Friday 31 May 2019


This is one of the shortest ones I did, it seems to work ok though?




Just breathe for a moment.

There, south east, about a mile, a silence in the song.

Following. Can you know that?

It's not random. A hunter or chance traveller would have kicked out bird plough, a scattering of rising birds. This wasn't that.

So it’s something quiet, that moves well. A big cat maybe?

Too close to winter, could one still be roaming around?

Maybe. It's possible.

And following you? Tracking the scent of multiple armed strangers?

Maybe, it it's starving. Wounded maybe. Can't catch anything faster.

But you don't think it’s that.

Somebody once told you that the land speaks to you. It was one of the stupidest things you've ever heard. All you do is pay attention.

It's hard to do though. (And a lot harder if people can't stop making NOISE! How in the Dream of the Gods have your friends survived this long? Stumbling, stamping, snapping twigs, snapping branches even! Coughing, wheezing, gasping, laughing and talking, always talking talking talking, you may as well have brought a bell factory with you.)

Of crucial importance are socks.

Once they get wet, from rain or swamp or sweat, they chafe. You blister. Then they wear through and the blister bursts against shoe leather. Then you are down to two miles in the hour and continual pain.

You can dry wet socks by wearing them on your hands at night, by the time you wake up they are warm again and ready to wear.

Nobody ever brings enough socks, or takes enough care of them.

It's that and water, and not dying of cold. That's all you really need to know.

It's going to try to kill you tonight. Whatever, whoever, picked up your trail at the river (you dried clothes on branches afterwards - thread caught on a branch, you would bet that's how they got you) and it will likely rain tonight, that will dampen the fire, and the spirits. Everyone will want to sleep.

That would be the best time.


Don't stop. Don't look back. If you find their sign then they can find yours, (an old rule you learned the hard way).

They will be here, in this spot, in fifteen, twenty minutes. You can't let them see that you stopped, or that you discussed something.

Depends how good they are...

They'll wait, they try to kill the sentry, then attack while everyone sleeps. Over in five minutes if they get it right.

It's good out here, one of the few surviving natural lands. And sad. Those living in cities and valleys think they live in a large world, they only dimly intuit that they are trapped.

The world was vast once. You could start walking and go.. well, anywhere. You could never stop walking if you wanted to. These wild lands, as vast as they are, are but a slim margin of wilderness trapped between the Queendoms, the Cities and the Waste.

As to the depths of the Waste, who can speak of them? Who can survive them?

Some have called you 'Waste Walker' - a crazed phrase. As if there could ever be such a thing in that crawling anti-nature. You have gone deep enough into the margins of nothingness to know that. That bleak un-world is like a book of nonsense verse or an idiots code, read upside-down, changing with each page turned.

Tumbling arcologies of pale smoky glass, swarming hive-fields of mindless pseudo-insects, the live plain piling like the stories of seas, a gloaming dusk-streaked sky that seems to melt like old paint, the roaring of Gogmagogic Name-Takers, swollen to grotesque stupidity with swallowed names, their facile cunning lost, locked together in brutal dominance displays that shatter the Alkali plains into shards like ice with the fury of their rage. You never dreamed they could grow so large.

The maddening Sargasso greyness of the place, and the transverse un-sense of its shadow ecology, can only be survived, not explored. And then only through a combination  of insane hypersensitivity to any imaginable threat along with impulsive and immediate counter-intuitive action.

The Waste plays games with you. You must play back, and do what it cannot expect. If you act too rationally, if you stick too much to any particular plan - then it’s as if a hand moves against you invisibly, out beyond the wreathes of mist and falling ash.

(One day, maybe, you will try the trek to Phosphorfall. Just to see if you can make it. just to see if there is anything beyond. If Uud still lives beyond this small dream.

Here, though, it’s quite pleasant, with only a handful of almost-predictable things trying to kill you.

You will get lost.


"Hand me that drink will you?"

The Deoth looks surprised. You realise you haven't spoken since this morning. You smile.

Where would be best? The crags somewhere. Amongst what the mage calls 'karst', the pillars of white rock. That would be a near-believable mistake to make. Lead them into the karst.

They will follow you in. The hard stone will hide tracks. The pillars will give cover.

And where to be seen making it?

Here is good.

"Wait." You say. And walk a little. Back and forth. Back and forth. A tread here, a mark there. Five, six minutes of lost time.

Lean on this stump and make sure to take of a smear of moss.

Some like you have disappeared from the world of Humanity, walking off into the high country or the deep swamp, surviving on their skills somewhere impossibly distant from the noise and murmur of thinking beings.

You know a few of them. You can see the attraction.

But not you, or at least, not yet. You keep coming back, back to the noise and the stink, the booze and the idiot politics. Why?

You need things, very occasionally, complex or manufactured things, and for those you need coin.

But it is not that alone.

It feels good to be of use.

There are things out here in the wild, things even you cannot avoid or escape, and which even you could not fight alone. More is needed. Not just numbers or bodies but different skills, different thinking.

And it feels good to be needed. These people, clinging to their valleys and their river and stone, sometimes seem almost blind in how they live.

You down the drink in one. They've never seen you drink before and someone makes a joke. Not that city-Aeth with the quick hands though, they might not know you are being hunted but they know trickery when you see it.

You hurl the booze-bottle into the bushes nearby, empty.

"I thought," the Aeth says, "you told us never to leave signs behind?"

"This way." You reply. "We don't have much light left."

"Are we stopping to camp?" Asks the Deoth.

"Yes. But before that, in about thirty minutes, we must kill a silent hunter in a labyrinth of white stone. Then we can eat."


Oh and there's seven days left to go on the Kickstarter and I think there's new stuff on there?

Wednesday 29 May 2019

The Loss of Silence in the Mortal Realms

Visual Silence is a term I keep coming back to. Its meaning is drawn from many places. One of the most important of these is how a miniature is painted, but here I'd just like to talk about some of the elements which spring almost purely from form. How a model is shaped.

One of the first and most important is the time signature of a miniature. This describes the slice of imagined time that a model is assumed to occupy. After thinking about this I've broken it down into a handful of sketched categories of time in miniatures;

Ruin Time. 

