Wednesday 31 May 2017

Who is the Unbalanced Creator?

So some time in 2014 somebody created "Unbalanced Dice Games" as a publisher on RPG.NOW, made some adventures and a bunch of rather unique products for Labyrinth Lord, then apparently disappeared, then came back this year with a new adventure and some new things.

I found out about this publisher from Bryce's review of "Broken Gods Pain", so good work for him for his long toiling in the nerd mines.

They have popped back up in 2017 to extend their adventure sequence with the new epic "Perfectorium of The Golden Tentacle".

The Adventures so far are;

Broken Gods Pain - for low levels, 64 pages, note its not "The Broken Gods Pain", just "Broken Gods Pain", just like "Ud" is simply "Ud". This starts with the PCs 'cursed' in a dream to find the Broken God and transported by a magical wave to a quiet village.

Ud - for mid levels, 46 pages. The PCs receive a request from an unknown woman to find her stolen family.

Perfectorium of The Golden Tentacle - for higher levels, 166 pages, a true epic. A hot new cult, the Receivers of the Golden Tentacle is doling out utterly free and beneficial magic powers to whoever for no extra cost, buuuuuut;

"Behind the Receivers is a terrible force. Some bizarre entity manipulates everything with its tentacles. What seems wonderful becomes terrible as the months roll by."

If you enjoyed the construction of that sentence, read on.


Its difficult to describe just how odd these adventures are, not just in conception and content but in presentation, text and delivery. The only way I can describe them is its like someone was given a copy of Labyrinth Lord and no other information, just kept in a cube, and asked to invent new monsters, adventures and ideas.

Or its like a really smart 14 year old with mild Aspergers.

Or its someone, maybe they live on an island in Alaska and they just crank these things out to last through the winter when they get back from the fishing fleets.

Or its like Joesky.

"Unbalanced Dice Games" is such a common phrase that it returns a whole lot of nothing on Google. I can't find a blog or anything else to let us know who this person is.

Bryce posits a possible 'art-crime' thing with someone writing in a faux-naive voice. I hope I'm not being taken for a ride here but it seems really unlikely that is the case. As my prime exhibit I present you with this product - "Wheelies for Labyrinth Lord Players", presented with this cover image;

What is a 'Wheelie'? Well, as the text itself informs you (I have tried to maintain the spacing and sentence construction);

"Wheelies are round charts that contain game information a Labyrinth Lord player, or even the Labyrinth Lord, might like in front of him/her. Usually this information is in an attack chart, saving throw matrix or written on a character sheet. Now you can just print up a Wheelie that matches your character's class and level. Forget about writing that stuff down! The Wheelies are divided into 3 parts: the outer ring, the first inner ring and the center circle.

The center circle:
Top: Class
Middle: Saving throws based on the class level.
Bottom: Class level

The first two rings from outside in:
The outer ring: AC
First inner ring: the 20 sided dice roll needed to hit the AC in the cell adjacent to it. This corresponds to the class level in the combat matrix of the Labyrinth Lord book.

The following pages contains Wheelies for Cleric, Thief, Elf, Dwarf, Halflling, Magic-User and Fighter. 1 page for each level. Dwarf, Elf and Halfling races stop where the Labyrinth Lord game stops them. All the numbers are based off of what's in that book.


Wheelies are pretty darn remarkable. There are 115 individual Wheelies in this document, one per page. Forget about writing that stuff down!

I can't believe that the person who would individually type out 115 Wheelies and arrange them in a pdf could be faking. I think they are the real deal.


Ok, firstly the layout is manic.

It's a word doc just pdf'd pretty much. Everything is one big column (I know I have done this SHUT UP), all the paragraphs are indented and the sentences have double spaces in them. All of this remains exactly the same from section to section. The titles likewise are larger bold versions of the main text.

The pdf's do have bookmarks with a reasonable informational hierarchy and the latest adventure, Golden Tentacle, is in TWO COLUMNS.

Room or encounter descriptions commonly drift over onto other pages, sometimes just a sentence, stats or a single word will be drifting lonely on the next page.

Within the descriptions the informational transmission is deeply linear. What I mean here is that a room or encounter description is more like a story about what will happen if the PCs interact with it than it is a series of tools and prompts to help you run it.

