Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Review of "Unfamiliar Underground: Finding the Calm in the Chaos of London's Tube Stations"




This is a beautiful and somewhat odd collection of empty industrial nocturnes. You probably know how much I love a shadow and this book is like a stamp-collection of shadows printed on glossy photographic paper which marks with fingerprint heatstains under my passing hands.

In a thronged environment emptiness and silence become rare jewels to be sought, or more like shadowy birds, and Victoria Louise Howard must adopt the attitude of a hunter, rising in darkness and setting off deep into the city, staking out her view and stalking empty split seconds in which to catch light.

She has the particular thrill of stalking some difficult stations again and again, piercing and waiting, feeling embarrassed and awkward, until she can leap and snatch the bird if emptiness.

From her notes, some stations and some pictures are truly, largely empty when she takes the picture, but others are busy and the emptiness we see in the the image is literally one single moment of time between someone entering and leaving the frame.

They are theatres of shadow split by the curving parralax of shining rails. Infinite tubes curl and turn into invisible distances. Decay, full real wet decay, in the one or two places where it is evident, has an increadible glistining texture of its own. Enigmas from fifteen decades of built history, from victorian to brutalist to brushed chrome, sealed in specifc lattices of time by pop culture posters which glow like bright rectangular ghosts, illuminating one particular eon of advertsing, and by the occasioal digital display giving an exact time, and the time till next train, but not the day, or week. So we can know exactly what minute and second a picture was taken on, and that the Emily Blunt starring "Girl on the Train" was showing, but not the day. Some are marked by abandonend papers, cups, and in the radical third act reveal, a lost boot at Notting Hill Gate.

Howard takes a deep pleasure in these signifying ephemera. She is an astonishingly normal to be taking such intense, gloomy and alienated Nocturnes. From her tone of voice you would expect her to be putting together a book of remarkable dogs, but the tone of the image says "exiled russian anarchist and lover of praxis", [insert name here] seems more a British eccentric who happens to be a really really good photographer.

Howard was pursued by crushing anxiety and health problems. She loses years in the middle, ends relationships, at some points she feels she cannot go on. The hunting of the stations is as much an internal battle with her own fear and crawling uncertain and frightening thoughts as it is with logistics and crowds. So the story of the empty stations is also her story, and her adventure, in the old sense of the word.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Anything May be Attempted - Jon Petersons 'Playing at the World'

First - my ridiculous Gawain poetry Kickstarter is this close to the finish line and has 17 days left


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Playing at the World



"On March Fifteenth Nineteen Seventy Two, at approximately six fifty eight A.M. Gary E. Gygax rose from his bed in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in the United States of America (more commonly referred to as the "U.S.A.") and got to his feet: knobbled bony handlike appendages which he found at the end of his two legs, a profile typical of the bipedal longitudinally symmetrical biostructure he had inherited from his humanoid species-plan.

As Gary opened each of his twin eyes (orblike lumisensing organs packed with transparent gel and complex molecular packages responding to varying wavelengths of electromagnetic energy focused through the flexing lenses at the front of each "eye" - as discussed in Chapter 5.7), his brain (a hand-sized chunk of supermeat clamped in his cranial structure, see chapters 10.56,10.57, 10.58 & 10.59), incorporated near real-time sensory information from a layered spectrum of embodied biotransmitters with a long-term reality-orientation memory matrix (product of the processes of "childhood" and "culture", as to be discussed in later chapters) with a so-far un-analysed ghosting reiswitzian meta-cognitive entity bearing the hallmark of consciousness.

Gary was now in the state 20th Century American Humans would commonly refer to as wakefulness, and he was about to receive a series of timed electromagnetic pulses, not from his immediate senses, as we have previously discussed (see above text), but transmitted via a copper-cored vulcanised tube at the speed of light and re-coded by in-situ solid-state mass-produced 20th century technology into coherent wave of sound which Garys audio-sensing organs would transmit to his comprehending heuristic mind. This would in turn, rapidly meta-cognate the analogue pattern of that signal into that of a voice.

Not the voice of another American human entity in the same three-dimensional space as Gygax, but a signal from an equally-alive equivalent human male named Dave Arneson, who was real, but far away.

"Gary" the biotechnological hypersignal resolved within Gygaxes metacognitive array "I've kind of invented D&D but I'm a massive flake."

"Don't worry Dave." Gygax replied, in a pattern all-too typical of his species, culture and socioeconomic matrix, "I have contracts for that"."

---------------------------

The above is not from Jon Petersons book "Playing at the World", but it does describe the feeling of reading it. Get ready for the Kung-Fu info-spike from the Matrix, except it’s not about Kung Fu and Peterson won't turn it off.





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Guys, we’ve invented wargaming culture – LETS ACT LIKE NAZIS FOR FUN;

"However, despite the best intentions of the staff, the community that emerged from the "Opponents Wanted" column proved more confrontational than Avalon Hill intended...

.... it was not long before "Opponents Wanted" featured ads that flaunted a "SIEG HEIL!" to lure indignant opponents into battle. Clubs emerged with names like "Fourth Reich", entire advertisements appeared in German and protestations of invincibility became hyperbolic. The staff of The General quickly downplayed any literal interpretation of these neo-Nazi blurbs, noting that "chest-beating before battle has a sound historical basis; it’s been a human trait since the dawn of time and is found in many cultures."

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DETAIL

I didn't buy this myself, instead I was given it by a Doctor of Mathematics who was unable to get past the initial chapters.

"I feel like it’s trying to kill me with detail." he said.

There are several books inside this book, only a few of which are the book you probably thought you were getting.

None of these books are bad. Much of what they say in extremely interesting. But there are a lot of them. And they are dense. Collectively they do probably about as much as any single human could do to trace every single idea, event and concept that lead up to, and out from, the creation of Dungeons and Dragons.

In doing this, Peterson goes from a history of D&D, which may have been what he started with, to effectively writing the first book in what will probably be a multi-volume history of complex, organised parallel play-worlds.


Chapter One: A Prelude to Adventure (1964-1974)

The 'Main Story' the socio-cultural and ludic immediate background that informed the creators of D&D. What you probably thought you were getting.


Chapter Two: Setting - The Medieval Fantasy Genre.

A Sub-Tome going deep into the development of the Fantasy genre, largely set within the 20th Century where the phrase 'Fantasy Genre' starts to make meaningful sense to describe something.


Chapter Three: System - The Rules of the Game.

A Sub-Tome following every. single. rule. in D&D and trying to trace its intellectual evolution, which usually goes back to Kriegspiel, which itself traces itself back to chess and yes we do go all the way back to chess.


Chapter Four: Character - Roles and Immersion.

A kind of combination of the 'main story' about the creation of D&D, with a subject-based book about the growth of role-playing and shared paracosms in the West. Because this growth was focused around the same period as the mid-to-late 20th century, and because it really amped up in the same time and social circle as Gygax & Co, it also forms a kind of parallel but merging tale to the main theme. This is also the bit with some of the freakiest factoids. Fritz Lieber with a sword yo.


Chapter Five: The Dawn of Role-Playing (1974-1977)

We are back to the main series with a thrilling, and typically, detailed, blow-by-blow of the beginnings of D&D and its first few years of existence. DRAMA.


Epilogue: Role-Playing and Reality

Peterson, slavering at the mouth and let loose from any overstructure, goes wild like a Mink in a henhouse and desperately tries to squeeze another entire book into the epilogue, this one about the beginnings of electronic simulated computer worlds. His editors raise their shield-wall and, focusing a shotgun on the whites of his rabid eyes, bravely force him to actually end this book before publishing another one inside it like a wasp-egg in a caterpillar.


Selected Bibliography:

About twenty five pages of stuff that I did not read.


It is a very huge book which defeats, easily, the capacity of my memory to comprehend it perfectly, as a whole. That is something of a waste as I am certain, to Peterson, every single piece of information was entirely relevant to his total argument and process of discovery. He is essentially writing the history of this massively encultured cognitive form and process of human parallel world creation and mutual inhabitation and he is trying to get as close as he possibly can to comprehending the whole thing or at least as much as can be discovered.

I cannot tell you about the whole of the book, all I can do is take you on a handful of paths through it, winding my way through, if not a ruin, then an intimidatingly large palace.





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If you’ve played a lot of wargames and never cried – you are LYING;

"Geddes spent most of his spare time for several years in elaborating this game, ending up with a 45-page book explaining the rules... Thirty minutes of play constituted the equivalent of a day's fighting; during the 20's, Geddes and his friends played it every Wednesday from eight in the evening until midnight. Some wars lasted two or three years... The game occasionally took a tragic turn. Rear Admiral William B.Fletcher, long a regular player, lost eight capital ships one night and was so humiliated that he never returned. Another friend, after being court-martialled one evening for losing an entire army, lay on a sofa and cried."

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SYSTEMATISATION AND POWER

Inherent to D&D is a powerful and unavoidable polarity in role-playing between centralised systematisation and individual creation. This is a Faultline Gygax found himself sitting right on top of but versions of it may have existed right back to Reiswitz.