This is the far end of the scale. Even using this in comparison to the time signature of 'living' forms is a bit of a cheat but it makes a handy place to begin. Imagine a huge stone head or an abandoned imperial building on the battlefield. It is not meant, or imagined ever to move in the ideaspace of the game. So the imagined period of time which that form is assumed to occupy is huge, and that feeling is part of how it is meant to work.

But to stop cheating and to focus on living figures for a moment.

Portrait Time.

This is one in which the figure is standing in a comfortable position, perhaps not emotionally calm, but with their body absent kinetic tension, muscles largely relaxed and their particular objects held close to the bodies centre of gravity or stowed in a way in which their weight is centred and contained. In this we can imagine that the figure paused for a portrait. They might have been there for an hour, and probably someone could stand like that for maybe an hour, with some minor shifting about, without becoming too uncomfortable.

Stepping Time.

Or, really, Contrapposta time, after all those Greek, Roman and then Renaissance statues of someone in marble captured in the act of stepping forwards. This is the time signature that Skagrott the Loon King and Yvraine both occupy, in almost the same position and dress, producing some amusing comparisons. (Oddly, both of these have animal companions that go with them which have their own time signatures. Yvrain has her smooth and slinking Gyrynx which pairs and mirrors her own style of movement while Skagrott has two manic little Squigs captured in mid-bounce who's time signature breaks his up a little and adds a touch of the ridiculous.

Bearing Time.

This is a signature much more common to old Warhammer Fantasy where a huge number of its line models had it. Here the figure is bearing a weapon, but it’s not swinging, firing or impacting. So the weapon is not captured in the exact moment of its use but instead in the minutes, second or even possibly hours directly before its use. Those times of near-violence. Here the bodies balance is usually slightly out of its centre of gravity. Muscles are under some tension and some extension, but not too much.

Battle Time.

Between bearing time, and the one after this, fragment time, there are probably a huge number I have failed to analyse and spot. Really each army and figure can have its own subtle interpretation of time depending on what it is like or assumed to be doing. The new AoS ghost models are all in a state of assumed movement. It's hard to tell if they are going slow or fast but the general sense is of them flowing over the earth like a leaf on a breeze, and their forms flowing with motion like washing on a line. It's not quite like a figure running as we don't have bodies to looks at so the assumed motion is not sensed in the same way. It is its own particular thing.

Anyway, this space between Bearing Time and Fragment time is the space between the swing of a sword and its impact, the moment as a lance thrusts forth, the seconds before a shield takes a hit. I'm marking this one - MORE RESEARCH NEEDED.

Fragment Time.

A dark elf assassin, or a modern Squig Hopper, are both caught in the same splinter of time. A fragment of explicit kinetic movement, the apogee of an arching curve which, if it were to continue for even a fragment of a second longer would result in some shift in form or a change in the image they present and the space they occupy. This is form treated like a photograph, except most actual photographs would blur if you tried to capture something moving this fast, (which actually might be really strange and interesting if you tried to mimic it in form, how do you blur a shape?) so its like a high speed photograph.

Those are the basic categories of time I'm thinking about, but more important than any particular classification is simply addressing or thinking about the time which the miniature or sculpture you are looking at is made to occupy.

And then thinking about how that meshes with, reflects or alters the times of all those figures around it.

Because silence, or at least quietness, in movement as in sound, is relative. It is created by its context.

There are a handful of other concepts I would like to go into as relating to visual silence.

Morphic Tessellation.

A key difference between old Warhammer Fantasy and AoS is the loss of neatly grouped square formations. Instead, everything is individual, bounded by its own round base and only somewhat jostled together with its kin.

An important thing with older minis is that they are both sculptures in their own right, but also, and at the same time, tiny pieces in a mosaic of shapes which makes up the regiment or group it is part of.

One of the strongest ways in which this becomes evident is in the case of long weapons like Halberds, Muskets, Spears and a few others. Here, with the minis as it would be in reality, the long straight lines, either standing up like a forest of spikes or pointing forwards, form this gridwork which both illustrates and emphasises the morphic tessellation of the block as a whole.

(I think its going to be hard for GW to bring back long weapons like these in AoS because when you pick them up and then re-pace them after a move, you _really_ need all the lines, all the sticks, pointing in the same way in a nice group. If they aren’t oriented properly then the length of the line really calls attention to that.)

The same can be said for apparent uniformity and micro-differences in stance, loadout and appearance in minis in these blocks. Because every figure is arranged on the same axis, facing the same way, with the same weapons and armour, small differences in stance and other elements stand out more than they would otherwise and create a different effect. It is like a lineup of similar looking men. If they were to mill around randomly it would be a blur of similarity, but in a line, and regarded both sequentially and as a whole, these small differences count for more individually and add more life than they would in an unstructured crowd. You both see and sense them more powerfully due to the spatial uniformity of the block.

Put simply, the block as a whole is the sculpture as intended. That is the reached-for affect, the individual parts are largely that, just individual parts.

Heraldic Minis and Swiss Cheese Minis

One of the interesting qualities in lead and plastic moulding is the flat plane the figure must be on. The two sides of the can then be pressed strongly together so that the molten liquid flows through it properly.

(I don't know if you could invisibly 3D print a multidimensional mould inside a seamless bock of metal in some way. That would be kind of a trip if you could.)

Modern GW tricks its way out of this by breaking down a complex 3D model into a series of fragments exhibited on a flat plane, then you clip out all the bits, glue them all together and there you go, a more spatially complex model. But back in the ancient times they were less good at this so you had to have all of the model, or almost all of it, as one neat thing presented across one plane in the mould.

Obviously this had some limitations but there were some aspects and some models where the limitations were used to produce an effect, one of these is the heraldic aspect of many models.

In heraldry, many of the animals and living figures are presented with the axial tilt of their bodies incorporated into the visual image more than would be possible in a photograph or purely realistic painting. So the lion or unicorn or knight or whatever is showing you more of its body and different elements, different planes or sides, than would be possible from just looking at it from any real life direction, no matter how it was posed.

This lends it that feeling of strange starchiness and hyper-presentation. These figures seem slightly gauche and, from a modern pov, slightly silly, frozen in these strange display positions and often filled with a sense of their own serious gravity. But they are also hyper-presenting, showing more sides, more elements, more expression than should be possible in a realistic viewpoint, and this helps to give them a peculiar intensity.