Different creators have a number of ways of breaking down descriptions into informational chunks. Usually an overview comes first, often base on what PCs will see when they enter a space, then objects or elements that might interact or respond to investigation, then, perhaps separated into sections, deeper consequences and more info about interaction, with stat blocks for living elements. Then at the end we usually get treasure or persistent effects.

The Unbalanced creator tells the reader about an encounter as if they were simply discussing it. This is probably terrible from a gameplay perspective, or at least imperfect, but I do find it rather charming, as an aesthetic impulse to run the game it could be said to add something and, once you do comprehend the information, the elements of play are usually good. If the DM comprehends and arranges the described elements in the fictional space, they should work.

This paragraph from the starting section of 'Ud' should hopefully provide a reasonable example;

"The beavers are simple group that once resided in the area where the smoke fog is now. They don't speak human or any such language, just beaver. The Game Master should position their home somewhere close but outside of the smoke fog. If someone is able to communicate with them they will tell them of the day when Ud's fort came into being. The ground shook one bright morning and out of it a large rock like thing came out of the ground. For the first day nothing else happened then the smoke started to pour out of it. This forced the beavers to leave their home and move out of the smoke. On their way out they ran into many strange things. Pig men running around with nets and spears. Humans that walked funny and groaned for the most part. At one point something strange and golden flew through the air like a swarm of large flies. They will also tell the party that the fort resides in the center of the smoke fog. See Smoke Fog section below for more information the Beavers will tell the party about protecting themselves from the smoke fog."

This is all if you speak Beaver.

As you can see, the Unbalanced creator has a rather distinctive way with language, and candence.


The ideas of the Unbalanced creator operate very closely within the classic Rientsien idea space, much more than the pseudo-literary ideaspace. But within that space they are very original. Nothing is re-used from 'standard' D&D, there are no references I can find. Everything seems very pure and un-performed, and very playful and very charming.

In 'Ud', the random encounters (in the area of 'smoke fog') on the way to the adventure include (amongst many others);

- a pile of dead zombies

- mindless zombies

- mutated attack zombies

The 'dead zombies' are zombies that have 'died?' so dead bodies. This does make sense in the adventure but this strange grouping of words, like 'smoke fog', which is also accurate, and also strange, is typical of the Unbalanced creator. The mindless zombies just wander past in the fog without doing anything, the family of the woman who hooks you the quest are amongst these. The mutated attack zombies are a really cool, strange encounter, made from the simplest of materials;

"Mutated from Mindless Zombies these things appear as warped undead. Their heads are larger, the eyes are dark holes and the mouths are much larger than a humans."

And the encounter text;

"Suddenly the party starts to hear roaring coming from all sides of them. It seems they are surrounded. If they look closely they can see shadows that are people like coming towards them from all directions. It takes one round for them to reach the party, 8-12 Mutated Attack Zombies attack!"

That's a good encounter. Roaring surrounding you, then the shadows, then the zombies pelting out of the mist from every direction, then the eyes like dark holes and the mouths "much larger than a normal humans." It's made from only the simplest imaginative pieces but it has life, vigour and originality and as we read through the adventure, it makes coherent sense for the world described.

I'll break off briefly to look at the art.  It's these simple, small, scratchy little black and white glyphs, pretty obviously all done by one person. Here are the two 'Mutated Attack Zombies'

I mean, it fits perfectly. You can clearly see the mind of the creator, can you not?

The whole thing is like that, with these sparks and flares of what seems like entirely unforced originality and imaginative flair.

The bad guys fort in 'Ud' looks like a giant treasure chest, the doorway is a big keyhole with a portcullis, in the final rooms he sleeps on a bed that is also shaped like a big treasure chest, but with spikes. That's how much he likes treasure, and how evil he is.

Everything is slightly bonkers and disconnected, but, within the conceptual space created by the adventures, things generally do make internal sense. That is, once you understand the rules of the world, both the imagined world considered as a pseudo-real space, and the world-construction as considered as the product of a particular mind, players (and PCs) should be able to make reasonable decisions based on their discoveries.

