Wednesday 24 February 2021

Sticky Goblins

Yes, the title was a lie to draw you in. This is actually a game-design post. As an apology, have this thematically-correct image;


For different books I've been working on I've been putting together different monsters, groups, characters and situations. One problem or difficulty I've come up against  is producing large numbers of encounters that are what I came to think of as 'sticky'.

What happened is that I found myself often repeating or cycling through similar patterns of encounter.

Originally I wanted encounters that were somewhat dramatic, or at least interesting within themselves, expressive of the character of different individuals and groups, had world-texture to them so experiencing them taught you about the world of the game or adventure, but were also not necessarily violent, though they might have the potential for violence within them, yet were also consequential.

That's a lot really, the density of concepts of what I was looking for maybe explains some of why I have found it so challenging.

After thinking about it a bit more I have broken it down into different kinds of 'stickiness' which, though actually pretty different, seem to mesh quite intuitively in play and design.

OPENESS - short term stickiness

The first is the openness, or the embracing nature of the encounter - how much its elements allow interaction, and how much they would *actually want* the PCs to interact.

Low openness would be; 

- You hear the sound of hoofbeats and enter a clearing to see two fully armoured knights encountered in the act of directly charging towards each other, lances levelled.

The Knights are presumably higher status than the PCs and they won't be happy if the PCs get in the way. Physically if the PCs do intervene then it will likely only lead to injury for them and the Knights as well. Afterwards, no-one will be happy with the PCs. So socially, politically and physically this is a situation that is very 'closed'. More like a scene from a film. You *could* push yourselves to interact but most of the logic of the situation is against it.

Very high openness might be; 

- A plump halfling screams as a greasy, naked goblin holds it down and tries to force cheese into its mouth. The Halfling is crying "The CHEESE! No! Not the CHEEEESE!" while the Goblin cackles madly.

So physically and socially both parties are much weaker than the PCs. It shouldn't be too hard to overpower them and stop this from happening. (Apart from the greasiness of the goblin). There are no weapons involved that you can see so its non-lethal. As opposed to the Knights, its seemingly unequal - the Goblin looks to be in the wrong and the Halfling looks like a victim. Also its over something ridiculous like cheese, which lowers the status of the encounter and so perhaps the fear of intervention.

I mean, very few D&D parties are going to just walk past the Cheese encounter. They will want to do something, even if its just to encourage the Goblin.


A second quality is the non-neutral nature of the encounter. This something where if you leave it, there will be no big change. Like walking past a beggar in the street, you are technically guilty of ignoring every beggar you don't help but its probably not going to stick to you or turn up again in your life, or the world, in a noticeable way.

What’s a highly neutral encounter? Maybe something like;

- You see a group of destitute Orcs in the distance. In this game all Orcs are violent and bad, they never negotiate and always attack. This group is large. They are clearly migrating across an empty plain in the distance, from one land you don't know to another you also don't know. You have seen them and they haven't seen you. To avoid them, just stay still for a while then move on.

The Orcs are (in this setting) simply bad and always aggressive. You know exactly what they are going to do if they meet you and its always the same thing. There are a lot of them, so they might win a fight between you. They have no wealth so no immediate material award. They are going from a place you have no connection to, to another place you have no connection to across an empty place you have a slight connection to. They are interacting with nothing and dealing with them will probably change nothing you will ever learn about.

What’s and extremely non-neutral encounter? A 'polar' encounter?

- You are in a city in lockdown due to plague and overhear, then directly visually witness, a sexual assault between two relatively high-status individuals with their own networks. Say the son of the citys Guard captain and the daughter of the cities minority-ethnicity crime gang. Both individuals see that you have seen them.

So, this is going to be a thing whether you like it or not. Firstly it’s an immediate interaction happening right in front of you, in your personal space (so that’s more openness, but it also means 'you could have done something). It’s between two individuals who are connected to two groups who will definitely side with those individuals. Both of those groups have a major ability to affect your life in different ways. The city is locked-down and you can't leave. Even if you pretend you saw nothing neither individual will accept this and neither will their prospective groups. They NEED you on their side and will not accept a neutral position. neutrality will be considered opposition to them. Not only that but its a hot-button cultural issue in a contained, dangerous and resource-poor environment so your relationship with the various factions more-directly affects your ability to survive.