Once a handful of people have played a few games of D&D, they really don't need to buy a lot of extra crap, or even more copies of the rules. It calls out to be modified and added to and people start doing this immediately on its publication, some of them after only hearing about the existence of the game.

So this is one end of the polarity - D&D as a form of folk art, made by individuals and social groups for those particular individuals and social groups. Independent, anarchistic and freeeeeee.

At the other end is D&D as both a product and a coherent system of rules, owned, distributed and publicised by a central authority.

The game as it exists in reality, continually draws energy from both ends of this irresolvable polarity.

In terms of Capital; by managing to turn D&D into a product something which could be owned, Gygax almost certainly added a huge amount of energy and drive to its existence and growth.

The money D&D makes goes into paying Gygax & Co, and it also goes back into printing more D&D, advertising it, spreading it, evangelising and proselytising it. This feedback loop acts as a kind of cultural amplifier. Once there is a corporate entity with a direct interest in maximising the growth of the product, it’s like having a tiger draw your chariot. It may be terrifying and destructive and occasionally eat people but holy fuck it goes fast.

Imagining the growth of D&D if it was only ever a hobby, without capital feedback loop to drive it, I think it might come close to barely existing at all. I think there would be a mild sheen of low-level RPG-like systems growing from the 70's on, but nothing like what we have now.

But more realistically, something other-but-equivalent would have taken that space as, Peterson strongly argues, (or more truthfully, his evidence seems to argue) it was very much "steam engine time" for D&D.

In terms of System; systematisation annihilates individuality, and it is open, and largely fair.

The same wave of sameness which rolls over much of the nascent RPG scene, which turns everything into D&D and which tries as hard as it can to make sure everyone is playing something like the same kind of D&D, is also fundamentally democratic and levelling. Everyone gets the same predictable experience and ruleset which everyone can understand equally and use equally and which is open to almost everyone in exactly the same way.

This reminds me a lot of the simultaneous beauty and horror of modernism, and of the terror-love of watching singular languages wash over and annihilate smaller in-nation languages and multilingual culture.

It’s awful and monstrous, because it’s the annihilation of human cultural diversity and of individual ways of looking at the world, of peoples particularity, character, ways of thought and experience, and all over a huge and tragic loss for humanity as a whole.

And it’s very fair.

Multi-lingual societies, after all, must by-necessity favour multi-lingual individuals, which almost always means middle-class people with the free time and free cognitive resources to learn multiple languages.

And in layered societies where people speak different languages, people have differing access to the law, to the processes of government, to the language of employers, to the varying languages of different kinds of power. People are secret to each other.

But annihilate that and everyone from every level of society and from every culture group and every ethnic group all speak the same language which is understood in the broadly same way, so everyone reads the same rules and speaks the same language as the judge and their lawyer and can, if they want to, read the same newspaper, scientific paper, books, menus, instructions.

So Gygax-D&D spreads across the U.S. meeting, consuming and in some sense, annihilating many pre-existing paracosms, and making them all fair. Because everyone knows what D&D is, and how it should be played, because TSR will tell you what it is and Gary will tell you how to play it. And this opens up the possibility of interaction between wide varieties of different people to a staggering degree.

Issues like this seem to exist right at the start of wargaming, with the first theoreticians making boutique gaming sets for princes, because only they can afford them. Kriegspiel is spread through the Prussian military as its expensive and complicated enough that it really takes a governmental organ and pre-existing structure to afford it.

Things become mass-culture when they become product. When they can be owned, sold and replicated, this simple process of replication, to a mass market, is what allows something to become a cultural element of a democratic largely-level society.

Many, many, many people invent bits and pieces of wargaming and role-playing before D&D exists and primary reasons for them not exploding into “D&D” is because they are not systematised and are very hard to sell.

At least one British fantasy wargamer proto-roleplayer opens up their ruleset for democratic review, so each rule is voted on and brought into consensus. This takes so long, and so many editions of the zine they are publishing through, that they Tristiam Shandy their own game and it never starts.

The beauty and monstrousness of authority, systemisation and capital is at the heart of Dungeons and Dragons and it is something which I think cannot be resolved. This is the most human of possible games, it calls most deeply upon the widest range of human expression experience and interpretation, more than almost any other game. It is a highly personal game. It is warm. You don't need a company or a product to run it. And it is tied by an uncuttable umbilical cord to exactly those nightmare processes of alienation which dehumanise our world.




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Early west-coast Paracosm culture starts to get weeeird;

"For fans susceptible to its peculiar allure, however, Coventry seemed to offer a veritable reinvention of fandom, a deeper level of engagement in which fans literally became characters in a science fiction story. Pelz exemplified this radical interpretation of Coventry. He wore a Bruziver of Heorot costume to LASFS club meetings, and sometimes even on public streets. To many outsiders it seemed that the core Coventranians never left character - a difficult charge to refute, given that everyone in Coventry assumes the role of their resurrected future selves.

Pelz openly hypothesized about "using hypnosis and drugs to actually put the mind into a preselected fantasy world (e.g. Coventry], and maybe even leave it there," a project which he called "Operation Flip-Back" - which along with other perceived excesses of Coventry, provoked a backlash from the community. The reaction began early in 1961 with the appearance of "We, the Guardian," a character controlled by an anonymous player, and one not to be confused with the guardians inhabiting the Krell underworld in Stabery's canonical account.



This guardian attacked the canon of Coventry, and more particularly ridiculed the notion that anyone old enough to participate in fandom would find a game of "Lets Pretend" compelling.

To emphasise these points, the Guardian brought his propaganda into the real world - culminating in an incident involving the appearance of the Guardian Symbol (a stylized blue trident) at the USC library, and more disturbingly, the defacement of a driveway and sidewalk outside of Stabery's home with anti-Coventry graffiti."

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THE HUMAN PROJECT

A benefit, and something Peterson would (probably) be pleased about his obsession with detail is that by following all the many and varied intellectual filaments that lead to D&D he gives us a picture of the nobility of human culture.

Everything is based on what has come before. Role-Playing, or at least, systemic, replicable game-based roleplaying like D&D, needs a massive intellectual and cultural superstructure to feed off.

In its rules its essentially adapted from wargaming, which has its own deep history, and reaches back to a somewhat abandoned concept of the Umpire, a human mind which knows the 'rules' and whom governs the imagined world. It’s this existence of a human mind, an Umpire, which means that "anything can be attempted"


"In order to manage this world, the dungeon master keeps maps and notes, but the credibility of the world depends on the dungeon masters imagination and wits, the manner in which the unexpected is resolved. A player can always peek underneath a cabinet, insult a local fisherman or set fire to the forest. Through this collaboration, the players and referee can become so immersed in the world that events flow naturally, details leap to mind spontaneously, rather than from the prepared page. Where does this world come from? It seems to be fundamentally the same as the literary worlds created by authors, simple an impulse of human imagination. While the improvisational nature of characters and scenarios is rarely as honed or polished as literature, players manage to fill in the details for themselves, or settle contradictions naturally, as if acting in a fictional world were something innate in human nature."



Though, as Peterson points out later on, this isn't really tactical infinity as its still based on the capacities of mutually-comprehending human minds, but it is Human Tactical Maximum.

On the various strolls through Wargaming we come across Robert Louis Stevenson, HG Wells and (later in the Paracosm section) the Bronte siblings. And if you want to read a comic about all these people playing Warhammer against each other, boy does Kieron Gillen have a pitch for you!




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The Victorian Nobility literally cosplay as their former selves;

"In 1839 however, the feudal establishment experienced a fleeting resurgence when Sir Archibald Montgomeries, the 13th Earl of Eglington in Scotland, announced a chivalric tournament, one largely intended to compensate for the many honours the aristocracy lost in Victoria’s coronation - the Earls stepfather, not coincidentally, would have held the prestigious position of Knight Marshal in those ceremonies had they transpired.

Under the influence of Sir Walter Scotts Waverley (1814) and Ivanhoe (1815), as well as the same Gothic stories that captivated the Brote children around a decade after, Eglington hoped to restore chivalric values to their rightful place, and to demonstrate that the noble stock of the British Isles still instantiated the same virtues espoused by the medieval epics. The tournament conformed to medieval tradition as best as its designers understood it: young noblemen of the day equipped themselves with arms and steeds for jousting, while noble ladies donned sumptuous garments and paired themselves with champions who would fight in their name. Training for the event took the better part of a year, as the employment of thse arms hardly came naturally to the idle rich of early modern Europe.

The young knights adopted personae that might have some straight out of Spenser: The Earl of Craven, for example, styled himself as the knight of the Griffin, Viscount Alford as the Knight of the Black Lion, the Marquess of Waterford as the Knight of the Dragon. While staying at Eglington Castle in preparation for the event, the Knights were obligated to call one another by these pseudonyms, which apparently occasioned the few jests: the Knight of the White Rose, the joke went, ran the risk of turning pink after consuming s surfeit of claret."

