Tuesday 30 June 2020


Good work YOU (by which I mean ME, and all of US). Because Reality is BACK baby!

Since you (we) closed that Reality Breach, the SquidBrawl has stabilised.  Causality has cracked back into place and time has a linear flow! Now we can finally make decisions again.

However, the situation, though stable, is also DISASTROUS!

The Seraphormer, my (our) para-reality and deeply-shrouded engine of souls in a situation that I would describe as borked.

The Demon-Engine is compromised! This is a coagulator of vile supernatural fluid composed of Quileth harvested from the many layers of Uud and brought here by the bone ships of the LichJammer Captains. Now its leaking Demon Fluid everywhere! That's maybe the worst kind of leak you could possibly have.

The Atman-Engines are cold! These Hyper-Future Techno-Cores held in the void outside the central Seraphormer provide the sacred code which allows us to shape souls! The Atman Engines live at vastly accelerated time. The longer they stay cold, the harder they will be to start up again!

The Imaginary Suns are out! Stolen from the minds of dreaming gods long ago, these suns provide power for the whole Seraphormer! We are working on residual power for now, but without them nothing else will work for very long!

And worst of all, the Delusion Engine is off! The Delusion Engine maintains the shroud of unlikelihood around the Pocket-Realm which holds the Seraphormer, AND it sends a cognitive field out into every layer of Uud which prevents any intelligent being from even considering that we might exist!

That means SHE, Yggsrathaal, the mother of Entropic Wyrms, the destroyer of Esh and our, and  I can't emphasise this enough, really extremely NUMBER ONE ENEMY, can deduce and perceive our existence! The longer the Delusion Engine stays down, the more chance there is that she will!

Most of our communal mind is still totally barmy from the Reality Incursion - useless, or even dangerous.

But don't worry! I pulled together literally everyone, and everything, sane and self-aware that I could find. Yes there are only four of them, but arguably this makes them our ELITE TEAM!

Our “Elite” Team!

(Literally anyone we could grab who seemed (relatively) sane).


"Deep do I dive into that malign typhoon of the undigested damned."

A Demon-Shielded Quileth-Stoker-Founder inside an engine suit of blackened iron plates etched in pearl with interlocking warding glyphs with a rumbling engine core and a demon-grasping tri-fingered claw hand which opens to reveal a holy Quileth Vacuum trap. Just visible beneath the demon-scarring are the pearl-etched words “Burt do I Burn”. Fury-Warded is arguably slightly morally corroded from their endless bathing in, and wresting with, the raw ichor of trapped demons, but you can't fault them for willpower! Also they are massive and have a combat claw.

Five 60 Six-Six-Six Reoccurring

"Looks like it's time.. for a hyper-fix!"

A massively multiply-armed, gibbon-bodied ULTRA-REPAIRER FOUNDER. 5-60's long and gawky self-built body-suit has wild tool-handed arms, that expand into MORE ARMS, which then expand into EVEN MORE ARMS. Somewhat wild and whacky, 5-60 can climb almost anywhere and repair almost any piece of hyper-tech with anything they can find. Combat capacity - QUESTIONABLE. Mental Stability - DON'T ASK. However, for invention, personal courage and sheer can-do attitude, nothing can beat them!

Grailogos - Multi-Founder Consciousness

"My calculations cannot be comprehended by singular minds."

Grailogos is a supremely crystalline and gracile intellectual Atman-Coder founder. Their robed ceramic body supports a magnificent huge, glowing-blue fishtank head occupied by three individual Founders linked in mutually-supportive group consciousness. Grailogos can "decode" aspects of non-founder reality into glowing multicoloured cubes which float around, and which they can then 're-code' into specific para-reality effects and raw substances. Somewhat abstracted and speaking in a polyphonic chorus-song, Grailogos sometimes disagrees with themselves in times of stress.

Somo-Omos - The Uncertain One

"I am, but know not what I am."

A quantumly-uncertain Founder who guards and operates the Delusion Engine. Somo-Omos occupies a Founder-body which looks as if it were made of mirrors and strange visual projections. Their form is hard to precisely perceive, as if they were a walking Kaleidoscope. Somo-Omos is always shifting their colour and state within the projecting body and these projections are continually flowing across the surfaces of that form like a cubist impression of a technicolour cuttlefish. Somo-Omos can simulate other forms and identities, become near-invisible and even "shift" through perceptually-solid objects. They are also in the middle of a massive, and endlessly-looping identity crisis and must often be reminded of exactly who they are.

Lionel Walden

The Missions

(To be handled in whatever order seems best to you).

Fix the Demon-Engine

·        Penetrate into the ruined Demon-Engine.
·        Locate the ruptured seal.
·        Battle the half-Formed Quileth fluid, Corrupted Quileth-Stoker Founders and Possessed Founders who's suits have cracked.
·        To defeat the half-processed Quileth force it into a specific shape. Provide it with Fears. Either your own, or draw raw residual fear matrices from the ATMAN-ENGINES. (Five 60 Six-Six-Six Reoccurring can probably locate some, if you can get an Atman-Engine semi-functional.)

Problem? - using the fear matrices in this way may lead, to some souls without fear, to some with demon-linked fears, and others with their fears replaced or re-coagulated from Quileth - with UNKOWABLE RESULTS.

NEXT? - You Need - MORE QUILETH. And not from a distant source – our only LichJammer Captain is fulfilling a mission which only they can do.

A closer location is available; the Waste around Blackwater

As such, the Soul 'Wreaca' has been instantiated and will begin - A WALK IN THE WASTE.

Re-Start The Delusion Projector, And Fast

The Delusion Engine which keeps the Seraphormer secret and safe is offline.

·        Find your way through the maze of dreams and illusions born from its slow collapse.
·        Fix the umbral shrouding and Mistake-Generators.
·        Kickstart it with some of those INVISIBLE BEASTS from the Outer Void.
·        To process them, you will need to jam them in the Demon-Engine and refine them into Pneumo-Mystification, then pipe that straight to the Delusion Projector!
·        That should get it working, but its like running a petrol engine on raw crude oil.