I have slipped over here into describing 'Consequences', the last part of my division, which illustrates either the difficulty and possible futility of taking a cartesian approach to the most human of games or just my own ill-discipline and stupidity.

Really in a 'lived reality' openness, neutrality and consequences will all interact and amplify/neutralise each other. If there was nothing you could *physically* have done, then there will be less polarity and less consequences;

"Hey you saw the two mega-giants fighting and did nothing."

"Aye, for they are fucking massive and I am but small."

"A reasonable response."

CONSEQUENCES - encounter tail or long term stickiness

The last is the tail of the encounter. The degree to which your action or inaction will affect the players and PCs afterwards.

This seems to relate most deeply to the containedness of the environment and social situation. The more tied the PCs are to a certain social and political milieux, and the more deeply connected the agents of the milieux are, or perhaps simply the greater their ability to project power, then the deeper the consequences.

Murder-Hobo PCs traipsing across an infinite world populated by atomised and individually weak groups will experience few consequences while relatively weak PCs trapped in a complex and closely connected world of powerful actors will experience deep consequences.

There is also the moral nature of the encounter itself of course.. Lets see what I can come up with for a very consequential encounter;

- You are in disguise as the missing Duke and his entourage. The city/castle is under siege. You see the Queen about to push the King down some stairs from behind. 

Hmm. What’s a super low-consequence encounter?

- You are marching along the Kings highway as night comes on. You are in the middle of a big host of travelling people. In the dirt by the side of the road you see a leprous peasant fighting a blind dog for a bone with a scrap of meat still attached.

Its night, or evening so you are nearly visually anonymous. There is a crowd so you have crowd/group anonymity. Its a road so everyone there is atomised somewhat from their usually social networks. The peasant and dog are both very low status, probably far below your own, which might increase the 'openness' of the encounter, it would be physically and socially easy to intervene, but means that neither are likely to have a consequential effect on your future. The diseased nature of the peasant and the fact that the dog is blind mean neither are likely to be useful or effectual in any way.


- What do you think of my division of concepts into openness, neutrality and consequences?

- Are neutrality/polarity [whether you interact or not has a big effect] and Consequences [the results of your interactions will stick to you long-term, even useful concepts, considering how bad and blurred my examples were?

- if not, why not?

- what tools of thought would you use to make encounters like this?

- what notable 'sticky' encounters do you remember from your own games?

- how much of each quality do you prefer in your own adventures and campaigns, and how does that relate to the kind of campaign or adventure? as in more naturalistic and long term, short punchy ones, city or rural based?

- Any novel, innovate or interesting ideas for generating different kinds of stickiness?

- I’m interesting in what differently-minded people might do with the same problem. What would an Arnoldish approach to stickyness be? Literal organic stickiness, mutation, some game-rule or diagetic artefact? I'm not a very 'D&D' D&D creator, so there should be many ways of applying consequences in particular that spring from magic or high-fantasy elements...

Thursday 18 February 2021

A Review of Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier

Hey people are still putting in Dungeon Poems and I am still racking them up here. Take a look at the results and see if there is anything you like.

Is one or more of hem secretly Kent? They fucking might be....

Now, a book review;

A wonder, I read some fiction that actually enlivened me. Actually I just listened to it on Audible; Daphne DuMauriers Jamaica Inn. I knew almost nothing about DuMaurier previously apart from the Rachel Weisz film 'My Cousin Rachel', which I enjoyed.

Short Version; salt of the earth heroine loses the farm and moves into the titular Jamaica Inn with her Aunt. Enters battle of wills with her Aunts abusive husband to free her from his clutches, and an actual battle with the smuggling ring the husband runs.

Longer Version; Gender! Relationships! AAAAAAGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

Our heroine, Mary Yellan is basically a teenage enbys mary sue and its fucking great. 

Highly-intelligent, extremely rugged, capable, brave and tough, strong-featured but with a flash of fire so that every male character with an above average IQ either desires her or respects her as a worthy rival. Mary is a simple woman of the soil who grew up with her mum on the farm, (with a suspiciously verbose and analytical intelligence for a woman who spent her whole life in one village). 

Mother worked super-hard every day to keep the place going after father died. Then mother takes ill, as Mary watches over her during the illness the farm goes. After her death Mary writes a letter to her aunt and receives a SINISTER RESPONSE which because this is a gothic text she immediately obeys. She arrives at Jamaica Inn and after discovering her Aunt is a wreck and her Uncle is a brute,  sets herself to saving her aunt from his clutches and possibly foiling whatever other schemes he may have.