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For its cultural strata, D&D is a 20th century fantasy Gumbo, which is based on Sword and Sorcery, Tolkien, Comics and a range of other stuff. These things themselves drew from 19th century popular culture and so-on.

For its role playing and embodiment D&D draws upon the ambient paracosms of the in-vitro U.S. zine scene, and on the game Diplomacy, which itself draws on the RAND corporation. RAND gave itself the job of wargaming for the U.S. military. The existence of the Atom Bomb made most of its wargames somewhat pointless (one individual suggests modelling the effect of a tactical nuke by bringing a hand grenade to the wargame and throwing it onto the table).

Searching for a model for its simulations, RAND strips more and more rules out and makes its sims less and less tactical. They end up with nerds in rooms pretending to be Presidents and nations, communicating via letter with central nerds plying the role of global Dungeon Master. Again, the simulation becomes mind-to-mind and again "anything may be attempted"

The point here is that all of these tiny individual, and individually flawed roots, these minor tragedies and small personal dramas, great ambitions, bankruptcies, friendship groups and odd ideas, all of them are necessary. All of these people were building something together.

That's not the only thing they were doing, it’s not that the existence of D&D justifies the existence of the Brote siblings or the RAND corporation, but that the intellectual superstructure they created added to the world and made new things possible.

This may be true of all things, but Petersons obsessive, relentless and sometimes headbanging attention to, and obsession with, detail, SHOWS us this in irrefutable truth. You may pick up any thread of thought and follow its individual development back as far as records show. He is not just stating an idea, he makes the case in inarguable terms no jury could deny. After all, he has the recrods.

There is something fundamentally, and blindly, noble about this great, and specific, accumulation of human thought and imagination. Things don't always necessarily improve but human culture does make new things possible.





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As promised, Fritz Lieber, with a sword;

"The SCA did some amount of early proselytizing outside the Bay Area, most notably at WesterCon 20 in Los Angeles, where they formed the first ties with LASFS. Marion Zimmer Bradley serves as the guest of honour at the convention banquet. _Tournaments Illuminated #3_ reported on "a fascinating fight between Siegfried von Hofflichkeit and Fritz Leiber, who must be approaching sixty" years old, attributing to Lieber "an ability with standard sabre that is sheer joy to watch" as well as unusual proficiency fighting "broadsword to broadsword with no shields" against his younger opponent. The writer Harlan Ellison also fared well in the tournament that day, though the Bay Area veterans, including Poul Anderson, dominated the finals."

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Thoughts on the Glorantha Sourcebook

LAYOUT AND ART

My favourite thing about this book and most powerful sensory experience is the quality, variety and integration of the art throughout the whole of the book.

There are some minor quibbles with the dietetic elements. I fantasise about an epistolary world and
this attempt is imperfect, but still noble and good.

Firstly, this book is BRIGHT, which I very much appreciate and which fits the tone and feel of the world it describes.



As someone who has been quietly disappointed in Games Workshops slowly dulling aesthetic and not really happy with its art or the way it integrates image, world-building, infographics and DIFFERING STYLES of art within the same world window;

THIS IS HOW YOU FUCKING DO THAT.



THE DIVINE INFOGRAPHICS


My favourite part of the book is these repeated family trees of the divine hierarchies for the different cultures and celestial courts. Since the superstructure of Glorantha is all about divine powers, these are essentially cosmic maps of the setting.



They are tremendous fun, and very well made. They also feel 'real' or sub-real, they have a pleasing harmony of pseudosense



THE INTEGRATION OF STYLES


There are many different artists throughout the whole of the book but the sense of them as a whole, as representing the same reality, though seen through different eyes, is sustained throughout.

This feels more like the kind of book where the artists have been allowed to draw the bits they find most interesting and then space has been found for it, rather than the other way round.

The fact that there is no absolute, crushing 'Gloranthan House-Style' means it feels like the art as a whole, across the book, can breathe. There is a pleasing range of variety of methods and approaches within a loose but cohesive whole.

This fudges the diegesis somewhat. Some elements, like the bas-reliefs at the start of the book,



 or this vase on page 160,



 seem highly diegetic, as if they are literal artefacts which have been transcribed directly onto the page from the imagined world.

Other pieces have an un-specific diegesis, pictures from inside the world, but with no particular named artist or exact in-world point of view.



We could regard this as imperfect in the abstract but in function, as the book is read, it works fine. The human mind can deal quite easily with this mixture of levels of diegetic and less-diegetic elements, as we do when we are children, and the concept of the book never leans on that structure  so heavily that the differences become a problem.

Simply - these images speak in different voices, but they all feel like they are talking about the same thing.






THE TEXT - THE AMERICANNESS OF GLORANTHA

In both its world-concept and in its writing style, Glorantha feels to me, really intensely American.

This might not make sense initially as, in its subject and its openness to influence, I think it draws hugely from a staggering range of real-world religions and cultures. There is a shitload of Hinduism in there for a start, but there is a lot of Everything in there.



I'll begin with the language

This is really hard to define, and none of it is intended as a criticism. There is a quality here I think of as 'plains English', which, by imagination or not I tend to associate with the middle bits of America. Friendly bearded protestant men with Hawaiian t-shirts and Tiki collections who go to church every Sunday. People who's grandfathers probably spoke German or Dutch.


"Then a great dark spot rose into the sky upon the net. This huge bloated shadow flickered with a smoky glow. The shadow crept across the face of the sun, blotting it out and making all the world cold for a moment. A snapping moment of terror pierced the world, then the dark sky-web vanished, and the edge of the sun crept past the shadow. The shadow disappeared and the sun brightened, but everyone thought it looked paler than it had before. Some said it moved differently, too.

In Pamaltela, the heat strengthened the many spirits of that realm. They entered the jungles, plants, and elves, and combated the rot in their fibers."


There is certainly nothing wrong with this and it does its work. There is something in it that reminds me of American ticker-tape just-the-facts prose. Americans, I believe, do not like compressions of meaning, or elisions. They like a word to be a word and a phrase to be clear, to be linked directly to the next phase and for its meaning to be what it plainly signifies itself to be. They also seem to dislike strong euphony and intensification of rhythm. There is a Germanic tendency there that its better to extend a sentence than to potentially leave any element of it open to inconstant interpretation. Brandon Sanderson is a bit like this in some of his things I've read. It is very clear, democratic, rather Methodist-bible language.



Theogony Gumbo

The simple fact that Glorantha takes from so many different world religions and the combination of its very open-hearted and very open-handed attitude to them, along with the simultaneous access of knowledge and systemisation of that knowledge, speaks itself, in the nature of the intellectual work done, of a particular time and place.

This kind of mingling together of influences would not have happened in this way at many other times.

A little earlier in Anglo-diaspora history the 'foreign' bits would probably be more foreign, more orientalised. A lot earlier and the knowledge either wouldn't exist or the originating religion/cultures that make it up either wouldn't be in conversation with each other or wouldn't get on.

Post 2000's, I think most millennials would probably feel bad about taking aspects of IRL cultures and religions from different real-world ethnicities and just jamming them together anyhow. It seems like the kind of thing someone would get upset about.

So this reads to me as very much a product of the 1960-1990-s era of relative liberalism. And the willingness to systematise the whole thing (though the diegetic elements of the world itself do remark that there is no absolute systemisation of divine order from within the world, only differing interpretations arranged around a wide but fuzzy 'general knowledge).

This is from what I think of a "Cultural Lego Times". Innocent times when a bunch of nerds could just reach out to grab elements of different cultures and fantasy elements and just jam them together like a child making something, without a great deal of angst or drama.

I do not think we live in Cultural Lego Times any more.



The Fantasy Elements

Glorantha has humanoid Ducks in it. Literally they are only in a few pages BUT THEY ARE ON THE COVER AND THEY ARE CANON. So, this is the kind of highly developed fantasy world where it has its own divine hierarchies but clearly at some point Sandy Petersens best friend or someone really wanted to play a humanoid duck, and while they haven't really gone deep on the duck thing since then, they are still in there.

My broad point here is that the genesis of the integration of fantasy elements, with trolls (but different), elves, dwarfs etc (but different) and not hobbits (but we have ducks), again seems to me to come from a particular time and place. The post-Tolkien 60's-70's boom. (Much of Glorantha feels very 70s to me). It has that slightly gauche summery tactile 70's vibe.

On the mid-20thC Paracosm-boom scale, it’s very clearly cooler and edgier than Greyhawk or Blackmoor, and more coherent than Coventry, but not quite as cool as Tekumel, which is like Gloranthas edgy brother who plays in a band and won't let Glorantha into their room.


So all of this makes me intuit that, though Glorantha is, very nobly, a combination of a vast range of influences and has many highly original elements and aspects, the range and origins of those sources, and the manner of their integration and expression, make it feel very American to me.







GODS IN GLORANTHA


If this is about anything it’s about the integration of a coherent Theogony as a magical, moral, cosmic, historic and philosophical superstructure for a fantasy world. If you want to play a game where there are lots of religions and where religion matters then this is for you.