Here's another example. As you work through Uds fortress, you encounter Pig Men who serve him, and Dwarf-like creatures that do magic for him and perform wierd magic/science experiments. Then you find this;

"10 Pig Man Cow Experiment

In the center of this room on top of a straw bed rests an odd creature. It has the body of a large cow but with three pig heads. Its tail is very long and appears to have a spear head attached to it. It will look at the party and two of its heads will start to laugh. The non laughing head's eyes will glow red and it will say “You are the Old generation, we will take over your duties for you. Die, die die...”. The Pig Man Cow Thing will then attack the party. If it hits a character it will shout out “The Pig Men are through!”. Once the party kills it the heads and the tail will fall off. If the party looks into the neck they will see all these gears and tubes. A bleeping noise will be audible for a few rounds and then die off.

Pig Man Cow Experiment
(HD: 5, HP: 19, AC: 4[15], Attacks: Tail Spear(1d8),
Saving Throw: 12, Move: 12, CL/XP: 5/240)"

Is anyone else getting this or am I totally out on a limb? We have a mystery here people! Who is the Unbalanced Creator?

Monday 29 May 2017

A Review of Seeing Like a State by James C Scott

This is another very-good book from everyone's favourite lefty-Oakshott* (Oaknot?). The last book of his I read was ‘The Art of Not Being Governed’ and this is just as good.

'Seeing Like a State' re-tells the story of some of the 20th centuries biggest mass-fuckups and links them together as examples of 'high modernism', an aesthetic of hyper-rational centrally planned large-scale change driven by city-based  bureaucracies and authoritarian powers which claims to be directed towards improving and enhancing the systems it interacts with but, Scott argues, is much more about making those systems accessible to and measurable by, central power, even it vastly reduces their effectiveness.

When the thing being changed is the agricultural system of an entire nation, 'vastly reducing its effectiveness' means death.

Scott’s primary case studies are what he calls the 'High-Modernist City', based mainly around the ideas and designs of Le Corbusier, Soviet Communism, especially forced collectivisation, and Compulsory Villagization in Tanzania, which is basically the less-systematically-headfucked version of Soviet Collectivisation with a lower bodycount.

It’s a long but light, dense but clear, intricately-written but rationally arranged, deeply researched and calmly delivered book. Scott can write.

One of the most persuasive elements of Scott’s book is his criticism of the invisible madness of hyper-rationalism. A perfectly logical and superficially clear and 'scientific' aesthetic and doctrine which is perfectly accurate, within its own self-contained abstraction of the world, and totally, utterly unaware of how that abstraction is going to smash into reality like a glass meteorite.

It reminded me a lot of Ian McGilchrist’s "The Master and His Emissary" which I think Scott would probably like a lot. His description of the logic of cities almost fades into neuroscience or philosophy. This is Scott on High-Modernism;

The Dark Twin

"The planned city, the planned village, and the planned language (not to mention the command economy) are, we have emphasized, likely to be thin cities, villages and languages. They are thin in the sense that they cannot reasonably plan for anything more than the few schematic aspects of the inexhaustibly complex activates that characterize "thick" cities and villages. one all-but-guaranteed consequence of such thin planning is that the planned institution generates an unofficial reality - a "dark twin" - that arises to perform many of the various needs that the planned institution fails to fulfil. Brasilia, as Holston showed, engendered an "unplanned Brasilia" of construction workers, migrants, and those whose housing and activities were necessary but were not foreseen or were precluded by the plan. Nearly every new, exemplary capital city has, as the inevitable accompaniment of its official structures, given rise to another, far more "disorderly" and complex city that makes the official city work - that is virtually a condition of its existence. That is, the dark twin is not just an anomaly, an "outlaw reality"; it represents the activity and life without which the official city would cease to function. The outlaw city bears the same relation to the official city as the Parisian taxi driver's actual practices bear to the Code routine."

And this is McGilchrist on brain hemispheres;

"The right hemisphere needs not to know what the left hemisphere knows, for that would destroy its ability to understand the whole; at the same time the left hemisphere cannot know what the right hemisphere knows. From inside its own system, from its own point of view, what it believes it has 'created' appears complete. Just because what it produces is in focus and at the centre of the field of vision, it is more easily seen. This is one reason we are so much more aware of what it contributes to our knowledge of the world.

The left hemisphere cannot deliver anything new direct from 'outside', but it can unfold, or 'unpack' what it is given Its very strength - and it contains enormous strength, as the history of civilisation demonstrates - lies in the fact that it can render explicit what the right hemisphere has to leave implicit, leave folded in. Yet that it also its weakness. The clarifying explicitness needs to be reintegrated with the sense of the whole, the now unpacked or unfolded whatever-it-may-be being handed back to the domain of the right hemisphere, where it once more lives. This turns out to be a problem,..."