You need LIES, and not just the ordinary kind. A massive storehouse of pure deception, right from the source. Only a Fae Emperor in the depths of Margenalia commands such Grand Palaces of Lies.

As such, the soul Cir Talox Blithe, the Worghast Knight has been instantiated for - A MEETING IN MARGENALIA.

Missions In The Outer Void

Gerardo Dottori - Burning City

The Atman-Engines and Imaginary Suns are both located in the Void of the Outer-Serpahormer, a zero-g outer-space pocket realm the size of Jupiter.

There is Chaos in the Outer Rings!

A Rocket-Powered rebellion is in process. The huge angel-form Founders set to guard and maintain the GigaTech of the Seraphormer are still in the grip of the SquidBrawl, now also a SpaceBrawl!

Not only that but the Void has been infiltrated by Photon-Negative Hypermutating Bioforms:  INVISIBLE BEASTS!

We think these are low level interstellar predators which slipped into the Seraphormer pocket-dimension during the SquidBrawl. Presumably they came to feed upon the Imaginary Suns. Now, through some strange interaction with the black, dying imaginary suns and the collapsing penumbra of the Delusion Engine, they have Hyper-Evolved!

Anyone venturing out into the Void will have to contend with;

·        Avoiding, or ending, the Rocket-Powered Rebellion.
·        Escaping, or defeating, the Photon-Negative Bioforms!

Void Mission - Restart/Rebuild the Atman-Engines!

·        Find a still-functioning Atman-Engine amongst the chaos of the Outer Void.
·        Re-connect it to the Seraphormer.
·        Transmit yourself inside the digital hyper-reality of the Atman-Engine and see what is needed to get it back online and functioning.


You need WORLD-BUILDING HYPER-DATA. Massive data loss and corruption means the Atman-Engines need a huge input of Raw Data, enough to Shape a World.

This can likely only be found in the layer of the Uud-Reality located 50,000 years in the future, where interstellar Empires bloat and war amidst the prismatic stars. There perhaps some ruined or forgotten god-tier hyper-mind can be located and returned to the Seraphormer.

As such Nebulon Brax, Captain of the LychJammer Tyche's Hand has been recruited for - A MISSION TO GLEAMSPACE.

Void Mission - Re-Ignite the Imaginary Suns!

·        Hop between the darkened suns.
·        Try to find at least one with some ergs of energy in it.
·        Delve into those suns cold cores, explore the cold abandoned Palaces of Fire within and try to discover some means of re-ignition.

NEXT? You need - A STOLEN SUN. A jewel containing the Dream of Hyperion, the solar imaginings of a sleeping god which could, in theory, start a chain reaction to re-ignite the Imaginary Suns.

Its last known location: Possessed by one of the hidden Emperors of the Grey city of Glaem.

As such, the soul 'Lady Amoret' as been instantiated and will begin - TO STEAL A SUN.

The Resulting Quests

Good news! With the Seraphormer (partially) active, we can now send Souls into Uud to grab the resources needed to keep us operational!

Less good news: we have a limited number of souls ready to go, and limited power to send them.

Essentially we had to pick the best three for the missions we have, and give the last one to this Skeleton Dude because he has his own Space Ship.

A Meeting In Margenalia


Cir Talox Blithe, the Knight with the Iron Heart,  is sent to the Mountains of Reality, there to seek a way to the deepest tendrils of the Eld-Realm of Margenalia to bargain with a Fae Emperor for possession of one of their Palaces of Lies, each one greater than the last, the largest within the smallest, and the key to the last hidden in the first.

To Steal a Sun

Gustav Klimt - Dame mit Fächer

In the Grey Cities of Blackwater, the ridiculous, somewhat-craven, vain and occasionally brilliant Lady Amoret is sent to the Grey City of Glaem, there to penetrate the Hidden Palace at the centre of its Megastructure and perform the greatest theft of the modern age - to steal from the Emperor of Glaem the Frozen Dream of a Sleeping Solar God.

A Mission to Gleamspace

Corey Harris https://www.reddit.com/r/Art/comments/baahqk/space_skeleton_digital_2000_x_2000_px/

Nebulon Brax, the undead Captain of the LichJammer 'Tyche's Hand' must take his bone ship of solar sails, and his skeleton crew, into a realm where his magic will be near-useless. He must travel to GleamSpace, the prismatic realm 50,000 years in the future of Uud, a time dominated by Hypertechnology and decaying utopias and there seem a Loom of Realities; a god-machine powerful enough to restore and renew the Hyper-Data of the Seraphormers Atman-Engines.

A Walk in the Waste

Jab Jira https://www.artstation.com/artwork/6VbWW

'Wreaca' the Half-Orc mother, most solitary of the Waste Walkers, yet most skilled, must venture again into the caustic grey hell which surrounds Blackwater - the Waste of Yggsrathaal. There she must face the untold dangers of that realm, the Orc-Kind who form part of her own bloodline, dark agents of the Teratarchies and the Spawn of Yggsrathaal and her Pale Courts. But simple survival is not enough, for Wreaca hunts not monsters, but Quileth - Demon Kind itself, long sleeping since the fall of Esh, and her mission is not the demons destruction, but it’s capture.

Thursday 25 June 2020

A World Without Violence

Part of the 'Soft D&D' series;

Introduction & Concept
Character Generation
Shintobox- failed 1st attempt.
Shinto in Cumbria - 2nd Attempt
A World Without Violence 
Monster Brainstorm 
Goose-Gold & Goblins
Looking for a Mechanic 


There is a kind of cognitive box around our imagined selves, stuff that’s easy to both imagine and communicate - I have discussed this many times, it relates a lot to the same range of topics, situations items and agents as ballads, fairytales and folklore.