Gods in Glorantha play a dozen roles.


Gods as Aircraft Carriers.

Their simplest is as tanks or artillery divisions in battles. Every culture has a god or godsquad and when they come into military conflict whoever has the strongest god(s) and can get them to intervene more effectually will win battles by having them lend power or simply turn up on the field.

So Gloranthan military engagements are actually 5th dimensional affairs in which ritual and spiritual elements can transform into simple military materiel and visa-versa (a little like 40k).



Gods as Culture-Leaders

Gods incarnate, visitate and reincarnate a whole bunch and this can lead the centre of any culture an effectively-immortal warrior/teacher/prophet/lawgiver who acts not only as a private superman but also as a kind of cultural and moral library and judge.

It’s a little like the British Sovereign is almost meant to be in law, a magical source of power, and a little like if George Washington could reincarnate on each death, but with all knowledge intact, and if all George Washingtons children might be born with a few grammes of divine Washington power. And if you want to invade America successfully, you need to find and permanently kill the reincarnating George Washingon, but once you do that, the rest of the place goes down pretty easy.

Or simply as if all that Eurasian stuff about bronze-age God-Kings was pretty much accurate and literally true.



Gods as Magical and Philosophical Superstrucure Soap-Opera

Since the gods are definitely real, though mainly outside time, and since there is a big library of gods and their exact relations and histories, learning magic, philosophy and history is really learning about this big divine Soap-Opera and trying to get close to, and understand, one or more of the characters.

Magical and divine power in Glorantha is so integrated, and so total, trying to understand it is one of the few useful things you can do. Societies and cultures that gain technological or philosophical dominance, don't do it necessarily by prioritising technology and science, but by getting close to a highly rationalist god or god-philosophy that releases these capacities in them.


God as Atom Bombs

You can basically smash any problem if you can get a big enough god on it.

There seems to be a theme in Glorantaha of Godwars and gods punching each other to pieces leaving holes or damaging reality so that the grainy sinister 90's CGI of Chaos can come through. Since its a D&D world where becoming a demigod is the last rung of promotion and since its quite and agonistic world where adventure needs to happen, this adds an element of tragedy; your super-adventure might end up punching a hole in the Real and bringing Glorantha closer to DOOM.





QUESTIONS
FOR PEOPLE WHO PLAY IN GLORANTHA


How the fuck do you play in Glorantha?

I'm waaaay into Warhammer 40k, to the extent that I have opinions on the different _voice actors_ for the Audiobook Readers in the Horus Heresy series.

Reading this Glorantha sourcebook is probably as close as I can get to what it must be like to be introduced to 40k for the first time. Holy crap this is a fucktonne of stuff to be slammed over the head with.

Even as someone who is generally into pseudohistories, and this being, essentially, part of my job, bit parts of Glorantha were a real slog to get through. There is just a huge, HUGE amount of highly specific history here. Staggering levels of detail, highly specific and, due to Gloranthas close integration of divine order, magical power and temporal culture, highly consequential information.

I know there are a huge amount of playstyles and cognitive/world-engine preferences out there very different to mine and this is probably exactly what a bunch of you are specifically looking for.

People who play in Glorantha, specifically, people who are introducing new players into Glorantha. How do you do it? Is it a loremaster thing where the DM is just deeply read in the pseudohistory and drops it on the unknowing as things go on? Do you need a bunch of experts on Glortantha to play?

From my personal biases, Glorantha is so dense that its virtually unplayable as a game setting, but I know most are not like me, so what are you doing?


Where did Glorantha Come From?

I know there must be a forum somewhere purely about this, and with its own scandals and schisms, are we at the point yet where anyone can summarise 40+ years of paracosm development in a blog comment or medium article? Probably not.

How much of the legendary background is stuff that happened in some game back in the 70's? Or in some wargame? Very large amounts of this read like legendarification of someones play reports, specifically the oddness of the pseudohistories which come off very much like some player-character stuff.

Or am I wrong and its all designed-in? Or did it evolve over multiple books over different eras? Has anyone written the historiography of the creation of Glorantha? And then helpfully done the condensed version because I probably don't have time to read the whole thing.


THE COMMENTS ON THIS ARE REALLY INTERESTING IF YOU WANT TO SEE TRENT DO A DEEP-DIVE ON GLORANTHA AND A BUNCH OF OTHER STUFF

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Twenty Green Nights

Incredibly, the Gawain Kickstarter is now only £548 away from hitting its target, with 23 days left on the clock!


See how happy Arthur is? WHAT COULD GO WRONG????



As a thank-you of sorts, and also as more shameless marketing. Here is a list of Twenty Green Nights taken from all across the Patrickverse;


1. A night lit by the Green Moon itself

Worshipped womb-god of the Chimeric Druids of Uud and quested for in GreySpace by the field-armoured FadeShips of the Genarchs. Some call this moon Umbor, the Green Womb, and claim it as a repository of forbidden and ancient Genological knowledge. For others the moon represents redemption of a kind, or judgement. Appearing and disappearing over millennia, fading from records as magically as it seems to fade from memory, lifetimes can be lost in search of the Green Moon, or it can be stumbled over in a moment due to a glitched drive or fractured co-ordinate blotch.


2. A night lit by the Green-Shifted stars of an entropy-guarded stellar cradle zone

Deep-time Ultra-Sophonts strung adaptive cosmic webs around the shifting mass clouds at the cosmic core. Here the stellar nursery is safe to birth forth stars and potential life-carrying worlds, away from the invisible vampiric entropic effect which infests the rest of GreySpace and which almost certainly spells a slow, accelerated doom for baryonic life in the cosmos.

These cradle-stars glow green through the time-web. Perhaps an effect of the titanic powers of its creation, or perhaps this future cosmos will be lit by the light of green suns, if it survives.


3. A night lit by the Green Lamps of the Viridian ULeague of Nox

Nox, black, Navigator-ruled, city on the Nightmare sea, is a place not famed for mercy. Yet every pseudo-eon in the gap of the Time-God Oct, by ancient stricture, the Viridian Union is permitted to march with its glimmering and delicate emerald lamps. The Union is made up of the descendants of those members of the former-slave classes who rose up to defend Nox from the unregistered cannibalism of the Iron-Eye Islanders from the Bone-Beach sea, when they invaded during the power vacumn left by the fall of the Undead Navarchy.

The numbers of the Union lessen every cycle, life for the descendants of the Viridian League has not been easy, though they are technically granted the rank of 'citizen' they still exist in condemned poverty on the borders of society. Many of their children have fallen back into slavery, or collaped into insane mutation.


4. Seen though Digital-Green Nightvision Goggles on the borders of the Umbral Zone

The pixel-camouflaged draft-troopers on the borders of the Oil-Scarred Umbral Zone trade in Vaseline, which they rub into their faces to ease the sores brought about by the required 24-hour, even-in-sleep wearing of their registered night-vision goggles, and in baby-food which they say eases the deliberate constipation brought about by army rations.


5. Green from the Phyto-luminescence of a Green Sea

On a distant world in the eastern spiral arm of a small Galaxy, lit by a yellow sun, the vast ocean of the southern hemisphere awakens into light. When cut by the wake of ships, the splash of limbs or the ripple of waves, water writhes with its own light, kinesis become illumination.


6. The Green Eyes of the Red-Black Cats of Phrax

Swarms of the miniature Red-Black cats, each no larger than a teacup, but swarming in their hundreds, flow though the jungles of Phrax IX, the leaves turned a seeming black by the sinking of the red sun of Phrax. The large light-sensing eyes of the cats spark like green fire, the iridescent emerald feathers of the Nykicorax they hunt shimmer faintly in the reddish dark and the luminescent breeding glowflies hunted in their turn by the shining birds themselves glow green making a layers constellation of verdant biology.


7. "Night is Green" - A No-Target designation

In the fortress-spinnacles of the dreg-haunted plains of GreyWorld Vanaxis, a "Green Night" is a blessedly rare dark-period in which the rifle-armed guards patrolling the spinnacles warspheres are neither attacked nor probed by the Bio-terror dregs outside. Sixteen hours without railgun fire or impact grenades will be marked by smiles and green flares for the next shift cycles.


8. A Chlorophyll-Poisoned Sun-God

The Sun-God ark, poisoned by the mother of Swamps, the Green Leviathan Oouuo, turned all reality a sick, black-green as the poisoned air of the Dragons breath covered the land and absorbed every other colour. Though only golems and the breathless undead remained to witness or record the deed.


9. Burning Copper Cities on the Borderlands of Hell

Only a lamp of another kind. What sins confine souls to the Tin Cities of Hell, and whether the fire consuming them is a deliberate act of Diobolic Justice or simply random caprice, is unknown to all but a handful of visionary screaming theogonists. In the eternal bight of that Black Realm, they are one of a few stable navigating points.


10. A Night inside the Enchanted Emerald of the Sultan of Jazar

The Sultan will sometimes offer exciting or attractive dinner guests (or political enemies) the chance to spend the Night within the enchanted emerald which makes up the centrepiece of his crown.