Here are Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara from Hitchcocks 1939 version
This really has nothing to do with the book
So far as I can see they jammed a bunch of male characters together in a way that
totally fucks up the way the book works.
Look at the SQUIRE ENERGY Charles Laughton is pumping out there.
That is some top-level historical Squireing, not easy to do you know.
Lets have another just for fun.

Ahhhh the core of this character is fucking terrifying in the book....


While the heroine crackles with the immediate energy of feminine courage, pulses with the peasant virtues and sees things almost (almost) absolutely as a 'citizen', a core member of society carrying its core beliefs like a banner in her heart, the creator is a murky bitch.

This is someone telling a heroic story in a non-heroic world, with a hero increasingly aware of her own weakness and culpability. The two merge somewhat in the final scene, the creator and created becoming one.

But everyone in a dream is you, and if this is true of Jamaica Inn then of what is DuMauriers soul composed?

- Tough, smart, compassionate, brave and honourable country girl.
- A brutal, charismatic, sympathetic Ogre, a victim and a victimiser of all things, (also an alcoholic).
- A terrified rabbity soul-broken woman bound to her tormenter.
- A cheeky roguish scoundrel with a heart of gold who lives outside the rules (and who MIGHT turn evil).
- A dark- nietzschean self-declared abomination, proto super-villain.
- a dumb, domineering sometimes-likeable decent squire.


The evil(ish) uncle. A really beautiful 'heroic' horror of a kind encountered in the better sort of crime drama. A monster, an ogre, carrying around the wisps of his youthful charisma and beauty. Huge, hairy, physically overpowering anyone around him, inspiring direct and immediate terror in most people. Intelligent, born poor to a criminal family, crafty, perceptive, dominating his flock of goblins with threat, rough charm and sheer presence, though its suggested he hates them, hates working with them, hates charming them and hates his life.

Dominates and destroys his wife, and hates her for being broken. Driven by the regular systematic collapses of his life due to an almost schizophrenic level of alcoholism. Knowing full well that he will collapse into week-long binges, knowing his wife will lock him away as he comes down and during his most dangerous periods. Even castigating her - "why didn't you lock me away, why did you let me out?". At moments even totally dependant on the woman he terrorises and bullies to sustain him, and her happy to do so, even enjoying it. A really amazing and intense ruthlessly and horrifically co-dependant arrangement.


Jamaica Inn is empty of everything but tension and fear except for Saturday, when the Cornish Temptation of St Anthony appears. Its a criminal crew of the kind you used to get! Filthy peddlers, suspicious gypsies, simple sam who picks endlessly at his hideous birthmark. The flotsam and ruins of early 19th century Cornwall. Think this was written in the 30s so one of the last times you could get away with such a cast of extremely problematic grotesqueries so I suggest you enjoy them while you have them. Get ready for the 2031 Jamaica Inn adaption told from the perspective of the bar flotsam where someone turns to camera and says but isn't the real smuggling CAPITALISM???

Ok looks like the BBC did a version.
God this looks dull.
They got the right look for Mary Yellan though.


Eeey we got a Silent Titans reference. Thanks Daphne.

This is a beautiful, hallucinatory moment of horror. Tts a dual-scene really, two making one, both beautifully accomplished.

One is the strange, awkward, incantory confession scene were Joss Merlyn - in one of his altered states, at war with his own horrors, pulls Mary to the ground and whispers the truth of his actual secret; "Don't you know what _wreckers_ are?". He leads the pack of rogues from Jamaica Inn, luring ships to their death at night then murdering any who escape the ship, clubbing them, cutting them down, strangling them on the storm-lashed sand, and making off with the wrecked goods.

From that point on we get the clear sense that Mary is screwed. Can you kind of tell how morally fucked a protagonist is by the severity of the crime they are dealing with? From the supremely-innocent jewel-theft to the mildly-dangerous casino heist, through murders and and all the way to sex crimes? Maybe not, Rififi is largely motivated by jewel theft I think and that is a moral vortex. Anyway.