Violence is a neat, coherent part of that cognitive box, and it's great for games. Its relatively easy to model, highly dramatic, always (often) interesting to the players, simple to communicate with its results and general schema easily understood by all and something that is charismatic to ordinary people as a mode they are interested in but don't wish to experience in real life.

In games violence is a very handy tool.

As I wandered through the following field of ideas, I have come to think that stepping away from violence and still making something OSR-y, with meaningful sandboxification, real choices, environmental investigation, challenge and possible death, is a matter more of research and effort than a simple political or aesthetic choice.

It’s just a bigger mountain to climb and I doubt I will be able to climb it myself, but I think I can chart a few paths.

A second problem is that of how to arrange the game rules, the game as played and the imaginative world in such a way that a less-violent game results, but without it feeling intuitively "off".

There are, after all, a huge range of situations where violence might interact with the natural play of any adventure story. What happens when you encounter a dangerous beast? when you go hunting, which  presumably requires a roll to hit of some kind?

Or are there only three states from a hunting arrow? Miss, Hit-and-kill, and Hit-and-Wound-O-Fuck-We-Have-to-Chase-It.

(A side note here is that a play space where violence is strongly de-prioritised can still have a post-OSR-like system of very quick and lethal violence. It doesn't need to be a soft system with a lot of ways out. The simple fact the violence is rare, and that you are strongly expected not to use it, means that when it does happen it can still be very dangerous.

A rule of thumb might be that, if we imagine the PCs starting as children. Direct lethal violence is off the books for the first few adventures, and then can be slowly dialled up as a *possibility* in later ones. And that, using Chris McDowalls cult of information, we can strongly circle any potentially lethal violence with bands of signalling, both in the imagined world and from the DM.)

What happens when the Kings Tax Collector comes round? You can't resist by force, and they can't take by force.

The absence of violence would seem to indicate a pretty politically quietist game, at least by D&D standards, a long period, and large area, of peace. If authorities exist they are either beneficent or neutral, and almost always distant.

Situationally the characters are unlikely to do violence to other sentient beings, to be trained to do intra-human (or equivalent) violence, or to have violence focused upon them (but its not impossible). The simplest way to achieve this is - childhood. Since in most cases all children are victims of the niceworld conspiracy, and maybe more importantly, it means Players will be more likely to limit their behaviour without being nudged or constrained.

Kikis Delivery Service


Horror films are essentially 'normality' films (though not always, Susperia is almost pure.. whatever it is, from the start). But, for my intended example of the standard issue American Horror film, generally it starts with the creation of normality so that normality can be disrupted by whatever horror is going on. They are a little like Trojan Horse realism films.

These less-violent (I won't say "non-violent") games, would need a complex social, environmental and cultural base to disrupt. We need players to value this and want to protect it.

It can't be gold for XP can it? Because while that doesn't necessitate violence, it is on the same lines. And there can't be XP for fighting things.

So there has to be a strong reason to adventure, to journey, explore, encounter strange beings and deal with remarkable objects. And the simplest way I can think of is if the Character (and maybe Players) already have something they value and are trying to protect and preserve it.

Have I talked myself into a situation where, if D&D is a somewhat capitalist, mercantile, violent game, then this must be in a way a kind of conservative (small-c) game?

Regardless, if you want people to value something at the start of the game, the simplest way seems to be for them to have a hand in creating it.

Other possibilities - maybe each Player plays a *Family* or a Household, and they level up not by making any individual more powerful but by keeping the Household together?

A thing I think would hit very hard for young players is if the PC is a child or near child and their mother or father is sick and needs help - see the Disease adventure below...

Maybe you play a Hearth? That seems insanely abstract..

But maybe not, maybe you, the player, the meta-being, are the fire spirit or hearth spirit at the heart of a Household. That feels solidly diegetic, easy to grasp, but also weird enough to be interesting. Imagine being the fire in a small household, you do all the cooking, everyone gathers around you and you warm them.

It makes the diegesis of what happens when they are out adventuring challenging. Are you controlling that person as the spirit? Of is there an exchange of some kind.

This might be better for the DM, if they play the Hearth Spirit then that gives them a reason to go along, they are the flame in the lamp, and can only advice the PCs when the fire is lit..

Howls Moving Castle


MUTATION BABY - The really interesting things about sickness are the change it effects on the people you care about, and the gradual measured degradation of the victim, a kind of highly visible organic clock which anyone can understand. Once they know that the disease goes in stages then that creates the stages of an adventure.

Seeing your parents or loved ones change, become weak and suffer, is in some ways a more powerful motivator to a child character than death.

Also a Father or Mother figure who is desperately ill and begging for your help, is much, much more effective than the same figure simple asking/telling you to do it.

PHYSICAL ALIENATION - The particular emotional horror of a plague - the disease almost always spreads person to person, so the natural stress reaction of humans, to huddle close together and attend to loved ones in pain, becomes dangerous. To save the people you love, you must send them away, often far away.

Of course this is actually wonderful for the construction of an adventure setting involving children. They must be sent away from their parents (who usually stop adventures happening) to an unknown environment, usually a less-urban one. And subjected to reduced adult supervision. - Boom, instant YA novel.

HUNT FOR A CURE - and in stories and adventures at least, there is always a cure for a plague or disease, its often very far away. Sometimes it is a rare material, first you have to discover that it exists, and then find it. So 1. Investigate to Gain Knowledge then 2. Travel and Adventure.

In an animist Ghibli story, the disease might be the result of imbalance between complex environmental forces and the protagonists might be able to negotiate a settlement.

Totoro be creepin'


Basically super-diseases, but perhaps even better for provoking adventure and investigation. Again, these can isolate certain members of a community - the PCs HAVE to go questing because everyone else is borked, and it specifically sends them looking for *magical stuff*, as they know the problem is magical so that means they have to poke into the dark corners of the world, looking not for treasure, but for magic knowledge.

