Thursday 29 August 2019

Churchill on Churchill Pt 1

I have an Audible account. I get a credit  every month, any single book costs one credit and, in the interests of efficiency I like to spend them on really long books. In the past this has lead to me downloading and listening to the Unabridged King James Bible and getting part way through Don Quixote.

I'm currently in the middle of my holidays and since I knew in advance I would be facing many, many hours in airplanes, airports and hotel rooms, I purchased, for one credit, another extremely long book.

This is 'Marlborough, his life and times' by Winston Churchill.

Marlborough is John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, a courtier, politician, diplomat and, crucially, general, around the beginning of the 18th century. He is also an ancestor of Winston Churchill, who was born in Belnheim Palace, a mansion built by and for Marlborough to commemorate his greatest military victory.

(From now on I will refer to Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister as 'Winston' or 'Churchill' and John Churchill Duke of Marlborough as 'Marlborough'.


I listen to this on my phone so I don't have direct access to the book to check details and provide quotes. I also know very little about the period, and the huge amount of information given in the book does somewhat sleet past me, so I'm ok on generalities but not on detail. Plus I'm only half way through the book. Its a million words long, comes in three or four volumes and takes about 70/80 hours in total to listen to. So my apologies for the many innacuracies, bad memory formation etc etc.



Like a lot of really extremely long books about one particular subject, (I'm thinking here especially of 'Black Lamb, Grey Falcon' by Rebecca West), when the subject is of a deep enough complexity, with enough 'moving elements' and with a wide enough range of interconnections, then the book becomes a kind of dual mirror showing us an image of its subject, and everything around them (as intended here specifically; 'Marlborough; His Life and Times') but also a lens on the personality of the writer and their feelings and attitudes. (And if you want to get post-modern about it, also the feelings and attitudes of you, the reader.)

In this case the book is about the culture and political position of England at the turn of the 18th Century, about Marlborough, and especially about Winstons VERY STRONG feelings about Marlborough.

Marlborough, it seems is someone it is very hard to have a neutral take on. He is Marmite. He has so many good and bad qualities that most writers just have to end up going one way or another with him. In particular, a historian, McCauly, damned Marlborough to hell in his history of those times.

So in rides Winston, with fresh access to recently rediscovered family documents and a great deal of available time, he is going to rescue the reputation of his ancestor from sad nerds like McCauly and reveal that he was in fact, the best Englishman ever, which for Winston, makes him essentially the best human ever, and that every decision he made was either genius, brilliant, the product of a bad day or in a handful of occasions, wrong.


This is one of the most insanely biased books of History I have read, its also very good. A brief note on what I think to be the difference between useful and corrupt bias in History.

Histories that deliberately ignore or 'forget' facts, that don't present or even pretend to consider counter-arguments. In short histories that change the factual record and the fragile substance of reality, these are evil.

Winstons history, so far as I can make out, is not like this. He does, genuinely, believe that almost everything Marlborough did was brilliant. However, he does not *lie*. He serves you the whole meal, and then simply spends a long time explaining *why* the olives taste weird, pointing out that the Wine, which tastes like trash is simply not to your palette and that the plate, while it has been cracked, has also been repaired, which in a way should give you much more reassurance than a simply whole plate. So he brings up all the details and elements you would need to shape your own opinion and then gives you his opinion. But its entirely possible, in fact likely, that you will get half a million words into 'M: HL&T' and come away with an entirely different opinion of Marlbrough himself.

Churchill is also writing a legendary history in the high style.

There are two kinds of history, the analysis, or taking-apart history, which flenses reality, questions everything and tilts facts and possibilities this way ans that, like a shell beneath a halogen lamp, this history is very useful and necessary and usually leaves you feeling somewhat dead inside and mildly despairing of the great dead machine of causality we are all trapped inside, and the Legendary or meaning-imbuing history, which also considers facts and strings them together but which is more about filling reality with the breath of life, like a baloon. This second history is full of excitement, individual incident and social detail, almost everyone is mildly heroic or mildly villianous, there are goodys and baddys. This History absolutely has reality going in a particular direction and the actions of the people in it were good or bad depending on whether they helped or hiNdered this process.

One of these histories helps us work out what reality is, but robs us of the strength we need to live in it, the other is more about giveing cultures and individuals the strength and sense of purpose to act in history. And one tends to be 'our ethnoculture is great, possibly the best ever' i.e. Homer, and the other tends to be 'our Enthnoculture = partially wrong' i.e. Thucydides. (Of course if you go too far into 'Our Ethnoculture = ALWAYS WRONG, probably WORST EVER' then you are back into a different kind of legendary history. You can also see these as 'modernist' or 'legendary' histories, though I suspect both viewpoints have existed together as long as there have been people.

And most big histories have both elements, and both are necessary to survival, perhaps. And both can be good or bad, though Legendary history is a lot more swingy between the two.

Winston Churchill is, perhaps unsurprisingly, writing 'Our Enthoculture = BEST EVER'. Its about the rise of the Prodestant (NOT Catholic), English Speaking (some Scots & Welsh also allowed), Free (as in, arguably somewhat more free than many other European peoples depending on how you account 'freedom') Peoples VS the total and utter French Catholic Tyranny of Louis XIV, who, as the exemplar of everything not English, not Protestant and definitely not free, is the worst human to ever exist (so far).

Your tolerance for the book will depend a great deal on your tolerance for that idea, which is probably lower than mine.

But this is the energy of the book, it lends it motive force. The bias is open and declared, not slinking about beneath the surface of the words. The facts are all in place. The prose is great. The descriptions are in -depth (you will need your map of Europe with you).

Free (Prodestant) Europe lies beneath the breibboned, high-heel of the French, who are rolling about everywhere kicking everyones ass. England in particular has a Catholic monarchy who are essentially in the pay of the French state. Will a Hero emerge? Yes. You have read the title of the book.


Marlborough rose on sex and beauty. His family were middle-range country gentry. They were split by the English Civil war, and this strange duality of loyalty pursues Marlborough as part of his character for the rest of his life. There is always a sense that he is, or could be, maybe, possibly, on both sides of any issue.

Marlboroughs dad was a classic High Tory Cavalier, God, King and Country all the way. He goes in deep with James II during this civil war and this loses the family their house when Cromwell wins.