Some of the good early GW minis make use of this quality. They perhaps hold their weapons in a way which is slightly presentational, as if they were on parade, or on a stage. They seem like figures from greek theatre, presenting these very simple, stark, almost overloaded expressions. And, crucially, they tend to occupy only one axis in space. I imagine space and form almost flowing around them like a diagram of aerodynamic flow.

The Big Melon Comparison

One way to imagine this is to picture one of these minis as if it were the seed in a big soft fruit like a melon. Something with a juicy, somewhat adhesive sticky sweet pith. You have a knife and your job is to get in there and just get a clean seed out of the fruit.

For some axial or heraldic figures it wouldn't be hard to do that, once you cut it open they would just slide right out and once you had it out, scraping any remaining fruit out of the cracks could be done easily with the point of a knife.

Modern minis are less like that. Space does not flow around them, instead it pokes fingers into them. They interpenetrate with space in a variety of complex ways. If you had to get one of these minis out of a huge melon and then clean it, firstly, your melon is fucked because you are probably going to destroy it getting the seed out, or at least gouge a huge hole in it. Then if you want to clean it off then it’s going to take ages. The seed will drag a lot of fruit with it and getting into all the crevices is going to be a nightmare. There are bits you will never, or not easily, reach from the outside.

The idea of the sticky and difficult fruit here, being a kind of tool of thought to let you sense how an object interacts with the space around it by replacing Nothing with Melon.

Visual Silence.

There must be many more elements of course, not the least of which is painting. A Blanchitsu-style mini when compared to a Sughammer mini is going to feel a lot more visually quiet. And there are all the accoutrements its objects and the things it wears and holds. And what GW would call the 'pace' of a mini, its relationships of 'empty' or calm areas of form to its busier or more baroque elements. And expression of character of course, the little goblinish grin or snarl always lends an air of mania. The stoic observing space marine is a little more silent than the shouting space marine.

But I focus here on three elements which all relate almost entirely to form. That is, they would be the same if the figure were matte grey or not. And three elements which I am reasonably sure I can define well and which I have not seed described that much buy others;

The time signature a miniature is captured in.
Whether it is meant to be part of a mosaic of form.
And the axial or melon-retaining nature of its shape.

All these play a part in creating relative visual silence, or relative visual noise.

The Silence of the Troops.

So in old warhammer, troops in general, especially when you look at any individual model
and especially when those are models meant to be arranged in a block, are visually silent, or relatively silent when compared to their squad or battalion leaders and the army generals and special characters.

When the eye plays across the army, the hierarchy of visual silence matches the hierarchy of the imagined force. Big figures feel big, energetic, important, not just because their models are that way but because they are that way when compared to the rest of the army. That sense of importance and visual power and 'character' is in large part a relative one created by the scene and the frame, not the thing at the centre.

The Noise of Meritocracy

In AoS that hierarchy and patterning of silence has broken down somewhat. Minis aren't locked together in precise arrangements, they can 'choose' their own position relative to each other.

There has been a revolution or upending in silence. Before the leaders tended to be loud, relative to their comparatively silent troops. Now it is more likely for the troops to be visually loud and silence is more often reserved for the grim, still, leaders.

Now every mini can be special in its own way, it is not just part of a visual or morphic chorus, and advances in manufacturing combine with this to mean that every mini can be interesting in a three dimensional way, they no longer have to be heraldic or axial.

The problem here, (and its only really a 'problem' if you define it as such, cognitive mode, personal aesthetic and momentary feeling can all play a role), but even if it’s not a problem you think is bad, its still an element, question or polarity you should recognise;

Is that because every miniature gets to be freee.

Every miniature HAS to be free.

And to a much greater extent than before

It is a lot like moving from a feudal hierarchy to a meritocracy. Everyone gets to do what they want, which is good. And everyone is in almost constant competition with absolutely everyone else almost all of the time, which is possibly not good.

You can see this when comparing old generation Warhammer Fantasy minis with modern new ones. They don't look quite right on the same battlefield. In terms of their time signatures, their personal magnificence and the degree to which each figure is expected to dominate and interpenetrate with the space around it, they are very different.

An AoS figure tends to be like an individual instrument like a horn blaring, or a guitar doing a solo, while a Warhammer Fantasy instrument is more like one of a row of violins, who's job is to work together with the other violins. So if you take one person out of that row, and have them doing the same thing on their own, and compare that to a guitar solo, they look stupid and not very good. But they were never meant to be experienced on their own.

And that's (arguably) a problem, or at least an aspect of an AoS battlefield. Its a LOT more visually noisy than a Warhammer Fantasy battlefield, everyone is much more just playing their own music and so the general volume of visual noise has to go up.

The key point here isn't that you should hate AoS or the way it does things, but that comparing the two visual and morphological paradigms, more simply; the way sight and shape work in these two different games and eras, without considering the fact that they are playing very different kinds of music, (albeit they seem highly similar in other ways), might lead you down a wrong path, of comparing like to like without appreciating the differing contexts and intentions.

Monday 27 May 2019

Druids as Oral Geneticists

A lot of the Uud/Eldritch Foundry classes and races have distant quasi-Scientific/technological inferred backgrounds. Not necessarily from our kind of technology but from some kind of technology.

Druids are meant to be some fallen form of super-Bio-Scientists. Though I'm not sure how any kind of science can turn you into a flock of birds.

(I also got a moon reference in there.)


The Druids, Chimerae, Wod-Wid, Woodwise, or Greenseers of the Mountains of Reality are little known, and much feared beyond that land.

Those who visit in winter will know the eerie thrumming of their drums echoing from valley to valley, floating over the unquiet snow in the night, and may have seen one on occasion, barefoot, bearing knives of stone or clubs of wood, wearing the simplest robes and a sting of amber beads. And strangely warped from human kind.

What all know is that they are illiterate, refusing to either read or write, that they 'advise' the Gloom Queens, that they are Doctors, ambassadors, ritualists and magicians, that they have prodigious memories, that they love nature, and strangest of all, is that many, or most, are no longer entirely human at all.

Darker rumours say that though they are defenders of the land, they have little love for humanity, and even grimmer rumours speak of murderous rivalries between or within their Circles or ‘Travails’, and of human abduction and sacrifice for unknowable goals.