There must be a magician, one with a history and personality, and a motive, which suggests you don't have to beat the magician, (though you can try), but can do something about the motive, or just lateral-think it and bring in some disruptive element like another spirit, or a world alteration.

(For a non-violent game the possibility of "converting" an antagonist should be a possible focus. Maybe they are doing bad stuff because they are also cursed or limited in some way, and maybe this is something that the Child PCs can deal with but they themselves can't. That would suggest either more magical reasons why the "Villain" is constrained, or complex psychological ones, like maybe they can be persuaded?

So antagonist constraints and motivations should be a linked development strand.

And for a true OSR feel, it shouldn't be the case that you can *always* convert the Antagonist, or that the means and knowledge to do so are always available. An OSR-derived game should have a more pseudo-natural patterning of moral consequence and less a story-based pattern.)

We get a more specific and gameable version of the Disease-change, in this case, someone could be cursed to change slowly into glass with a little more of them changing every day, that’s non-violent, but still terrible. The thing with a curse-change of this kind is it should fundamentally alter someone’s relationship with their environment in a way that is bad, they don't want it to happen, but which is still *interesting to play through*. Another one is being made a real gingerbread person, sounds fun to a kid and then you realise it’s terrible, or turning into a pig (actually that just sounds like fun).

Guilty Crown


This implies a history, so maybe in addition to creating a social and environmental matrix, we need to include history with the culture.

I tried to deal with this a little in the Shinto Cumbria post.

I can see this easily becoming a weighty and rather leaden part of the rules-matrix.


What would the dungeon-equivalent of a low-violence D&D game be? A maze of mysteries? A labyrinth within a forest? Something like Labyrinth (the film) certainly.

Something that comes to me is that - ok I got distracted and don't know what that was but I'm sure it was going to be a good insight.

Need to pin this subject for later.

(They would probably have to be more "civilised", social and mysterious than D&D dungeons as movement through them is meant to be a challenge and without violence to impede PCs then alternative elements will need to be enhanced.)



Seemingly easy but in fact overwhelmingly difficult, because it will not break down into the objects and agents that the standard D&D-human cognitive space is good at dealing with. Weather is wide-scale and difficulties with it involve lots of passive action. Much of weather resistance is, well, resistance and involves getting the right clothes first, and doing lots of prep, which is interesting in a limited way - getting the right clothes can mean getting the materials for those clothes, and dealing with an agent who has the skills to create them - so that can be an adventure. But weather is still passive and it’s hard to make a passive effect interesting.

I tried with Veins of the Earth but caving provides a lot of imaginative 'real estate' - specific hard and interesting things that could go wrong as a result of failing to resist the environment and I still had to link CON into that system at a base level, making it a meta-quality that controlled or increased the consequences of a fail.

Nevertheless it is possible, let me see if I can dig up some of the fire effects I came up with for BFR.


Here is some old BFR text;

"Fire as a Monster

You can run an encounter with fire in a similar way to running an encounter with a monster.

Fire grows in power by feeding on itself. When small, a fire is weak and static, easy to defeat and drive back. As it gets stronger, fire learns to crawl, then climb, finally it flies from crown to crown.

At low levels it’s like stamping a gnome to death, at high levels it’s like facing a demi-god.

At its greatest intensity a fire can send forth waves of heat strong enough to boil the sap in living trees before the flames even touch their bark.  It moves attended by whirlwinds of flame and rains of burning wood. Cyclone-limbs and gale-tentacles pick up things and people, hurling them into the advancing front.

D6 Crawling Fire Attacks
1 Spits sparks – Those in close combat must save vs breath or be blinded one round.
2 Sends smoke into lungs – save vs poison or be paralysed by hacking cough for one round.
3 Sets clothes or possessions smouldering – Counts as a ‘smoulder’ on the PC’s person.
4 Escapes suddenly – moves double speed away.
5 Advances suddenly – moves double speed towards PC’s.
6 Sends burning leaf or twig spiralling – lands d20 feet random direction, must be stamped out or may create new spot fire."

The fire gained new powers as it got larger..


An idea which has fascinated me since I read it in Mouse Guard is that the Seasons have stats - as if they are active agents, and that could be interpreted as storms and other weather effects having stats in the same way, and being interpreted as living things interacting with the PCs and their environment in a particular way. That seems like a more pleasing and workable way to model such things.

And it locks into the animist world again, if you piss of a certain segment of spirits then the North Wind is angry with you but maybe other winds are your allies.

Unsure of creator


Well, all this Nature stuff is somewhat limiting, though I think I have enjoyed working within those limitations, but I should acknowledge that, using classic D&D tropes and aesthetic, other paths are possible.

In a fantasy world we can create situations to fill our needs; like, a bunch of Giants have a rowdy rock-throwing competition and its in or near your village, they don't want to hurt anyone but they are hurling huge fucking meinhier around, and maybe cows also.

I think for now I'm probably *not* going to go deep into this aesthetic. The range of options is too great. Each of them feels like an individual adventure. Right now I'm more strongly drawn towards a more pseudo-real Ghibli social drama/semi-historical aesthetic. I feel like if I can solve the problems there then that provides a strong framework to expand on, while if I go deep into classic D&D land then I will just end up producing a range of semi adventure-seeds which, will probably be fun, but won't provide a strong bedding for system growth and development.

Adventure Time


We can replace outright predation with alteration (the troll steals your voice, your eyes, your hands, your legs, all pretty terrible but assuming it steals differently from each PC they can still work together to do stuff and maybe team up to get their parts back), authoritarianism (the Troll enforces some crazy-ass law like you can't look down and abduction (the Trolls don't eat people, instead they pick them up, put them in a bag and take them away somewhere to make them work).

In this way Monsters are more like really abusive teachers from a Harry-Potter type environment. They have an interest in controlling the PCs and their environment but not primarily a violent one.

