Thursday 26 September 2019

The Plain of Sociable Holes

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Monday 23 September 2019

Die for the Frog-Emperor

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday 20 September 2019

Churchill on Churchill 2: A Jolly Good Fellow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In which he did not actually die.

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


This is the middle part of the Marlborough story

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Prince Eugine of Savoy!

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

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

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

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

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

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


The battles of the period are fucking huge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A classic Marlborough-style battle goes something like this.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 16 September 2019

What do you think of art in games?


I'm thinking here specifically at noisms over at Monsters and Manuals, whom I would consider the head of the Puritan Iconoclasts, those who think the need for art if games is overblown.

- It costs a bomb (which keeps the prices of development high and arguably keeps poorer creators out of the market).

- It stops people imagining stuff for themselves. Why do you need it in a game communicated almost entirely through words?

- It seals the 'vision' of what a thing is in one particular way, the 'approved' idea of a thing.

- Other arguments I forgot.

Personally I find myself, by intuition and desire, almost entirely on the Cavalier Idolater side - I fucking love art in games and prioritise it when I can.


My arguments for doing so are less coherent than the Puritans against.

SO -

What do you think, and why do you think it?

Wednesday 11 September 2019

The Pale Stage

This is a concept for a kind of Netflix Series/Streaming series which you are getting because, as this is the one thing I am *not* meant to be concentrating on or working on and that means, apparently, that its relatively easy for me to type up.



I started thinking along these lines when I was trying to work out how a Deep Carbon Observatory Film might work on a budget and Scrap showed me this surrealist theatre-film 'Holy Mountain' and I began to think that the best way to do it would be to film a kind of staged re-enactment of the events of the 'story' as related by those who survived it, and then to do postmodern jiggery-pokery with that.

That idea stuck in my head for a long time, neither leaving nor changing very much.

After that, binging charity-shop DvDs of 'The Mighty Boosh' which is an old British comedy show about a pair of men who go on surrealistic adventures each episode. The costuming, staging and use of back-projection have this comedic janky aesthetic but the show had a powerful and unique feel, it didn't look or feel like anything else, and the relative cheapness of the show, (they had minimal resources but they were also willing to *be* cheap, and to make use of that), gave them an infinity of places they could afford to go, as it was all made of tape anyway.

Then more recently, I watched Powell and Pressburgers 'The Red Shoes', which I had heard Scorsese banging on about in a bunch of interviews. I am very glad that I did watch it because it is very good. The film is a three-hander between an old impressario who is slowly fading, a young ballerina and a rising composer and the complex tug of influence and power between them. Central to the plot is a performance of 'The Red Shoes', a ballet based on the Fairy Story of the same name, and which becomes a mirror to the psychology of the story.

The key thing about 'The Red Shoes' is the visual and story language of the central performance. The director(s?) take the visual language of the stage and the visual ability of film and blend them into a new language. It’s a kind of pseudo-theatre, beginning as if it were 'filmed theatre', with a camera on the stage, but compressing the time of the performance and expanding the field of the stage through a complex space, without surrendering the representation that it is 'the stage', not a simulated other reality. Allowing the central dancer to essentially 'dance' through space and through the symbolised story.

The only thing I can think of that more of you might have seen is the nightmare performance bits of 'The Black Swan' where Natalie Portman is putting on a ballet performance but also having a meltdown at the same time, I think similar shifts in time and space take place, but to very different effect.

It (the Red Shoes section) feels like pure visual poetry.


So all of these are representative, partly symbolic 'cut-down' realities which enable you to compress and shift stories and to tell them quite powerfully (and, more importantly, cheaply).

The other influence for this was the Star Trek: TNG 'holodeck' episodes. Strange bottled para-reality dream-quests inside a larger reality, which was itself moving in a galaxy of quests. The holodeck is essentially a meta-theatre.

The Pale Stage Show Itself

It’s a dual-reality story about a life of a theatre, but also about the stories they put on. Or really a tri-reality story as it’s about a theatre in an un-named fantasy world.

Paradox here is that we never leave the theatre but that the world outside is much larger and more varied culturally and physically than any other fantasy world in any other mainstream TV series.


The core area, the 'Pale Stage' in question, is a huge, winding, old theatre in a major city in a fantasy reality.

  • The technological/social era here is Rennaisance/Regency/Victorian.
  • Maybe wigs and possibly gunpowder but definitely not automatic weapons or industry.
  • And it has to be an age of sail, or at least some other kind of globalisation/colonisation in which a wide world is being pulled closer together, this is because we are going to need to pull stories and performances from every corner of this world.
  • And it should have reasonably tight social hierarchies because I like the costumes and the manners.
  • Think about the theatre in pretty much any Gothic novel, or in Phantom of the Opera, all of those combined into one.
  • Its really big so there are lots and lots of secret and open spaces for drama to happen in.
  • And a key idea of the show is that the cameras never actually leave the theatre, all we learn about the outside world is the words and evidence that people carry into the theatre with them.


