Tuesday 26 February 2019

The Unbalanced Creator Returns? - A Review of The Tricks of Treachery Isle

"Nothing is what it seems and no one can be trusted on Cormorant Isle! And yet you find that you must rely on dangerous strangers if you hope to leave the Isle alive. Who are these tricksters and what is the secret that they will kill to keep hidden?"

Available HERE, from Game of the North.

Our mystery continues. 

Based on the writing style, formatting, repeated use of a few phrases and the general tone, I am 99% certain that the creator of Game of the North, is also the creator behind Unbalanced Dice Games,

This is someone I first talked about back in 2017, and again, Bryce has sent me an adventure by someone who writes a lot like them. (EDIT - he already reviewed it here.)

I think Bryce thinks this is some kind of extended art-crime faux-naive experiment, I think they are for real, or possibly Bryce in disguise.

The creativity is high

The influences are CLASSIC.

The prose is as deranged.

And the layout is insane.

A very great deal of this adventure is utterly charming and bonkers.

A few elements are;

A Witch who flies around on a huge sword and shoots fire from her mouth and hands, but who only burns ships, not people. If you find her lair and try to fight her, she comes at you with the Zweihander, which acts as a mount if she is defeated.

Some excellent treasures, including a magic knife which once belonged to a heroic tamer of birds, and which becomes more powerful the more birds the PC tames.

Some charming mechanics, including this for a fear effect; "-anyone bringing a light into this room is likely to see their own dark reflection in the black glass provoking a save vs. Spells. On a failed save the PC becomes Frightened and looses a finger – as they chew through it trying to stifle their terror."

A really magnificent opening scene; the PCs approach a beach from the sea, a brutal battle is underway, just before they reach shore it is ended by the chief Knight of the winning side drowning his opposite number under the surf. As they arrive, the same Knight welcomes the PC's, tells them he is on an honourable mission, and asks for their help.

On almost every page is some novel, charming, lively, vivid, original or interesting element or idea, almost always drawn from the gen-pop of fantasy, but with the glow of a distinctive imagination.

Its hard, or very difficult, to actually run. That said, this feels more actually-runnable than anything I have seen from this creator before.


Its a hex-crawl on an island, with ten keyed locations and a handful of factions or dominant elements, so far, so simple.

Even though its a hex crawl, the description of the adventure comes in 'Acts', Act One - The Haunted Castle, Act Two - The Isles Deceptions, Act Three - The Masters of the Isle'

Like most of the Unbalanced Creators stuff, things are described in-sequence, assuming that the PCs will go from place to place in a particular order.

There are two main locational arrangements, a Knight vs Knight Haunted House situation, which the PC's are expected to be drawn into first, has two main locations. Then there is an 'elemental dungeon' thing with water, earth, fire and air-based areas, each of which can be opened up by climbing a central tower and solving its mysteries.

(The locations are good, and through very strange, and in some cases quite affecting, they do have a coherent logic which can be discovered in play. In some ways they would be easier to play through than to DM since the players cannot become mixed up in the prose and design of the adventure itself but only get the end result, which is broadly coherent.)

Then there is an evil pumpkin-person, replaced-inhabitants situation, with a giant monster-summoning at the end. The final boss monster is absolutely not what you are expecting.

All of these are linked in sometimes-tangental ways, so that you could, maybe, end up being pulled from one to another laterally across the direction of the intended plot.

There is also a deep mythology involving elemental hells on the moon, which I think is maybe influenced by the Kabbalah?

However, the Creator has actually included commentary and advice for using the adventure in different ways;

"Right off the bat you might notice that this adventure has many parts & these don’t seem immediately related. This is intentional. The adventure as it is presented is intended to progress in a generalized sequence as indicated by the numbered areas. 1- Characters arrive on the island. 2- Characters meet & join with the group of knights. 3 – Characters venture to the haunted house & encounter the witch. 4 – Characters explore the island. 5 – Characters subdue the major threats of the island. This last part is best perfromed if followed in a specific sequence.

But this isn’t the only way that this adventure can be run. A simple & straightforward modification would include the knights, the haunted house & the leshens of the island. One could forgo the haunted castle & simply focus on the elemental focal points on the isle – the guide tower, the dragon’s lair & the mereid’s marsh as well as the Leshen’s henge. What’s best is to leave these decisions to the players & to give them the option to explore the island & make the choices for themselves."


The layout is utterly insane.

As is usual for the Unbalanced Creator, there is random shifting between centre-aligned and left-aligned text, but that's just for starters.

There is an ornate table design which is used for the first tables on the opening pages, and then never again.

There is a nice little piece of ornamentation which is used to fill a white space, with another large piece of white space left blank.

We have bolded elements to each entry, which are something like read-aloud text, and which are bolded in orange with a grey background.

We have moved from one column (the first thing I reviewed from this creator) to two columns, (which I think came later) and now to a three column layout.

EXCEPT - the flow of text across the page sometimes leaps between columns and in a few cases there are page divisions which are not indicated by the text at all, meaning the first time you read through it, it just seems crazed, then you realise there is an invisible division.

Here's the first act starting spread, you can see that the first page is normal with a sequential flow across three columns. (I added these tints so you can see which sections of text relate to each other. The page as-read is white.)

Then the second page has this mid-line division, which is obvious here, as I've highlighted it, but really isn't the first time you read down the first column.

Then we get a big slice of white with a standard flow continuing on the next page after;

Things seem to settle down, but after a while we get this piece of amazement;

The final descriptive element of this section, which describes what to do once every part has been thoroughly explored, has been layed across the bottom of the page in basic font with nothing to indicate what it is.