HOWEVER, his grandma (or aunt?) who has title to the property, goes in deep with the Parliament, and this, after some very long and brutal court-cases, gets them their house and lands back. (The house is half burnt down).

HOWEVER, then the Restoration happens, bringing Charles II to power, now Parliament is out. However however, Churchills dad is still a local hardcore super-loyalst of note, plus Charles is trying to be reasonable, so there are no recriminations for his grandma being for Parliament.

(I'm reminded here of what a lot of Afghan families were said to do, which is send one son to the Mujadeen and the other to whoever is currently occupying the cities, so no matter what happens, they have someone on the inside.)

So this is how John Churchill grows up, in a family with some status, but very little money, in a half-burnt down (slowly being rebuilt) house, with a Parliamentarian matriarch and a Royalist dad, apparently both seemingly getting along. And with some very fortunate genetics, because both he, and his sister are considered to be highly attractive for the culture of the time.

This is John Churchills first step on the ladder of power; his sister is fucking the king (which a fair number of people were doing at the time). She gets him into the court as a Royal Page. He is young, good looking and famously, and this will be another deep theme in his life, amazingly agreeable, polite, well-spoken and well, just a CHA 18 guy. He is amazingly easy to be around, for most people, most of the time. (His astonishingly good social skills become a kind of inverse trap later on.)

The King likes him, the Kings mistress Barbara Villiers likes him. Everyone likes John Churchill, which is handy because, though his is circulating at the pinnacle of power of the English state, he is also the poorest person in the room, by quite a way.

Compared to Gen Pop he's still extremely privileged, he has a Gentry name and upbringing and his family has land. Compared to everyone at court he is very poor indeed. He has his looks and his charm and that's about it.

John Churchills second rung on the ladder of power is that he is fucking the Kings mistress (which the King half-knows about but doesn't really mind so long as its not too blatant, because Charles II thats how he rolls, John does have to literally jump out of a a window at one point). So he is the side-piece of the kings side-piece. This gets him a wedge of cash at one point, and a military commission, which forms the nucleus of his financial stability from that point on.

Marlborough likes fighting and seems to be good at it, and he is very good at diplomacy and politics. This is really the core of his ability, performing elaborate and complex diplomacy and translating that into successful military force.

He is also near-impossible to really know. He is incredibly polite, gracious and accommodating. He is also beautiful, and possibly (probably, though its very hard to tell) deeply subtly manipulative. He is almost Taoist in his ability to place himself in a position right at the centre of events and to essentially 'surf' the waves of incident, so that his rise and success, to any outside observer, seems to happen almost by accident. Time and time again he is in the right place at the right time to be afforded more and more power. This would be enough to make him the villain of a book by Dumas. But when given this power, he generally seems to do the right thing with it.


(She's played by Rachel Weitz in 'The Favourite'. In reality she was a blonde, but the relative level of beauty, hawkish foreign policy personal dominance and intelligence and the fact that she *may* be frigging off the Queen, who is certainly in love with her, are all on-point.)

One thing Marlborough doesn't seem to change or alter is his marriage once he makes it. He is relatively young and insecure when he encounters Sarah. She is also (relatively) poor, and not his families preferred match, and also seems to be highly suspicious of him. Like him she is very fair, and regarded as a great beauty.

Marlborough is a quasi-Tory by instinct, though really of no party, and Sarah is an absolute dyed-in Hawkish Whig from day one. They never really change in these basic affiliations. (And again, his family ends up split over the basic political questions of the day.) Its a time of deeply intense and obsessive (i.e. modern) factionalism in English politics, but John and Sarah remain a tight, coherent unit and, at least so far as we can see from their letters, they never break this bond.


Marlborough only really betrays one King.

Its just after the Restoration. Marlbrough is very closely attached to James II, the brother of Charles II.

England has a protestant culture (largely) and a Catholic ruling family. No-one is really comfortable with this but they were sick of Cromwell so they put up with it. The English middle and mid-ruling classes are utterly obsessed with the idea that the Catholic powers of Europe, especially France, are going to infiltrate their power structure and try to re-catholocise England by force and stealth. And that is a completely reasonable fear because that is exactly what the French monarchy wants to do, and in fact, thinks it is doing.

Everyone is being bribed by the French, its not a question of whether they *take* the bribes, but of whether they *act* on the bribes.
The Monarchy of Charles II is essentially bankrolled on the down-low by Louis.

So the King is in the pay of the French court, and there are varying levels of knowledge about this. But the King is also not really doing much for the French court. He is quite easy going and doesn't seem to be re-catholicising anything and is relatively chill and content to bang hotties and have great hair. Its not clear who is screwing who here. Its possible Charles is screwing the French by taking their money, promising to forward the Catholic cause and not really doing anything. Its entirely possible the French know this and are largely fine to simply take England 'off the board' with a cash injection.

The tenor of English politics is, everyone is worried about the Catholic/Prodestant thing, everyone is on the take *somehow*, everyone is low-key lying to or manipulating everyone else, there are varying circles of knowledge, no-one seems to really know what is going on.

Marlborough, as a very young and recently married man, navigates this in his position as a Main Guy to the Kings bigoted brother.

While Charles is very Lebowski-ish about things, James is, firstly, a lot less charming, and secondly, a lot more intensely Catholic. He is really deeply committed to the increasingly-unlikely and massively-unpopular recoversion thing. (Secretly.) And serving him in the most intimate capacity is Marlborough, this very protestant, but exquisitely obliging young man.

(Intimacy is another quality of the age. No-one seems to have much private space, by modern comparisons, very high-status people get barely any time alone. The King is woken up by people and put to bed by people, his every moment is a political act and political performance. So 'private space' as we would concieve of it, barely exists. It exists inside the skulls of the people involved and in those ever-shifting circles of connections.)

Charles dies and James becomes King.

This rapidly becomes utterly intolerable to the English ruling class. They could manage the religious divide when it was embodied in the person of a likeable, charismatic, moderate, super-chill and politically astute guy with amazing hair. James is not likeable, not charismatic, not moderate, has no chill and is politically stupid and somewhat nasty. A plot is hatched to bin the King and swap him out for William of Orange.

(Between James becoming King and becoming intolerable, there is actually another, failed plot to oust him by the Duke of Monmouth. This miscarries horribly, Monmouths rebellion is crushed and the southern peasantry/yeomenry that sided with him are destroyed, enslaved and shipped to Barbados, where their descendants still live.)

