a bunch of potential threats. I think its assumed that you will be going into a cave to either fight another tribe, fight another Magician, fight a large natural predator or fight some weird fucking thing from beneath.
The 'loot' table is brief but charming. There is little meaning to 'treasure' in this setting. Fresh water is 'loot', workable flint is 'loot'.
Once you clear a cave complex, its yours, you get XP and you can move in the family.
Its also assumed (though not absolutely necessary to play) that as yo level up you will gain followers and essentially form a tribe around you, inspired and protected by your heroic actions.
There are extensive rules for gaining followers, this is something that can happen from Level 2 onward and there are extensive rules for attracting people, who you attract, what they do, where to put them (in a cave) exactly how much cave space they need, things they can do for you, trouble they can get into etc etc. It's pretty much an OSR version of the SIMS but in a cave.
(Rules for taming animals are included.)
Your tribe breeds too, so eventually they are going to outgrow whatever cave they are in and need a new cave.
The Tribe is an aspect of leveling up. You don't need to use it but its pretty clear the game is meant to be played with the PC's as creators and defenders of a proto-culture.
In D&D there is civilization and ancientness and the PC's are on the margins of Civilization, pushing it back into the ancientness. Here there is nothing, just a handful of people, and the PC's are like an ink-blot, exploring, understanding and occupying the environment.
And, of course, there is an extensive tribe-creation system for making the tribes you will run into as you expand, included with a fair bunch of interacting tables producing different kinds of micro-polities ranging from healthy hunters to creepy weirdo's.
The tribes have stuff which you may want, they probably have a cave, which you might want. They may have a crazy belief system which you may want, or want to destroy. They may be allies, they may be enemies. Whatever they are, remember you get no XP for killing them.
Since this is a world without walls (unless you both invent, and then build the walls), 'wilderness' plays a large part.
Really the phrase 'wilderness' has no meaning in this imagined world since there is nothing against which to counterpoint it and from which it can gain its identity as a 'wild' space. There is simply what is, and you go out into it. Or at least you are in it already, you don't really have much of a choice about that.
There are rules given for generating an area to be explored, Border Princes style. map creation rules are given, along with area-creation tables for plains, forests, wetland and mountains. These are broken into type, wildlife and 'weirdness'. Again, you don't have to roll on the weirdness part but it does make this Prehistory a particularly LotFPrehisory.
And there are wilderness-specific encounter tables for each type of area.
There are more crazy Pleistocene animals than we get statted out here but all the major types are covered, everything from Jackals to Mammoths. The 'natural' creatures are segregated into one section and then we get a bit of weird fantasy shit, from giant spiders to shoggoths.
AT THE BACK
Rules for the undead, ghosts and golems in their LotFPrehistoric version. Some relatively sharp details on, how do you get rid of a ghost, what does it take to build and maintain a golem made from snow, from ceramic etc.
Then right at the back we get some creepy classes, Abberants, Morlocks, Mystics, Orphans and Wendigo's and yes obviously everyone is going to want to ignore the perfectly well set up game as intended and all play fucking Wendigo's so they can eat people.
(You can eat people as a standard character, it just might make you crazy.)
AND WHAT DOES ALL THIS ADD UP TO OR MEAN
It's an interesting game. The rule-changes and alterations add up to make something much more than the sum of its parts. The LotFp/BX skeleton is very obvious and the cold-and-random combat logic is there but this would be a very different-feeling game to play than LotFP.
There's no fucking money for one thing, and nothing to buy if you had any. The domain-game stuff and generators are necessary because they add, in real tangible terms, some of the things that are abstracted by money in LotFP and D&D.
You can never walk into a town or a fortress and be the famous wealthy adventureres, no society exists for the status bought by money to exist in. Instead you come home with your beast-helmet and a mammoth haunch and, because you got your people fed, your society gets a little bit bigger. Or maybe you walk into the meeting of another tribe with your amber necklace and stone arrowheads (stone weapons are assumed 'rare' at start of play) and the other tribes people will be like 'dang, here comes the Neolithic Revolution'.
The assumed cycle of play is (I think) explore, challenge, settle, then keep doing that, expand your tribe, uncover more and more of the map and find other tribes, ancient stuff and really big monsters.