Absolute Madlad.

The organisation of information on a larger scale is actually pretty old-school. Its divided into parts;

First the opening being rules for navigating the island. Then each locations descriptive text in sequence. Then a series of stat blocks for the creators homebrew system with some important character and behavioural elements included. Then a series of images, some are public domain images of the NPC's and creatures and there are maps for the keyed areas. Then right at the end there are some custom treasures.

This is all just-about usable. Bits and pieces are spread over multiple pages, but dividing maps and keys is something from a lot of adventures, I'm assuming you are meant to print everything out first and then combine sheets as needed.

At least one triggered encounter - with some lost and feral children, has a massive meta-effect on the structure of the whole thing. The childrens leader is obsessed with investigating the islands locations and mysteries. They will lead the children to do this after you contact them. With each element they investigate, there is a 25% chance they will succeed, effectively 'emptying the dungeon' and a 75% chance they all just die doing it.

And they 'all' die on a bad roll apparently.

So depending on how you roll, you could have these NPC's handling everything for you, or they could just die and you find the bodies somewhere.

Like most of the creators ideas, its actually a good concept; a group on the island who want to investigate the same things and who will effect the meta-structure of what goes on, plus they are children so they are both potential competition, but you really don't wand to hurt them or let them get hurt.

But you only find this out in their description.


The prose is as delightfully odd as usual. Everything you need is here, hidden in the looping sentences and partial re-descriptions, just not necessarily in the order or arrangement you might expect;

"When the Party arrives here – presuming they come here directly from the beach – they arrive at night and the mischief of the island’s irascible, suspicious Witch can begin. Otherwise the area is as described here – less the troubling interventions of Zasimus the Witch."

That's a beautiful way of saying that the Witch is there at night and not in the day.

Here's the Unbalanced Creator (if it is indeed them) telling you that an area is difficult to approach from the sea, due to a cliff;

"Gygis’ Temple sits at the base of a valley that leads to the ocean. Where the lands meets the sea there is a precipitous decline –effectively a cliff – though not very tall – it does descend onto broken, dangerous stones. As such – this area is extremely difficult to approach by sea – requiring a few d20 Stat checks just to sail near enough followed by 2 d8 Scale Walls checks."

Here is the eruption of an important NPC ghost;

"The ghost of Pritzak Dohh will scream & bluster liberally in ancient Sundus – which smart PCs may be able to interpret. He exclaims that the age of the flesh is over & that the Jack-o-lantern men – the Leshen are the new way."


Of all this, the loops in the prose itself, the loops of the assumed path of the adventure through the apparent hex-crawl, the looping of the text through the crazed layout, the originality of the content and vividness and gauche energy of the elements used, give the process of simply reading the Tricks of Treachery Isle the feeling of a rather cryptic adventure.

It's like a Grandma's puzzle, which she has devised over time, and expects to enthral and bemuse, and is very pleased with, but of which she has forgotten exactly how it works, and so experiencing it has both the pleasure of the puzzle as intended, but also trying to work out exactly what the hell Grandma was actually thinking.


Who this is and what exactly is going on is still unknown, at least to me.

If this is the same person then they produce a LOT of stuff on a very regular schedule. If it is the same person then it looks like they dropped Unbalanced Dice Games and then started Game of the North.

The sheer volume of stuff makes it seem impossible to me that this is a joke or performance of some kind. You need to be really into it to write this amount of stuff.

Its possible this is someone affecting or allowing themselves to affect this particular style and aesthetic as a partially deliberate choice.

But if they are faking it, that's even more work. Faking the crazy prose, the layout, the adventure structuring and doing all that while also coming up with genuinely good adventure elements and original-yet-classic ideas, I don't know how you do that.

It's possible its Bryce. It's possible its one of you.

Wednesday 20 February 2019

This Wall Near My House

I have been trying to get friends interested in this wall near my house, which has a lot of historical graffiti on it.

Absolutely no-one is interested in my wall.

Monday 18 February 2019

Eldritch Foundry and the birth of Uud

The Gods of the Old World* have taken vengeance on me. After crapping on (or constructively criticising) Games Workshops world-building like a little rat, the Gods have given me my own world to build.

Now we shall see if the mocking critic can actually answer any of his own criticisms.

For the past month or so I have been building a world, and not just a normal world like those I build pretty much all the time in books or on the blog, this one has been validated by the Gods of Capital (pending on Kickstarter success).

Let me introduce you to Eldritch Foundry;

Click image for link.

They also have a Twitter, and an Instagram.

If you are familiar with Hero Forge, you know the basic concept. An online service with menus that allow you to select, arrange and print out your own heroic miniature, which is then sent to you in the mail.

And if you are familiar with Hero Forge you will know about the descriptive text that comes with each option - "Goblins are sneaky and cunning creatures" etc, or something like that.

But, what if, when you hit the menu button for 'Fighter' instead of;

"Fighters are  brave and doughty individuals accustomed to all forms of combat they hold the line and protect their friends".

You got something a little more like this?;

 (not final text);

"You can call it something else, wrap it up in plans and analysis, say violence is a stopgap or that a stabbing never solved anything, but it all comes down to blood and bruises in the end.

Someone has to be ready to take the hit and deal out hurt, and if nobody is, then you have already lost.

And of all the people set to do harm in this world, there are few as prepared as you are to eat the consequences and take back some of what they fork out. That’s honest.