Lots of great things about telling stories about theatres. Like the Enterprise, they have hierarchies and formal roles, together with a sound reason for all of these types of people to be interacting with each other all the time. Personality type is 'artistic' so you don't need a lot of excuses for interpersonal drama. And new people are continually being rotated in and out, new directors, new writers for particular performances, star actors etc.

Impresario - The character of the Impresario is a little like Treguard from the first few series of 'Knightmare'. In later series he was more of a helpful challenger, but to begin with he was almost sinister, someone who was both the quest-giver and the challenger at the same time. The Impresario is meant to be a little distant and very powerful and possibly threatening. They are totally dedicated to Art, and to the survival of the theatre, and their energy and drive is the main reason it exists and is any good, but they are potentially quite a dark and threatening figure. No-one is sure exactly what drives them, they are quixotic and charismatic and could equally be the hero or villain of any episode depending on circumstance.

Female Star - Female star is hyper-talented, driven and relatively lower-class compared to most actresses. She's a 'music-hall favourite', and essentially lights up a stage and a role, but is intensely narcissistic and self-destructive, but also capable of learning. Female Star doesn't have a deep education so that gives people around her the chance to be 'explainer' characters, diving into the literary history and socio-politics of the Pale Stage world.

Male Star - Male Star is a fading Olivier type, a powerhouse actor from a just-previous generation. Someone steeped in the theatre but with an acting style which is just a little out of fashion.

Female Star - is rising and Male Star is setting so scenes between them are also struggles for power, with her grasping more to her and him trying to hold on, and also arguments over aesthetic, tonality and who a performance is for and how it should be done.

Rude Mechanicals - These are kinda soap-opera characters from the lower rungs of the society outside. In the periods before we meet the actual audience, they are a penumbra or interface between the closed world of the theatre and that of the city beyond. They react a little more like normal people and have normal people problems like bills and housing. They tell us a little about how the main theatre people are seen from outside but also tell the viewer about the society and world of the Pale Stage.

Newb - The 'this is how a theatre works' and 'let me describe the cast and what they do' character. An audience stand in for the first few episodes. Maybe they will become 'the understudy' and then 'the hero' or maybe not.

Fixer - The saner, more likable person who interfaces between The Impresario and the Cast. Not an insane, charismatic para-genius but a relatively stable, intelligent and more empathic personality. Someone reasonable for the audience to like and essentially a 'quest giver' for the show.

Patron - The rich person who is partially funding the theatre. A little glimpse of the higher rungs of society outside and a window into the meta-politics of the world beyond. So if the Rude Mechanicals are discussing some political shift in the news-sheet in the bottom row, this person may actually be directly involved in, impacting and impacted by, those events. This is also the only person possibly more powerful than the Impresario. This person may also have political and social desires and designs and the funding of the theatre may well be part of these.

The Audience - The Audience, high and low, is like a character or chorus for the show. We see them crowding in at the beginning of a performance, we might shoot long extended sequences of micro-drama of them actually watching the show and we are with them int the interval and as they leave.

The audience actually comes in two parts, the mass, who are like a kind of impressionistic blur of sound and movement, voices and fragments of speech, like a great beast, and the elite, who get box seats, and who are like para-characters in the show (the meta-show we are watching, not the one on stage).


The shows or stories or performances would be fantasy 'stories', but original ones. More like the slightly dark fantasy adventures in late-period OSR adventure design. MotBM would fit neatly into this.

In relation to the outside world, these could be actual real events, re-enacted, like a Georgian Theatre doing 'The Death of Captain Cook'. Or they could be legendary historical stories like a Shakespearian History play. Or they could be pure fantasies like The Tempest. This is a time of world-system building so they could be like Sinochure or Pseudo-Arabic plays which came into fashion in Victorian times as stuff like 'The Arabian Nights' was translated and then for a few years, everything is pseudo-Chinese or pseudo-Arabic.

The key element of this is that *everything is invented*. Its not just a replay of a Victorian theatre, its a theatre on a completely different planet with a completely different history and this is one culture 'discovering' or at least finding out about and integrating cultural elements and stories from all over that world and all over its history.

And I'm thinking here more like OSR-syle fantasy, so there might be Slug-Men somewhere beyond the equator and an actual city of Glass.

And ABSOLUTELY NOT either happy hippy soft-ass 'Standard 5e Fantasy' or 'Game of Thrones boring-ass fantasy'. (And not that soft-looking 'Urban Fantasy' CGI show I keep getting shown ads for recently and which I don't like the look of at all.)

The whole point of the thing is to be able to make highly original fantasy stories on TV that are not like any other stories, and to be able to do a lot of them and have them all be different.


That's where the shows come from, a more complex question is how they actually work in the episodes.

There are essentially three layers to the show;

- The Outer World, its politics, society, age of discovery etc, sensed only through inference. This is quite world-buildy and quite 'historical drama' "Bad news from Vervire, there's been a revolution - gasp".

- The world of the cast, this is the most emotionally vivid and clear to the viewer. This is like a soap-opera or melodrama, full of relationships etc, it could segue all the way from low-level relationship drama to full-on Phantom of the Opera Gothic Melodrama.