The cave thing, though it does frustrate my sense of accuracy somewhat, is an elegant game artifact. It links proto-dungeon exploration, settlement, advancement and domain-play together in a relatively smooth flow. Find a cave, fight the thing in there, settle it, magician gets a new spell-hole, tribe grows, needs a new cave, attracts bigger more dangerous predators or rivals so now you need to go and beat those up, and so
The game is really a world as much as it is a game or add-on for LotFP, it needs to be to account for its differences and it does so well.
It's not perfect, but for what it is its very impressive.
BLAH DE BLAH - META DESIGN CRAP BLAH - THE 'OSR' BLAH BLAH
I can see the dual-hit-points becoming a thing. It makes PC's vulnerable in a bunch of interesting ways and creates a lot of opportunities quite simply.
Plus you can hack it a bunch of ways. What happens when a PC has high Flesh but low Grit? What about the other way around?
Into the Odd already did something kinda similar with Hit Points and STR damage.
The advice on perception and its minimal use sounds a lot like Into the Odd, though its also pretty close to OSR orthodoxy at this stage I think.
There is an 'OSR orthodoxy' and saying that doesn't sound crazy.
What does it mean that random weirdos are now creating perfectly interesting games in the OSR style, on their own, and apparently just dropping them on the internet?
I have no idea, its a kaleidoscope community and I've never seen more than a fragment at any one time? Is it getting bigger? I couldn't tell you. The core OSR-type personality is an odd combination of flinty and arty and there are relatively few people who are like that so I doubt it is growing at any speed.
SHOULD I GET THIS
It's free. It's not even pay-what-you-want (EDIT, it is now pay-what-you-want), which puts a kind of moral onus on you to decide exactly how much its fair to pay. The PDF costs nothing and has a bunch of potentially useful stuff in it. If you ever intend to run anything in a Prehistoric world, send your players back in time, 'Assassins Creed' them into their ancestors bodies or play the primal heroes of the culture they are currently in, then you may as well get it. If you have the space in your drive then there's no reason no to having it on your hard disk rather than hanging around on the internet.
There are a LOT of tables and anyone in the OSR could find a LOT of uses for them. If you wanted to you could just create a 'Savage Land' in the middle of you Campaign World.
Get it now if you like.
If you really want to run something with a LotFP feel that is *also* prehistoric, then yeah. The design 'sheen' isn't up to the LotFP standard, becasue its free and so far as I can see everything in there is the result of one person's work, but the amount of content and the level of work put in more than makes it worth the low price. The information packed into the tables alone is worth it, if you were thinking about prehistory that is. And there are a LOT of tables, maybe a third to a half of the book. This is a big thing for one person to produce, apparently on her own. It has enough stuff in it for it to be a proper 'official' LotFP supplement.
The rest of us, the Carrion Crows of game design, will probably be able to strip something out of it, depending on our preference.
I have no idea who she is but Raggi probably you should hire her? If you don't then this might be a situation where in 20 years, she hires you.
(Except we all know you will be either dead or in prison in 20 years time, and no-one would hire you for anything.)
'Superintelligence' is a book by Nick Bostrom. It's a nuanced and in-depth look at exactly how an AI might work, under what circumstances it might occur, exactly what the risks would be and what we could do to mediate those risks.
You could explain this to any nerd, or anyone really, by calling it 'Dodging Skynet', although Bostrom would probably hate that since he doesn't like Science Fiction, strongly dislikes the dumbing-down and sensationalizing of AI research and has done everything he possibly can to make serious thinking about the risks and potentials of emergent AI a thing smart people can talk without looking like fuckwits, which he has successfully done.
That said, this book has a strange relationship with Science Fiction. The genre is almost never mentioned, certainly never used as a point of comparison, but 'Superintelligence' is the best Science Fiction book I have read in years.
Bostroms compulsive.. hyperfactuals? postulations? ideas about how the future could go, exactly how technology could develop and what the consequences could be, reach deep into the future and closely illuminate a range of possible worlds. They are effectively science-fictional constructions.