Tongues lie and minds deceive, but the body is the truth. If you underwrite your actions with your flesh, if your currency is your own blood, you are True, no matter what they say. The truest thing in this uncertain world.

You might be a walking catastrophe in every sense but this; socially, mentally, financially and, lets face it, probably morally, but your deeds are true, no matter how dumb, corrupt or crazy you might be.

And where on Udd is there any good thing not clothed in violence and hiding somewhere on the Path of Blades? Honour, truth, charity, love, the past, the future, even hope and the breath in your lungs, either someone is willing to fight to keep them, or someone worse will fight harder to take them away.

If you want these things, or say you do, and you are not fundamentally willing to start some shit, now, and I mean right NOW, this instant, then you get nothing. And if you have them already, you get less than nothing because someone’s coming to take them away, and most of whatever else you have along with it.

People say violence never ends well, but things are bad for you right now. The world is bad. Everything is bad for everyone. And what are they going to do? Write a book about it?

All those schemes and plans, kingdoms and empires, every grand idea and noble cause, all they are is levers, and every leaver has a nasty, dirty, torn-up tip where the pressure goes, where the weight is lifted. The part that does the work and takes the hurt.

That's you, or someone just like you, and if you don't work, then nothing does, you dirty wedge. You are a lever with a lever in its hand. This one with a metal bite or a piercing point where the pressure enters in.

And there it is, existing for a tenth of a second when the impact shock runs through your bones and your body realises it is still alive, with all its organs still within the skin, that you were a slim slice of a moment faster, or stronger, or smarter or just lucky, it doesn't matter which – it’s a hit. You got them. Steel bites and for that exact fragment, wound and weapon are the axle of reality, everything, every dream and plan, every past hope and possible future, all of it, wheels like stars around the singular, certain and absolute fact that metal entered flesh. The war at the heart of things flexes and the pulse of reality beats, once.

Now do it again.

And again and again. Keep doing it. Keep fighting till you claw through time. Kick Deaths teeth out from its skull, sow those teeth like corn to grow new Deaths, and kick out their teeth too.


And if you can't win, survive.

And if you can't survive, then make sure you leave a big goddam mess on the way out."

And what if you had that for every single option available? (Except body types which I think are going to be a slider or something and I couldn't think of anything really good to write about them).

And, what if, instead of describing generic beings, from a generic world, and generic swords and generic armour, every entry gave you little fragments of world-lore, that slowly built up into a picture of a coherent culture. So the entry for Chain-mail might be like this;

"The best protection you can wear without anyone realising its on you. Chainmail is s step below scale armour in raw physical protection but a step up socially.

Mail wont stop you breaking your ribs. It won't stop your skull being smashed in. It won't keep the cardioid artery  in your thigh protected. But will (usually) stop you being cut and stabbed in the upper body, by most things, most of the time, which is pretty good and in the murky environment of Blackriver this will stop you dying of infection the cut gives you.

Chain breaks down into broad types depending on its use;

“Over-mail” is thicker, heavier, often cheaper and made of iron and meant to go over a gambeson, this needs to be held up by a belt and is considered military or combat wear. You can still hide over-mail under a coat but its not hard to spot.

“Under-mail” or “Court Mail” is lighter, finer and more expensive. Its often Deoth or mountain work. It can be worn easily under armour or secretly under a shirt (or leave the collar popped open for a touch of violent glamour). It’s for nobles, secret agents, courtesans, masked figures of mystery or anyone with too much money.

Aeth often eschew any but the lightest and most tailored mail as it destroys the shape of their body and hangs from their narrow shoulders like a curtain

"Shady Mail" is associated with crime, smuggling law-enforcement and penumbral dealings. Shady Mail is essentially exactly the same as ‘under-mail’ except worn by someone poor or suspicious in questionable circumstances. Just being found wearing concealed mail can be very bad (if you are poor).


Iron chain is common, cheap, heavy, black and smells of iron and rust. It still works though.

Steel chain is usually Deoth or mountain work. Its lighter, more expensive, can be cleaned to a shine and rusts a lot less.

Titanium is even lighter than steel and is almost always custom Deoth work, made for a particular person rather than adjusted from a template.

Copper is for swamp-stalkers, allowed to oxidise and turn green to prevent rust taking the metal.

Waste-Walker chain contains links of iron ferrum which are said to blind or disorient some creatures of the Waste.

Common Terms;

“City-Links”- Each of the Grey Cities has a signature pattern of links particular to its armourers.  Those experienced in the craft can always tell the origin of such a shirt.

“Shadow Coat” - Even though every link in a mail coat can be replaced over time, the pattern of the original remains the same. A coat in which every individual link has been lost but the pattern of the origin remains is called a “Shadow Coat”. Mercenaries and adventurers often like to wax lyrical over the implied identity metaphor of these items.

“Iron Shadow” – This is a chainmail coat which, when purchased consisted of only shining steel links. Constant repairs due to damage, and a condition of poverty or limited resources leads to the shining steel being slowly interspersed with black, heavy, rusty iron. This is called an ‘Iron Shadow’ and is a common condition of dirtbag adventurers.

“Iron Petticoats” – Refers not to the armour but to the rust-stains of poorly maintained or over-used iron mail. Exposure to rain and bogs leads to the rust of the mail seeping through clothes and into skin over long periods, leaving red stains down the trunk and legs.

Whenever you buy your mail, don’t forget the wire brush for the endless cleaning and the oil for the endless oiling and polishing."