Then in the second part of the book Mary is semi-abducted and drawn into an actual scene of wrecking, this one even more nightmarish as Joss Merlyn is entering his final decay, spiralling, and has summoned his army of Dickensian horrors out, more drunk and less organised than usual. They wait naked on the shore (better to escape the freezing sea-clad clothes), and by chance, summon a ship, then break into a frenzy of uncontrolled theft and murder. The crime itself collapsing into desperate violent anarchy. They turn against each other, throats are cut, brains blow out, the goblins scatter to the black moors. Its fucking great.

DuMaurier really does have a beautiful grasp of moment, from the very small simple things like rain moving against the glass of a carriage window, to the slow shadowy logistics of movement in an empty hall, the closed quiet of a vicars chamber. 


The Christopher Nolan stuff. This is all well accomplished. The details fade into the background as the story goes on, or as the procedural story of the wreckers conspiracy and its unravelling and collapse slowly breaks apart from the story we follow, the divide in Mary Yellans soul, and the war both between the genders and inside her.

Forget 'Vampire Lover OR Cardigan Architect'. We are in high literary mode here! Instead we get Sexy-Dangerous-Horse Thief OR Gothic Supervillain OR Farm. The fact that 'farm' is even in there as an option is probably what makes this at least tacitly a feminist novel.


Grim quasi-feminism of the kind I prefer. Du Maurier reminds me a lot of Rebecca West and Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree, who were both I think technical feminists, but with a much darker view of the female soul and of the relationship between the genders, than you would be able to sustain as a 'normal feminist'

Mary Yellan is almost the morally optimal individual, but still physically overpowered, consumed with feelings of own weakness, of the desires of women, their attraction to danger and power, how easily they are broken and maybe how they even want this to happen.

Hey it DuMauriers book not mine. I wouldn't have the balls to write women this darkly.
The book starts with Mary trying to 'save' her aunt and slowly becomes about her fighting not to become her aunt. It becomes more obvious (to the reader and possibly to other characters, if not to Mary) that probably her aunt is not going to be saved, other than by killing or imprisoning Joss Merlyn, and that even then it might not be enough.

There is a horrific cyclic pattern in the Merlyn family. In the opening part of the book Marys Mother associates this with 'bad blood'. There's never any family of bad blood that ever went full right. They might turn for a generation but they always go back in the end.

It’s not clear if the book believes this or not.

The Merlyns mother madly defended their father even though he treated her terribly, and ultimately abandoned her. One of the sons dies, another is Joss Merlyns, who seems to be repeating the same pattern. Their relationship began with giddy infatuation and joy, and the last Mary saw or heard of her lace-bestrewn, very femme aunt was perhaps ten years ago. Now the aunt is terrified of but also bonded to, and adoring of, Joss, and he seems to despise her simply because he was able to break her. 

Mary herself enters into exactly the same kind of relationship with Jem Merlyn, the heart-of-gold horse thief who is as hot and charismatic now as Joss may have been ten years ago. He's a good guy who lives on the edge, *right now*. Now he seems good, or more good than bad, but he clearly has the capacity for bad in him. And Mary is desperately overwhelmingly attracted to him, while having a full and total awareness of how potentially dangerous this is and how she may well be repeating exactly the same pattern. In fact she hates and despises her own love for Jem, while still not being able to let it go. This, the book seems to say, and the main character definitely says, is the horror of womanhood, the need, hunger for attachment so strong it cannot be overcome

At the end of the book Mary has to make a choice between Horse-Thief or Farm. (The Supervillain has been defeated, if not by Mary, that at least partly by his desire for Mary). Two overwhelming desires  inside her, and she can't have both (it’s still a gothic novel, people are not going to do practical time-shared). The last scene is technically-romantic. You could shoot it like an 'off into the sunset' ending, and I wonder if people have done that. But if you follow the moral architecture of the book its potentially-horrific.


Saturday 13 February 2021

The Poem Dungeons Revealed

 Honestly I kinda forgot you guys existed.

Richard Tennant Cooper
(thanks to Monster Brains)

But behold! Some people actually responded to my post, and literally everyone who did a dungeon managed to produce something closer to my stated intent than I did.

(And thanks of course to Dyson Logos, whose map was the basis of the challenge.)

I shall link them in the order of their comments.

(No, as of 04.03.2021 they are still coming in so I will link them in reverse order so the newest one is always at the top.


By Matthew Schmeer of RenderedPress. Our boy did an actual poem! And it looks like if you read it to the end and took notes it might even be near playable!