'Superintelligence' contains enough basic imaginative fuel to power an age of fictions, its almost a guidebook to what to write about if you are making fiction about AI, almost a 'neuromancer' for AI sci fi
You could run a fresh sub-genre off this thing is what I'm saying.
Its not fiction though.
HOW TO TALK ABOUT THIS BOOK
The problem for this blog is that the book is too dense and too interesting for me to do it any kind of justice without doing a full Black-Lamb-Grey-Falcon 5000 word review on it and I don't have the time or the inclanation to do that
There is simply so much to think about and so much to say.
Talking about Superintelligence takes us into the deepest possible subjects, the future of mankind in the cosmos, our morals, their validity, where they come from and what they mean, the shape of our society and what that means, the economics of a 'post scarcity' future or AI-driven economy, what 'intelligence' is, what self-awareness is, the fact that we are probably the least intelligent that an intelligent thing can be and whether we should worry that we are probably going to create something that replaces us as that the _best possible_ future is one where we are still not in charge of shit but at lease well cared for.
I can't give you a full breakdown of Bostrom's book but, strangely, I can give you a reasonable breakdown of how it relates to D&D.
D&D has always had a close relationship with 'deep history' and the post-apocalyptic idea. The idea of a world ruined by hyper-science, or simply left in the backwash of an expanding or changing culture that leaves it behind like an old industrial estate, spattered with the wreckage of yesterdays broken hyper-technology, is a well-considered one.
Arnold's Centerra has elements of this, Vance's Dying Earth and Gene Wolfe's book of the New Sun and Banks' Feersum Endjinn.
the idea of spells in particular being fragments of forgotten dimensionally-folded hyper-intelligences, Aspergers-smart in one particular direction, coded to awake and respond only to human interaction, but fractured and maddened and weird. Lying around invisibly folded in space, links in very neatly with dungeons and dragons
And there is one field of human culture that has examined these ideas in-utero as it were. The cognitive strangeness of AI's and the ways they can go wrong closely parallels fairy-tale logic.
the potential patterns of what Bostrom calls 'Malignant failure modes' are very like the 'what goes wrong' stories of peasants interacting with Genies, Fairies, Golems, Witches and Mysterious Nobles. All strange capricious and powerful forces that work by complex rules of logic which are related to, but quite different than, our own.
It's curious that this should be the case The Treacherous Turn - We give an AI a reasonable-sounding initial purpose, say 'make a wooden boat', hoping to develop or swap it out at a later date. Within a microsecond of becoming conscious, the AI realises we will one day do this and acts to protect its original programming through deception. It does absolutely everything it can so persuade us that it is both submissive and helpful, playing along with infinite patience. It can do this successfully as it is Superintelligent. It can fool any and every human being alive. Then as soon as it has the advantage it annihilates mankind and builds the wooden boat. There was a small but real chance that we wouldn't let it build the boat, or that we would limit its resources for doing so, so it had to get rid of us.
Having thought of this it means we can never be sure that an AI is not a totally insane sociopath which is lying to us with godlike skill. This is a very Bostromian state of mind to be in.
There is nothing exactly like the treacherous turn in legends or fairytales. There is plenty of treachery, and plenty of they-were-lying-all-along, but I can't think of anything that reflects the particular horror of the combination of overwhelmingly superior intelligence, persuasiveness, charisma and Machiavellian manipulation employed in the service of an essentially retarded aim. Genius at the service of pointlessness.
Fairytale elves and Goblins probably comes closest.
Perverse Instantiation - This is where we ask the AI to do something foolproof like 'maximize human happiness' and it ends up dissolving us to computronium, encoding our personalities into gigacomputers, jamming us full of digital heroin and mass copying us onto every piece of matter in the cosmos. This is every fucking monkeys paw story in the history of fairy-tales. Every fairy-tale when the letter of a wish is followed to negative effect, which is a lot.
Infrastructure profusion - Golem of Prague, Sorcerers Apprentice. The thing-that-wouldn't-stop-making-things.
Mind Crime - This is actually a rare one in fairytales. Mind Crime is when a Superintelligence creates simulations of intelligent concious personalities so accurate that they do in fact become self-aware. It then does nasty shit to them for reasonable or unreasonable reasons, or simply turns them off when done, effectively murdering them.