What god, or force, or agent they worship, if they are even truly 'religious' in any real sense, seems to change shape and name according to the place and time, The Helix, The Wheel, The Web, The Grootwamme The Umbor, The Great Incubator, The Mother or The Green Moon, it could be any or all of these.


At some point in their development and education, every Druid must take what is called The Step of No Return; they must become something other than human.

When this happens, or what they become, can differ a great deal from Travail to Travail, and from Druid to Druid. Some take the step almost immediately, others not until old age, and a few never take it, becoming what are derisively referred to as 'Skelseers' by other Druids; the unchanged.

No matter how much power they have, what they have learnt or what they have achieved, until they take the Step of No Return, no Druid will ever wield meaningful influence amongst their own kind.

What they become afterwards can vary wildly. Some are symbiotes with a fungal intelligence, some are part plant with green blood and leaves for hair, able to drink sunlight and root themselves in the earth. Some become Hive Druids, able to become insect swarms at will. Others have transferred their soul, or mind to an immortal animal of some kind, that may live long after their body dies. Some are animal/human hybrids able to warp spasm into other forms, or eternally trapped between them. Some are flocks of birds and can no longer sleep in human form. Some are living infections, ageless, immortal, passing from host to host.


The Druids believe that the Umbor cannot be worshipped or served with anything made by mortal hands. Thusly, they are obsessed with finding and using natural tools and weapons with minimal, or no working or manipulation used in their creation.

Their weapons are stone and wood, they perform surgery with their hands, they write nothing down and memorise their entire culture and philosophy. Their currency amongst themselves is in amber gems, one of the few forms of outward status they are allowed to wear. Its whispered that the bugs frozen in such gems are their spies, daemons and assassins.


"It is curious that a people so changeable in form possess such remarkable continuity of knowledge" - Vosil Fail, excommunicated Sophont of Yga.

The Druids may be one of the few groups to have a direct line of knowledge dating, not just from before the Fall, but from the age of Uud at the height of its power.

It's in code. In fact its encoded in multiple overlapping levels; metaphorical, cryptologic, phonetic, tonal, rhythmic, mathematical and conceptual, and they have but few of the keys to 'read' it.

Reading they would never do of course, because all the knowledge of their culture is based in practice and oral transmission. The Druidic story-cycles can take a decade to learn, it’s said, and a lifetime to understand.

Even this is untrue. They take several lifetimes to understand, and many of the oldest and strangest Druids are deeply engaged in this process, and are actively guarding their methods and understanding from the few of their peers that approach their power level.

It is the information encoded in these Sagas that gives the Greenseers their magical abilities.

Druidical magic is actually made up of individual pockets of precise bioscience linked together and activated by a magical superstructure. In terms of pure thaumatological power, it’s pretty light, only bending reality enough to gain access to and to utilise its techniques of forgotten superscience.

In comparison to the work of Sorcerers who gain control over reality by poking holes in it and trying to control what comes through, and Wizards, who mould spacetime carefully like wet clay, Druidic 'magic' is quite mild, it leave little magical trace and damages the Real only slightly. Nevertheless it can be supressed and disordered by the same things that affect most magic.

If they were to ever fully decode their inherited knowledge, all the understanding of the Green Moon, the Umbor, the Grootwamme, whatever it is, will be theirs to use as they wish. Whether this would be a good thing is less certain.

In comparison to recalling and endlessly trying to comprehend this massively encoded and highly complex culture-thread, the mere act of remembering the entirety of the law system of the Gloom Queens, and all the relevant information from the Mountains of Reality and Blackwater as a whole, mere political and social information, is a not-particularly-taxing side job.


There are two prime laws for the human subjects of the Mountains of Reality, the Courts Vital and the Courts Objective.

The nature of the Courts Objective is intelligible to any visitor, ultimate power to decide any case resides with the Beodomor, the Queen-of-Queens, (if you can wake  her up), who rests in Morningspain. From her, power flows to each of the subsidiary Queens, (Queens-Ordinary), and from them to their Knights, each of whom is responsible for a particular part of their kingdom, and who may appoint a seneschal with their temporary authority.

All of this is as expected for a feudal government (considered a backward and regressive form of organisation in most of the Grey Cities).

But the Courts Objective only cover legal issues to do with objects, abstracts, distant things or non-living things.

Anything to do with living bodies, growing things, life, or more generally, processes instead of states, comes under the authority of the Courts Vital - the Druids, who are broken down into a complex series of 'circles' or 'travails', each of which have shifting areas of authority.

Theft is a Queen thing.

Sexual crimes are a Drudic matter.

Murder is a matter for both Knights and Druids. Technically, for a direct servant of the Queen, murder counts as 'misuse of sword', or whatever the weapon used was. Legally, if you strangle someone with your bare hands before a Knight, they cannot arrest you, but most will try to detain you by force and then drag you before the local Druid who will usually make the detention legal by making the arrest and confirm the crime. (Often after speaking to the microfauna in the body in question.)

Pairings of Knight and Druid are common in investigations in the Queendoms, their abilities complement each other neatly and each can pursue one aspect of the crime, depending on what evidence presents itself.

Appeals in the case of the Courts Objective ultimately go to the Beodomor, and can be made in writing, with reference to the law which itself is written down.

Appeals to the Druids must go through a series of Travails, ending finally at the Last Travail, the High Circle of the Druids. The Supreme Court of the Courts Vital is actually a trial-by-combat between High Level Druids, constitutional change can only come about through a fight to the death.


Each Gloom Queen has a Druidic judge, a magician, doctor and advisor, who acts as the head of the Court Vital in that Queendom and who either rules, or reports to, the local Travail.

The incredible memory, scrying abilities, strange vital magics and generally sound wisdom of the Greenseer makes them an invaluable help to the Queen. They organise agriculture and the use of natural resources, help arrange marriages, perform medical treatments and essentially place themselves at the disposal of the Queen.

They also control the means of rapid communications between the separated valleys and Queendoms. In summer and spring singing birds wing their way from valley to valley, singing their songs into the ears of the local Druid before passing on. Only the Druids can decode the meaning of these songs. In autumn and winter when the environment becomes difficult indeed for smaller birds, the Druids engage in massively sustained low-frequency drumming episodes, often banging on huge rotten logs for hours or days at a time. The deep unearthly thrumming flows through valleys and over hills for many miles. As with the birdsong, only the Druids know the deep meanings of these rhythms.