And what, if the entire structure of that world, and its reality, was created to make the act of building a character, choosing form, object and identity, an actually-heroic act, as if it were taking place within the described world, and that whole world was set up to have adventures in, with your freshly printed and unique character?

Something like this;

"The world, Uud, is eldritch, lost and lonely, wracked with slow glutinous storms of soft grey ash. Night falls like a suffocating pillow and day reveals a sky like dirty glass smeared with the hoary phosphor of another grey dawn, the sun pale and blinking through fume-coloured clouds like a cataracted eye.

Its lands and histories are lost, or changed, dulled and blurred by grey time. Even the boundaries of continents or the courses of slack and trickling rivers are smeared on maps, ignored by an indifferent culture.

But, beyond the boundry of this cracked and bleeding reality, strange new forces gather.

In the spaces beyond what-is the gears of a cosmic engine move. The Great Constructor, the Seraphormer, an engine of souls, grinds its hyperdimensional gears. In the uncountable ultrasphere beyond all things, soul-stuff boils, post-ontological workings spring into action and, somewhere inacessable to Time, Souls spew forth, and, like a sleet of glass arrowheads fly towards Uud.

Past the splintered marrow of the world-root, where Yggssthramall the Grey, mother of Entropic Wyrms, licks at the pale blood of reality, fresh new spirits pass invisibly into the world.

Pin-pricks of half-seen spectral light glimmer like forgotten stars, momentary, mistaken for comets or dancing insects.

The spirits of inspiration and new thought, piercing the grey skein of what-is, looping through moments of time. And where they land, new forms and new people are born, like yet unlike anything in living memory.

In shape and species they bear similitude to those who have come before. Yet their moulds are many, and they are born as, or become, diverse shapes and many forms most wondrous. In spirit they are as sparks of glowing fire, impetuous, bold, unwilling to wait or be bound by the tired rituals of a worn and gasping culture.

They are not shaped by the world, instead, they shape it.

They walk without masks and bear their names proudly.

And where they walk, the world shifts on its axis. The grey haze is pushed back, the Children of Yggsstraamal retreat in fear. The Ash falls like rain and is treaded into earth. The sky clears. For the first time in memory, stars are seen in a night sky, no longer smeared dark-grey, but celestial black.

It matters little to many of these spark-born souls whether they walk with the sword or the healing hand, for wherever they go the world springs into life, the old terrors of the wastes are driven forth in fear and new, more awful monsters are discovered ruling in long-blinded lands, and these also are fought. Ancient treasures are rediscovered, old magics reborn and new enchantment forged. Cultures long somnlescenet are shocked into life with recovered legends and fresh dreams.

These freshly-formed spirits are not always loved.

The crepuscular Gloom Queens of the Mountains of Reality, and the Hoary Bureacrats who rule the Grey Cities, loathe the new adventuring kind for bringing lively chaos to their settled hierarchies of cultural compost.

The awful Monster-Titans and hidden Teratarchies of the Wastes, likewise despise them, for the comatose cultures of the Dreaming Peoples have been shocked into new life and a fresh spirit of defiance kindled in the hearts of dreaming beings which, if it were allowed to grow, might one day throw off the awful Monsters rule of dark predation.

And curled at the root of reality, Yggssthramaal the Grey, first and most awful of the Great Entropic Wyrms who lick the blood of the world, and ultimate mother of the Memory-Eaters, Name -Thiefs, Face-Takers, and Dream-Stalkers that haunt the edges of the world, howls in anger, for the blood of reality has gained a bitter taste to that cosmic parasite, and like a cancer shrinking from radiation she writhes and curls in the hidden angles of creation, gathering her forces and plotting her revenge.

Yet the most immediate threat to the newly forged is simply each other, for they are impulsive, outrageous, proud, violent, imaginative and utterly unwilling to be ruled, as likely to battle each other for honour, glory, love or simple cash, as they are to band together to raid some forgotten city, save or threaten a kingdom or battle a monstrous titan or dementia-corroded godling.

The long, blurred, shadow-paralysis of Uud is coming to an end and a New Age is born."

Well, that's what I'm doing with Eldritch Foundry. Look out for a Kickstarter some time around May.

Saturday 16 February 2019

A Review of the Memoirs of Usama Ibn-Munqidh

What stands out to me most is the warmth and violence of the man and the deranged, but very terrible absurdism of the times.

Translated by Philip K.Hitti


It is a patterning of memories, brought to light in the same way that most human memories are, by the linking of kinds and of moments, with elements of one scene leading to the next.

If compared to a modern highly-researched history using multiple sources and records the accuracy and precision is respectively low, but compared to any actual human being that I know or have met in real life, the power of Usamah memory and recollection is astounding.

Names, places, dates and situations flow across the page exactly as if they were drawn directly from his mind. Though the nature of their expression is deeply human, with kind linking to kind and emotion to emotion, the feel, exactness, detail and liveliness, as well as exact memories of who was where when, and doing what, is deeply impressive.

Scene after scene springs into life from the page. Many, perhaps most, of these scenes are of Usamah or his father endlessly hunting birds, lions, hyenas, boars, geese, pretty much any and everything available in the local environment.


Usamah is at his most effecting when describing his relationship with his father, which, as it is a very classically male relationship, is described almost entirely through things they *do* together. Of which the lesser is fighting and the greater is hunting.

Usamas father gets an entire chapter dedicated to his absolute and overriding obsession with hunting. Something he passes on to his son, though in slightly lesser form, (it seems impossible that any imaginable human could love hunting as much as Usamahs father).