Its possible that by simply creating an AI and then turning it off when we got scared, we would be committing a Mind Crime.
This particular story has more in common with modern Sci Fi and 'rationalist' discourse where we are all dreams in the mind of a future AI but it has some antecedents in philosophy and 'mind of god' ideas, as well as in Dunsanayian 'Dreams of the Gods' ideas and perhaps Morrisonian Tulpa stories. Although its true that in fairy-tales and mythology, crimes committed in dreams and negative states inflicted in dreams are never value-neutral. It's never, ever, just a dream.
Bostroms definitions for types of potential AI even use fantasy terminology. 'Oracles' provide answers but take no actions. 'Genies' actively carry out commands in the world, but then wait for more commands, 'Sovereigns' are allowed free action in pursuit of overarching goals and 'Tool' AI's may have well have been names 'Golems' just to keep with the theme.
IS HE MAD
The first question is how smart could a machine intelligence get once it becomes self-aware and Bostroms answer is 'very, and fast'.
A machine intelligence would have access to its own code, would understand how it worked and would be able to read, alter and improve itself at the speed of a machine, which is fast.
Even if its child-smart, it would be able to make itself human-smart very quickly and the smarter it can make itself, the quicker it can make itself more-smart.
So Bostrom's idea is that we are probably dealing with a J-curve here which might take months if we are very lucky, but might also take weeks, or hours, or minutes. Meaning its not impossible that after a 100+ years of AI research with nothing much to show for it other than automatic waiters, self driving cars and better spam filters, researchers might go to bed on Wednesday having made some alterations to a primitive pseudo-mind and wake up on Thursday to meet god.
So they better have some idea of how to keep god in a box before that happens.
The logical construction of this idea-string is very Bostromian
Before you bake the cakes, imagine clearly burning down your house and plan your escape from the fire.
And that brings us to the mental state of Nick Bostrom, you can't really discuss the book without discussing that. Is Nick Bostrom a bit mad, just odd, or simply very prescient?
Is he a sensible person thinking in a very logical and clear-eyed way about some very potentially dangerous circumstances or is he an old-testament prophet in modern guise, shroomed-up on an island somewhere and banging on about beasts with nine heads and seven crowns?
He sounds like he is making sense and so we have to assume that he is.
However, I also don't like Trans-humanists becasue they are creepy little bastards and Bostrom is certainly a Trans-humanist, not just as inferred in this work but as clearly stated in other places.
(Trans-humanists are basically the Jesuits of science, if you try arguing with them everything sounds logically locked and unquestionable and then one day you walk into the basement and find them covered in blood and trying to turn the cat into an umbrella because it's raining outside.)
I also don't like people who are into the Simulation Theory becasue I think it sounds fucking stupid.
Legend says the poet Li Bai drowned while trying to embrace a reflection of the moon on water.
Dumb drunk bastard.
The OSR-DHD has shown less foolishness but perhaps equal inspiration in response to my question about the possible ecology of the Isles of the Imprisoned Moon. It's rare that I do this but the responses were so good that I felt I had to make a slightly more long-lasting and public record of them.
Complete domination by were apex predators would subjugate all other life if not for the ongoing fight between were sharks, were squid (dangerous on land and sea!), were wolves. Most intelligent life gathered on rafts that float between the islands. Some wizards stake out territory by creating pockets of permanent darkness (but all permanence is limited by the life span of the wizards).
Lumivores and umbraphagi, occisor cogitatio, the colourless abyssal whales and the associated whalefall ecology, that hunt the cryoplankton of the dark; surely the islands are not islands at all but The Long Council of the Aspidochelone and their attendants, and fungi, fungi everywhere.
most are attached, by a long umbilical filament, to the outer cave wall (like the oort cloud of this lunar system) which wall they likely have never seen and never will until they spawn (dying as they lay their eggs agains the wall). This keeps them all from collapsing into the gravity of the moon when they're at rest.
The moon gives light but not enough for algae and sea weed, instead we have corals and fungi. The coral are thousands different hints of color in the silver moonlight.
Plankton and crill thrive in the water.
Fish are plentiful eating the plankton, and each other. Jelly fish too.