The Druids have also placed themselves in charge of many of the smaller bridges in the Mountains of Reality. This vertical, crevasse and river-cut land has many valleys and settlements accessible only by bridge, or cut off during winters or floods. The bridges reaching these places are made of natural materials, wood and grass rope, they are easy to repair. And they need repairing a great deal since they break down continually.

Agriculture in the Queendoms is self-sustaining, well-run and has a minimal impact on the environment. It is also ruinously inefficient and keeps the majority of peasants at the edge of starvation, rarely providing any kind of tradeable surplus.

All of this is entirely intentional. The Druids are one of the primary forces for conservatism in the Mountains, keeping technology, other magics and cultural change to a minimum. They have their own interests in the Mountains and the environment, and humanity makes up only a small part of them.


In the Mountains, the Druids are usually the only reliable and available help. This is another strong reason to stay on their good side and to grow both crops and children the way they tell you to. Should you rotate your crops in the wrong manner, of let your pigs dig up the wrong truffles in the wrong season, you may find yourself banned from medical care.

Medical issues are one of the reasons that Druids are (occasionally) invited into the Grey Cities, since their strange abilities can sometimes address complex medical problems which even Grey City sophonts are unable to comprehend.

The cures of the Druids though, can often leave the patient.. changed. Either in personality or form, or both. They can heal cancers, but insist on keeping the ones so removed, and taking them away to do... something, with them.


The reputation of Druids in the Grey Cities could hardly be worse. Not only are they strange wizards but they are strange foreign wizards who hang out in forests and bogs. They lair in the Zomia, the unpopulated and desolate areas, thick forest, moorland, mountains and swamp where crops will not grow and guards will not patrol.

Many of the Greeseers in the Grey Cities are ones kicked out of the Queendoms, often for good reason. They may be genuinely murderous and deranged, bent on human sacrifice or following a sociopathic personal interpretation of the Sagas, holed up in a cave making mutants or splicing things together that should not be. Or they might be reasonably people fleeing a corrupt Travail or bad doctrine, you could be one of these escaped radicals, someone with too much sympathy with mankind, too little respect for tradition, or fleeing a corrupt and evil Travail.

High status Druids are sometimes summoned to particular cities for diplomatic or medical reasons, these can operate under 'diplomatic immunity' as representatives for their Queens, theoretically under the protection of the Beodomor.

Others might be simple aspirants or learning Druids who have been sent out amongst the cities on one of the strange quests of the Woodwise.


Its customary, at some point during their training, for a Druids teacher to give them a quest both subtle, but also almost incoherent.

This might be to "Learn the dark face of the Green Moon", discover "What is All?" to seek out "The Dream of the World" or some other riddle or koan.

The aspirant is then essentially booted out and told strongly to not come back until they have learnt the meaning of the lesson.

These 'quests' serve many purposes; they get the aspirant out of the way, make sure they get some life experience, they give the person in question and chance to run for it and back out of the final step if they are scared of it, they might get the aspirant killed, (but if this happens they probably weren't worth the trouble anyway), they act as a kind of Rumspringa, and there is always the slight chance that they might actually find the real answer to the lesson.

They are also a reasonable way of removing particular druids if they disagree too much with their Travail, are truculent, improvise too much, are Scared of the Great Change, seriously screwed something up or accidently won an important court case they were expected to lose, thereby throwing local politics into confusion.

If you did not run, it is highly likely you were sent.

Friday 24 May 2019

FotVH PLAIN TEXT PDF available for Pay What You Want

Continuing our policy of releasing infinite versions of the same thing, we now have a Plain Text PDF of Fire on the Velvet Horizon available on Drivethru for Pay What You Want.

Check out these graphics;

This is down to the ever-wonderful David Cinabro, who put this together on his own, without prompting. 

If you already have the hardcopy and can barely read it due to our inexperience with layout at the time, then feel free to pay nothing for this version. In any other circumstances then your decision as to its value lies only between you and the Lord.

Wednesday 22 May 2019

Oh the Humanity - a Review of Inquisitor

One of the best art books GW has ever put out.

Also the rules to a game are in here.

I think this inspired the creation of Eisenhorn, (more specifically the editor at Black library faxed Dan Abnett a bunch of the art for this and then he spontaneously wrote Eisehorn). Eisenhorn was good, but also made money, and so opened up the whole of the back room of the 40k universe. Welcome backstage everyone!


These aren't to my taste or preferred rules aesthetic or design whatever so I will be quick.

These rules, and the whole of this book, seem to have inspired to the Fantasy Flight 40k RPG. That game shares Inquisitors propensity for great art and dense background and I'm pretty sure a huge number of artefacts were directly ported over between the two, in particular a THRILLINGLY GRANULAR d100 mechanic.

Someone wiser and better read than me can tell you where all this stands in respect to RPG development.

This is meant to represent a very small number of models in detail, but even in an RPG where I would only be playing one person I would still hate this level of granularity, and this particular *axis* of granularity.

They model EVERYTHING, in detail, along the same essential scale. So you get the irritation of having to account for every tiny little element and aspect of the already somewhat labyrinthine ruleset, and having to do that so you can add or subtract a tiny bit from a d100 die roll. This is mainly about remembering a huuuge list of situational modifiers, finding reasons for them in the environment, arguing with your opponent about them, persuading the DM, and all any of that does is move one dial back and forth a few percentage points.

This is the opposite of what I personally would want from a ruleset.

It does provoke things that I like in that it makes the creators come up with a lot of STUFF. Guns, items, special powers, weird personality and body stuff, and I like reading about that a lot. That is essentially why I read the FF 40k books, for lists of things, backgrounds, the kind of imaginary build and imaginary fun you call 'lonely play' I think.

I never actually played that game, I don't think I ever really wanted to play it much.

The best gunfights I've ever personally seen modelled in an RPG are still in Cyberpunk 2020.

But gunfights are paradoxically a bitch to model fluidly and I've written about that before so, onwards;

Actually these little images of what it means to be in cover or crouching behind a wall are very cool.