That isn’t a perfect quote to explain the similarity I’m seeing but McGilchrists book is huge so that’s the best you are getting right now.

Scott’s 'dark twin' also reminds me a lot of his views on the relationship between the agrarian state and the Zomia in 'The Art of Not being Governed', two spaces which oppose each other, on ordered and 'transparent', one 'opaque' and (apparently) disordered, yet both linked and almost requiring the other to define themselves and shape their identity.

As with 'Not Being Governed' Scott delivers another tribute to the crafty intelligence of the Peasant. The Parable of the Ants is a good example;

"Growing in the compound of the house in which I lived was a locally famous mango tree. Relatives and acquaintances would visit when the fruit was ripe in the hope of being given a few fruits and, more important, the chance to save and plant the seeds next to their own house. Shortly before my arrival, however, the tree had become infested with large red ants, which destroyed most of the fruit before it could ripen. It seemed nothing could be done short of bagging each fruit. Several times I noticed the elderly head of household, Mat Isa, brining dried nipah palm fronds to the base of the mango tree and checking on them. When I finally got around to asking what he was up to, he explained it to me, albeit reluctantly, as for him this was pretty humdrum stuff compared to our usual gossip. He knew that the small black ants, which had a number of colonies at the rear of the compound, were the enemies of the large red ants. He also knew that the thin, lancelike leaves of the nipah palm curled into long, tight tubes when they fell from the tree and died. (In fact, the local people used the tubes to roll their cigarettes.) Such tubes would also, he knew, be ideal places for the queens of the black ant colonies to lay their eggs. Over several weeks he placed dried nipah fronds in strategic places until he had masses of black-ant eggs beginning to hatch. He then placed the egg-infested fronds against the mango tree and observed the ensuing week-long Armageddon. Several neighbours, many of them skeptical, and their children followed the fortunes of the ant war closely. Although smaller by half or more, the black ants finally had the weight of numbers to prevail against the red ants and gain possession of the ground at the base of the mango tree. As the black ants were not interested in the mango leaves or fruits while the fruits were still on the tree, the crop was saved."

I could make a very slight criticism that in Scotts books the Peasant is _always_ a near super-heroic figure bursting straight from the black earth imbued with tricks and courageous wisdom with which to fool the dumb authoritarian bureaucrat sent to requisition grain for the parasitical city-dwellers, but that would be a little unfair.

Only a little though. Scott does mention some of the situations which provoked the lust for redeeming high-modernism but he never actually states outright that sometimes poor people can be fucking dumb. Sometimes they are dumb.

For particular interest for my RPG-culture readers is one of Scotts final chapters on what he calls 'Metis'. I would recommend that anyone into what's called the 'Old School' scene should pick up the book even if just to read this chapter alone;

"Metis is most applicable to broadly similar but never precisely identical situations requiring a quick and practiced adaptation that becomes almost second nature to the practitioner. The skills of metis may well involve rules of thumb, but such rules are largely acquired through practice (often in formal apprenticeship) and a developed feel or knack for strategy. Metis resists simplification into deductive principals which can successfully be transmitted through book learning, because the environments in which it is exercised are so complex and nonrepeatable that formal procedures of rational decision making are impossible to apply. In a sense, metis lies in that large space between the realm of genius, to which no formula can apply, and the realm of codified knowledge, which can be learned by rote."

This quote in particular pleased me because it brings in the necessary anarchism of people who deal with fire, which matches with what I read in 'Fire on the Rim' by Stephen Pyne;

"Red Adair's team, which has been hired worldwide to cap well-head fires, was a striking and diagnostic case. before the Gulf War of 1990, his was the only team with any appreciable "clinical" experience, and he could set his own price. Each fire presented new problems and required an inspired mixture of experience and improvisation. We can imagine, at almost opposite ends of a spectrum, Adair on one hand and a minor clerk performing highly repetitive steps on the other. Adair's job cannot, by definition, be reduced to a routine. he must begin with the unpredictable - an accident, a fire - and then devise the techniques and equipment (from an existing repertoire, to be sure, but one invented largely by him) required to extinguish that fire and cap that well. The clerk, by contrast, deals with a predictable, routinized environment that can often be ordered in advance and down to the smallest detail. Adair cannot simplify his environment in order to apply a cookie-cutter solution."