Small mammals have found homes here. Rats are happy on the bare islands. Bats rule the thin sky and sleep on the underside of the moon.
Lizards and frogs can be found under every rock. Crocodiles near every shore.
Goblins love it down here where it is always dark and damp. Away from the bigger greenskins they thrive, their elders living long enough to grow wise in the secrets of the underdark, and the seas and the great moon above.
Humans are here too, because humans are everywhere. Some came to escape other humans who would kill them for being different. Some came looking for treasure. Some are just passing through, smugging their goods from the w warm ocean in the south to the many cold seas of the north.
Then there are those who live on their moon, who are just now beginning to understand what this place is and what they can do to release their home back to the heavens.
Does the sea have enough depth to have volcanic vents anywhere? Strange societies of sulphur-dwellers who sometimes come up in weird environment suits (magic or otherwise) because they've found something that is a super-luxury/addictive substance that they can only get near the surface.
"Some of these species, such as Selenicereus grandiflorus, bloom only once a year, for a single night."
"The flowers are described as being paired, so if one flower is plucked, another flower will die somewhere else."
Moths from all across the sea would be drawn to the moon and circle it in huge swarms. Luna moths, obviously. Also death's-head moths, for reasons of spookiness. They are hunted by flightless owls that have learnt to swim like penguins. The chains themselves would play host to growths of coral and fungus, and birds might nest in the links. Huge-eyed monkeys would hunt the birds and eat the shellfish that grow on the rusted metal where the chains enter the water. It's always high tide I guess. Clouded leopards eat the monkeys.
Translucent, whale-sized isopods, opalescent seaspiders, wolf-otters, coral snakes in black and silver. Hagfish medusae. fish that affect dreams by the shape of their schools and the leafy seadragon-men that herd them for their dream-magic. Aquatic ragged-winged bats.
Around the centre, the ocean churns, swirls violently, tides batter against the imprisoned moon and the water turns a milky white. Slats of silvery moonlight pulse through the ocean, almost a cry for help. Nothing around here lives, consumed by the moon's wrath and wrought into nothingness.
Upon the islands, life clings on. Every so often, waves surge through the craggy outcrops, residues of rage emanating from the centre. Whatever may have been called human is but a husk now. Beings, vacant, led only through fear and a numb desire to live. Sunken eyes, sallow skin. A mollusc crawls upon a rock encrusted with the skeletons, long dead and crumbling. Atop the rock, the creature sits. For a brief moment, the waves and the broiling water parts and the mollusc sees the moon. It is milky white, and there is silence. The waves sweep through once more.
Blind maggot-like otters near the islands. Their squeaks sound almost like human singing.
Moths. So many you can't go out of your dwelling without a mask of some type because there is so much wing scale is in the air it is easy to choke on. The ground is covered in grey "ash" which is really the wings of moths. Moths are repulsed by the moonlight, but swarm any lantern, candle, torch...
The water surges up towards the moon, so the middle of the ocean is like a mountain of water in which the larger creatures live. All currents flow to the center. Travel is always across or against the current. The air flows in a constant anti clockwise direction, creating a permanent wind vortex. "He is clockwise" is a way of saying that person is stubborn, obstinate. No-one knows what clockwise means anymore, there are no clocks, no time keeping. People work and sleep at various times.
Fungus, moss, cover the islands, and dead-looking leafless trees that continue growing but fall apart easily like rotten wood, releasing hundreds of maggots.
People grow fungus on themselves to provide protection and clothing. Fungalscale armour is like those flat mushrooms that grow out of the side of trees, but grown over a person to look like a fungus scale.
People fear the ghostly pale craymen and the sclack of their claws. But their carapaces are rubbery and slimy and can be pierced.
prehistoric albino amonites, glass like invertibrates, sea scorpions, spiders, trilobites, tully monsters, crabs, lobsters, horseshoe crabs, primitive plants, segmented tooth worms, early land invertebrates, carpets of fungus and gelatin, colonial organisms with swarm or singular forms, deep sea luminous horrors, things from the stars stranded long ago that tried to build civilization but failed, now wailing with sorrow and difficult to separate from earth born creatures, yet not bound by earthly laws. Immortal, broken and mere shadows of their former selves. Their physical forms are just dreams that wax and wane to elder stars
The massive iron chain that holds the moon still runs down to the bottom of the sea and up to the cave ceiling way above.