Its really interesting how GW keeps coming back to this concept, its the birthplace I guess; this oppositional small model count skirmish game/also an RPG. They started there, its essentially what rogue trader was. That grew into 40k. Necromunda has looked at it twice. Kill Team tilts more towards the game but has rules for depth and expansion into a  squad-based quasi-rpg. Shadespire and Nightvault or whatever, haven't played them, seem more boardgamy, not RPG's, but still these little quite detailed skirmish games, albeit with different logic.

Its like GW has all its 'editions' of this meta-game operating in one way or another at the same time in some cases.

Primal 1st Edition - Rogue Trader
2e- Necromunda
Complex Granular 3E - Inquisitor
Abstract mathy 4E - Shadespire
Likeable Omnigame 5E - Kill Team

Ok its a poor comparison in many ways. But it is somewhat suggestive of the limits and similarities of the kinds of branching paths games can go through as they change and how the internal space inside the games possibility can be colonised a bunch of different ways.

You can do the hyper detailed one where every option is specified and has numbers and there are lots of splatbooks and pdfs, the very abstracted one with the highly balanced maths but it kinda feels a bit mechanical, the weird original one that arguably barely works and has the potential for almost anything but is mainly taken up by people who are in some sense game engineers themselves

That's enough rules, I haven't even played this myself so Ill shut up about them.

Gotta talk about something much more important.


THA ART!!!!!!


On Minis we got Goodwin, Mark Bedford, Mark Harrison, Gary Morley, Brian Nelson, Alan Perry and Michael Perry

As random passers by we got Andy Chambers Jervis Johnson Alan Merritt and Rick Priestly

And Gav Thorpe writing

Holy fuck that’s a shitload of talent in one book. It’s a motherfucking supergroup. Except a supergroup where all the people in it seem to actually like being in it and they all seem deeply enthused by the ideas and the concepts. (Weep a crystal tear as I don’t think we ever got these people back together for anything again. (Then weep another one specifically for Alan Meritt)).

As a reader I'm so glad they made this.

If I was a GW manager at the time I would be weeping as I don't think it made much or any money for the company so you just had a host of the companies best minds working on a white elephant for ages.



There is so much character and feeling in every single image, some are less interesting but I can't think of any bad ones.

It's humanity. The humanity which was masked, compressed, clenched down on and hidden in the mass wargame. The whole book is like a book of portraits in a way, in its emotional valency. Like a school of painters have only been doing mass battle scenes, and they were pretty great, and then whoever is in charge has gone;

"no, just make me a portrait of that soldier, that one right there. Show me everything about them in an image, and take as much time as you like."

Not always directly, like the art is not always portraits, but emotionally. And I think that is where part of the energy release comes from.

I mean its highly, highly literal in the character example pages as here we get a rare treat.

The Blanche concept image as a background, a more detailed front image by, I think it varies, and eye-knowledge not good enough to be sure each time so sorry.

Then a textual description, then stats and items. So same person described four different ways each time, stats, text and two images by different artists but reflecting each other.

This is from one of those portrait sections.

Almost everything that isn't models or minis is B&W and its deeeep, just this deep textual and visual density, and while there is a lot of supermurder there are a fair few very still images.

You didn't want to make a female Inquisitor model? Really?

I remember Ruskin, or was it someone else? Saying that the Gothic cathedral was like a palace made of shadows, made specifically *for* shadows. This very white material in this very gloomy place (Northern Europe, lots of polarised light, slow dawns, lots of cloud), and these complex layered structures or elements so that you get this layering and massing of shadow, and shadow within shadow as the paleness and curve of the stone lets you see the fading and shade of the shadow - showing you the objects mass by its working.

Well this book, as much as, and maybe more than, any other 40k book, is a hive of shadows. These very white people with these deeply incised faces that look as though they were carved with sharp tools, and just layers and layers and layers of shadows from alien suns, burning braziers, candles, flamethrowers, sacrificial pits. People like cathedrals, with all the great florescence of objects and signs and coded symbols they are bestrewn with, all this layered history and meaning sculpted around them.

Even the little space filling side images are exceptional.

And also they are fighting loads and blowing stuff up.

I would love to understand why this didn’t quite work out. Was it the 54mm scale? Ahead of its time conceptually but lagging materially? The difficulty of conversion? Just a small market for a narrative game where you have to put a meaningful amount of work in, but its also an oppositional game?

Its this idea space, the one that birthed the company, it seems to be something that never quite works with the same success as its derivatives, yet it seems pregnant with possibility. Competition, and co-operation.

Monday 20 May 2019

Sooo, you want to play an *outsider* eeehhh?

Here is my attempt to make Tieflings actually-slightly-upsettingly outsiders. But somehow still accessible and playable? And also visually pretty much the same thing. But also fundamentally different.

An impossible mission? Probably. You judge.



Part way through the long slow fall of the borderless Diadem of Realms that ultimately collapsed into Uud, there came from out of the thickening grey a race of people unlike any seen before.

Sharp toothed, slim-tongued, with horns of glass and pale, thick blood, they were alien in their manner and all who met them were disturbed, sometimes to the point of disgust.

These creatures called themselves, or were called, "Nathlings".

They came with a warning.

They said that the slow stasis and malaise of that Meta-Relam was the result, not of natural change, but conspiracy. That a vast and incomprehensible force hated the Diadem of Worlds and plotted against it. They said a Cosmic Entity, something beyond comprehension or mortal reach, had focused its attention on this string of realities and that it would feed on, and destroy, them all. They said Her plan was already in motion, that the vacancy, vacuity, ennui and hysteria of society were the effects of Her attention.

They said they knew this because She made them, or warped them from some other race, to be her creatures. That they were born to lack identity, deep memory, selfhood or names and were created to be Her servants and the agents of Her thought, but they had tricked Her, broken free, and come to warn everyone, to warn them that Yggsrathaal was coming, and that time was running out.

Few listened. Not enough to save reality.

But some did. And those few, (radicals and fanatic doom-sayers at the time,) began the process which ultimately lead to the founding of the Grey Cities and the preservation of what life and culture still remains on Uud.

So stands the story of the Nathlings (as they would tell it). They still live on Blackwater. A race of Cassandras and half-monsters. Their warning helped to preserve the world, but could not save it. They are creatures of Yggsrathaal, but her mortal enemies. They are born alien, strange and palpably "other", and as they become more human, they slowly die, such is the tragedy of their victory.

Their existence in Blackwater borders on the edge of toleration, just as it always has.