This passion goes so deep that to modern eyes it seems a mind of mania, and presents a relationship with the natural world which is difficult to process from the eyes of a modern city dweller, for whom nature may be something to revere but to avoid fucking with, but might make more sense to a farmer or a tory foxhunter.

Both father and son seem to absolutely adore nature and animals and both have absolutely no problem with that relationship being conducted largely through violence towards animals.

Some notes on Usamah's dad;

- So obsessed with falconry that he takes at least ten on every hunt, fills the house with falcons, trades falcons with neighbouring lords, converts at least one village into a cash-crop venture in which the *only* thing those people do is hunt falcons and bring them to him.

- This falcon, Al-Yahshur was so magnificent, capable, intelligent and beloved by Usamahs father that it was kept apart from the other falcons. It would be allowed to drink from a special cup, have a special bath poured for it if it wanted to bathe, be placed on a special perch to dry with a single live coal by it to keep it warm, would be combed and oiled and given a special piece of fur to sleep on, and then carried, sleeping, so that it was near the bed of Usamahs father as he slept.

- Likewise a Cheetah (of which they had many) was similarly exalted, given a special bed in the castles yard, allowed to walk itself, off the leash, to its collar, and combed by a handmaid.

- The home of Usamahs youth contained, as well as an essentially infinite number of falcons, various other birds of prey, cheetahs various hunting animals, pigeons, green water fowl, starlings, gazelles, rams, goats and fawns.

It seems that Usamahs father did only three things in his life, fight, hunt and copy the Qur’an. He made MANY of copies during his life. These are apparently the only things a Syrian Knight is really meant to be doing, and in this case at least, the cultural strictures seem to have meshed with a character well adapted to, and very enthusiastic about, them.

Above all it is the enormous depth of the passion for violence, faith and nature, communicated through the relation of a loving, even adoring son which impresses. The biophilia in particular suggests a life of arguably narrow-scope but enormous intensity, drive and feeling, and quality of person that it would be difficult to encounter in the modern world.


One of the strange, or manageably-bad things about Usamahs recollection is the extreme and horrific violence of much of it and the fact that this does not leave much of an impression on the reader of 'badness' or any sustained sense of deep horror.

He is a man living in a hateful age, who carries his hatreds and prejudices lightly, as much as culture requires, but without the deep consuming adoration for hatred that compels in the depiction of the enthusiastic bigot.

Certainly, Usamah will murder some Franks, in open combat, and at times in less-open combat. He ritually curses their name whenever they come up.

He will do things horrible to the eye. In one incident a bunch of Frankish pilgrims wander accidently into his fathers town. After a brief panic in which they think they are being invaded, the locals quickly attack and subdue these (apparently unarmed and non-aggressive) pilgrims. Kill a few, sell some off as slaves and imprison/convert others.

This kind of thing happens a lot. Everyone is doing it to everyone else almost all of the time. The Franks are doing it to the Muslims, the Muslims are doing it to the Franks and each other and presumably the Franks are also doing it to each other, though we do not go deeply enough into their world to see much of it.

He is never for a moment perturbed by any doubt that his culture is inherently superior to that of the Franks, or of the other denominations if Islam that occasionally turn up.

If you were to strip out all the awful things he does and present them one after the other to a modern, unsympathetic, or just very-literal audience, you would have the making of a supreme monster.

Yet, in the context of his life, of his times, of his character as displayed in other elements of his experience and simply of the 'feel' of the man as a whole, he seems 'good'. By the standards of a hateful time he is relatively decent. My impression of him and feeling towards him after reading the book is one of affection. He would kill me without a second thought.


The structuring of the text and the fact that Usamah simply tries to reflect *everything* he can think of at the end of his life, creates an impression of history quite distinct from any more deliberate narrative or thematic history.

Those books would need to make a point and sustain a point of view and not to seem stupid or to get bogged down in random bullshit.

But the 'point' of Usamahs history is simply "this is what I remember of my life", or arguably "all things are down to the Will of Allah (exalted is he!), especially when it seems like they are just crazily incoherent"

But because Usamah moves from memory to memory, and because the text is either badly organised, or not organised at all, possibly due to the terrible scribe the current translator blames for many difficulties in comprehension, and possibly due to the nature of the times and the expected arrangement of books in that period, what we have is a kaleidoscope, or a shelf full of photographs cast onto the floor, mixed up, treaded on, then picked up and placed in whatever linear order they came to the hand. Much of its meaning is created by us as we read it.

And this helps to sustain the massive difference we see and intuit between histories, which have clear directions, coherent actions and chains of causation, meaningful ends and a sense that there are 'ages' and 'events', and actual life-as-it-is lived.

In actual life, it’s just a whole bunch of insane and/or boring stuff happening all at the same time. It’s very rare at the moment of experience or in the flow of day-to-day living that you really know or understand what is going in, what has meaning and is part of the story of your life, and what is just stuff that is happening.

In Usamahs case, this absurdism is deepened by the chaotic state of the warfare between the Franks and Muslims, between the Muslims and the Muslims and between almost anyone at any time.

Betrayals and strange double-crossings are continual. There are periods where it seems like no loyalty will last more than a second, creating a sense of fervid instability and strange un-reality.

Military actions in the book seem heroic, stupid and terrifyingly random. There are very significant actions begun on an impulse or a random charge. For huge swathes of time there its quite obvious that neither side really understands what the other is doing, or even what they themselves are doing. It's near comical how random, disjointed and how utterly un-storylike many of these storied events are.