Within lies a virid and transmorphic reality, all controlled by the mind of the "Demon" Zero-Sleep. Zero-Sleep has until sunrise to convince anyone within his Green World, whether through luxury or fear, to take his place as master of that fragile paracosm. Should he fail, his guests will be released with the sun. (Unless the Sultan hides his gem, but that would ruin his authority with the court for only the wearer of the Gem may rule Jazar).


11. A Dream of a Caterpillar

Sages and Opium smokers sometimes speak of the peaceful dream of a caterpillar which dozes, replete, beneath a half-eaten leaf with a bright summer-sun beating down upon the upward side. For the Sage this is a metaphor for transience and the limited nature of understanding, for the Opium fiend, perhaps simply a desired state of mind.


12. A Sleepless Night at Christmas on a distant Relatives Couch

Curled up awkwardly on a strange-smelling piece of furniture, in an unfamiliar room, watching dying firelight dance across mistletoe, holly wreathes and the needles of a Christmas tree, waiting for inconstant sleep and knowing it will not come soon and not last long.


13. A Night of Eco-Police ShameRaids

A city woken to terror at midnight as Central floods the dying cycle-suburbs with Green police who break open homes and carry out on-the-spot inspections of ReCyc-Rule obedience and Carbon Observance. Those seen to have failed or not noted the primary laws in their own home are dragged out and publicly shamed, mocked and belittled by their own neighbours and friends, themselves terrified and relieved that they are not on the receiving end of this months "Green Night".


14. Braindamage Suffered by the Corpse-Robber Brendan Shoom

Shoom staggered forth from the Tomb of Queen Ave, his vision fogging in the still black night and wild spots of green flaring unpredictably behind his eyes. The cause was massive, terminal and cascading neurological damage from the poisoned breath of the Ur-Tiger guardians of Aves corpse. It was his last green night, but the handful of emeralds found clutched in his dead hands was enough to call yet more fools to their doom in the Queens Necropolis.


15. Spinning Biofragments in the Womb-Ship 'Thramis'.

The ruined lifeship trapped in a dying vector between LaGrange points of the Veridian system, in the freezing zero-gravity of its cracked and crystal-walled biovaults, the freeze-crystallised fragments of ten million years of planetary life glimmer like emeralds as the spin and dance though the ships dead halls, lit only by pale uncaring stars in the infinite night.


16. Death by Strangulation by the Ular Cult.

Throttled by a band of twisted green silk wrapped around the throat like a garotte, the silk then worn on the subsequent day, in full view of the victims relatives, as both insult and deniable threat. "The Prince sleeps in the deep, green night." So did the Cult of Ular spread their terror throughout the cities of the Bumbling Plains, before their righteous destruction.


17. A night of No Emergencies at the Watchtower of Realities.

In the great tower of the Hyper-Optimates, from which they observe the central-axis and high-energy world-wreaths of the Infinite Empire of Esh, a row of green lights means that no realm or paraverse has been threatened by entropic invasion or inner chaos - a 'Green Night', though a dull one for such adventurous end bellicose guardians.


18. Full Knowledge of the Verdant Tao

For some seekers after the path of the Tao, the 'Green Night' refers to a complex spiritual state indicating something close to what many would call 'ego death', combined with a full revelation of the creative and meaning-generating power of emptiness itself, and therefore a comprehension of the unity of All.


19. A Goblin Night

In the lands of the Gackling Moon, during the period where that regrettable satellite shows its Goblinish Face to the world, a Green Night is one of locked doors and pitchforks, as the Moonlands Goblin population is driven into cackling, grasping, gackling, thieving and chaotic overdrive.


20. A Night in the Silk World

In the court of the Jade Emperor the spirits of innocent maidens embroider endlessly upon ribbons of green silk produced at the Emperors request by the Cosmic Caterpillar Om-Kot. The tapestries on these ribbons portray the adventures-after-death of those heroes of the mortal world who acted in the greatest and most noblest intent, but sadly failed too soon.

For as long as the spirits of more innocent maidens arrive in the Celestial Court, and for as long as they embroider on the endless ribbons, the spirits of those failed heroes may adventure still through a reality of silver thread and an unending green night.



Sunday, 6 October 2019

My Intelligence Problem

Hey, maybe you can do my work for me. I have this potentially challenging problem.

The Game is question is a "pretend nations" game.

Each participant controls a fantasy nation on a map.



Each nation has a randomly determined power level and the player for each nation breaks down their power points into armies, ambassadors, wizards etc.

The way the ruling player makes moves is that they write a letter to the DM, In-Character, as of they were the ruler writing to the generals of their armies, their intelligence head, ambassador etc, sending instructions, asking for information etc.

They write one of these per month, though within that can address as many of their pre-created individuals as they wish, so one letter can have one part going to the head of an army and another sheet going to the high priest or whatever.

During the month, the DM resolves the results of any interactions between nations. I'm thinking here specifically of the results of a battle between armies but a very wide range of  interactions are possible. They then write letters back to each ruler, in the voice of their generals or wizards or whatever, telling them what happened, from that characters point of view.

Players are also allowed to write to each other, in-character, if they want to, but they are meant to only do it in hardcopy.

The world creation is set up so that nations have access to each other but up until the opening state of play, have had very little ability to interact, and so they each know each others nations exist and a little about them but don't have much in-depth information.

The world has also been set up so that a major stabilising central authority has just dispensary. This is intended to lead to conflict and creative interaction.



The problem is this;

When players create intelligence agents, ambassadors and other infiltrators, and send them into each others territory, I'm not sure how to handle it.

The world creation is somewhat emergent, people don't define every hex of their nation to begin with, we are making up details as they come into play.

And the DM (me) isn't supposed to tell different players what the others are up to, unless their agents, or the people of their nation, can observe it.

So when player A sends a spy into player B's territory, how do I decide what to tell them?

I could just make parts of it up, but that means I am making up details about someone's country. If I do that I *have* to tell them what those details are ultimately. And if I go around telling people; "Oh you have a thriving but corrupt port city here" that might be bearable, but it also lets them know they are being spied on, because content has been generated.

I could ask the player being spied on for the information; "Hey do you have a city hereabouts and what in general do you think might be there?" That lets them keep control of their own nation but also, again, lets them know they are being spied on.

I could organise some "baffling" process where each month I ask each of them a random question about the makeup of their nation, and some of those might be for spies from other nations, but many will just be random?

I am OPEN TO IDEAS for solutions to this unusual problem.

Friday, 4 October 2019

This Kickstarter Might Actually Work!

We have passed the half-way mark on the Kickstarter! 



Which strongly suggests is might actually be a success.



As well as that, Maeto has done a Troika/Arthrian Uptate post!


Thursday, 3 October 2019

GAWAIN KICKSTARTER TAKE TWO

We are doing the same thing again, but for less money!  - KICKSTARTER LINK AT THE BOTTOM AND ON THE RIGHT.

But first, fresh content!

This might belong to the Sci-Fi universe conglomeration of thoughts I was considering here;

Exo-Suits of the Hot Girls
Hackships of the Cryogenic Rats
The Omnistructure in Decay
A Hoard of Ice, a Throne of Gold
Science Fiction Fortifications

I guess these are all part of the same developing paracosm? Now mixed with Uud, and mixed with Gawain?





Pilgrims of the Green Moon



Uud-Space is sometimes patrolled by Alpha-Class Genarchs of the Instrumentality piloting ritual Destrier-Class  Fade-Ships sheathed in Mayltrix fields and managed by quasi-sophontic A.I's.

Fractured and crypt-locked engrams records recovered from an Eon-sealed and somnolent artificial archivist indicated that, beginning in the year 22,593 one such Genarch embarked on a solitary search for loc/vector relative-point-stable biome codenamed only "Green Moon".

The following are recovered data fragments showing encounter file headings only, with one-line orthodescriptors.

Sadly, the file locations are scrambles and it is impossible to tell which locators, descriptors and actions apply to which.

LOCATORS

1. Tomb World orbit.
2. Unused LaGrange for a system quarantined as Paperclip-class nano-disaster.
3. Trailing in the exhaust-shadow of a migrating Yg-Fleet.
4. Orbital array of the Ice-World Indigo-Phi.
5. Sim-Space injection beyond the orthogonal zone.
6. Penumbra of a militarised Glass Cage Exoworld.
7. Unmarked and stagnant move-route in the Wir-Heal nebulae.
8. Rad-wrecked starless dockyard with deleted ident tags.
9. Roguespace conglomeration.
10. In the orbit of the Green Moon.


ENCOUNTERS.