Rien Poortvliet


Again, without dramatic violence, this is like weather, how would it work in real life?

I guess poverty turns every single thing you do into a specific adventure. Because you don't have anything, even getting food, shelter and clothes is like getting treasure, so its like, todays adventure - get enough rice for dinner! Get mum a new dress as she can't go out in this one. Find SHOES.

This is an avenue worth exploring I think. You could do a whole range of "Beggar Adventures" where you have to risk and think and scheme just to find food, where you start at minus-levels or something, and can trade levels for stuff like missing feet and facial sores, where the monsters are the Guard and the Dungeons are rich peoples homes and the top-level Big Bad is like a local drug dealer.

I mean I think I just invented a new genre of adventure, the Zero-Minus Urban Survival Crawl, so stick a pin in that, but firstly it feels mainly like an Adventure strand of ideas rather than a Core System strand, secondly I want to make a game that children can comfortably play and the Urban semi-crime setting would be an even harder mix to deal with and thirdly .. that's just not there my head is at right now. It contrasts with everything else in my current development palette.

FARMING would be a better development strand as it fits more directly with my initial concepts, however, even to do a Farming simulator, you would need to do a lot of research or have a lot of experience, and to turn that concept box into meaningful OSR-style adventures would take all that knowledge plus talent and time, which I don't have right now.

But, 'learn about farming - at some point' is on my infinite list of things to learn

We all remember this laff-a-minute tale I'm sure


Another "stick a pin in it" situation since, to deal with potentially-dangerous animals *they way they often are in nature* would require deep contextual knowledge. Again, this would need to be a series of Adventures or Modules. Like, its a long winter and a Wolf-Pack has come down from the Mountains, what do you do? This is how Wolves act, this is the amount of your sheep or whatever they will take, here is the unlikely but still possible situation in which they might go after children and the old, and here is how you hunt wolves. And here at the end is what the local animist spirits might think if you do hunt the wolves.


A theme has emerged here that there are two kinds of threat; those which are going to come for you in your pastoral paradise and force or encourage you to do an adventure, and the other is something you encounter out there as you do your adventuring.


To return, again, to the beginning;

The answer to a lot of these problems is simply that you need a lot more contextual knowledge to run them and to produce the items of sensing and processes that would make them interesting and palatable to players.

Boo hoo D&D is descended from Wargames - yes, and that deep depth of knowledge and research about medieval war all provided a base of improvisation and development which Arneson, Gygax & Co could use.

To make it into a game you need a lot of knowledge, and then to break that knowledge down into simple intuitive heuristics which are much more cognitively light than any of the original processes but which give the right *feel* and which magically work together in some kind of coherent way despite being basically made up.

SO - The central idea is to produce a Core Book, with all of the central rules and ideas for a limited scale of play.

AND - To produce a design document explaining everything and suggesting/prompting development possibilities, a 'manual for the manual' if you will. Then if its a popular idea, people will already have a river tributary of possible paths of investigation and development and individuals can create and fill in with their own knowledge spheres, like "I know about ships so here's the ship version of this" or "I’m from Malaysia/India/Nigeria and here are the social structures and cultural background that make a "pastoral child-based sandbox in that environment."

Arthur Rackham


- It's going to be hard & will require real research I HATE WORK!
- Settling likely politically quietist.
- Political authorities likely distant, beneficent &/or neutral.
- Initial game likely to focus on children.
- Characters should start with a social matrix they value (opposite of classic OSR D&D).
- Players will probably value this matrix more if they generate it.
- Player as Household is a possibility.
- DM as Hearthfire Spirit is a possibility.
- Your Mum being sick is a good starting adventure.
- Sickness & Plagues good adventure concepts (more YA than Child though).
- Curses and Spells are a good less-horrible equivalent for younger players and have a lot of give in them for adventure development.
- Magicians with complex histories as possible antagonists?
- What are Dungeons in this game? Mystery mazes? Labyrinths?
- Civilised, social & Mysterious Dungeons-Equivalents?
- Consider Seasons, Weather, Disasters, as *monsters* & give them "attacks"?
- Monsters like bad, cruel Teachers or Authoritarians.
- Consider Urchin-Crawls as later development strand.
- Learn about Farming - at some point.
- Make a Central Book and produce a Manual for the Manual.

Thursday 18 June 2020

Amish in Space

I've watching Star Trek TNG Series 3 for a while during lockdown.

It's interesting. I saw these first when I was maybe 13, watching at home. Fascinating to see them through the mirror of my own memory. There are lots of relatively subtle adult interactions and themes. Im sure I missed a lot when I was younger and now I try to understand how much I understood and what I half understood.

The family episode where Picard goes back to his brothers vineyard after the Borg, I knew even young that something complex and dark was happening, that Captain Picard was upset! he cried! Now I can see that but, I think more than anything else what adulthood brings me is an awareness of all the complex, invisible social language going back and forth between the characters. I think now I understand just how insufferable a young Jean Luc Picard must have been to his brother and how much Robert must have resented him, and how much he both regrets that and still does resent him.



I know the imagined tech of Star Trek is based more on extrapolations from the current tech of the time of its production AND that its chimeric synthesis of technologies and society is made both to take account of the possibilities at hand, and to communicate the stranger elements of the show through a matrix that a mass audience will understand, so don't @ me.


I am interested in thinking about what if, even considering the current direction of technology, the Star Trek tech is/were/will be an actually-real thing? I mean in a cultural sense. Because, while from its original perspective, Star Trek is very technologically aspirational and humanist, if you imagine it in relation to current developments in technology then Star Trek is obsessively, puritan about its Humanism even anti-technology, bordering on Luddite, at least Luddite-restrictive rather than Luddite-destructive.


The ships A.I. is basically super-Siri. Little more than a database with a complex search function and a range of cybernetic control algorithms which aid with the running of the ships complex processes.