Usamah makes a point of remembering every strange discontity brought about by combat. Some brave men fear mice (literally), some take sword thrusts through the body, or even have their faces cut off, only to heal up or have the face sewn back on, and to go back to life with only a freaky Batman-Villain nickname. Others die to pin-pricks, falling stones or random chance.

The cultural situation is equally incoherent. It is a time of cosmopolitan prejudice and cultural-exchange murder-fests. If you picked out one half of these stories you could have a nice low-rent twitter link about how the period of the Crusades was a time of "wonderful diversity and cultural growth", which is true, so far as it goes. If you picked out the other half you could have a nice alt-right article about how Muslims and Christians are destined to endlessly muerderise each other. But all of these things are happening at once, all the time.

To me the randomness is baffling, strange and frightening. It feels very realistic and it makes it seem to me as if the world is a stupid place.

I suspect to Usamah, the same things were simply evidence of the will of Allah, that he lives his life in the direct presence of a higher power, which ordains all things, and produces these apparent absurdities for its own complex reasons which he will never fully understand but must simply accept.


While believing one thing for the whole of his life, with absolute conviction, Usamah also effectively believes a few different things as well, without any awareness of the discontinuity.

He is not stupid, I think instead, a highly intelligent man, but his nature, his life and the training of his culture did not encourage introspection, and as for philosophy and ideals, well he has the Qur’an, it’s all in there anyway. He was a perfect cavalier, all his energy and intelligence directed outwards, into the adventure of the living world, with almost none pointed back in. (Though there is a little.)

So Usamah happily curses the Franks, battles them endlessly, and becomes familiar with many of them to first-name basis. He points out that their culture and medicine is moronic and dangerous, and also mentions a few times they managed to cure impossible diseases. He is their friend, he is their enemy.

Usamah believes absolutely that all combats are fought in the palm of god and that planning and strategy and subterfuge are all utterly pointless, and he repeats this many, many, many times. Nothing will save you when your time is up, so you simply have to be brave and faithful to god and charge right in.

However, *here* are some examples of some clever subterfuges that actually worked pretty well. Here are some examples of his failures that could have been prevented by better planning and more experience and here are some others making obviously stupid decisions that put them in danger.

He is like this with many, many things. From our point of view, or to be honest, the point of view of almost anyone with a regular or analytical mind, this is absolutely nuts. But it worked for him. Though his philosophy seems incoherent, his actions are not, instead they are sometimes wise, often effectual. His experience, awareness, understanding and ability to learn are strong and distinct, and though that might not match up logically to us with a man whose ideology is all over the place and who's statement contradict each other within the space of a page, it seems that in the kind of life he lived, that just doesn't matter at all. Whatever it takes to be a competent Syrian Knight, it has nothing at all to do with complex coherent internal logic.


The paradox of Usamahs life, one that he is clearly living through while dictating his book, is that this most active, murderous, brave, adventurous and extremely high-risk man, lives to the age of ninety.

It's horrible for him. He gives one of the greatest laments to age and illness;

"Feebleness has bent me down to the ground, and old age has made one part of my body enter through another, so much so that I can now hardly recognize myself; and I continually bemoan my past. Here is what I have said in describing my own condition;

When I had attained in life a high state
For which I had always yearned, I wished for death.
Logevity has left me no energy
By which I could mee the vicissitudes of time when hostile to me.
My strength has been rendered weakness, and my two confidants,
My sight and my hearing, have betrayed me, since I attained this height.
When I rise, I feel as if laden
With amountain; and when I walk, as though I were bound with chains.
I creep with a cane in my hand which was wont
To carry in warfare a lance and a sword.
My nights I spend in my soft bed, unable to sleep
And wide awake as thogh I lay on solid rock.
Man is reversed in life: the moment
He attains perfection and completion, then he reverts to the condition from which he started."


There is much much more, nuggets of strangeness are scattered like gold though this book. Though so are incessant and repetitive stories about "that time I killed a lion" and "this thing with a falcon that time". It takes the high-drama but sombre and distant dramatic stage of the Crusades and kicks over the scenery, revealing vast, incoherent teeming human life, actual real people and living characters.

This is simply a great book for anyone who wants to spend an few days with a crazy Islamic grandad. I would strongly recommend it.

Sunday 10 February 2019

You Should Read This

To anyone asking if I've seen this post by Many Morbid about Zak Smith.

Yes I've seen it. I believe it. I didn't see any of these events take place but the person she describes matches my view of his personality down to a tee.

Highly intelligent, deeply manipulative narcissist who rules through a combination of building little systems of control and absolute sustained aggression for anyone who opposes or steps out of line for even a second.

You feel crazy dealing with him or walking away from him because you are dealing with a reality that it seems only you can see.

Its the dual-vision of being friends with Zak. There's this person who's such a great guy, and so interested in you personally, so talented, intelligent, charming and funny, with rare good taste.

And then there is this other guy. The one that comes out in text form usually. In arguments about nerd stuff. This guy is condescending, aggressive, clever and manipulative. This guy will say anything to win some fucking internet argument and never, ever, ever admits wrong, backs down or recognises the humanity in his opponents.

The first guy has friends who like him. They second guy has tools, things he uses, doling them out like playing cards or little army men.

At first it seems like the vituperative shit online is just a flaw in the larger person. Something you will have to put up with, a manageable flaw in an otherwise good man.