We could go a lot deeper into this, the idea of metis and the glass cage in particular would be interesting to me. Does the creation of a large, efficient, bureaucratic state necessarily shape a population who will be poor citizens?

Obedient, authoritarian, excellent at rationalising the excise of power but rarely questioning it, more closely related to the state than to each other, more interested in the state than each other (quite reasonably since it has the larger effect on their lives), lonely, alienated, since the state cannot provide the means of de-alienation and good at keeping out of trouble.

Does the state destroy the capacity of its subjects to be citizens?

Anyway, this is a fragment, go read the book.

*The man himself gets a little bit of a sly stab right at the end of the page notes;

"It is in fact impossible for most modern readers to take in the vast complacency with which Oakshott regards what the past has bequeathed to him in its habits, practices, and morals without wondering if Jews, women, the Irish, and the working class in general might not feel as blessed by the deposit of history as did this oxford don."

Friday 26 May 2017

Encountering the Wapentake

The original, and oldest court in Wir-Heal is the Court of the Wapentake, from which all other legal rights descend.

Horribly, the documents of ownership and rights of the court have been bought by an evil solicitor; Mister Samuel Moreton (a wolf), assisted by the sinister Mister Grace (a fat pig, ten feet tall). No legal authority can overrule this court and no weapon can be wielded against it.

Mister Moreton claims to be 'Lord of the Waste Lands' and the rule of his court is one of bitterness, resentment, greed and small claims.

They charge about the countryside in an omnibus pulled by whipped Woodwose, full of pigs, boars, bears, wolves, jackals and snarling apes in pot masks like toby jugs wearing shabby black tails and top hats or frock coats and scratch-wigs. They crash through the hedgerows and snatch people out of their homes, press ganging them as jurors, witnesses or even court functionaries, then sit in state, feasting on fine food and ale with the greasy food running down the back of their masks, fining everyone for everything and holding every man and action in contempt.

The Court of the Wapentake claims lordship of any 'Waste Land' in Wir-Heal and they make sure there is as much of this as possible by tearing down walls, buildings, bridges and anything else they can find on the slightest excuse.

They also claim ownership of any ‘wreck’ left on the shore and of any stolen goods of any kind (which they certainly do not give back but rather keep).

The Court of the Wapentake is encountered either 'in the wild' as its Omnibus crashes through the countryside, or 'in session', in which case Mister Moreton has already set up his court in some building or location.

Obviously, it’s completely and overwhelmingly reasonable for you to just make up anything to do with the trial, from the roles to the crimes to the timing to the actions of the court, based purely on stuff you half remember from old TV episodes and youtube clips. You might not know what you are doing, but neither does Mr Moreton necessarily know what he is doing. What is important is that he, and you, have the authority to do it. ALL RISE!

The Power Of The Court

- Universal Authority, all NPCs (even the Devil and the Ouzel) agree on the validity of the documents of the Wapentake and will not countermand their authority.

- Compellment. Individuals are compelled to conduct themselves in their court-appointed role. PCs are unusually strong willed and may break away from this compellment with periodic WIL tests, but may then be held in contempt.

- Contempt. The Judge can inflict a range of bizarre punishments upon anyone he holds in contempt or anyone found guilty by the Court. These effects apply to anyone within sight and cannot be saved against.

Roles In The Court

 Two roles are always held by the same people.

Judge - "Lord of the Waste Lands, Master of the Wapentake, the Right Honourable Mister Samuel Moreton Esquire. ALL RISE!"

Clerk of the Court - Mister Grace.

Obviously, if any PC has actually committed a crime of any kind in Wir-Heal, and there is even the slightest chance that someone knows about it, then they are the accused.

Otherwise, for every PC present, and for notable NPCs if you like, roll a d10 on the table below to see what role they must adopt.

Court Role
What they do
Council for the Prosecution.
Usually one of Moretons cronies but it may amuse him to appoint a PC.
Council for the Defence.
A thankless, and probably pointless task.
Announces people. Informs the Judge of who everyone is, who is representing who, repeats every order the judge makes, essentially in charge of getting people in and out.
Keeps order in the court, with violence if necessary. Can also be sent off to grab witnesses, the accused or anyone else Moreton thinks should be there.