But all of these are designed specifically to plug into human and humanoid inputs, to 'keep a man in the loop'. From the perspective of a far future systems designer, this is slightly maniacal. Building this complex system of subtle technology and leaving in these gaps which can only be filled by organic semi-independent beings, all of whom perform more slowly, and with less accuracy than a computer.

But it also makes sense from a societal perspective. If you imagine a really intensely puritan humanist culture, one absolutely dedicated to the idea that space exploration, and culture generally, are *for humans*to the extent of throwing away, restricting or banning powerful technologies, even when they might provide a distinctive edge.

This does seem dumb.

But - consider the political and cultural argument after the battle of Wolf 359, and the just in time destruction of the Borg Cube in the Sol System.

One side might say - hey we really need to and should have, woken up the AI's on this one. No-one wants humanity to become a slave to its own machines but if we have to choose between a risk of that and total annihilation then - yeah, wake em up, use a full-scale general intelligence.

But then the counter-argument is - no, the existence of the Borg, and what they just did to us shows absolutely that we can never wake up the AIs and have to do things our puritan humanist way, even if it might mean our destruction.

Because that - the Borg, is what happens to you if you fuck the computer too much. Either the AI's absorb you, or you have to form a giant Borg mind just to control the AI's and turn into that. Maybe that’s how the Borg were created, maybe they are just a distant version of the Federation who faced an impossible threat and adapted to survive.


The only Synthetic General Intelligence the Federation will even allow to exist is Data, a creature *specifically designed* to look human, bound in a human form and to *desire to be human*, and to be largely unable to fulfil that desire.

And on a few occasions, Data still goes full Skynet and illustrates that even limited as he is, with the right prompting, he could still take over the ship, as he does at least.

Think about how intensely focused/repressed a culture needs to be to be able to conceive of an AI, but only willing to make one, (on the borders of its own power, and half off the books),when the existence of that AI is so closely bound to the conception of humanity that its almost enslaved by its own desires.


The federation actually finds it easier to accept aliens that to deal with genetically altered humans.

Which again makes perfect sense because the Federation is a humanist meritocracy, or trying to be one, and if genetics is anything, it’s the science of human inequality, and worse than that, of *predictive* human inequality, and worse than that, if you bring heritable alterations in, the science of inherited class-based human inequality.

And that makes it kryptonite for a scientific, rationalist, egalitarian and humanist society. A society which simultaneously believes deeply in science and reason, and has no magical source which legitimises its belief in equality, (God didn't make everyone in his image, souls aren't real)

Well here comes science to tell you with increasing and terrifying precision exactly how unequal people are and, with the big data and high end algos (which you may be deciding not to use),to predict their lives and outcomes with increasing and terrifying accuracy. And also to put directly into your hands the ability to produce improved and better humans, or at least, better by all those standards you claim to value, more healthy, more intelligent, more reasonable, kinder.

So if you really believe in humanism, and in reason, why can't you produce improved humans? In fact how can you excuse *not producing them*?

And if you do produce improved humans, is there even any way to do it without essentially bleeding the current social and global technology and resource hierarchy into the very bloodline of the species?

Probably there is not.

In the star trek universe this leads to a genetic world war, and then they discover chill aliens and interstellar travel, and so the Federation is = Aliens Good - Genetic Engineering - FUCK NO.

But this is also because the process rests on an irresolvable fault line in their society and philosophy.


An egalitarian society with Quasi-Military Hierarchies, Standard nuclear families, adapted relationship rituals with historical continuity.

The society of the Federation is more obviously odd when seen from its out point in time, as society has changed a LOT more than technology since TNG was broadcast. All of the tech is comprehensible, slightly archaic, but the hatred of torture, the traditional roles and archetypes and the 1990's views on sexuality etc all feel very archaic.

But it makes sense if these people are Amish. Individuals living with borderline singularity technology and, from our perspective, infinite resources*, but living in some hyper-constrained version of 20/21st century society _because that society keeps you stable_.

It keeps you safe. It prevents the singularity and it prevents the fracturing and dispersal of humanity into a hundred thousand different lines of gene manipulation, cybernetic alteration, cultural drift etc etc.

(*There is no cornucopia, human desires expand to consider any available resource and human conflicts and ambitions can take place over matters that would seem mad and ethereal to older generations.)


There are no neural-network designs visible in the Star Fleet aesthetic. I'm thinking here in the difference in the arrangement of form, space and technology between a kind of post WWII human industrial thing and the kind of flowing, near-incoherent designs you seem in a handful of hyper-modern buildings, and in other places.

There is a train station in near me based on a 19th century red-brick industrial base, but the roof of the station was designed in a computer and could only have been designed in a computer, with 3d modelling software, flowing, irregular bespoke elements. It looks pretty strange.

This is it. Don't know it it gives you the impression I described here.

Consider also the architecture of both spaces and technological processes designed by neural nets, the kind of tech where, it works really well, but we can’t define *how* it works, and the kind of technology where a box does something complicated but we can't really open the box and fiddle with it because it’s too strange to our limited ability to do. We can get you a new box real easy, we can manufacture them by the 1000s in our super-factories to a design given to us by a monodirectional AI, but you can't open the box and fix it.

Which, compare to a mid 20th Century car, where its big and lumpen but you can open it and fix it and access every part ultimately. (Except maybe some parts sealed inside the engine block?). Because everything in the machine was put there by human hands and arranged to a plan literally, literally directly draw, on paper, in ink, by a human hand, by a guy with a slide rule.

So every part of that technological construction process directly involves human hapsis and ideas and concepts and plans which can be directly conceived of by the human mind and, though highly specialised, can be passed between human minds in base reality.

Star Trek tech, even when miniaturised is clearly designed to be accessible in this way. Something you can repair rather than throw away, something you can read a manual to understand. Something where you understand the principals of how it works and, in theory, could follow all those back till you understood the whole thing.

And again yes there are storytelling and era-relevant reasons for this in the fiction.