It takes a long fucking time to work out that the second guy is the real actual guy. That is the person making the decisions and for whom the decisions are made. The first person, the good guy, is just a set of behaviours he puts on like clothes.

Here's me as chief bullet-catcher; (I still remember how genuinely bad I felt for him because of the lies people were telling about him online.)

July 2014 http://falsemachine.blogspot.com/2014/07/zak-smith-is-not-homophobe.html

Here's me putting together a history of his dealings with RPG.NET and other culture war issues. RPG.NET didn't like that, I think because it made them look crazy. Zak also didn't like it because it caught him in at last one actual direct lie, impersonating Shannon Appelcine on Reddit. Something that became a joke, or a mistake done by a friend, as soon as he was caught. I later found out he has been quoting that post in his defence, but selectively editing that part.

There are lots of little gaps like that, small mistakes, which you notice as you spend time around him. He doesn't make many, but they build up over time.

February 2017 http://falsemachine.blogspot.com/2017/02/a-timeline-of-zak-wars.html

And here is my schitzo pattern-recognition finally pulling the plug on that relationship. I felt then, I imagine only a small shadow of what Mandy is feeling now. I was a fucking mess.

September 2017 http://falsemachine.blogspot.com/2017/09/fuck-all-of-you.html

I haven't taken any money from Maze of the Blue Medusa since that date. It has all gone to charity and I am really fucking relieved that is the case. If you are inside his networks you are inside his little system of power and loyalty.

And thank you, very much, to Mandy Morbid for writing her post and saying this stuff out loud. She has set me free personally, and set a lot of people free, from ever giving a fuck about this guy ever again.

Thursday 7 February 2019

Twenty Things in Ganglia Moor

I am still doing these, though fitfully. I am somewhat ashamed of my own limited ability to create at the moment. This was originally meant to be a generator of sorts but I couldn't get it to work so now you get a list.

Based in this post from, nearly five years ago.

1. Oobon the Chasm-Cat has a team of icelings down in its chasm who arrive at the last minute to clean the site, returning everything to normal. Oobon has a deep voice and gives you a wink as it says 'good day' and leaps away.

2. A prisoner exchange between Despair and Hell.

3. A plot to steal the souls of aborted children from the abortion tree and let them float up into materiality where they can be raised by wolves to become the founders of nations.

4. The Hell-Duke called 'Child-Furnace' a scarred tiger the size of a house, mouth a barred iron furnace, breathes out smoky flame, speaks with the voices of those dying, being tortured inside, is plotting with Despair to impact Earth with a suicide-ghost anti-planet to trigger mass die-offs.

5. Despairs 'nok list' of possible near suicides.

6. The Despair Archon Cylix of the Nine Unendings - a snow winged bird of infinite paleness and feathers that attenuate but never end, is putting a team of devils and despairlings to assassinate a high-level angel on earth.

7. A murder amongst the Ice-Elves and footprints in the ice changing shape as they walk, indicate
A shape-shifter in the snow - footprints changing shape as they walk

8. The Devil 'Flail of Innocents', a figure sculpted from frozen blood shed only from innocent victims, suspects Ganglia Moor, you must plant information in Hell that implicates them, thereby removing them.

9. A troupe of stone-masked snail-bodied fugueadors draped in ash and tarnished heraldry turn over their shells to reveal they are actually disguised attack-form Elohim; burning wheels with nuclear Cherenkov eyes like crazed mosaics.

10. Heaven gets involved half-way through. They are taking over this operation and are massive Chads.

11. Impersonate hell-agents in reality to trick Archons of Despair into running a heist on hell for souls, then double cross them and take the souls.

12. You must assassinate the Despair Archon Alouquaan - lady of veils, a ring of grey-white glass endlessly wheeling like a serpent buting its own tail. Things seen through the ring are terrible. In such a way *that no-one knows has taken place* either make it look like an accident or suicide, of fool them so badly that they willingly co-operate.

13. Agents from Heaven (holy angel insects in pearlescent levitating bug shells) are meeting with Hell Agents (bright-eyes wrathful dreams of hungry murder trapped like black jellyfish inside long coats.  Pull a cross-simulation in which both sets of agents meet with your people when they beleive they are meeting with each other, so you can stop, or provoke, a war.

14. It was all a symphony from the great influencing machine - a fugue of Abrahamic moral complexity with, presumably, a sad but meaningful end.

15. The Demon-Queen 'Quintessence of Castrations' has the body of a woman but a face of glass, like a window, inside a fly, huge like a fat old man, thuds against the glass from the other side. She possesses a sheet of music designed to re-program the influencing machine. You must get it off her, while allowing her to think she has brought it to the machine and successfully used it.

16. The main antagonist was actually Lord Rath-Loken in disguise (its why they would only communicate through bells with the voices of men and shifting silver sand.) They were setting up the minor antagonist, who is actually bad and who is now screwed.

17. You must encounter, Hthssavah - She Unsleeping, a tear in space to a dimension of fog-winged butterflies being pulled, screaming, in vast tornadoes into a black hole, and lose information to them indicating that Hell has a deep-level mole in Despair. (In fact this actually targets Despairs main counter-intel thoughtform, who is currently on the trail of our, actual mole.

18. Things just got a lot more difficult, God has changed sides, and he is on the scene.

19. Simulate the total annihilation of some doomed souls so they can be stolen from Tiska of the Pierced Eye, a demon corpse spider made from slack grinning bodies that must endlessly replace its own limbs, so that no-one comes looking for them.