1. Sun-Happy detrivores worshipping the Slump-God.
2. Thane-Engined Biocruiser Womb-Ship holding hyper-deep faunocogitators engaged in dense reality algorithms.
3. Megalith-Ship crowned with viridian war-maser Agon-Corona.
4. Chrono-Shadowed entropy-pulse. Assumed wake of a deep-reality mover, but moaning through the E.M. spetra with auto-responding thought shades.
5. School of Ex-Empire Lupenised hackcraft psycho-redacted from the noosphere, cognitively linked with cycling predatory stim-jacks.
6. Burbling vagueplague colony pods lancing through a re-transmitted hashcloud of their own upcycled sophonticidic apocalypse sims. Ultradrives quavering and bursting out screaming EM radiospheres.
7. Tumbling Nightminds held in iron-asteroid reality magnets. Sensorblack bodies pulse with subconscious reply dreams keyed to subtly override neocortical governance.
8. Rad-blasted auto-scow captained by self-uplifted engram-A.I. combo, way outside Exo-World bulterian lexosphere. pulses personalised xenopop from engrams copy-paste light cone. Seems unarmed.
9.Filement drive iridium spike ship coasting on half-surge with engines muffled and weapon-bays dark. Ident tags read infinite zero and vox replies in simulated Assyrian.
10. Unknown Fadeship, coursier class or above, viridian mayltrix and engine pluming Cherenkov energy while eco-spheres return sub-zero deathstate or flat recursive gamma-sign.


EMERGENCE

1. Tumbling, No clear vector.
2. On collision or attack course.
3. matching vector for boarding or mass-exchange.
4. Crossing vector/no other response.
5. Accelerating past LaGrange position.
6. Incoherent course changes.
7. Engines flickering, possible distress.
8. Flat burn for system edge.
9. Course is parallel.
10. In flight from your destination.






Well, we failed last time so whats different this time?

- Cut the profits from any backer books out.
- Displaced postage onto the BigCartel store to be paid separately.
- Reduced the number of books.

Total to hit is waay lower. Postage has been removed from that total so it may still be a challenge to get there BUT we will have longer and the fact that the total is potentially achievable will hopefully raise our spirits and yours and keep the whole thing feeling like a real possibility.

(Also, I now have a marketing twitter, https://twitter.com/pjamesstuart, we will see how long I can keep that up).

Thursday, 26 September 2019

The Plain of Sociable Holes

Between the homomorphic Chat Hills and the Needlelands lies the Plain of Sociable Holes.




THE CHAT HILLS

The warm mumbling wind emanating from the Sociable Holes seems always to be on the edge of speech. Over time it erodes stone strangely, into the form of faces so the chat hills which border on the plain look like odd-expressioned sculptures speaking of the unknown, leaning for a moment of time in which to gather breath.

Few populate the hills; lunatics, the oppressed or escapees. Or pilgrims come to search their faces for some sign, to seek out phrases in the mumbling wind, or pass on to the Needleands to hunt for rare Urchin spines.

The distaff tribes promise passage over the dangerous plain to the Needlelands where the Uber-urchins roam. They glide via soporific condors made tameable by the warm winds, for food they hunt the KNABSKRATTLERS of the plain.

These people worship storms for they say the noise of them banishes the white-noise-spectres of the plain, though whether such creatures are real or merely rumour non can say. The gliding clans have legends of the holes themselves, of a mythical "city of the holes found within". Of course you should never actually look down.




THE PLAIN

The plain itself is stretched tight like skin on fat flesh. A cracked desert of indifference, about which no opinions are held. Only the KNABSKRATTLERS can move freely across it; parasites on the perhaps near-infinite holes which only they seem able to enter and leave at-will.

At times the KNABSKRATTLERS seem barely intelligent, like witless beasts, though at others they exhibit a crowlike scavenging and thief-wise knack to their actions. The threat of food and equipment stolen by KNABSKRATTLERS in the night is just another danger of the plain, though any fool passing on the plain at night probably deserves their fate.




THE SOCIABLE HOLES

The holes themselves seem to be sinkholes. From them comes the warm mumbling wind which rises up and rolls over the plain, and, some suggest, occasional waves of chaotic magic.

Their sides are steep and vertical. There are no reports of whatever lies within. Going down a hole is a one-way trip. Apart from the KNABSKRATTLERS.

The holes seem to be sociable. They move across the plain at something close to walking speed, meeting and combining with each other, then splitting apart due to some abyssal factionalism. They follow people and especially groups. In darkness they speed up.

The holes "bounce" off the strong inclines of the Chat Hills and Needlelands, which thankfully keeps them penned on the plain.

Are they tendrils of some meta-hole beneath the plain? Portals to some fresh dimension? Do they truly have personalities, as some mad wanderers have claimed? Are they alive?




THE NEEDLELANDS

Beyond the plain lies the shrieking trees of the spike-leaved needlelands,a nail forest hunted by prickling predators disguised against the shards of form. Somewhere even more dangerous than the Plain of Sociable Holes itself.

But only here are the Uber-Urchins found, and a single one of their imperishably sharp spikes can make a fortune for anyone lucky enough to hunt it without being impaled and forgotten.



Monday, 23 September 2019

Die for the Frog-Emperor


The Frogs of the Apocalypse, spawn of the Annihilator, who is called 'Tan-Te' who’s form is unknowable, who’s colour is Viridian and who is without Virtue

As the Nation Beasts descended from Heaven, or coalesced from the ether of forgotten time, one great beast alone came not from above, or from beyond, but from beneath; rising from the depths of the Chaos Sea.

This was Tan-Te, the Annihilator, Beast of the Abyss and enemy of all civilised worlds,

All stories end in death, and the destruction of Esh, had been long-prophesied; to fall to Tan-Te its awful spawn, the Krote. But the slow, tenuous decay of reality has denied the destined end. The Annihilator has been robbed.



TAN-TE


Though the form of Tan Te is unknowable, he seems to be saurian, green and scaled, with sky-scraping spinal plates like shards of broken glass. Long and powerful, moving with slow sinuosity, his brutal face half-submerged, his golden eyes half-closed in slumbering but undimmed wrath.

Across his  back range cold, towering forests. From his heart comes an irregular pulse of bio-tectonic heat which turns the grey rain to steam as it lands and sends endless curls of grey mist piling and rolling across the roaring rivers, waterfalls, stagnant marshes and the terrible cities of the Krote.



THE KROTE – FUNDAMENTALLY EVIL?


The most warlike, destructive and feared of all the Zoiterran peoples,  the Krote were  devils of old Esh. Ghosts in the rain, terrors in the mist.

Over time, direct experience  has replaced this formless and overpowering dread with a more reasoned, detailed, textured and understandable dislike. Most Zoiterran cultures have warred against the Krote, most have also had cause to ally with them at other times. While they are terrifying monsters, they also hate Yggsrathaal and are dedicated to her destruction.

Over time, a slow trickle of independent escapees have fled Tan-Te and found uncertain refuge in other nations. A fragile consensus has arisen amongst the sages of Zoiterra; that the Krote themselves are capable of Virtue.

The same cannot be said for their government, a deranged and mysterious tyranny locked behind the endless mists of Tan-Te.



THE KROTE - FORM


The Krote are frog-shaped beings.
Like many Zoiterrans, they have a wide  variation and many-sub-groups with slightly different morphology. The standard Krote is about five feet high and tends to be of a greenish colour, with smooth or only somewhat mottled skin. Beyond this, there are many other types.

Some are very tall and wide, almost seven feet high, with corrugated warty skin.  Other forms are smaller, more gracile and very light. These can be vibrantly colourful, blazoned in bright contrasting colours.

It may not be that all Krote are inherently toxic,  but it is assumed in Zoiterran culture that they are literally 'made of poison' and toxic flesh, blood and skin strongly assists a Krote in gaining status amongst its kind.

It is rumoured amongst the lower classes of Zoiterra that all Krote are cannibals and that the only way for a Krote to advance is for them to eat their superior, mimicking at a small scale what the Krote wish to do to all life; to consume it.

This is true. They are predators and carnivores. They will eat other intelligent species. They will eat their own kind. They wish to eat everything. Krote raised far from Tan-Te, or those in the few forest tribes beyond the reach of the Frog-Emperors rule, may not share this end-goal, but they are few.

The greatest enemy of the Krote is dryness, and for once Zoiterra is thankful for the Waste. A great sheet of parched, dry and alkali land serves to contain them. They have a process of 'waxing' by which they can make themselves resistant to dry conditions, various technologies to assist them in travel and a handful of sub-groups who are naturally resistant to dryness, but it is difficult for the Krote to move large forces beyond Tan-Te for long



THE MIST-CITIES OF THE KROTE


Little is known of the cities of the Krote. Ambassadors and  handfuls of merchants or high-status individuals have visited them and made reports. Only powerful, and suicidaly brave magic-users will scry them; the Krote keep  watch for astral incursions, and respond with  lethal force. One clan of the Vulture-Ptak of Orxcea is permitted carry messages into, or out of Tan-Te. The content of their messages is minimal

The cities are amphibious, built in or around freshwater. Some are constructed in and around artificially extended and maintained  waterfalls; tendrils of rushing water descending branchlike paths over ziggurats of carved viridian scale, black stone and petrified wood, cloaked in cloud and steam.