Shelter 15

An adventure for Death is the New Pink (now on sale) or Into the Odd. Vagabundork (Chaos Magick-User) from the blog Chaos Magic User brings us our second (I think) nuclear bunker quasi cold-war interpretation. This one with a slightly different political slant than the last;

"The booklet “The March of the Pigs”. It takes 1 day to read. Once per adventure, you can create 1d4+1 Molotov bombs using improvised materials (1d6 damage per roud to all inside the area; one extra point of damage to cops, sheriffs, soldiers, politicians and other enemies of freedom)."


The oldest of the Old-School, JB from BX Blackrazor bestows upon us this. Terse, minimal, classical materials. Do you need a lot of fancy bullshit to run an adventure? This dungeon says NO.

The Tower of the Red Dome

That's not what its actually called (I don't think it has a title), but your boi James Maliszewski of the blog Grognardia, has produced an ultra-minimal dungeon for the famous, and by many, considered quite difficult to access, world of Tékumel. He applied himself to the challenge of describing every element in no more than three lines.

The Undercellars

A lovely gothic and highly playable dungeon by Joseph Manola of 'Against the Wicked City'.

Not just the only creator brave enough to put a sex-cult in his dungeon but also an excellent 'forensic' dungeon (you can re-build the final events of the doomed cult) which rewards historical investigation, an elegant balance of investigatory and deceptive alternate methods with trad dungeon bashing and also something which, with ne or two tweaks, could be easily integrated into anything from a historical setting to a classic D&D world. Also an excellent example of clarity, brevity and prioritisation in text description making something very playable.

Terpsichorean Sodality of the Bird People

Brought to us by long-time commenter Solomon VK from World-Building and Wool-Gathering

"Monedulus Alleline, a man with the head of a jackdaw, paces nervously.. If surprised he will jump. He may be reciting prayers. He will give a cold welcome to newcomers. He is deeply worried about the coming rites, and dreads Vansittart's proposed alterations."


Degenerates Art

We got another long one boys, this one from Louis Morris. 

"Please find attached my attempt at the Dungeon Poem Challenge. Not only is it much too late, I've also managed to ignore pretty much every element of the briefing except the map and possibly the word 'art' in 'artpunk'. That means it's comically long, not especially poetic, and probably not very functional either; it's meant to be system-agnostic, though it only really makes sense in a setting that's close to 20th/21st-century Earth. Given all this, you should obviously feel no obligation to mention it on the blog, though if you did want to put a link in a small addendum to the last post then that would be fine by me. I enjoyed making it anyhow!"

Don't worry Louis, ignoring pretty much all the instructions of the challenge is the norm here.

Likelihood of this being Kent in disguise? I'd say 1 in 6.

All 5's and 7's

Dan Sumpton of Peakrill actually did a poem! Its all haiku!

The Vulnerary House

Nick of Daayan Songs Translated brings us The Vulnerary House in both blog post and PDF form.

"- Who else? 1-a noblewoman begs her son to come with her. His gaze is unfocused. 2-a pregnant wife kneels at the feet of an old man who tousles her hair, gentle, yet absent 3-A boy hands an enthusiastically fashioned, yet crudely painted toy boat to a distant seeming man. The man weighs it momentarily, before pressing it back in the boy’s hands . 4-A woman, expressionless, head shaven, kisses a crying infant. She gifts the wailing swaddling to an old woman who nods and leaves, cooing to the child."

Party Cove

Your boy Peter Webb didn't use the right map but sent me this and I'm putting it up because I like him.


Holy fucking fuck. Her Christmas Knight, the guy who writes extended comments on my blog longer than the posts themselves, brings us a precis of the ideas from some kind of epic Jack Vance/Gene Wolfe collaboration. Heaving with concepts and blistering on the boundary of glorious but terrifying near-unplayability (or is it?) this truly fucks the frame of the concept of 'Artpunk', whatever the fuck that currently means. 

The Great Ghoul Market

From your boy right here. Massively overwritten. Arguably not that artpunk. Did I even do an encounter table? Kinda. At least its a PDF. Patrick should try to remember his own concept next time.

The Court of Hell

Enthusiastic Skeleton Boys brings us 'The Court of Hell'. Down to two pages! Original concept! An image post and some actual illustrations! Another good contender.

The Song of Snow and Sun

Zzarchov! Our Lost God King turns in his mist-wreathed bed of tattered finery and from his battle-scarred fingers drifts 'The Song of Snow and Sun'. Its two dungeons in one! He did a PDF! He put a song in it!