However - consider it as a real thing. A society which has the theoretical capacity to create post-future designs but which simply chooses not to.


For diegetic reasoning as to why this might be so, well I imagine that in the Star Trek universe, species that go hardcore for technology or self-alteration either sublime beyond the point where they can be conceived of as people in the same way as most ST races, like they go off and become interdimensional gods like the Q or the wormhole dudes. Or they become homogenising swarms like the Borg, or hyper-stable genetic tyrannies like the Dominion or they just sit on their planet being mysterious and all-knowing and/or decadent (waiting for a Starfleet Captain to turn up).

But it looks like in the Alpha Quadrant there are a whole cluster of species which gained technology at roughly the same time in galactic terms, and which have also adopted this highly conservative philosophy to quite an extreme degree as even in conflicts with each other they strongly resist any progress towards the Singularity.

(Its mildly amusing to think about the different reasons each species might have for limiting their own technology, even when in conflict with each other. Klingons – not honourable. Romulans – don’t make a machine smarter than you are.)


 interesting thing about the differences in Star Trek between when it was made and when it was seen

When made, its very much about the future, possibility, and bleeding edge tech, and about humanity and humanism. But when seen, from now, if taken as real, the balance has shifted and the same stories are now about being very conservative with technology, stories about controlling and limiting the role of technology about not proceeding towards the singularity, and about bending the arc of tech so that it serves the needs of a people, species and community conceived of in *very* conservative terms.

Compared to even some modern societies, the TNG Cast are like the Amish in space

Sunday 14 June 2020

Thoughts on The Wind in the Willows

First - Mr Toad is evil surely? He doesn't seem to genuinely care about the welfare of anyone other than him. He is certainly pleasing when he wishes to please but as soon as he is out of the sight of others the only thing he cares about is himself and not even his own long term welfare but whatever is going to get him dopamine in that particular moment.

Everyone says 'Toad is a good fellow really' but he really isn't.

Ok I have that out of my system, main points

This was a book I thought I knew because I had absorbed it through vague cultural osmosis, but really I didn't at all.

I think my parents too me to see a stage production when I was little but I was too small and it scared me. And I must have picked up fragments from TV.

But none of those really do the book justice at all because it is much much better than any of its degraded cultural shadows


There is lots and lots of very wierd genre, or just weird stuff in the book.

Badgers house is built into roman (or current if this is a post-apocalyptic novel) ruins, and his capacious tunnel systems are the envy of batman or a paranoid schizophrenic.

PAN - Mole and rat literally MEET A GOD, and then get mindwiped because meeting gods will fuck you up.

Toad feels really more like Anansi or Coyote, a fundamental trickster spirit. Entirely self-involved, disguising himself, charming (some) people always getting away with everything. He seems able to move between worlds in a way the other animals don't and interacts with governmental or societal systems in a way they don't.


The shifting interrelationships of scale, and how they don't make 'sense' but stll work are utterly fascinating. Only Toad persistently interacts with Humans, despite not being the largest animal, and he can disguise himself as a human and interact with the legal system. Drive a car. Lives in a house instead of a hole. The animals go through a village at night, looking through windows, but then Mole lives in a hole again.



what are the threats in wind in the willows?

Getting lost in the Wild Wood during snowfall/a friend getting lost. A child getting lost on the riverbank. A friend getting . Wanderlust. Mr Toad and his addictions, (and he does seem like an addict). The working class doing a revolution and taking over your stately home. A friend missing home (Mole and Rats friendship is threatened both by Mole smelling his old home and Rat being enraptured by Wanderlust), not having food to entertain carollers. Change....


Everyone is male except for the washerwoman and the girl who gets Toad out of prison. Everyone is a Gentleman, (of the middling kind for Mole and Rat) except for maybe Otter, and definitely the wild wooders. There are quantum servants, likely descended from the Quantum Hermits of Mallory. Badger says 'I'll send someone with you'. Cooking and other things take place via invisible hands.

Mole speaks a dab of common because he is a bit common, probably only a generation or so away from the labouring classes. Badger speaks in a 'common way' because he can. He is old money landed aristocracy and doesn't need to give two fucks about what anyone else thinks.

The Hobbsean predation nightmare that is actual nature is dealt with in the manner of a 19th century gentleman of liberal tendancies;

'Well, of course - there - are others,' explained the Rat in a hesitating soft of way. 'Weasels - and stoats - and foxes - and so on. They're all right in a way - I'm very good friends with them - pass the time of day when we meet, and all that - but they break out sometimes, there's no denying it, and then - well, you can't really trust them and that's the fact.'


The Wind in the Willows has a surprising and deep emotional range.

It might seem, in a way, to be a story about nothing.

But it is about home, about domestic emotions.

You have to quieten the drum to let those memories and emotions become clear. What Graham does is like a lullaby, a soothing. A spell. Like a near-sleep. But the purpose of that sleep isn't woozieness but a stillness that brings clarity, and which therefore can form a substrate or canvas of a kind which can let those very soft, very gentle emotions flow. Its very hard to do a story or make a thing about soft, positive, pro-social emotions without ritualising them and fetishising them to the point where they become performative or just objects.

All of the characters are complex and all of them (except Toad) are extremely emotionally aware of each other, though in the style of Anglo men of the time, they do not 'bring it up'.


The prose is very very good. From the voices and patterns of the characters, to the semi-incantory ultra-present nature poetry, to, well, everything. There are no duff lines.

"he increased his pace, and as the car devoured the street and leapt forth on the high road through the open country, he was only conscious that he was Toad once more, Toad at his best and highest, Toad the terror, the traffic queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night. He changed as he flew, and the car responded with a sonerous drone; the miles were eaten up under him as he sped he knew not wither, fulfilling his instincts, living his hour, reckless of what might come to him."