And loud. Rain plinks, pounds, steams and evaporates as it lands. Water rushes, roars, trickles and drips. The Krote emerge as darkness falls, they boom, croak, chirrup, cry and call in a great chorus of rolling and consuming sound which echoes through the dank and endless gloom. Waste-Walkers near Tan-Te hear the cities of the Krote as light dies away.

In and around these cities they farm giant insects as a staple diet. Tales speak of gigantic maggots, organised termite hives, huge worms and centipedes and the terrible conditions of a Krote insect plantation. They mine Tan-Te himself, delving beneath his viridian scales to draw up droplets of his burning blood, which they feed to their own young in terrible experiments.



THE TERRFYING CULTURE OF THE KROTE


The Krote live divided into castes and guilds, bound in obsessive  hierarchies beneath a being known in Zoiterra as the 'Frog Emperor'.

These words would be considered a blasphemous insult to most Krote.  To them, the ruler of all Krote is called "The King in Amber", "The Voice of Tan-Te" or "The Mouth". All loyalist Krote live absolute and unquestioned subjection to this mighty and sacred being who unifies the role of tyrant and prophet

Many Zoiterran Sages believe the "Frog Emperor" does not actually exist. The Qua in particular think they are a sacred prisoner who has died and been replaced many times. Others speak of an undead spirit of Psionic energy bound to a shrivelled mummy within an Amber sheath, or of something like the skeleton of a frog, haunted by memories and eldritch power. Only the highest members of each Caste and of the Toxic-Aristocracy are allowed audience with The Voice of Tan-Te.

Beneath the King in Amber, the Krote are bound in a culture of unending wrath. They rage, not to reclaim the worlds of Esh, but to reclaim their destruction. They dream of the day they will once again battle Gods and destroy all, before consuming everything. But that means they must first, survive, and then kill Yggsrathaal.

Towards this goal they accept no moral limits and submit to no philosophy except the doctrine of their own inevitable l victory and consumption of reality. Tan-Te will meet, kill, and eat Yggsrathaal, and they will eat Her children at His side.



THE KROTE MILITARY


The armies of the Frog-Emperor are rightly feared. Shuffling troops in Verdigris-stained bronze, copper-armoured spearmen and charioteers, Giant mindless war-tortoises, beetle-riding waxed Waste-Cavalry, and monstrous creations who have drunk the Blood of Tan-Te, all preceded by hordes of expendable monkeymen and orcs driven before their armies in drugged-up waves of expendable chaff.

The military technology of the Krote has few equals. From above loom 'air balloons' stitched from eel-skins. These deadly psychic zeppelins house Praetorians of the King in Amber protected by gliding and poison-skinned special forces. Below grind Geist Machines; Krote artillery, sorcerous and alchemical contraptions sucking in a spewing out moaning spirts which merge seamlessly into the choking mist which accompanies the horde.

The most loathsome aspect of fighting the Krote is their deeply en-cultured belief in sacrifice. So deeply are most Krote brainwashed into the cult of their own personal worthlessness that individuals, or whole armies, will willingly sacrifice themselves if they think it will bring the Krote as a whole one step closer to final victory.

An individual Krote might allow themselves to be impaled in a sword or spear, then grab the blade, or haft, controlling the weapon at the cost of their own flesh, while their compatriot uses the resulting gap to go in for the kill. In sieges they will build a ramp of their own bodies to the breach in a cities wall. This makes them utterly terrifying for most self-aware beings to fight, it is like battling a horde of intelligent zombies.



SOCIETAL DIVISIONS


The family does not exist. The state has absolute control of fertilisation, child-rearing and education. The Krote breed in vast numbers of tadpoles, all of which are considered tools towards their eventual victory

Young are analysed and separated according to their potential then raised in tight, unified  hierarchies and absolute specialisations. Many Krote often do not even learn of other classes and castes until they reach adulthood.

Some  are sent to the Toxic Aristocracy, those with psychic or magical potential are raised in separate collages, split by even the school of magic they learn, some are selected to receive the Blood of Tan-Te. Some are raised as researchers, administrators and weapons-developers. A handful of those with potential are raised as scouts, trackers and special-forces operatives. Others are pre-emptively poisoned to limit their intelligence, making them more serviceable workers or obedient soldiers.

It is from these 'altered' Krote that the Empire will sometimes sell small populations. This highly-questionable trade, once more common in darker and more threatened years for Zoiterra, has now fallen to a trickle. The development of the Philosophy of Virtue has made the process more and more problematic in the eyes of Zoiterrans, and the government of the King in Amber has begun to worry that its methods for ensuring the sterility, low-intelligence and, crucially, the absence of psychic potential from its traded populations, may not be absolute.



PSIONIC POWER


This is exquisitely rare amongst  Zoiterran cultures, and little understood. Entire generations can pass without any psion being born. There are no schools of psionics in Zoiterra and what little knowledge there is, is handed down from hard-sought, long-lived masters to individual students who may be lucky to find them at all.

The Krote are more naturally psionic than other peoples and their disturbing eugenics programmes have amplified this quality.  Potential psions are carefully scanned for and hunted out when young

Zoiterran intelligence groups, especially the Qua, believe that the higher echelons of the Krote government are riddled with psychic mindworms; subconscious commands, loyalty locks, multi-levelled mind-labyrinths and memory-wipes crated to ensure total control. The Qua postulate that even the ruling Krote live in a state of mild and continual terror, never sure if their own memories or loyalties have been altered or changed, and seeking always to exert the same invisible control over their contemparies.

Those few Krote born with Psionic powers beyond Tan-Te, or those who escape or defect, live in terror. The 'Voice of Tan-Te' is obsessed with preventing the spread of psionic power. An independent, non-loyal, psionic population of Krote living beyond its rule is nightmarish to it. Any psionic Krote desiring freedom must live in total secrecy, or be pursued to  the ends of Uud itself by the forces of the King in Amber.



TAN-TE'S POSITION AMONG THE NATION BEASTS


The people of Zoiterra say that Tan Te is without any virtue, while the Krote say his virtue is ANNIHILATION.

Tan-Te is a predator, and a continual danger to the other Nation Beasts. They tolerate his presence because they have little choice in the matter, none of them have the power to make him leave, and because, as dangerous as Tan-Te is, he is a still-greater danger to Yggsrathaal

For the Annihilator despises the Great Entropic Wym above all. She has stolen his fate, stolen his end and his meaning. And he is absolutely focused on revenge. Tan-Te desires nothing so much as to destroy Yggsrathaal, and to consume her. Once done, he will fulfil his purpose and end what remains of reality, as he is fated to do. But to end the world, he must first preserve it from Her.

So, for the moment, their ends align. Though their cause does not.


Friday, 20 September 2019

Churchill on Churchill 2: A Jolly Good Fellow

I'm still listening to the 76 hour audiobook of this.

It think its the largest book I've ever experienced. I'm still thinking about what to say about it and how to review it. There is SO MUCH happening, so much information and so much that could be said that its hard to know where to start.

Also, its history and saying anything meaningful about it would rely on a grasp of detail which I generally don't have.

I think I will have to, rather than reviewing the book, review the experience of reading the book, or of listening to it and then re-reading fragments of the text.

So to begin with, here is an kind of abstraction or condensation of what Marlborough was up to when he was *becoming Marlborough* - the guy who literally has his own song.

If you've ever sang "for he's a Jolly Good fellow",  then that was based on a French Folk tune. And that tune was about the rumoured death of Marlborough after the battle of Malplaquet.

"Marlborough Has Left for the War" also known as "Mort et convoi de l'invincible Malbrough", "The Death and Burial of the Invincible Marlbrough".

In which he did not actually die.

But that tune, in a sense and at at distance, commemorates him, and the death he didn't have.




......................


This is the middle part of the Marlborough story

We've seen him growing up, (or inferred what it might have been like as sources are minimal) and we have seen him at court, scheming and boning the kings mistress, and we saw him get married.

Now we have two whole (large) volumes in which he can do all the stuff that made him famous, adored, then despised -

What this is, essentially, breaking it down is; being the military and diplomatic fulcrum of a multi-nation protestant alliance against the France of Louis XIV And running around in Flanders and Germany trying to outmanoeuvre French armies and fighting, almost once a year a series of super-big set-piece battles against French forces which he almost always wins, very often against the odds




THE SEASONAL PULSE OF WAR

Marlboroughs working life is made up of two great interconnected games. He is playing 'Diplomacy' and 'Warhammer' at the same time.

Fighting the French are the English (soon to be British, with the Act of Union) under Queen Anne (& Parliament). The Dutch who I think are a republic, and some German states, and Austria I think,

Queen Anne wants Louis to recognise her claim to the throne, stop trying to make England Catholic and to kick out the Pretender ("maybe 'tis our brother?") the son of the last Stuart king who got booted out by William during the glorious revolution.

Parliament want that, and also whatever random stuff any particular Parliament has currently come up with.

The Dutch want the French out of their country and a nice thick barrier zone to make sure they don't come back. And in the initial stages of the war, they want this preferably *without fighting a battle*.