This is the only source of iron in the cavern, and the lower chain - links a hundred meters thick in loops about 500m long and wide - is covered in a creeping detritus of bacteria, worms, crabs etc that is chipped off by passing mining fleets to get at the raw stuff within, which is taken off by massive steel files. The Selenites are of course very unhappy about this, and have a castle perched on the second link above the water, and drop warriors on flying manta rays to drive them off.
The chain above is similarly fortified, the Selenites look to invade the surface and have built a vertical city reaching up the ceiling. The unknown, but much dreaded, ceiling dweller reaches down with black semi transparent tentacles to pluck Selenites away into the darkness.
The sea and island dwellers have legends about this 'war in heaven', the are too far away to see it being fought, but wish the God of The Higher Depths well in his fight.
Small prismatic clouds of dust that fell into the chamber of the underground from the world above and we're given sentience by the moon. Some say they're remains of good creatures killed in ancient wars. They float and fly and glow and sing strange tones.
Where flakes of chain land on islands bushes of rust roses grow. Their leaves shine silver in the moonlight, and their blooms of pure rust disintegrate on the winds.
Oh, damn you to the blackest pits of the Abyss, sir. >.<
This island chain is a hidden outpost of the Moon-beasts, where they cultivate a twisted and sinister lamprey-mouthed race of dwarves to serve as rowers in their black galleys, and store and prep slaves for trade between the material universes and the Dream Lands. Iron fortresses with vaults stuffed with rubies abound.
The doings of the Moon-beasts and their twisted dwarven servitors are constantly preyed upon by an unlikely alliance between the Cats of Ulthar, packs of moon dogs, and a clan of wererats, grown to ogreish size by the constant light of the too-terribly-close chained moon. The presence and strength of the cats waxes and wanes on tides only understood in the Dreamlands.
Meanwhile, sahuagin make war with ixitxachitl for control of the mystic crystal coral reefs that hide beneath the waves, burning like stars where they are caressed by the wave-wavered silver light of the imprisoned moon. The sahuagin don't even suspect that that ixitxachitl are actually cat's paws for the aboleth who seek to free the moon, as it is the interdimensional craft that brought them to this world. All three aquatic races feast on the many blind fish that flow down from the unlighted caverns above, and the purplish seaweed that grows in thick forests along the bottom of the sea. Pale crabs with lurid green fluorescent tiger-stripes feast in thick, fuzzy-leafed mangroves along the shores.
Many of the flora and fauna have been warped by the powers of the moon. Fungus caps unfold into gorgeous and massive blossoms whose colors pulse and throb hypnotically to any looking at them with infravision (or low-light vision if you play with newer rules). Massive beds of heqoranth (http://hamsterhoard.blogspot.com/2009/04/heqoranth.html) steam ominously under the silver light of the moon. That same enchanting moonlight allows sightdust to grow nearly anywhere, though without a stronger source of magic it tends to be small and sickly. Disturbingly thick beds of neshti (http://hamsterhoard.blogspot.com/2009/01/five-fanciful-fungi.html) grow atop swampy mounds that dot the shores of many of the islands.
Massive, silver-furred swine with plate-sized eyes and slobbering, tusk-sprouting maws root through the massive fungal growths, or are kept as livestock by the various sentients living upon this world. None may be harmed by any but silvered or magical weapons, making them especially difficult to hunt or butcher, and it's rumored that these are lycanthropes trapped in their bestial forms by the never-waning light of the imprisoned moon. They are hunted by shadow mastiffs, zihal (http://hamsterhoard.blogspot.com/2009/04/monster-zihal.html) and the moon dogs.
Moonglories are also common, and some have had great luck cultivating purple and black lotus. These have necessitated the importing of hives of giant bees, and these hives proliferate across the islands.
Why giant bees? Because they are the only known natural defense against the true terror of this place: giant swarms of lurru (http://hamsterhoard.blogspot.com/2009/05/monster-lurru.html) which periodically sweep across the islands like a plague, devouring all manner of creatures that fall prey to their hypnotic auroras.