This also gives a TV audience the thing they want; familiarity. They have the same cast of characters turning up regularly and their stories have internal coherency, but for many of the actors, they are playing actors, and get to 'act' in stories of different quality and nature each week.

- The pocket realm, or simulated world of the 'story' or performance they are putting on.

Ideally, all three layers of reality should interact with each other in an interesting way, producing a kind of pressure-cooker or refraction/amplification effect in each episode.

Of course, that's harder said than done. Its 'easy' to do in something like 'The Red Shoes' when the whole nature of the psychogeography and moral meaning of the story is built around this reduction/amplification effect, but you can't have every episode being 'The Red Shoes'.

Probably you would have to have different 'types' of episode, based on the nature of the interaction between the pocket reality of the performance and the outer reality.

- A 'Red Shoes' episode where it’s an amplifier for what's going on outside, and a creepy prognostication of what's going to happen.

- A 'comedy' or 'fishbone' episode, something like 'Noises Off', where the emotional and moral nature of the reality outside is opposite or cuts across that of the pocket realm (drunks trying to put on a tragedy or everyone is sad due to actual tragedy and they have to put on a comedy, or theatre culture split and the story is a romance). Results could be comedic, or telling and deep.

- The socio-political drama story where the nature of the performance actually impacts on actual events happening outside and suddenly larger social forces and power agents are interested. So it supports/doesn't support one side or another in a sociao/political argument, or its about a particular world culture and is considered regressive/too avante guarde by the outer world. We could call this a 'twitter' story.

- A 'Magic Powers' story. Because it’s an actual fantasy world out there, you could have actual genre elements intrude, like para-reality elves turn up or the performance of the story produces actual noetic effects or some immortal force, like a dead wizards soul, or a ghost, takes and interest.

Ok, that's all I've got right now.



Could be better. It's here in this image if you want to click through;

Essentially, I asked for what might be quite a lot of money for what is essentially a very Niche project. It might not (probably won't) make its target.

There are still reasons to click through though;

- I am reading the whole poem on Youtube day by day and have moved on to talking about the verses a little on the KS.

- Daniel is doing a breakdown of his art and how he approached each image.

My current plan is to try to do this KS as well as possible, knowing it (probably) won't reach its goal, and then basically launch another, much smaller, much shorter one, with a much lower figure for an absolutely minimal print run. The price to just 'print' 500 books isn't actually that large, its just the add-ons like postage and trying to make a profit that make it difficult.

So I think its possible we might actually get a print-run on the second Kickstarter? Which makes this one promotion for that one?

Well I basically put Daniel and Maeto in a crap situation and have to try to make the best of my screwups. Whatever happens, a PoD version and PDF version will definitely be available and anyone who was into the KS gets notified about those.

Friday 6 September 2019

Louis XIV - Supervillian

I am still listening to Churchills 'Marlborough', and have even managed to find the four-volume set so now I can give you quotes, and images like that above. 

This is Winston on Luis XIV;

"We have no patience with the lackey pens which have sought to invest this long, hateful process with the appearances of dignity and honour. During the whole of his life Louis XIV was the curse and pest of Europe. No worse enemy of human freedom has ever appeared in the trappings of polite civilisation. Insatiable appetite, cold, calculating ruthlessness, monumental conceit, presented themselves armed with fires and sword. The veneer of culture and good manners, of brilliant ceremonies and elaborate etiquette, only adds a heightening effect to the villainy of his lifes story. Better the barbarian conquerors of antiquity, primordial figures of the abyss, than this high-heeled, beperiwigged dandy, strutting amid the bows and scrapes of mistresses and confessors to the torment of his age. Petty and mediocre in all except his lusts and power, the Sun King disturbed and harried mankind during more than fifty years of arrogant pomp."

There's a millions words of this sort;

Got the whole set for £20 total,
from the estate of "an old man who just really liked Churchill."
These books are lots of fun. Sorry for the crap post but I'm sick at the moment I think. These things have portraits, maps of battled fort diagrams, copies of handwritten letters, I will try to scan some in for a future post.

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Gawain and the Green Knight Hadback Kickstarter

I'm back off my holidays and it's time to watch me crash and burn in excitingly new ways, and also to watch me awkwardly read poetry on Youtube.

That's what the public wants right? Chivalric Renaissance Poetry? Because that's what you are getting.

For, quite a long time a team made up of Daniel Puerta (artist), Mateo Diaz Torres (layout) and I, have been working on an illustrated hardback book of my version of the poem 'Gawain and the Green Knight', which you may remember me blogging a few years ago.

Here is a sample of Daniels art;

If you would like to see more, click the links here, the images or the Green Knight Himself to the left to go to the KICKSTARTER.

If you want a book of chivalric poetry, arguably ruined by being partially re-translated into my own idiom, in HARDBACK, with about 18 illustrations - THEN YOU HAVE TWENTY (ONE?) DAYS TO GRAB ONE SO CLICK THAT KICKSTARTER.

If you have questions, comments etc, ask here, on the Kickstarter or anywhere.