It doesn't really matter whether the PC saw or didn't see anything, they better act like they did.
The Accused
Even if a PC is clean as new snow, they can always be accused of something.

Timeline Of A Trial

Identifying the Accused and the Charge - Clerk reads the charge.
Accused enters a plea.
Opening Statements from prosecution and defence.
Prosecution states case, enters evidence into court, brings forth Witnesses.
Defence may cross-examine each witness and query each piece of evidence.
The Defence states its case, enters evidence into court, brings forth Witnesses.
Prosecution may cross-examine each witness and query each piece of evidence.
Prosecution makes their closing statements.
Defence makes their closing statements.
Judge advises jury from a position of maximum hypocrisy.
Jury adjourns.
Jury returns with guilty verdict.
Judge sentences Accused.
Judge takes property of the guilty party (all property of all outlaws in Wir-Heal may be claimed by the Lord of the Wapentake.)


Of course the most important crime is whatever the PCs have actually done, but if another is needed you may choose or roll below.

Unpaid Debts
Bet-Welshing - i.e. behaving as a Welshman in a bet and not paying, or paying in sheep.
Making Mock
Oath Breaking
Travelling at Night
Sharp Practice - being too effective or deceitful in business.
Building an Illegal Wall
Making an Illegal path.
Abduction of Woodwose.
Fraternisation with Woodwose - i.e. contact unbecoming.
Acting as a Wreaca - (not a 'Wrecker'.) Being alone or being seen to be alone too much. Behaving as an exile.
Unlicensed Wassail - drinking and singing but any improvised merry-making.
Unreasonable Gurning - this is, the making of ridiculous faces in an ill-chosen manner or time.
Becoming Invisible
Becoming Other - that is, other to yourself.
Summoning the Devil. Not that hard to do as he lives over the water.
Mask-Breaking - a much hated crime in Wir-Heal.
Observing Birds - a crime of unknown provenance and reasoning yet hallowed by time and ritual.
Occlusion - Doing something but whatever it was was not seen. Behaving in an occluded manner.
Grievance - An indistinct charge, yet a serious one


Moretons judgements are sometimes related to the charge in question, sometimes a matter of idle whim.

The punishments for contempt are the same as those for a guilty verdict, but usually expressed for shorter periods, hours, days or weeks rather than months, years or lifetimes. You can and should choose, but here are some numbers in case you want to roll.

Sentences are usually either in days, for contempt, or years, for a guilty verdict.

Usually in Legions Fort.
A fine. Usually a significant one of at least ¾ of the persons wealth.
Magical white cap appears on head causing intelligence to drop by two-thirds. Cannot be removed.
Fools cap appears on head. Accused cannot walk without capering or speak unless it is part of a joke.
High Misfortune
Rolls d20 with disadvantage.
Auto-fails any dice roll.
On any sharp shock or surprise the target bursts apart into a flock of birds and must re-assemble themselves.
'Thy Shape be Amended'
Polymorph. Usually into a pig, or into a horse to pull the Omnibus, but the target maintains their wits and it not automatically the property of the court.


Can be sentenced in ‘degrees; with First Degree being immediate transformation into a full Woodwose with one automatic stage every day until full transformation complete.

Rolls d20 with disadvantage and must re-roll any other successful die roll.
Shivering Hands
Hands won't stop shaking, minuses or disadvantage to any dexterous work.
Target can never be warm again. Suffers all fatigue effects as if in a cold environment. Must pass tests to sleep, and that fitfully.
Cannot own more than a minimal amount of wealth (usually 40 shillings worth of objects). Any more than this will simply disappear or roll of its own volition towards others.
To Be Besmirched
Appears as a dirty, filthy, low-class, possibly-leprous vagabond at all times. Assumed by all reasonable people to be a Vile Creature.
Can't use right hand, see through right eye, or turn right.
Must go about on hands and knees.
Must go about on their belly.
The Gibbet
Enclosure in a hanging iron cage.

Stealing The Documents

To make someone the true lord of the Wapentake, the documents must change hands legally, without threat of force and without deceit. Stealing them and burning them or selling them off will not amend or change any already created judgements.

However, they will prevent Mr Moreton from making any new judgements and will rob his court of its powers of compellment and contempt. He will pursue the documents madly, even to the death.