The Nathlings were created, or corrupted, by Yggsrathall to be her creatures. Made to have no names, no long-term memory, no empathy, no dreams and no self, like grey angels of entropy.

But the Nathlings tricked their creator and escaped her clutches. One by one they improvised or invented ways to escape the prison of their natures.

Instead of names, Nathlings use 'kennings', small micro-riddles or quixotic phrases, often referring to emptiness, tears, absence, void, blankness or colourlessness.

Since this is no name, but a symbol to nothing, it escapes the curse.

They were made to have no strong long-term interpersonal memory. To learn skills and facts easily and quickly, but to carry no recollection of the lives they have touched or which have touched theirs.

Each Nathling learns many languages, some are only known to that race, some are entirely personal tongues known only to that one being. If a Nathling wants to remember, for instance, an emotion, or an act of friendship, a lover or an object of loyalty, they describe it to themselves verbally inside their minds, and while doing so, they translate that description, sometimes into one language, sometimes into many.

While they cannot easily recall the fact of friendship once it has settled into one image or tongue, they can recall the act of translation itself. This is not a stable memory, but a process of transformation which the curse cannot affect.

So those who were made to care for nothing can build themselves structures of selfhood, friendship, family and tribe.

Made to feel no empathy, the Nathlings can learn empathy, starting with its basic structures, first treating it as a series of rules, observing, processing and analysing. Then simulating and copying others. They learn it from the outside in.

So those who were made to feel nothing, can learn to inspire feeling in others, and since that feeling is real, it can eventually seed a kind of mirror-intuition in the Nathlings mind, giving them an image of the heart they were born to lack.

Born to dream of nothing, young or ageless Nathings do indeed dream of nothing more than a pale grey Waste, much like the one beyond the borders of Blackwater. The find it peaceful.

But over time, as they encounter more people in more depth, as they live deeper and richer lives and experience a greater range of life, slowly, imperceptibly, life springs in the unconscious mind.

This happens first as a pattern of vague lines of forms, only suggestive of life. Over time, night after night, these collect together into odd knotworks of shape and vigour, like storms of lines. Sometimes a whisper is heard in the mind like something from another room.

Then, often after a moment of crisis or intensity something living springs, in full colour and sound, into being inside the Nathlings dream. Often this is a particular person known to the Nathling, someone they may be close with, or in conflict with, or even someone completely random and inconsequential.

The first time this happens the shock is often enough to make the Nathling spring awake, heart hammering. The process is known to them, and they are aware it can happen, but nothing can prepare them for the vividness, animation or strangeness of this living sub-reality. They are often confused, not quite processing that the person in their dream is different to the living example. They suspect magic, extra-real powers or some other trickery.

From this point on, the Nathling must make a choice, to continue down this path and become more and more "human", more and more real, or to turn away and return to what they were.

Whatever they choose the consequences are significant.


Nathings, unless they alter their appearance, look a little like grey humanoid demons.

It's perhaps fortunate that most of the Demons are sleeping or dead, along with the Gods, but it likely doesn't help the Nathings much as they look like something much worse than any Devil of the Diadem of Worlds, they look like Yggsrathaal.

They are bipeds with weight and mass roughly equivalent to Somon, but they have a "third limb" a gracile tail running from their spine, so their limbs and body seem more slender. Bones are a little thinner and more flexible than Somon, giving them a similar proportionate tensile strength overall.

The tail and hip arrangement alters their walk, their movement is slightly more efficient than Somon when accelerating or maintaining a high speed, but less so over long distances, and much less so when carrying a load. They are quick and quiet.

Nathling skin is grey (though many dye it) and textured. Each texture is different. Nathlings can be patterned like frost, like rippling waves, cracks in glass, radial spiderwebs, brush-strokes or sine waves, like waving long-stemmed grass in wind.

Nathings have horns and nail-claws of glass, translucent or opalescent, more tough and flexible than any manufactured glass. These horns grow throughout the Nathlings life, in some cases becoming remarkable antler-like displays.

The Nathling eye is equally strange. Instead of an iris, the pupil is surrounded by a kind of liquid pool, like a stain of black fluid. This liquid shifts like a trailing flag inside the eye, tied to the movement of the pupil, but a moment or two behind or ahead of it. It looks like irregular pools of iridescent black flowing across the eye like ink in water.

Even when the gaze is fixed, the edges of this pool flex and shift a little.

This lends the Nathling gaze a curious indeterminacy. You can never quite be certain where they are looking, your eye is drawn to theirs, almost compulsively, but cannot intuit the meaning it needs. It’s hard to look away and take the speech, tone, head movement and body position of the Nathling as indicative of their focus (as you would with someone wearing dark glasses or a blindfold for instance).

And they can sleep with these eyes open, their breathing soundless and pulse indistinguishable, smelling of nothing (they easily creep up on dogs).

They are primarily carnivores (which keeps the population low), but have grinding teeth at the back of the jaw and can subsist as omnivores with some loss of health and vigour. They can survive on very little water, find it hard to learn how to swim  - instinctually adopting a sinuous lizard motion, dislike rain, always have an umbrella and tend to skip quickly across river-bridges in a rapid mincing gait.

They have three directly magical, otherworldly or reality-shifted aspects; The Nathlings Kiss, The Size Insanity and their Entropic Touch.


Not truly a kiss, that name comes from story and rumour. The pale, thick blood of a young Nathling, if ingested by a mortal, can strip them of memory in the same way as the cursed Memory Eaters of Yggsrathall.

The phrase 'The Nathlings Kiss' comes from fable and accusatory tales in which the innocent young Somon or Aeth is tricked into falling in love with the heartless Nathling, who kisses them, biting their slender tongue with their sharp teeth and invisibly feeding their blood to the poor victim, stripping them of identity and self.

It’s a popular motif in fiction.


Like many of the Children of Yggsrathaal, Nathings can become both very large and very small. This is thought to be a combination of actual direct physical change and a kind of "re-scaling" ability shared by some Fey, and employed in some magics, in which the relation of the individual to the world is altered.

Like a person in sight becoming small or large the further or closer they are to the eye, the subject is taken further or closer from or to "the eye of the world", causing them to seem to become very big or very small.