“for any peasant girl,
lonely in the mortal world
Take the twilight ship to elsewhere
for any noble boy,
born and raised a castellan
take the twilight ship to elsewhere
the bard amidst the burning hall
the smell of wine, the siren’s call
a devilish grin, to rule the night
they march on and on, and on, and on”

The winner? Possibly.....

(I will not be announcing a winner but you can pick one yourselves if you like.)

Generic Laboratory

From 'Coins and Scrolls'. Finally you have a chance to join the Skerples train.

The Manteion

'I Don't Remember that Move brings us MASKS! You know its artpunk if there are needless masks. "skinless pink things like cave salamanders stir in the oily water. They attack if you try to help him." As true today as it was yesterday.

A Peer Beyond the Alchemical Aleph Null 

From the blog 'Foreign Planets' a dark-alchemy inspired dungeon in two versions. A 'Light' version for easy usability and a 'Dark' version for maximum pretension.

Clavicarcerum of the Scribe Jamesus

From the blog 'Whose Measure God Could Not Take, the Magma-Marred Clavicarcerum of the Scribe Jamesus. Ahh I remember when I could crank out mysterious stuff. Feels like a long time ago. He even has ferric snail in his.

Ice Troll Moon Abbey 

From the blog Lapidary Ossuary. A classic one-page dungeon.

If you want to read some dungeons, read through, and if you like something, talk about it here or somewhere else. (Also people can keep submitting....)

Tuesday 9 February 2021

Dungeon Poem Challenge

 Dungeon Poem Challenge

I had this idea of, not a Gygaxian Democracy dungeon, but a kind of blog-ring alter-dungeon challenge thing

Take one of the more interesting (and SMALL) Dyson Logos maps.

This one (I like it because it has a river on it).

Original here.

And anyone who wants to; make a dungeon of this map.

Thats; everyone use this specific map 

I am going to try to do mine and will attempt to post it by Saturday or Sunday, and if anyone else wants to do one and tell me about it I will link it here. And we will see what everyone comes up with.

The general concept is; Artpunk plus functional. So original ideas preferred, as pretentious as you like, but minimal text, shaved right down, and functional as a dungeon for players without any extra context. But as much as possible, honed for beauty, interest and strangeness.

The link to 'poetry' being not the euphony structure or rhythm of the text, (though you can try that if you like), but the condensation of utility, beauty, meaning and originality into a functional and interesting micro-adventure. 

All those things traditionally being opposed or at least difficult to have at the same time.

To do as much as possible with as little text and information as possible

Thursday 4 February 2021


 Bois, it’s time to get old. Old as bones.


If I remember my own game correctly, one of the options for a starting character in Goose-Gold & Goblins is simply to be Old.

And by Old I mean 'Grandma' old; walking stick, slow pace, maybe a wheelchair, wrinkly, grey haired, maybe some thick glasses. Like Witch or Wizard old.

I don't really want medium-aged people in GG&G. Those of a common 'adventuring age'. Their social presence, physical capacity and general power and usefulness would really mess with the intended feel of play. I just want Children, Old people and pets. All beings with limited physical capacities, not much immediate social capital, and with lots of free time. People who are in society but for whom doing ordinary stuff might still be an "adventure".

My originating concept is that Old People have magic, as in standard D&D magic, or an Goosified equivalent of it. This fits the bill in a number of ways; like Wizards, OP's are weak, fragile and strange, with unknown powers and mysterious motivations. They have to think ahead to be useful and are a little cracked in the head.

If we try to imagine true multi-generational play, playing an 'Old Person' would be best for older children and parents.

Of course if we have a game with very young children in it, there will effectively be 'magic' or a form of it, as their grasp on and interaction with the simulated reality will likely be somewhat off its tits. Any young child is likely going to be playing some surreal, cartoonish strange figure, no matter what they think they are playing, and likely in GG&G, the Youngest-Sets-the-Tempo rule will be in effect.

So here is my development for being Old;


Even Mehl Amundsen

Old People are very wise and cunning. They are also slow, fragile, forgetful, often grumpy and sometimes smelly. If you find one, try not to break it. If you ARE one, be careful on those stairs!


Literally fucking everything. 

Moving too fast. Sitting too long. Getting worried. Heat. Cold. Rain. Pollen. Literally any and any event or situation that might exist. 