It is both too good for children, as they will not appreciate how good it is compared to everything else, but also just right in the sense that it is whole writing, writing that is like smooth well-carpentered wood, not because it is simply made from single pieces but subtly made from many parts to feel whole.

I think Rapheal said a good sculpture was one you could roll down a hill without anything breaking off. I take that to mean that it contains and deals with all the energy it produces without lacking for expression, like a very good, but very calm, dancer. Skill brought to the pitch of near-invisibility. There it is.

Friday 12 June 2020

Shinto in Cumbria

This is my second attempt to create a systemtisable way to build a geography of interrelated gods and spirits attached to a local environment for Soft D&D.

Basic Concept
Character Gen
Shinto - first attempt
Looking for a Mechanic 

This one will be less popular as I couldn't quickly find a landscape artist of the same caliber I STOLE from for the previous posts.

And by 'create', I mean adapt and steal from the design concept of Echelon Explorations who came up with the Polyhedral Pantheon matrix concept and produced the PDF guide to it here.

The basic idea is that you create the matrix of interconnections first, then fill that in with individual elements based on the background of whatever you are trying to model.

Then the connections between the various elements provide the connections and order of the beings when you encounter them.

The original Echelon Explorations version is much more complex and involved. I don't want to rip them off too much and also I prefer something a bit simpler.


1. Grab Your Matrix

Here  is a d10

Ten sides marked by numbers and twelve points marked by letters.

The sides will be elements of the environment, and points will be spirits.

You can use any die I think, with the amount of stuff generated rising with the size of the die.


2. Think of an Environment

I'm going to use my memories of Cumbria from my previous post;

"its a flat,narrow fertile plain, 
on one side are the fells, the mountains of Cumbria
steep, grey ,scree-sided, covered with heather and sheep
with tarns and narrow tracks and slices of mountain and black lakes hidden
on the other side is the irish sea- shifting in colours like the sky
rippling with like like jewels in summer
black and heavy as wet slate in winter
where storms come from
in that part of Cumbria - all the trees lean to one side, like letter Z s 
the wind has blown them all since they started to grow and now they grow in the direction of the wind from the sea even when that wind is not there"


3. Break down elements or aspects.

One for each side of the Die

1 Flat fertile plain
2 Steep scree-sided fells
3 Heather hill-tops covered with sheep
4 Cold rivers over round stones
5 Deep black lakes
6 Wind blasted trees
7 Dense boggy ferny moorland
8 Deep dark iron mines smelling of rust and the earth
9 The storms from the sea?*
0 Sea, shifting in colours like the sky

*The rest are strongly bound to geography while this is different, it seems to work though.


4. For each Point, note the sides which touch

A   1,7,3,5,9 Plain, Moors, Hill, lake, storm
B   6,1,9 trees, plain, mine
C   4,1,7 river plain, moor
D   2,9,5 fell storm, lake
E   0,3,7 sea, heather hills, moors
F   8, 3,5 mines, heather, lake
G   4,6,1 river, trees, plain
H   2,6,9 fells, wind, sea
I   0,4,7 sea, river, moor
J   5,8,2 lake, mine, fell
K   0,8,3 heather hill, iron mine, sea
L   0,8,2,6,4 sea, mine, fells, trees, river


5. Work out your Spirits

A - this would have to be a village or town, on a hill by a lake, with a fertile plain to one side and dense moorland to another, lashed by storms. Maybe this is where the PCs start out and this place has a powerful, but silent spirit, female, ancient, quiescent, maybe something roman.

the Queen of B, C D, E  and F


(filled in later - the Queen of Iron Jack, Lady Penne, Mad Rackham the Raftershaker, Great Waiting One and Millerwife)

B - a forest of wind lashed trees on the plain, a cold mine within. maybe a spirit of the earth or of the forest, a root spirit perhaps, tasting of the iron in the earth, one recognised by the miners.


C - The river, running through plains and moorland. a civilised reasonable slow spirit of the wandering river.


D - This seems like a black turbulent spirit of high storms, steep hills and a dark lake, old, male a moody.


E - a moor and sheep-strewn hill-land overlooking the sea, this feels like another spirIt of an ancient culture rather than a primordial nature being. something stone and bearded, waiting under the heather
sleeping, a giant perhaps.


F - Another mine, this one seems calmer, in the heather hills by the lake. I'll say this one actually likes the sheep tickling them, and keeps watch over them.


G - The river, the plain and wind-blasted trees. This seems like another very civil place. A village spirit I think, or one accustomed to humanity.


H - A steep sided fell lashed by wind from the sea, a salty spirit, grim, probably one that maybe feeds off ships or resents them passing its coast.


I -Somewhere the river passes through moorland and meets the sea,a sandy  estuary spirit then, presumably one that rushes in fast with the tide, maybe drowns people, likes to hold on to things that pass through.


J - A mine in the steep fells above a lake, some utterly dark, cold and seeping spirit that fills the mine
very alien, turning in its sleep at the bottom of the lake, the miners all know well to make many signs and to do their work quickly and quietly so as not to awaken or anger it.


K - This must be a brother to MILLERWIFE. A coastal mine, one that reaches out under the sea
full of noises, a tapping that sends people mad,and of dripping.


L - sea, mine, fells, trees, river. This must be another powerful and capacious near-ancient god,
another town or a port perhaps.

Perhaps this is the governing spirit of Old Gos, Sir Coombe, Esk, Knockerman and Calder. 

This one feels industrial wild and male rather than civil and female


So now the diagram of relationships looks like this, with Noctorum at A and Ravenglass at L.

And thats that really...



Is this really better than someone with imagination just drawing a map?

Not really, but I can't draw so I fall back on these graphical info-design elements.

All it really is is an interconnected relationship/hierarchy map. BUT, the simplicity and availability of the system ideally makes it something that is easy to systematise between different cultures, backgrounds and imaginations.

Its something you could fill-in with children, and it gives a range of personalities and implied relationships that mean there are knock-on effects from dealing with spirits.