The sheer level of scheming, the massive quantity of the infiltration, conniving and persuading, the high level of secrecy required and the massive unlikelyhood of success make this a truly epic-level plot. Other histories would call this a successful invasion of England by the Dutch, Winston regards it as a Protestant Coup. Its both really. William invades, James's army and navy largely evaporate, William becomes King, James runs off to France to scheme eternally.

At the centre of this is Marlborough. At a key point he rides away from James in the night and joins up with William. How deep was he in the conspiracy? What did he know and not-know? Was he a driver of it? What information did he give away? We have no idea. As is usual for Marlborough, he simply seems buoyed up by events, like a leaf in the stream, carried to exactly the right place.

Its easy to see why people absolutely hate this guy. His manner is too easy. You never know when he is lying. He seems to get away with everything and to always be in the right place. Strategically, if you think of it sensibly, he is either supremely lucky or working insanely hard behind the scenes to make sure things turn out just right for him. Or both. But you have no idea how far ahead he is thinking, or what his plans are. He never seems frustrated or angry or frightened. He is just always there, smiling, charming, agreeable, regretful. Marlborough being Marlbourough, riding the wind like a kite.


William is a largely competent and completely uncaring King of England. He essentially regards it as a useful strategic element in his wars against France. He doesn't govern badly. He is definitely protestant and, this time, 100 per cent fighting French tyranny and not soaking up bribes on the side, so that's a plus. Everyone in England hates him. He is exactly what they asked for and they can't stand it.

The scheming continues. A clique of people in the ruling circles are absolutely exchanging conspiracy letters with the exiled James II in his French hideaway. As the situation was with Charles and the French, they are making big promises and not doing anything. Marlborough is amongst this set and is, by spoken word (he doesn't write anything down) absolutely conspiring against his new king with his old king.

However, he doesn't seem to actually *do* anything, or to surrender any meaningful information. Does William know some of his guys are writing to James on the side? He seems to. Does he know how much they are doing it or how much Marlborough is doing it? What the shit is going on? Again, who is manipulating who, how much and to what end? Its all incredibly creepy, suspicious and difficult to parse. Still, as a grand result of all this, very little takes place.

There is an opinion in history that Marlborough did in fact reveal plans for an attack on the port of Brest, which got people killed when the French prepared ahead of time. Winston Churchill thinks this is nonsense, or at least, that he didn't reveal anything the French didn't already know and weren't acting on. Its remarkable how much the claims and counter-claims, interpretations and counter-interpretations, are like a modern conspiracy theory. Someone, or everyone, was lying to someone, but their motivations and intentions are the subject of argument.

It is very misty around Marlborough.

He does OK in the William years but isn't really advanced much. The English are very tired of William and are lining up a number of post-William possibilities, one of which is Anne.

Its here we enter the realm of filmed history.


Sarah Churchill and Anne knew each other since youth.

Sarah was always blonde, beautiful, attractive and confident. Anne was a dumpling of middling intelligence but of very strong will. (And its curious how everyone comments that Anne was not very clever, but had a very strong personality nonetheless, and left her particular mark upon history despite being surrounded by highly intelligent manipulators. It seems being a little dense but utterly resolute can be a reasonable answer to manipulation.)

Anne seems blindingly obviously to be in love with Sarah from a young age. They write letters to each other with fake names.

Were they boning? God knows. Its impossible to work out the relative sexuality of anyone through the layers of culture and time. Its possible they were at it constantly, its possible the relationship was entirely chaste. Its possible, even likely that Anne didn't think of her feelings as anything we would currently consider 'gay'. But she was deeply and massively, and obviously from her letters, in love with Sarah, and she seems to have extended this love, affection and loyalty to Sarahs husband, Marlborough.

So when William dies and Anne becomes Queen, John and Sarah Churchill are right there beside her, as a tight little unit of loyalty, another leaf riding on the stream to exactly where it intended to be.

Sunday 18 August 2019

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching

There's a lot I liked about this. Sadly, it’s easier for me to express my discontent than the things I agreed with. I will briefly talk about the things I liked, then go on about the things I hated, then do some questions I had, then probably cycle back to the positive.


I liked the opening lessons or statements and found the quality slowly dropped off, especially towards the end.

Reading these and thinking about them generally gave me a feeling of reflective calm, which is a rare resource for me. I liked the conception of lessons or statements leading or gesturing towards what cannot be described.
The 'finger pointing at the moon' stuff.

I liked the conception of the Tao as a kind of unmoved mover, beyond conceptions of space and time but encompassing both.

I like the lessons about indifference to virtue, or at least to the conception of performed or obvious virtue.
This cut quite close for me as the difficulty of the problem of 'good' and of doing good, when that desire is itself intermixed with a desire for reward, (even internal reward of self) and of a desire to be perceived as good, and with the social rewards of 'good conduct'. This seems a perennial human problem and of particular relevance today.


I absolutely despised the MURDEROUS and shameful incuriosity of Taoism. The mind is meant to interact with the world, and a mind unchallenged by any interest in the outside reality sinks into a kind of perverse inner death which, I am sure, seems like wisdom; the mind can deal very well with its own products if it allows nothing else in. Such a mind might well seem self-comprehending and even, but there will be little there to be comprehended.
You certainly cannot drown in a swimming pool drained of water.

An absence of interest in reality, or in modern thinking, the conspiratorial belief in narcissistic shit like simulation theory, is a sin and a flaw. Reality challenges and educates us, that challenge introduces disorder and suffering, but through this we grow, and learn. Wisdom in the absence of curiosity is cheap fucking wisdom.

Don't be passionate as you will suffer and wear out, ok, fair enough. But if you are never passionate then how do you know anything about your own nature? What your limits are, what provokes you, what you can or cannot do, the substance of your being. Some of these things only come out or reveal themselves in situations of stress. This is another cheap form of wisdom. Know yourself easily by making sure there is not much to know.

The later stuff about immortality and the obsession with preserving, particularly your own, life, I regard as pathetic and worthless. But there is thankfully not too much of that here at this early stage.