20. A message caught by the Caliphs of Wire leads to a  deep-cover infiltration of Hell. But its a double-cross, the Illuminati of Despair have an army of 1000 Ptranodron shame-elementals with wings of shimmering lace like wind on winter water melting into smears of mud, and they are only waiting for a chance to launch their invasion.

Friday 1 February 2019

A Defence of High Genre from the Intro to The Worm Ouroboros

I accidentally went past an Oxfam shop, accidentally went in and accidentally bought a copy of "The Worm Ouroboros" by E.R.Eddison.

I haven't read it and I probably won't be for a long time but I did really enjoy this part of the introduction, both as ridiculous high-energy gilding of a writer and a shameless pean to High Genre, next time someone asks whey you are reading some nerd book, tell them a superhuman energy demands you imagine, think, and speak, as a god.


This introduction by James Stephens, noted Irish writer and author of "The Crock of Gold," was written for a previous edition of "The Worm Ouroboros."


The Worm Ouoboros, no worm, but the Serpent itself, is a wonderful book. As a story or prose it is wonderful, and, there being a cause for every effect, the reason for writing it should be as marvellous again.

Shelly had to write the Prometheus Unbound, he was under compulsion; for a superhuman energy had come upon him, and he was forced to create a matter that would permit him to imagine, and think, and speak like a god. It was so with Blake, who willed to appear as a man but existed like a mountain; and, at their best, the work of these poets is inhuman and sacred. It does not greatly matter that they had or had not a message. It does not matter at all that either can be charged with nonsense or that both have been called madmen - the same change might be laid against a volcano or a thunder-bolt - or this book. It does not matter that they could transcend human endurance, and could move tranquilly in realms where lightning is the norm of speed. The work of such poets is sacred because it outpaces man, and, in a realm of their own, wins ever above Shakespeare.

An energy such as came on the poets has visited the author of this book, and his dedicatory statement, that "it is neither allegory nor fable but a story to be read for its own sake," puts us off with the assured arrogance of the poet who is too busy creating to have time for school-mastering. But, waking or in dream, this author has been in a strange regions and has supped at the torrent which only the greatest know of.

The story is a long one - this reader would have liked it twice as long. The place of action is indicated, casually, as the planet Mercury, and the story tells of the wars between the two great kingdoms of that planet, and the final overthrow of one.

Mr Eddison is a vast man. He needed a whole cosmos to play in, and created one; and he forged a prose to tell of it that is as gigantic as his tale. In reading this book the reader must a little break his way in, and must surrender prejudices that are not allowed for. He may think that the language is more rotund than is needed for a tale, but, as he proceeds, he will see that only such a tongue could be spoken by these collosi; and soon, he will delight in a prose that is as life-giving as it is magnificent.

Mr. Eddison's prose never plays him false; it rises and falls with his subject, and is tender, humorous, sour, precipitate and terrific as the occasion warrants. How nicely the Kaga danced for the Red Foliot.

"Foxy-red above but with black bellies, round furry faces, innocent amber eyes and great soft paws.... On a sudden the music ceased, and the dancers were still, and standing side by side, paw in furry paw, they bowed shyly to the company, and the Red Foliot called them to him, and kissed them on the mouth, and sent them to their seats.

"Corund leaned on the parapet and shaded his eyes with his hand that was broad as a smoked haddock, and covered on the back with yellow hairs growing somewhat sparsely as the hairs on the skin of a young elephant."

"A dismal tempest suddenly surprised them. For forty days it swept them in hail and sleet over wide wallowing ocean, without a star and without a course."

"Night came down on the hill. A great wind moaning out of the hueless west tore the clouds as a ragged garment, revealing the lonely moon that fled naked betwixt them."

"Dawn came like a lily, saffron-hued, smirked with smoke-gray streaks, that slanted from the north."

"He was naked to the waist, his hair, breast and arms to the armpits clotted and adrop with blood and in his hands two bloody daggers."

Quotations can give some idea of the rythm of his sentances, but it can give none of the massive sweep and intensity of his narrative. Milton fell in love with the devil because the dramatic action lay with him, and, in this book, Mr. Eddison trounces his devils for being naughty (the word "bad" has not significance here), but he trounces the Wizard King and his kingdom with affection and delight. What gorgeous monsters are Gorice the Twelfth and Corund and Corinius. The reader will not easily forget them; nor Gorice;s great antagonist Lord Juss; nor the marvellous traitor, Lord Gro, with whom the author was certainly in love; nor the great fights and the terrible fighters Lords Bandoch Daha and Goldry Bluszco, and a world of others and their wives; nor will he forget the mountain Koshtra Pivrarcha, that had to be climbed, and was climbed - as dizzying a feat as literature can tell of.

"So huge was he that even here at six miles distance the eye might not at a glance behold him, but must weep back and forth as over a broad landscape, from the ponderous roots of the mountain, where they sprang black and sheer from the glacier up the vast face, where buttress was piled upon buttress, and tower upon tower, in a blinding radiance of ice-hung precipice and snow-filled gully, to the lone heights where, like spears menacing high heaven, the white teeth of the summit-ridge cleft the sky."

Mr. Eddison's prose does not derive from the English Bible. His mind has more affinities with Celtic imaginings and method, and his work is Celtic in that it is inspired by beauty and daring rather than by thoughts and moralities. He might be Scotch or Irish: scarcely the former, for, while Scotland loves full-mouthed verse she, like England, is prose-shy. But from whatever heaven Mr. Eddison come, he has added a masterpiece to English literature.