Think this is Stepan Alekseev


Honestly, just bits of the BX/OSE spell list but re-contextualised as weird stuff and old person might do
From the perspective of a child, the difference between superior knowledge of the world, unknown techniques and contextual information, clever tricks, unlikely intuitions, 'soft' magical stuff like tarot and hand-reading and low level 'hard' magic like disappearing, is not that great

Like if you are five and your grandma tells you she can disappear and reappear in the post office by wearing a special hat then you are gonna be like hmm there is a 50/50 here that granny is fucking with me...

Probably no 'hard' highly physical powers like fireball but, well lets see the lvl 1 lists for Magic Users

  • Charm Person
  • Detect Magic
  • Floating Disc
  • Hold Portal
  • Light (darkness)
  • Magic Missile
  • Protection from Evil
  • Read Languages
  • Read Magic
  • Shield
  • Sleep
  • Ventriloquism

Really a substantial amount of this is stuff a five or six year old would not be surprised to find out their Grandma can do;

I have added in the Lvl 1 Cleric Spells which don't have duplicates in the MU list

Charm Person - persuasion, nagging, "I know your father young man"

Detect Magic - "Something funny going on here...."

Floating Disc - probably no, unless they know a special sausage dog they can summon at will & strap things to.

Hold Portal - Obv Grandmas can "double-lock" things. Doors can be locked once  so why not extend the concept.

Light (darkness) - Bit of a challenge. Think I will remove this as I want production of light locked to objects. Might have OPs capable of moving in the dark though.

Magic Missile - Nope.

Protection from Evil - Grandma draws a salt circle on the ground that keeps bad things out. Makes perfect sense.

Read Languages - Simple. If you find a strange musty book in an unknown language of course Granny can read it.

Read Magic - As above. Not much of a difference between them.

Shield - Hmmm, not that appropriate. Will probably remove.

Sleep - An edge case. probably too powerful a spell to be easily used. Will limit it by diegetic elements like special ingredients, circumstances, possibly blowback etc.

Ventriloquism - Obviously.

Cure Light Wounds - Simple. "Let me put a plaster on it then..."

Detect Evil - "Strange smell in the air...". Could easily combine with detect Magic.

Purify Food and Water - Hmm, this links with cooking which should really be its own section.

Remove Fear (cause Fear) - Removing Fear affects from PCs should be simple, give them a magic hug and dry their eyes. Causing fear, that would need some context to it. I mean Gandalf pulled it off when he went into goth-mode so probably.

Resist Cold - "Better wrap up warm dear" From whence do they draw endless supplies of scarfs and mittens? Who knows.

So, limit 'Spells' (which aren't really spells) by thematic groupings during character generation, then during gameplay through diegetic requirements ("Well of course I can send Goblins to sleep, if I had the feather of a Bomblenowl to burn..."), limited access to new spells and sources of knowledge, and through a magic points system.

Yes magic points, everyone’s favourite mechanic. BUT; Old-person magic charges up in old-person ways.

Kim Sokol


You have to be careful charging your Old Person -  if you fill them with too much OP energy things can go HORRIBLY wrong..

Here are some charging methods, of course all have to be acted-out;

> "Things are "NICE"

"NICE, ISN'T THAT NICE" - every time an oldster can say "that's nice dear" or "isn't that nice" or "nice weather we're having isn't it" or any contextual comment on the world which uses the word NICE, that’s one twentieth of a chargeup. Or maybe each time you can roll a d20 and if you get a 20 you charge up, but you can't say it more than once a minute.

> Recollect

"What's going on?" - The other PCs have to remind their OP who they are, what they are doing, who you are, who everyone else is and what is going on. This all being done, a spell is charged.

> Fated Meeting

"Oh there's Gladys HELLO GLADYS" - If an old person sees another old person and starts a long long long conversation with them about what they have been up to and whatever health problems they have, and if it goes on for a significant segment of time, then that's a chargeup. This has the benefit of being a mutual chargeup for both OPs. A lot of OPs will just wander around charging each other up all day.

> Trowel

"Just need to prune these hedges dear, won't take a moments..." - Fixing shit in the garden can create powerups, with each task accomplished adding to the charge. The situational nature of this makes it good for a possibly-dangerous multi-charge powerup; start gardening, fall asleep, (BRIEF SIT DOWN), then forgetting what they are doing and having to be reminded (RECOLLECT), then finally finishing the task (TROWEL), before complaining about how everything is worse these days (TALES). A powerful, perhaps too-powerful multi-stage chargeup, with the downsides being the time and resources taken and the dangers of an overcharge.