A lot of this is just "how to survive under various tyrannies". Which, fair enough, might be reasonable and useful advice, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. The deep political quietism and massive retreat from 'difficult' issues is, maybe wise?  I don't know. It seems like it could be wise or fucking stupid depending a lot on context and circumstance. Especially in the later parts it seems to slip more deeply into conservative authoritarianism.
If this is the  *less* conservative and authoritarian version of Confucius then I don't think I am going to like Confucius much.

No Particular Advice About Anything - I'm not exactly looking for Dale Carnegie or plumbing advice here, but the totality of the message seems to be "become one with the Tao and either you will be able to solve this or it just won't bother you that much", which, again, fair enough might not be bad advice, but its very hard to tell if I'm being Barnumed here, and it would be a little useful to have a handful of slightly more concrete suggestions.

I think I've worn out my anger. On to;


Are you training Hermits or rulers here Lao Tzu? Because you appear a little confused on this point. Seems like the advertising claims to be training people to be hermits while the Facebook algorythms mainly show the ads to executive types.

Also - women.

Presumably someone somewhere has done something about what Feminist Taoism might look like, or what it might look like from a more-classically-female perspective, i.e. if you don't really necessarily want to go of and live as a 'sage' on a mountain, if you have quite a lot of complex interrelated social work to do and if you would actually like to retain some complex connections to the social world.

I have the same disagreement with this over the nature of 'nature', and moral laws which claim to link human moral good with 'natural law' as I do with most such philosophies.

Nature is exactly as vast, indifferent and infinite as described. Its also often naturally catastrophic, cold, inhuman, often governed by wild chance. There is no stable state of nature, only brief periods of relative meta-stability. Neither do I believe in any baseline original human culture (i.e. "when we were in the stone age" etc.)
Human existence is a river, and its narrowing and deepening as things go on, not widening. To return to the prehistoric past would be to return to any one of many and varied cognitive and social modes, not to a pure land where things made sense. There is no pure land. It’s a river, which Taoism should be able to grasp and understand, but if it did, then all the stuff about abandoning technology and going off to be simple wouldn't make much sense.
A microchip is exactly as much part of the Tao as a plough or a flint arrowhead. It cannot be otherwise.

I suspect humans can be alienated from their nature as Lao Tzu suggests, but this may be much more complex and partial a process and experience than can be solved by just going off to be hunter-gatherers.

'Human Nature' is very much up for grabs, to an almost disturbing extent.

Probably my biggest disagreement with Lao Tzu is that I don't think the Tao can create virtue on its own. The infinite has no interest in us. Our annihilation or our development is all the same to the Tao. So its fakery in a way, this stuff linking human goodness and virtue to the Infinite.


Part of me *feels* as if some or much of this is true. Or perhaps should be true, or can be true. I did, and do feel a sense of calm and a slight relief from my crushing internal angst and stormy temperament when considering the Tao. I do feel as if contemplating the Tao *should* help turn you into the kind of person described, maybe more by Chuang Tzu than here, and kind of low-key, ultra-chill, very-calm, good person. That would please me.
It seems like it *can* be true, even if it is not *necessarily* true, and perhaps that is enough.

Still, like most religions, you are better off not finding out too much about Taoism. There are too many inconsistencies, too many assumptions about history and human nature that have been easily and totally overturned by the actual observation and interest in reality which Taoism seems deliberately-ignorant of, and like most faiths, waaaaay to many fiddly little bits of theology/philosophy that just don't make any fucking, (even basic, to-a-12-year-old) sense, and which when you try to get them all fitting together, produce reams and reams of blather, like a failed calculation resulting in infinite numbers.

Thursday 15 August 2019

I Will Roll Deep

If you are in you better be in all the way. Thusly I have placed the Raven-People for Zoiterra, the Animal-People continent made up itself of nations on the backs on giant animals, on (and in) something which is not a giant animal, big instead a cosmically-huge coconut.

I am fully committed to this idea.


Quick are the Qua, and black as ink, riders of the cosmic coconut, called Okoko, the virtue of which is Heroism. A hollow virtue for a hollow land.

Many Ptak, the Aviform bird-people, are seen as having a slightly twitchy, rolling movement, with moments of stillness unusual in other races. The Qua are Ptak, physically, if not culturally.

(Of course you should never refer to Qua as Ptak in Zoiterra, most bird people would take this as being deeply insulting. Culturally, socially and philosophically, they would be seen as entirely different beings, springing from a different land (the least of lands), and following a different virtue (the least of virtues).

But they are Bird-Men, and they exemplify those qualities; more jerky, more still, more rapid when they do move, with a particular glimmering intelligence in their frozen side-on glance. Beak half-open, the eye shining.

They have slender limbs and are light and agile in a way rare for Aviform beings. Unlike many, they are excellent climbers, their beaks are often employed as tertiary hands. They dance well, are not put off by long journeys on foot, deal happily with riding beast and even sail well.


The Qua are almost always deep, dark black. Their feathers glimmer like oil when close, like a sheen of opal across a pupil-black void. This, and their general lack of interest in status-markers, makes them quite hard for non-Qua to tell apart.

In the wild, bright forests of Okoko they look like silhouettes of cut-out black paper, dark shadows on a bright day.

In Ku, the city floating on the milk sea in the darkness of the Great Nut, they are like the openings of deep tunnels come to life, swimming in gems, black-on-white against the bioluminescence of the city floating above, rippling away into realms of hidden tides. Like smiling gateways to infinite nowhere.


The Qua are suspected to be the most intelligent of Ptak, and some of the smartest in Zoiterra, though you would not realise this from their wild, irregular and unwise conduct. They are famously good at puzzles and codes, and at languages in a way, though this is considered a form of mimicry rather than 'true' knowledge.

In Zoiterra the intelligence of the Qua is spoken of in a glib and degrading way. As if it were a trick, not true knowledge. Not true learning, not wisdom, not the knowledge of a sage, but a mere practical facility, and therefore, in a way, somehow worse than mere stupidity.

The perceived ability of the Qua only lowers them in the eyes of Zoiterran culture and, in particular, with the Ptak of Boe, who regard them with sadness, suspicion and agonised frustration.


In many ways, Okoko is a professional client state. The Qua will effectively 'rent' out the resources of its surface (but not the interior), along with their own somewhat questionable services and assistance, to whomever is willing to push them along.

This might seem like a good deal. With a large, easily exploitable, (and largely willing) client state and its population any Zoiterran culture could significantly increase its own power and security relative to the rest.