Monday 22 May 2017

The Monkey Mountains

Of all mankind’s mistakes, teaching monkeys gunnery must be amongst the worst, for a Macaque with a cannon is a masterless beast and a Gibbon with a gun makes their own rules.

So it came to be, and still remains, in the butterfly-haunted Monkey Mountains, where the black-throated chuckling thrushes never rest, for they are shocked in droves from the branches of the banyan trees by the blasting of cannons the cracks of jezails and sad nocturnal grenados of the Bomb-Lorises. A saltpetre pandemonium silenced only by the roaring of the rainstorms that wet the powder and cool the tempers of the maddened monkey masters in their crumbling forts.

None know now who first induced in monkeys the capacity and desire for black-powder war, but for as long as memory recalls the primate population of the monkey mountain range has shared these things;

- That they speak, and think in at least a rudimentary way, at least to the equivalent of a private soldier.
- That they war against each other in clades and clans.
- that they respect, as a medium of Ares and a language of death only black powder and the high velocity round.

Gunpowder is a weapon, in some ways, quite poorly adapted for the Monkey Mountains. The hills themselves are steep, the valleys dark, the land bulging and cutting away like bad cursive script. The air is often humid and battered by clattering monsoons that pound the skies with yellow lightning and slash the trees with thick bright carving knives of warm and heavy rain. In these periods the masters of the monkey forts rest comatose, playing cards and smoking opium from Yoon-Suin, nodding in their hammocks and oiling their guns, picking lice from each others fur, waiting for the veil of rain to rise and for the wars to start again.

The Monkey Mountains are dominated by the Banyan tree, dense dark forests of strangling figs in which a single plant can send down hanging roots over hundreds of yards. The Banyan cannot grow alone, it surrounds another tree and slowly strangles it until it dies, leaving the winding banyan branches curled around a hollow column where the dead tree was.

Spirits, and eld-things of multiple sorts are often caught within the columns of these hollow trees for complex reasons of their own. Never listen to a voice coming from within a Banyan tree.

Once, the forests of the monkey mountains must have been dominated by another kind of plant, in the same way, it's unlikely that the monkey warlords built their own forts of red brick and terracotta demon-faced tile, but now only the parasite remains, the hollow root-trunks of the Banyan highlighting the ghosts of the annihilated species of trees and the piratical and proud monkey masters living in the ruined forts, themselves often so raddled by siege that they are only held together by the banyan roots looping through their walls like tying twine.

While the dense and knotted forest is more accessible to monkeys than to men, it still severely restricts the useful range of a black-powder weapon and makes transporting mortars, cannon and heavy siege artillery an absolute nightmare. This makes melee, guerrilla tactics, stealth and a defensive strategy the natural mode of combat for the environment, and all of this is ignored by the mad monkey masters who insist on forcing columns of gibbons and macaques through the dripping forest, desperately dragging bronze cannon up and down the valleys to batter down each others walls.

When these tactics inevitably fail and the field breaks down into a mad skirmish of pistols, bayonets and derringers concealed in hats, the winning warlord abducts the abandoned cannon and then tries to exactly the same thing that their opponent just tried; siege warfare in a jungle, with monkeys as troops.

It makes sense to the monkeys at least, for them simply having cannon is a confirmation of status.



The economy of the monkey mountains runs on the Tapa tree, or paper mulberry, an extremely useful plant whose roots make rope, whose bark makes cloth whose leaves and fruits are edible and which is often used as medicine. Most crucially, its inner bark can be used to make a fine paper.

Small communities of human beings live in almost-hidden villages in the valleys of the mountains, they subsist of hunting (with bow and arrow only), low-level agriculture, the products of the forest, like the figs of the banyan, from eating wasps attracted to the figs and from the tapa tree.

The rituals of ownership for each tree are complex and contested, each trunk is claimed by a particular family, the branches go to certain relatives and the twigs or third-stage branches are 'gifts' traded to still-poorer relatives. In this way, each tree is a tiny feudal system and the exact laws of inheritance and descent are argued over with some ferocity, (although never with guns).

The cutting and processing of the Tapa tree provides wealth for the villages and the Monkey Warlords take a chunk of this for their 'tapa tax'. It is this tax which pays for the gunpowder and guns the monkeys love and this is pretty much all it pays for since the monkeys want few other manufactured goods.