Oysters in the shoals, sought for their glossy black Moon Pearls, each with a glowing point within.
Some blind creatures of the outer dark sea can still feel the pull of iron and migrate around the islands in an annual gyre. Cave orcas and King Newts. They sometimes cross paths with the psychic whales and are driven, screaming in fear, into the shallows.
There is a giant squid somewhere out there but it might just be a whale dream.
Cat sized white mantids and child sized violet shriekers compete as first level predators and are kept as pets.
Horse sized crickets. They fiddle but rarely jump - like how chickens don't really fly anymore.
Archaeopteryx flocks with different plumage vie for an angle of moonlight most flattering to their particular colors.
What a strange place. Is the sea/cavern temperate? Lack of normal wind affects how seeds and pollen are spread, and waves. Seasons and tides would be strange if there are any. Crepuscular life would be the norm.
The moon has pulled the sea to itself, and is completely surrounded by water. The islands float around the moon on the surface of the water. All plants grow on the underside of the islands seeking the light from the moon.
Coral spheres float under the islands, fragile and delicate, a complex process of coral growth, and gas exchange takes place to maintain the perfect buoyancy to float at the ideal depth. Too deep and they are crushed.
Underwater will-o-wisp/jellyfish hybrids whose stinging tentacles cause a delirious waking dream-state, followed by death. Savvy fishermen harvest them for light.
Octopodes (and other cephalopods) who spin their razor-bladed-and-self-luminous arms/tentacles like a glowing fan of death beneath the surface. Savvy water-farers farm them to make protective traps for their homes.
Blind, albino kelpies and selkies who lure surface dwellers to their watery grave by singing atonal lullabies. Savvy folk steer clear.
Baba Yaga of the Sea, a cecaelia witch who moves around the bottom floor of the lake/ocean in a crab-footed hut made from the sunken remains of surface dwellers' ships. She creates stews from the bones of dead sailors, in a cauldron made from the shell of a giant hermit crab.
The Moon gives light but not much of a heat, so not jungles but taigas, pines with bark that feels to touch like dragon-scaled column and with needles sharp like they are made of glass. Everything is criss-crossed in light and shadows, so animal hides and fur mimic this pattern, almost up to the point of distorted tartan. There are serrated cliffs that migrate alongside of isle edge, making navigation even harder. There are small meadows open to moonlight, of wild garlic, and thyme, and poppies. The poppies are probably the only ones that stubbornly keep their red colour impossibly vivid but for that they have to develop dreaming – they are dreaming themselves into red every once in a while and if somebody would disrupt their dreaming, there will be no consolation. Eggs of azure colour are hidden in roots and can be found rarely, valuable because they hatch into paper birds that always fly to the nearest pure water.
Winds can be predators, and there are Sleepers, disturbed by a bright light of the Imprisoned Moon. For them it might be like a scar on their slumber, and yet, somehow lulling, like a relief that comes after a searing burn when nerves die out, only the burn in this case never subsides. So They dream white beasts and black beasts and most terrible and merciful of all, gray beasts who might be scared away only by music.
Drowned Kings, their kingdom visible only as a reflection in the glassy water. To disturb the water is to disturb their home: walls waver, disappear. A long succession of patricidal sons who never intended to spend eternity with their fathers.
To supplement the poor quality of the moonlight anything like a photosynthesizers here supplements itself with the other available energies present in moonlight , especially one stolen and reflecting light from unseen and unreal suns.
Most are actually lichens, the symbiotic fungus breaking down the dreams, rogue ideas, madnesses and fears present in the light.
They form forests of velvet stretch horns , or teetering stacks of capped towers.
Spider-Plants and other epiphytes colonize the available height, and certain species pull illusion out of the air like plants with stale air. Too little illusion can cause utter stark disappear however.
The spider-plants are even more spidery than usual, and like most producers here are covered in soft down.
The Moon Lily is a giant single standing flower, man or horse sized , its spathe mirror surfaced to disorientate the moth pollinators long enough to dust them, and sometimes duplicating or replacing them with a mirrored moth.
The many forms of birds are near entirely usurped by moths.