However, though it often takes a while, the Qua always, ALWAYS, end up massively pissing off whichever state of group they serve, and Okoko is booted off to seek another patron.

For the period of their service, the Qua act as indentured servants, for the culture of whichever beast is currently pushing Okoko. They work the slash-and-burn cash-crop plantations in the valleys of Okoko, exporting almost everything to the dominant population. They also serve more directly as house servants, professional indentured labour and malmuke-like military formations.

Qua living on their current client beast are usually locked into recognisable social and legal orders, but those remnants or diaspora populations left behind on previous beasts often form a criminal underclass. (Or underground railroad, or revolutionary elite, depending on how you look at it.)

The remnant populations of Qua do sometimes find a place in society. (A controlled place.) Zoiterra is huge and highly diverse, there are many places for individuals to escape to, get lost in or build a life.


A popular Qua figure in Zoiterran base culture is Diviner Cao and his Monkeyman Servant Biglift

Cao of Okoko is a famous detective-like character in popular fiction and a somewhat comedic figure. Brought in by stretched or harried authorities to deal with problems high or low, and often solving them in the most amusing and counterintuitive ways, both aided and frustrated by Biglift (catchphrase 'Me big lift') and his constant distractions by available food and wild female monkeymen. Cao's divinations often cast an ironic eye upon Zoiterran culture and hierarchies


The virtue of Okoko is Heroism.

This is regarded by all of Zoiterra as the lowest of virtues, most distant from the sublime and from the unnameable cosmic truth. A hollow virtue for a hollow land. Self-possessed, narcissistic, concerned with the things of this world, obsessed with changing things - pushing them out of their natural course and altering their inner nature. Frantic, mischief-causing, life-shortening. Woeful, very woeful.

To the rest of Zoiterra, the Qua are seen as conniving, scheming, interfering, carpetbagging, do-gooders. Causing trouble, doing crimes, ignoring the law, society, propriety and the Virtues. Freeing indentured workers, deposing rulers, breaking treaties, seeking treasure, stealing slaves, burning debt records and land leases, re-distributing cash and information. Never ceasing to stick their beaks in. Seemingly unable to go anywhere without interference in some local arrangement which has *nothing* to do with them. The exact opposite of what a virtuous or enlightened person would do. Put simply; Agents of CHAOS.

Of course the Qua have to lie about this, and sneak about. If they were obvious about what they were doing then they would be run out of wherever they were, (and they often are). So they play the subservient clients, pretending to be obedient, making themselves useful, irreplaceable really. But all the time they are just picking up information - thinking and planning in their little corvid brains. What else can you expect from these robbers?


Okoko is alone amongst the other Nation Beasts of Zoiterra who, it is said, condensed from starlight and the shreds of unravelling worlds and came to follow the way, (but who, being heavenly, were in the act of following the way anyway).

Some tilted into existence like an image changing in a mirror, some flew from the stars, some treaded down gently from heaven, or burst up through the Waste-Pack from the Chaos Sea beneath, all guided by (or guiding?) the sages.

Okoko was not guided by the sages, and it’s hard to believe it came from heaven, though it certainly came from 'the sky'. Okoko just arrived, plummeting like a nutty meteor. And that is all it is, a giant nation-sized coconut. It is not a beast, it has no mind and, shamefully, cannot even move under its own power.
Okoko can survive the great race against Yggsrathaal only by being pushed or carried by other beasts.


Okoko is also unstable, round and unable to right itself, it rolls in the chaos sea. Sometimes it is pushed up onto the Waste-Pack and grinds, or even rolls across it. Sometimes it crashes through the Waste as if it were ice.

The surface of Okoko is a smashed paradise of tumbling brown mountains, ruined cities and a vibrant, multicoloured, quick-growing jungle popping with fast animals. Within this psychedelic hypnagogic wonderland the Qua slink and hop like crafty black shadows.

It is an ecology accustomed to apocalypse, one that can move or re-grow with incredible speed, as its world literally rolls around it. Okoko has huge slash-and burn plantations wherever its is currently most-stable, these eat away at the jungle near still points and around the great gaps which give access to the interior.

It is also a land with many secrets, for in its long ages of near-stability, many beings have built upon Okoko or delved within its shell. Buildings on Okoko have deep foundations, even after being swept away in a distant age, after a roll, the structure can be recovered and built upon once again.


At various points around Okoko are gigantic tunnels into its Husk. Almost all of these are closed and blocked off, by the art of the Qua and the nature of Okoko, most of the time. In each age of the nut, a few are left open, carefully guarded by the Qua, and these provide passage to the World Within.

Beyond these lies the Quick of the Nut, a white fibrous layer several miles deep, and rumoured to be inhabited by tribes of blind monkeymen who eat their way through it, forming great labyrinths.

Beyond that is the Milk Sea and the darkness of the nut.

For Okoko is hollow, and in its black depths floats a sea of milk. While the shell of Okoko may spin and turn from age to age, scouring its surface, the level of the Milk Sea, swishing in the darkness, remains broadly flat, whatever happens outside.


Here, upon the milk, the Qua built Ku.

Ku of the Quick, Ku-Within, Ku, city of Lamps. A black city on a white sea. A fleet of black ships, tied together, with streets of milk, like a Venice of white water like by huge floating bioluminescent jellyfish.

Some buildings are in the centre of huge rafts, or built into teak ships. None are very high as they might capsize when Okoko turns. Between these travel gondolas poled by Qua and guided by firefly lanterns. There are almost no naked fires, nearly all light being accomplished by various forms of chemiluminescence and bioluminescence. The city as a whole is lit by huge floating Man-O-War bioluminescent jellyfish which drift above its black timbers like huge balloons. These are grown and sustained by the Qua through their art, fed by the nutrients of the Milk Sea and drawn from its strange ecologies.

Here in Ku, the Qua have their noble houses, guilds, magical schools, libraries, nests, treasure houses, houses of cartography, trading houses, investigators alephs, headquarters for their labour and agricultural unions and the great Qua Bank of Secrets.

Monday 12 August 2019

We Played Inquisitor - Game Two: Rise of the Meta-Coral!

My initial review of Inquisitor from several months ago here.

And the previous game in this sequence 'Hunt the Fat Priest' here.