Each village comes under the feudal rule of a monkey master in a monkey fort who ‘protects’ them from any other nearby monkey master

Those beyond the Monkey Mountains think that having a monkey for a lord must be pretty terrible, in fact, the Monkeys are extremely lassiez faire, having almost no interest in human culture beyond the tapa tax and gun manufacture, they leave almost everything up to the local authorities of each village who do their best to replicate the byzantine structures of hierarchy, ritual and oppression which they would usually get from an aristocracy for free.

The lord of the local monkey fort does insist that their guns be adored, especially the almost-immovable field artillery, which the human villagers are happy to do.



The monkey mountains are made from primordial coral reefs, increasing the complexity of the often Karstic terrain providing dramatic overhangs, deep creeks, disappearing streams and occasional caves. Rumours of lost cave systems are much more common than the real thing. The caves are often inhabited by Black Bearded Tomb Bats, which is the actual, real name of that species. Sometimes ancient sea shells and the curls of old aquatic snails can be found as a natural part of the bedrock, turning up in the soil of the forest floor.

The air is full of floods of black and gold butterflies, almost half a foot wide, black-throated chuckling thrushes which sound like you just said something funny, and of the banyan wasps that eat the banyan fruit and sting everyone, but which are also delicious.

(By ancient law the pirate contracts of the Crab-Man-Clans of the Selenium Isles can only be signed on paper made from the nests of wasps and the best paper from the best wasps comes from the Banyan wasps of the Monkey Mountains, so if you see Crab-Man Pirates in the hills they are usually here for that.)

Katkins and caustic fruit come from the various trees and at night Masked Civets hunt, dodging the Bomb-Lorises and often spraying unwitting wanderers with their terrible skunk-musk.

To this of course we must add the numerous spirits, memories and ghost goblins trapped in the tubular Banyan trees. Better not to interact with those.



Most of the monkeys of the monkey mountains are either rock Macaques, who prefer derringers and pistols, and white-handed Gibbons who like Jezails, easy for them to reload due to their long arms.

Lone, nocturnal Bomb-Lorises exclusively use grenades with extremely long, silent, smokeless fuses. The Lorises are slow and cannot throw, their medium of combat is a form of 'grenade sniping' in which each Loris will try to predict the movements of the other and move them into position directly next to a pre-placed grenade. This is an extremely subtle and strategic form of warfare (more akin to submarine war than anything else) and the night is often shaken by the explosions of the duelling Bomb-Lorises.

A small number individual apes have reached the Monkey Mountains over the years, some Chimpanzees, a handful of Gorillas and a small breeding population of Orangutans, these are often taught to speak by the monkeys and given heavy deck-guns, muskets or blunderbusses or used to drag cannon and mortars through the forest, but they do not occupy a commanding position in Monkey society (it is the Monkey Mountains after all, not the Ape Mountains).

The nature of the Monkey Master ruling the local fort will tell you something about their tactics

A Master-Macaque will prize the frontal assault, pulling his mortars to within close range of the enemy fort, distracting the defenders with skirmishing attacks.

A Class 1 Gibbon (they compete endlessly at marksmanship) prefers to duel at range and tries to take a strategic position dominating the enemy before pounding them with bronze cannon.

An Autarchic Bomb-Loris plays a deadly and almost-invisible game of feint and counter-feint in which the political and strategic are inextricably linked, all simply elements of a master plan as it unfolds, designed to trick their opponent into a vulnerable position before they are decapitated.



The forts of the Monkey Mountains have seen better days. They are built of red brick and spattered with gunshot marks, banyan trees infest the revetments and writhe through the walls. Statues of red stone stand before many of the forts and all the statues have been worn down and effaced by time
they might be of anything, men, monkeys, or monsters.

The forts were once highly rational, many were star-forts, where space allowed, but most of the outer walls are now abandoned and the forest has reclaimed what it can. Inside, the buildings are a mess, but all of the rooms dedicated to gunpowder and weaponry are well-kept with neatly repaired roofs and safety lanterns

The tiles of all the forts are red terracotta and each one has a demons face which grins silently up at the phosphorescent day stars visible from the Monkey Mountains, and the felt-tip-yellow lightening and at the storms which send water spewing from each gaping terracotta mouth.