Amongst Nathlings, going insane and growing very big or small are considered to be the same thing. Whether only the mad change size or whether changing size leads Nathlings to madness, is unknown. They are incredibly strict about policing the "correct" size and scale amongst each other.

When extremely small they become very fey, hunting ladybugs from the backs of grasshoppers, prancing around on the leaves of roses e.t.c. When very large they become crook-backed, massively horned pale and silent giants, more like Her creatures then than at any other time.

Scale of a crazed gigantified Nathling


Nathings can instinctually wield the Entropic magics typical of Yggsrathall and her children. This is a massively and systemically supressed capacity amongst all "civilised" Nathlings. They hate to use it and the cultural and psychological stress of doing so is so traumatic that it can lead to a complete nervous breakdown or, in times of exceptional stress, even worse changes.


Almost no "tolerated" group is less easily tolerated than the Nathlings. Not only are they carnivores who are clearly and obviously far too close to Yggsrathaal, they are strange.

Strange, in a world where multiple parallel species of humanity encounter and work alongside each other almost continuously, means more than just form, Natlings act strange, they feel off, and not in a fey or magical way, in a creepy way.

It has been argued by some, and never convincingly argued against, that Nathlings have no instinctual moral core - no primate-scourced morality. For them, good and evil, cruelty and kindness, even love and duty, are simply a matter of decision, not intuition. They have no feeling to do the right thing, they feel no intense shame over doing the wrong thing.

The counter-argument is that, because Nathlings choose good, and choose to be pro-social, loyal and kind, that the fundamental meaning of their actions is the same, or possibly even better because how many mortals can say that, if all things were even, they would coldly choose the right path?

That might make sense intellectually, but it doesn't help much when dealing with them face-to-face.

They are uncanny. Strangely distant, even with each other. Everything they do has a feeling of performance. They have no immediate disgust instinct, no strong fear instinct, no very strong desire instinct.

Their laughter sounds arch, even fake.

They are extremely fair and even-handed, totally unprejudiced to any particular group. They would make really good judges, if anyone fully trusted them and make their decisions based on facts only. Which is really aggravating if you've known them for years and they don't instinctually support you. But there is no instinct of group loyalty, only decision.

Careful observers and brilliant mimics of others, they are disturbingly good actors and exceptional liars and manipulators. Once you see one lie, even if it were to save your life, it’s hard to fully trust them ever again, you feel as if you can't really 'know' them - even after a long time.

If you want to stop one doing something arguably immoral, or to persuade them to do something that seems immoral, though you do it for the right reasons, you must often explain why, sometimes from first principals. "Trust me" isn't always going to cut it, and even if they do trust you now, they will want an explanation later.


It’s very common for them to stain their skin a vibrant colour, to paint their horns, wear bright clothes and bejazzlements, golden bells on the horns or silver spiderwebs strung between them.  A handful radically chop off and grind down the horns, some, after losing a horn to battle or mischance, with cut the other even with it.

They affect necklaces or decorations of flowers, fresh fruit, leaves or vulnerable origami - to make a point. By keeping these very-perishable things in close proximity, and perfect condition, they are definitely NOT using entropic magics that everyone knows they have.

In what began as a statement and evolved into a fashion, their tools and weapons are often of "fragile" materials, either made cunningly or enchanted; swords of glass, ceramic, crystal, paper or the slenderest steel, stalks of grass or whips of thorn. Bags of thin silk, belts of slightest chain. Fine slippers and gossamer scarfs.


Nathlings are adaptable to any social situation, but not accepted in any of them.

They are often itinerant single wanderers. They are unofficially banned from some Cities and Queendoms. legally no such ban can exist, but in practice they know the places it is dangerous for them to step. They rarely gather in large groups in public for fear of mobs, but there are underground networks in most cities. They tend to know each other.

Its rumoured Nathlings often walk about under glamours, seeming to be other than they are. Though this is dangerous and semi-legal in most governed lands.

When integrated into social structures, they are eager and effective members of organisations that will give them visible protection and allow them to move around. They often take on unpopular but useful jobs like tax collector, executioner, ombudsman, investigator, translator, entertainer to semi-legal subcultures, and of course, criminal. They make exceptionally good criminals, except that everyone always suspects the Nathling. Though they rarely seem very religious, they are curious, knowledgeable and of course, tolerant. When they do commit to a faith, they learn it all, chapter and verse, down to the smallest detail.

They raise their children in private, they are rarely seen out in public until they are around ten years old.

Outside settled society, Nathlings often get on quite well with "wild" Aeth out in the forests. They are both gracile, precise and independent aesthetes, and both rather "fey" in manner (literally in the case of the Aeth).

They can survive in the Wastes, possibly better than any other mortal being, though this ability has not improved their reputation. They can find, fight and kill the Children of Yggsrathaal better than anything on Uud.


Nathlings, as designed by Her, are immortal, or at least, ageless.

Feeling ages them.

The more "real", "alive" and "felt" they become, the older they physically get. Their altered flesh was made to pass through the world of mortal minds like mist, placeless, featureless, untouchable. It cannot tolerate attachment, affection, integration, meaning.

This is why the first vivid dream of a Nathling is so important. It is a Rubicon. There is still time for them to turn back to remain immortal, untouchable. Some Nathlings remain "young" forever. Neither evil nor good, passionless, they drift through the world, barely touching it.

But the deeper and more meaningful their interaction with the world, the more people they trust, and are trusted by, the more feeling they inspire and absorb, the deeper and more vivid their dreams, the stronger and deeper their soul, the harder they age.

And this aging changes the sense of them. The disturbing alienation of their behaviour fades away. The affect of their amnesiac blood disappears. Old, or old-looking Nathlings are often well-liked, with acceptable social position, circles of friends, familiarity, trust, easy banter and a sense of weight and simple vigour. They are also astoundingly ugly and horned, they look like old knotted wood or dried out demons. They laugh and feel and live and exist deeply and intuitively, though from their looks they would seem to be devils.

These "old" Nathlings are looked on with awe, horror and envy by the young. This is what they could be, should they choose.

This is their final victory and their great tragedy. Made to be murderous ghosts of entropy, like leaves blown before an annihilating storm, they trick fate and defy their creator. They are finally, irrevocably, immediately and intuitively Human.

They pay for it with their lives. But don't we all?


Aaaaan, Kickstarter still be rollin'!