The conditions for this game were decided by the terrain Evan had already prepared and by the suggestion that the second game take place a year after the first.

Here you can see Evans beautiful chunk of wood that he spent an entire night messing about with;

There was actually incense drifting up through this during the game.

I will never understand what is wrong with my face.

As it turned out the year thing didn't end up having a huge impact, seems conditions in the Imperium Nihilus are so drek that even after a year of scavenging the only real improvement to anyone's equipment was that one of Rams characters brought a lasgun.

Since Evan kicked both our asses last time, and was on his own side of the table, he would be the 'villain' for this game while Ram and I both tried to stop whatever he was doing.

Things were also affected by our gradually increasing knowledge and understanding of the rules. Particularly what happens if you get shot at (Test for pinning, roll to hit, roll location, roll damage, deduct armour, check for system shock, check for knockback I think?, add damage to damage total and check to see if out of action, check to see if damage has moved you up another bracket on that location, roll on location damage tables and account cumulative effects, not all this down somewhere. Pretty simple really.)


Game Two: Rise of the Meta-Coral!

An year has passed on the world of Spen-5. The forces of Inquisitor Delbrück and the cult of the Imprisoned Moon agree to, if not exactly team up, then at least not deliberately fuck with each other as they both search the planet for Inquisitor Du Miir, Frater Gorgos and their horribly mutated new allies.

Unfortunately this is Imperium Nihilus, which means that the Wi-Fi is never on and Amazon won't deliver. The 'good guys' have to scrape by the old-fashioned way hunting out fragments of rumour and trace facts until they can finally put the pieces together.

Gorgos and Du Miir plan to wake the Meta-Coral!

What exactly this is, they are not sure, but it sounds bad. (It's probably a slow-developing heretical bio-experiment left over from the original settlers of the RiWeal nebulae).

Gorgos has gathered his freaky mutant flock for a gigantic sermon/sacrifice. Du Miir and the psychic mutated Astertes/Giant plan to combine their forces in some kind of sacrificial ritual which will bring this 'meta-coral' to some degree of active self-awareness.

BIO-HERESY! And not the low-key kind with the test-tubes, the Fucking Gigantic kind!

This is the future liberals want.
Tiny Inquisitors, fat priests and psychic giants teaming up to do weird rituals on living super-coral.

More of House Shens bonded troops guarded the doorknob alter, below. 

The ostensibly-allied factions adopt tactics typical of their background and training.  

Delbrück and his entourage use synthetic hormones to infiltrate the hideous congregation of Frater Gorgos, trying to get close enough to make a run at the meta-coral.

Meanwhile, the Cult of the Imprisoned Moon rock up with an old chimera-chassis tank packed with explosives, driven very slowly, by a blind man.

This low-res pict cap of the 'Jank' was all out servo-skulls could get.

This ends up being named the 'Jank'.

The Cult of the Imprisoned Moon leap from the 'Jank' and dash into action;

And are immediately knocked right the fuck down by Du Miirs graviton-gun equipped thrall.

And by hilariously bad rolling when attempting to scale the base of the Meta-Coral.

At least for now, it seems that everything depends on Inquisitor Delbrück..

Unfortunately, Delbrück takes a poison-coated needler round right away, causing him to hallucinate and to effectively attempt to take his own leg off with his power blade.

Onthu Prime responds to this with innovative courage.They try to rile up the animal/mutant Bio-Horror congregation, causing them to stampede, hopefully providing cover for an advance.

This arguably sort-of works and does at least occupy the Meta-Corals defenders for a little while.

Meanwhile, Apothecary Krax advances at speed upon his downed comrade. (We had worked out that if you sprint, then aim, then fire, you get more movement and better bonuses than simply running or walking and firing normally)

Due to the complexities of the initiative system, (and our initial failure to understand that aiming carries over between turns) Krax and the Zealot of Gorgos get into a three way mexican standoff, with the Zealot standing over Chapter Master, ready to finish him off, Krax with his pistol zeroed on the Zealot at point blank and the House Shen bannerman aiming in turn at Krax.

 Everyone opens up, leading to an absolute massacre.

The Bannerman survives, along with Chapter Master, but the violence of war must have brought the old degraded Astertes round, for he leaps up and smashes through the Bannermans defences, crushing his arm.

With much of the rest of the Meta-Corals protectors now occupied with Delbrück, the doorknob alter and the path to Gorgos is now un-guarded...

Meanwhile, Dione, the most useful member of Delbrück's team (and the only one to bring a long-ranged weapon) is desperately trying to pin down Frater Gorgos (we remembered the pinning rules).

Girl is still MvP tho

While the Fraters psychic giant attempts to blast her with its mind powers.

As well as that, Promott 404, Anthrodact coffin-bearer swings its Navigator fetus and directs its nascent warp-glare, slowly annihilating Diones cover, piece-by-piece.

Promott 404
There's a baby in that tube.
She was still probably the most useful of any of the 'good guy' teams, at least managing to pin Gorgos for a turn and slow down his ritual.

The situation for Delbrück has only worsened.

After being trampled by his 'cover' the Anthrodact 505 manage to frighten away the mutants, turning them on Onthu Prime.

Suffering from self-inflicted wounds, cut off from allies and surrounded by mutants, Al’Pharem 503, Anthrodact Chirurgeon advances upon the fallen Delbrück. His intention, to remove the Inquisitors brain!

But at least he isn't guarding the Meta-Coral at the same time, and the Great Primaris has recovered from Du Mirrs Graviton blast. As the giant attempts to break his mind, the stubby mutant lurches into action on his little legs.

It's tall vs small...

Will he manage to do anything useful?

Well, no. He does grab for the pistol of the downed bannerman but fails to seize it and is attacked by that now tri-limbed and bleeding homonculi.

Meanwhile, Delbrücks brain is successfully extracted by Al’Pharem 503!!!

Image redacted by the Inquisition
The 'Jank' has but one turn left before Gorgos completes his ritual. Though driven by a blind man, Arcturus has faith in the Emperor that his cause is just, and floors the pedal. (Making a risky roll).

He fails catastrophically.

The Jank overturns against a piece of living horn extruded by the Meta-Coral, and explodes. Doing terrible damage, but nowhere near enough to prevent its final ascension into a self-aware and deeply heretical life-form!