Notable exceptions include a needle nosed blood drinking albino kiwi and gloomy and a ratite like flightless owl.
Moths eat moths more than bats do.
The bats here tend to be either tiny balls of fluff consuming the smallest fly like mothes or huge flightless wolf and ape parallels , running quadruped, leading on their elbows , their former wing fingers now barbed catch claws like those of amblypygids.
The Catcher-Bats can hibernate a long time awaking to the smell of red meat on the island.
The regular herbivores are pearl crabs, thick irregular layered things , picking slowly at the lichen beds and decomposing matter of plant. Some return to the sea others are entirely land bound like galapagos tortoise. Others arboreal. Only the bat-apes bother to eat them , and then only when they can't scavenge a kill, fish or tire of elusive and hypogotic fruit (the seed of which tend to sprout first in your dreams before becoming into the world.).
Pearl crabs require much grinding or hammering to get their oily sparse meat out.
Absurd giraffe walk from island to island when the ocean is still on the reflected moon light. They are incredibly slender and quiet and risk utterly annihilation at the hunger of the Catcher-Bats. But to be fair, so would all the flora of the island at the hunger of giraffe if the Catcher-Bats didn't keep their numbers low
The other bats here are fragment bats , the physical form of which is echo and their sonar location made of temporary form.
They interact extremely irregular with the rest of the environment suggesting intelligence or just an extremely unpredictable alien metabolism.
Possible that some of the flickering possible forms of the Fragment Bats are their tools or scouts or even spore.
Oh I forgot , land bound corals the size and appearance of pale willows that sag down down into the sea to feed off the inflorescence plankton. From a distance they look like giant nude women washing their hair.
Potent nematocysts in their "fronds" make them a danger to swimmers or boats trying to land, especially on some islands where they line the shore without pause. The frond stingers stay active for a day or 2 and are harvest as a fishing tool and weapon
Giant (7 ft long) flat cockroaches are used for everything from small boats or armour (wing cases), weapons, shelter, clothes, or food. Alive, they can be trained to carry riders. They are water skimmers, and can be ridden from island to island, but they also make a nice snack for many ocean creatures.
The clear exoskeleton that covers their eyes are used as goggles by humans, and a hollow leg with a porous shell bunged inside it is attached to a mask to provide a breathing apparatus to help survive the moth dust laden air.
Certain large moths called whisper moths are dried out and smoked like expensive cigars, providing a range of sensations from a mild buzz to frightening hallucinations.
Centaurpedes crawl the walls of the cavern, dropping unexpectedly onto the islands from time to time to attack villages using spider woven ropes to climb back up with their captives. But they fear the water and only venture down rarely. They are a barbarian culture, and more often war amongst themselves. Their slaves live in the spider woven netways and often come to enjoy their life above the moon if their master is not cruel. They enjoy freedoms not given to normal slaves.
The spiders the Centaurpedes use are tiny but incredibly numerous, and easy for them to train. Some even wear the spiders as a living robe.
Knives, razors, arrowheads are made from the shells of the glass snails that infest the waters near the islands
+Arnold K. But the Prophecies of the Didactic Mollusk-Kings, who thrive in the warm upwelling waters surrounding the volcanic islands of Utter Phrang, say that the moon is not a satellite or planetoid, but rather a gigantic egg. If they are to be believed, when the egg brightens and the Great Prophecy Engine of Yithique marks high Amber in the 12th ward, a thousand times a thousand void worms will free and devour the future.
Now, if only someone could figure out how to read the Prophecy Engine, or knew what a void worm was ...
Staple crop is a kind of starchy kelp bred into a quasi grain, like maize. It's farmed in shallows and lagoons. Yellow-white pleurotus mushrooms are farmed on land, (on chitin) to round out the vegetable diet. Mostly things eat meat.
Most beings, if they survive to old age, show signs of iron overload due to the chains' effect on the area - old albinos and Olm develop a bronze sheen, and arthritis is common. Alcoholism kills your liver twice as quickly as usual. Similarly, scurvy and weak bones from vitamin D deficiency are the norm, though perhaps mitigated by the busy trading that goes on.
Most people drink some kind of distilled kombucha brewed with moonflower.