The German states want something complex to do with the balance of power over on that side of Europe, but they are often fighting a bunch of other people at about the same time for complex reasons of their own.

And later on, after Louis schemes a relative onto the Spanish throne, all the same people want that relative off the throne.

Point being, all the forces aligned against France have different reasons for being there, different kinds of risk they are willing to take, and are subject to complex forces of their own (In Britain, hot serving maids and crazed factionalism become a thing). Plus all of these reasons and imperatives are continually shifting all the time.

While in France, the national policy is whatever Louis says it is.

France is unified and central, everyone else is divided and seperate.

So, all the time, but especially in winter when little fighting can take place, Marlborough's Diplomacy game is to vist, write, persuade, argue, cajole etc etc all the members of the grand alliance to keep throwing in troops, to work nicely with each other and to let the army keep fighting.

When spring and summer come around, the giant mud-stomping, dust-clogging, country-denuding armies of the time can stamp around doing things, then Marlborough gets to play Warhammer. If he played Diplomacy really well, he gets more guys for his Warhammer army.

But really, all of these things are happening all of the time. Every military decision, even the smallest, is also a political decision which can echo back up into that endless game of Diplomacy and change things there.

It is the dual nature of his job, or position, that really defines Marlborough's role. And its his position as a kind of "temporary", but necessary, Protestant Caesar, that really defines him.





ITS THE JOHN AND EUGENE SHOW

Prince Eugine of Savoy!



A man with a large face and apparently quite un-prepossessing on first meeting, but someone who soon impresses everyone (military) around him with his ability to just keep punching dudes in the field.

Eugene is European Protestantisn's main travelling tactical facepuncher until Marlborough turns up.

The very close friendship and deep co-operation between the two men is another defining feature of Marlbroughs success.

They both like battles rather than sieges and marching about. They are both willing to roll the dice against larger forces. They both like, and excel in field command.

These two just get on really, really, really well. In all of Marlboroughs major victories, Eugene is right there beside him, often commanding part of the forces. They occasionally disagree but they never turn on or backstab each other. They seem to amplify each others better qualities for the most part.

Its curious that, with his wifes defining relationship with the Queen having a dominating effect on his fortunes at home, for half of Marlborough's working life, he had another defining friendship, a work-wife really.





BATTLES ARE BIG, AND GENERALS SOMETIMES FIGHT

The battles of the period are fucking huge.

Some get exceeded by the Napoleonic wars. Some are not exceeded till WWI. But even then, a lot of WWI battles have huge numbers dying over very large ranges over many days.

These battles start at sunrise, they go on till dark and then stop. The fronts stretch roughly to the horizon. About three miles to each side. Everyone dies in a day. They are meant to be controlled by one man on a horse. There's a great deal of pre-planning and delegation of responsibility for different fronts, but the main concept still seems to be based around one guy on a horse being aware of everything that is happening and making all the key decisions, when to advance, retreat, commit reserves etc.

The level of bloodshed is startling in many of these large set-piece battles.

Generals will sometimes get stuck in themselves. This is considered a 'forgivable lapse' when Marlborough himself starts rallying cavalry charges, gets his horse shot from under him and is thrown into a ditch, only to be rescued by another charge. Winston considers it a shameful failure when during Blenheim, the French General Vendomme "a savage beast", gets too excited and commits himself to a central melee, ends up fighting in hand-to-hand with a pike and loses control of his forces.

Battles have to stop at sundown as everyone is knackered and no-one can find each other. One battle ends with Marlbrough ordering his troops to 'sit on their arms' till dawn. They think, or hope, they have the French encircled, but when day comes a lot of them have just made off in the night.

The are also rarely as decisive as any general might wish. I think the main hope for a horse-&-musket general is to beat up the other guys army with just your infantry and artillery, then after they are exhausted and break away, you send in your reserved cavalry to run them down, and END THE WAR IN ONE BLOW.

This never seems to quite take place. Turns out the enemy have cavalry and reserves too, so you need to commit yours to take care of theirs, so even if you beat someone really badly, by the time night falls you are too exhausted to pursue and finish so a lot of their (demoralised and upset) army manages to get away.





AN AVERAGE DAY FOR MARLBOROUGH

A classic Marlborough-style battle goes something like this.

The French have slightly, or a lot, more troops, and are often in a defensive position.

You (Marlborough) consider this good, because you have scouted their position and you think your troops are better trained and your army works a bit better across the board.

Everyone thinks that any 'fair' battle between roughly equal forces will probably be a battle of annihilation, so almost no-one wants to fight one. The only time anyone will really commit to a real battle is if they are trapped, or if they think they have such an advantage that they can reasonably win. (Or if political or psychological factors come in, like Louis telling his general - "You better fucking fight or else" or if honour or morale won't permit a retreat.)

So if you are a commander, like Marlborough or Eugene, who wants to have a big, lines-on-a-map kriegspiel Warhammer battle, then you need to essentially trick or force the other side into having one.

Marlborough deals with this (firstly by lying to his own employers, but more on that later) by attacking the French when the French are pretty sure they have the advantage in numbers and ground, so they don't want to withdraw.



MORNING

So in the Morning of a Marlborough battle, the French commander wakes up to someone telling him there are Allied troops right outside. Ok, so the allies marched in the night/early morning. But they can't move troops/artillery/cavalry through the swamp/forest/flooded lowlands plus we are well set up here so lets fight this one out.

Ah shit, looks like the Allies are throwing competent forces against every part of the line. They can't mean to concentrate *everywhere*. Where are their reserves? Where do they mean to *really* attack?

Usually its in the morning of a Marlborough battle that he could easily lose if the enemy commander was very bold and knew, or guessed what he was up to. Often Marlborough has thrown troops across difficult ground and they are not necessarily well supported and often he is deeply involved with some Kriegspiel cleverness/bullshit like starting to concentrate a combined arms group on his side of the battlefield. This is all delicate shit and could easily be messed up by a strong counterattack.

However, its getting towards lunchtime and its time for the French to start making minor mistakes.



LUNCHTIME

Ok, the allied troops are pretty good and they are pushing us back *here* and *here*. We still have reserves and we are pretty sure they still have theirs...

We don't want to lose this village or treeline or whatever, so send in troops to get them back.

Ok, minor fuckup. In this fight over this relatively small village, we sent in too many reserves at the same time. Now there is a logjam and they can't manoeuvre. Or we pushed the allies back, but they just retreated, they didn't completely go away so we still have to think about them. Or we sent in cavalry to wipe out the infantry but they didn't do quite as well as expected.

Or if you are VENDOMME "DRIVE ME CLOSER SO I CAN HIT THEM WITH MY SWORD" you act like a Warhammer General and fucking dive in to wherever the fighting is thickest and try to issue army-wide orders from there.

The sun is high. Both forces are committed all across the line.

The French may still have cavalry reserves. But, their C&C is confused. Many small units have been repulsed. It's not clear what the allies are doing. You can't see their manoeuvres through the fighting lines. You have the vague but growing sense that you have been fucked somehow. Possibly the General is missing, off dealing with some serious problem to stop the line being rolled up, and now some prince or cavalry commander is 'in charge'.

You still have most of your men. And you have been inflicting huge casualties on the allies. But they haven't gone away and you are not sure what is happening.



DINNERTIME

Its 'oh shit' time. While Marlborough's troops and artillery were toughing it out being outnumbered and often unsupported, but being a *little bit* better than their opposing forces, they have tied up the French side and put enormous pressure on its command, both psychologically and in pure informational terms.

From the other side this looks like chaos, and it is a little because no particular section of the battle has gone according to anyone's plan.

But while all this has been going on, Marlborough has been building his pontoon bridges, moving his men through the forest, guarding his reserve elite cavalry, accumulating unspent Warhammer command points, hoarding magic the gathering cards or whatever the fuck his smartass plan was. And while it was, and is, a plan complex enough that it would be intensely vulnerable to disruption if the enemy knew what it was, they didn't and don't.

Plus Marlborough has Eugene, who he can send as a highly effective commander to deal with any developing fuckups on his side.

So now its mid-afternoon, all committed troops are under enormous stress and at their limit. But now Marlborough plays his Royal Flush hand, or uses his cascading game-breaking but tournament-legal special rules and hits the French line at the point they had to take guys from to back up the other guys who went to help the first guys who got into trouble.

Then, in Blenheim at least, he lawnmowers whatever is in front of him. And in other battles, generally does pretty well.

Marlborough wins! Whooo! And we have Peace in Our Time.

Except we don't because night falls, a lot of the French get away, the battle hurts them but isn't decisive, Louis has more troops somewhere, the Allied troops are also exhausted and badly mauled, and the allies are still politically fragmented and want different things. Also Louis XIV is the fanciest boy ever really _really_ doesn't like backing down.

Still the allies have gained a serious advantage for the season, which is enough to depress the French, convince parliament to keep voting money for the war etc etc, and the Dutch have a bit more of their country back, see you next year.