The Cult of the Imprisoned Moon and the retinue of Delbrück have failed pretty much absolutely. Du Miir, Frater Gorgos and House Shen have succeeded in awakening the Meta-Coral and its terrifying genetic secrets are now theirs to exploit. As well as that, they have Delbrück's brain....

In the Imperium Nihilus, a new horror has been born to trouble an already-riven Galaxy..


Post-Credits Freeze-Frame Cast Group-Shot
Then we went for dinner.

Whoo boy Inquisitor is a complex game.

There was almost unanimous praise, or at least interest in, the initiative system. Which involves specifically naming each individual action you intend to complete in sequence, the rolling dice equal to your speed. Then for every 4+ on a D6 you complete one of your list of actions. It sounds mental but it seems to produce very 'real world' chunks of imagined behaviour.

We used the rationalised character sheets and a lot of the gaming methods I saw utilised by David Fincher, who Refereed the game I played in in Stockport, and without which I think it would have been impossible to manage. So thanks for that.

The fact that this is a game played almost exclusively by obsessed hobbyists and that you have to covert your own minis simply to play, means that in a way, the rules *get* to be capacious. The kinds of people who might deliberately exploit an unbalanced or unclear ruleset are going to be massively put off by all of the stuff you need to do to play this game. The enormous sunk cost and investment of skill level and time means almost that powergaming effectively can't exist in Inquisitor.

I genuinely can't tell if Inquisitor is a 'good' game or not. My initial review was that the system was labyrinthine to the point of madness, and it is. Most of us are averagely smart and we had Brendan and his galaxy brain to help out on the first match, but we still had to play long hours before we started getting a handle on many of the rules.

However, even in the wierd half-correct state we played it in, the game does actually work. It produces the 'world' of Inquisitor. A gloomy backstage to the Warhammer 40k mythos populated by oddities.

A lot of the knockdowns and embarrassing failures and tactical fuckups might seem ridiculous when you read about them here, but they are actually quite fun to play through, and despite the fact that Ram and I got totally nailed in both games it still felt like a worthwhile, and not depressing thing to so because the sense of particularity and incident was so high. There is a particular melding of the tactical and story elements in quite a granular way that produces powerful and interesting situations and dominant memories. I think someone remarked that a game of Inquisitor felt like the perfect setup to an RPG campaign, it does a little. I'm sure we are all wondering what Delbrück's crew are going to do now. Probably Ram will have to convert a new model, maybe advance Dione to Inquisitor, and Evan will have to make a brain-torture device model to show he has Delbrück's brain.

Judged purely as an RPG its insanely hyper-complex and simply doesn't have rules for a lot of the non-combat stuff you need to do. Judged purely as a game of tactics, well its still insanely complex and has loads of fluffy stuff and odd bits and doodads. It's almost the opposite of a "rational" game.

But as the strange thing it actually is, an extremely dense quasi RPG/Tactical/Kitbashed Art Performance game for hipsters to tell combat stories about characters though imagined space and time, it actually works perfectly. If you want to play a game of Inquisitor, there really is no better game than Inquisitor. Nothing else will do it quite as well.

Sunday 11 August 2019

We Played Inquisitor - Game One: Hunt the Fat Priest


Beyond or within the Great Rift the forgotten Riweal Nebulae, fifth planet of the Spen system, its star a young main-sequence star occluded by unknown cosmic debris (Evans fancy lamp), in a dark abandoned corner of that worlds spaceport.

Some time in either the late 41st or early 42nd millennium, (adjusted for the vagaries of warp travel),

(Actually at on Evans extendable dining room table at his place in Toronto over the afternoon and evening of August the 9th 2019).

Also, thanks to Ram for taking notes and to everyone for providing pictures.


Three groups of mysterious wierdos gather,

(In reality Ramanan SinvaranjanEvan Webber, Brendan S and myself, with assistance from K Yani)

Who are they?

Inquistor Maximus Delbrück, an Inquisitor of the Ordo Biologis, and his retinue;

Ramanan Sivaranjan’s retinue of Inquisitor Delbrück
  •  Inquistor Maximus Delbrück, Arch-Sequencior of the Ordo Biologus
  •  Onthu Prime, Seconded from the the Skitarii Dravidian
  •  Keira Knifely, Assassin
  •  Dione, Ex-Military
  •  Johan Pistolson, Assassin
  •  Herc 19-80,  Seconded from the the Skitarii Dravidian

From an arguably more-radical splinter of the Ordo Biologis comes Inquisitor Du Miir, allied with the forces of Navigator House Shen and their bonded troops of the Salmagundi Iuvenis Five-Five regiment.

Evans beautifully converted Investigatorii of House Shen 
  •  Inquisitor Du Miir, Statisticodicier of the Ordo Biologus + Gunthrall
  •  Tach, Seneschal of the Salmagundi Iuvenis Five-Five regiment, ex-guardsman   
  •  Bannerman Summa, also of the Salmagundi Iuvenis Five-Five (honorary) 
  •  Al’Pharem 503, Anthrodact Chirurgeon
  •  Protomott 404, Anthrodact Coffin-bearer

(Delbrück and House Shen either have (or will) encounter(d) each other before, or to be. The Rift itself having splintered the relevant chronology and scattered their mutually interacting causality paths.)  (Ram and Evan have played with these characters before and have yet to decide where these events are in their personal continuity.)

Added to this are a pack of outcast mutants claiming (ludicrously) to be time-travellers from the 51st millennia, where they are the final remaining Space Marines, who worship a psychic moon on the galactic rim which reflects the last light of the (long vanished) Astronomicon.

Patrick Stuart’s Cult of the Imprisoned Moon.

  •  Apothecary Krax
  •  Flailmeister
  •  The Great Primaris
  •  Chapter Master
  •  Codicier Horn
  •  Blind Arcturus


Via garbled multiply-transmitted Astropathic messages and refugee-born rumours, stories have reached the Imperium of the emergence of Frater Gorgos, a radical Priest of the Eccliesiarchy. The Sermons of Gorgos strongly indicate that he has had access to pure and holy genetic knowledge related to the Adeptus Astartes.

Frater Gorgos, a man of many names.
(No-one could remember ihs actual name.)

Information of this nature should never have left the Imperial Palace, let alone Holy Terra. How Gorgos encountered it is a matter of supposition, but it seems undeniable that he has it now, and, deluded by his crazed heretical pseudo-faith, he intends to somehow make use of it.

Beyond the Rift, it might be entirely possible that he could do so, producing who-knows-what horrors.

Though the journey will be insanely difficult, the matter is vital enough for the Inquisition to dispatch Inquisitor Maximus Delbrück, Arch-Sequencior of the Ordo Biologus, to find Gorgos, recover whatever sacred genetic knowledge he has and to make sure no-one else make heretical use of it.

However, Radical factions within the Ordo Biologus have quite different ideas about the possible uses of the Fraters Genetic scripture. Inquisitor Du Miir, Statisticodicier of the Ordo Biologus, and an ally of Navigator House Shen, also secretly sets forth to recover Gorgos and his knowledge.

Unbeknownst to both groups, the twisted Gene Cult of the Imprisoned Moon, following either strange rumour trickling through the Imperiums underbelly, or fragments of alleged future-knowledge, decide they must find and stop Gorgos themselves.

Each group wants the Fat Priest, and his secrets, for themselves.


(Meta - So, Brendan S was refereeing and the initial gaming board was populated with the stuff Evan had stayed up the previous night preparing. The only person who had played Inquisitor before was me and that was once, with someone else performing the Ref function.

All our games were essentially learning games. Inquisitor is... granular. When I told people we should only have three models each in a three-person game, I'm not sure anyone believed me.

We started at about noon, ran two games with about six turns for the first game and four or five for the second.  We finished, I think about eight or nine pm, I would estimate it took us about half an hour a turn. A range of books, rules and cheat sheets were open all over the room and were passed back and forth between players and Brendan continually. We were absolutely missing many of the rules and gradually layered in more and more as we carried on, often via the "how does this work? Look it up" method.

Most of the rules to Inquisitor do actually work, and work pretty well. It's simply that there are so many  of them, and they all interrelate.)

It was noon at the margins of the Spen-5 spaceport..

Mega-Chickens, perhaps the product of Gogos's genetic craft, wait somnulent.
 (Evan had a lot of weird and really well painted and converted minis and we ended up adding them to the board to see what happened. Brendan ended up running them and deciding how they would interact if messed with.)

Frater Gorgos awaits, accompanied by guards;

(Ram had a bunch of extra minis, I think Brendan ran the Frater, the Golioths and the Canoness straight using the example stats given in the Inquisitor rulebook for different archetypes.)

Like every (both) game of Inquisitor I've played in before, things began with each group slowly creeping forwards towards their assumed goal, initially unaware of the exact presence or location of either of the other two, trying not to make their own presence obvious.

Evans bois came in from the north, Rams from the south west and mine from the south east.

Note that big turret, which will become relevant  in later turns.

None of us really had any grasp on the Awareness or stealth rules at this point. 
If we had, perhaps things might have gone differently. (Probably not though).

Rams Ordo Biologis entering from the south west.

Turns out that Gorgos was actually meeting with some of Evans artfully-converted mutants for some creepy exchange of genetic Info. I don't have many pictures of those dudes but Evan has one here.

This is from a little later in the game. The head-guy is called Breugal.

Anyway, if my playstyle is about anything, its about poor impulse control and fucking about with wierd animals. On noticing the sleeping Ultra-Chickens in a nearby cargo container, Apothecary Krax decides to fuck with them 'as a distraction'.

This goes immediately and horribly wrong and the chickens charge directly forwards into the Chapter Master..

But don't manage to damage him....

And now Gorgos, and everyone else on the board, know we are here.

This sets the tone for my corner of the board, embarrassing failure and an whacky-races atmosphere. But don't worry, everyone else is still at least trying to play the game 'properly'.

Rams Ordo Biologus also advance carefully. A bit too carefully as his assasin Kiera Knifely ends up separated from the rest and gets into a relentless duel with Gorgos's enforcer/cannoness bodyguard..

Delbrüc advances with discretion while his assassin and the Fraters bodyguards trade shots, thrown knives and blows.

Kieras duel with the Enforcer takes up most of the rest of the game. 

Our girl only gets knocked down initially, after that she gets back up and kicks some ass, gradually whittling down the enforcers sword with her power blades (we didn't know that power weapons almost always just annihilate 'normal weapons)

Meanwhile, Evans House Shen are playing like grownups..

While the Priests bodyguards are occupied with the Moon Cult and Inquisition, they sneak up behind his unguarded rear..

And in a flurry of blows, smack him right in the head! (and groin, both specific locations with specific damage charts)

Gorgos is down! His bodyguards are on the back foot. All Shen need to do now is drag his ass out of there.

Not only that, but in investigating a strange lifeform hidden beneath a tarp (provided by K Yani)

Inquisitor Du Miir firstly traps it by ordering his gunthrall to apply the effects of its graviton gun to the tarp. And then uses his scanner to discover that this creature registers as an Astartes...!

Meanwhile, the Moon Cult are trying to deal with one of Gogos's bodyguards..

They are not doing that badly, but unfortunately Breugal, the criminal mutant, has some kind of signalling thing which he tosses into the melee between the bodyguard and Moon Cult.

Causing this stations defence cannon to rotate and focus on the growing melee.

Apothecary Krax works out something is up and tries to grab the signaller to throw it away.

But Inquisitors quite elegant initiative rules mean he fucks that up, and the lascannon fires on the signaller, apparently scything through the legs of all three in combat.

Delbrüc gets tired watching his acolyte fail to take out this bodyguard and decides to unleash an goddamn PSYCHIC FIRESTORM.

However, its way too late for the Biologus and Moon Cult. While everyone else has been dicking about, Inquisitor Du Miir has both negotiated with, and now released the creature from beneath the tarp, this mutated astartes of some kind, is a motherfucking psychic giant.

Its turn six, Evan has the Priest and the psychic giant. No-one else is even close and Brendan has to go, its mutually decided that House Shen have won this game.

Inquisitor Du Miir, House Shen, Frater Gorgos and the psychic giant retreat, leaving the Moon Cultists and Ordo Biologis in the dust.

What are Gorgos,  House Shen and Inquisitor Du Miir planning? And will the Cult of the Imprisoned Moon and  Inquisitor Delbrüc be able to do anything about it? Wait to find out in...

Game Two
Rise of the Meta-Coral