"Time for tea and biscuits.." - It can't just be tea from a thermos outside, it has to be indoors, with everyone sitting down, using the good china, with each teacup filled RIGHT TO THE FUCKING BRIM GOD DAMN IT, and everyone has to keep drinking the tea until they feel a bit sick NO-ONE CAN STOP. The darker version of this power-up involves forcing Tea upon an unwilling victim, with the strength of the charge being related to how unwilling they are.


"This was all fields you know..." - maybe its still fields, but not the SAME fields. These new fields are somehow worse. Time for your OP to go on a long long long digression about how things were different and better back in the past and how things have changed and therefore become somewhat crappy. There’s a charge for you.

> Stairs

"Oh dear are these steeper than they were?" Successfully getting up or down a long flight of stairs can trigger a chargeup. Though it can also cause slips, trips and falls.

> Acquisition

Many OPs obsessively hoard particular types of object, these are always rare, specific, relatively cheap, perhaps even valueless, and ugly. They are always particular to an OP and the category never changes. Could be toby jugs, horse sculptures, silk doyleys, commemorative tea towels, spoons. If your OP finds and acquires one of these for their Hoard, mark a power-up.

> A Brief Sit Down

"My my what a morning, give me a moment dear and I'll take some weight off my legs" - The OP must sit down and pass out for a  randomly determined and perhaps lengthy period of time, on awaking they will not recognise, recall or admit how long they have been asleep.

> Annihilation

Defeating an opponent in games of bowls, card games, table games like backgammon or similar situations causes an instant power up as the OP consumes the shame of their opponent and transmutes it into raw magical energy. This goes both ways; they can also be drained of the same energy. So if you need some OP magic then challenging the boss goblin to a game of chess might give you the power to cast it.

Fuck I forgot Knitting. Have to add that in later.

Andrei Pervukhin


What happens if you do actually overcharge your OP? Its difficult to think of things that make diegetic sense but which also aren't potentially massively traumatic for children playing.

Freaking the Fuck Out - having a complete memory and identity collapse is diegetically appropriate but also pretty disturbing.

Falling Over - OPs don't have many Escapes to begin with, you don't want to risk them losing one of the few on an  overcharge. Will they even be able to get up? 

Asleep for a Day - the least troubling and traumatic option but also takes them out of the game and slows it down for everyone else.

Getting Racist - Yeah probably can't put this one in. COWARDS.

Getting Lost - Like some interdimensional power that just lifts OPs out of place and strands them somewhere else if they overcharge. Probably brings the rest of the group with them. (This actually explains why old people are always getting lost.)

Incapacitation - "ohhhh me lumbago.." Not passed out like the falling asleep option and could be amended by the right medicines or specific sweets or biscuits

Obsession - Maybe they follow a duck or something or just have to look up an old friend.

Grump-Out - They have HAD ENOUGH I TELL YOU and refuse to co-operate with either instruction or request. Again can be ameliorated by time and sufficient biscuits.

Burnt Bridge - "She's only gone and done it again for gods sake!" - The OP grumps out in a more permanent way, this time aimed at a former friend, colleague or adult NPC with whom they will no-longer co-operate or communicate. The reasons behind this may be obscure, and even imaginary but its going to be a nightmare talking them out of it. "Gladys KNOWS I shave my duck-boards and she sang that song ANYWAY!" (what the fuck?)

Situational Deafness - They are not going to hear anything they don't want to hear.

Optical Breakdown - "My eyes aren't what they used to be dear..."

Situational Incoherent Perception - They can 'hear' you, but whatever words are coming out of your mouth don't seem to have much effect on the ones going into their ears. "Well you said EASE the SWAN dear! You can't blame me for greasing the poor thing! Don't give me that I know what I heard!"

Monday 1 February 2021

A Review of 'The Colour Revolution' by Regina Lee Blaszczyk

(I wrote this largely from memory so sorry about the likely-inaccuracies)

I found this to be a wonderful and enjoyable book, a rare, lucid and comprehensive synthesis of a rare subject.

The book begins in the late 19th century and travels up until the 1960s where, we might assume, a new culture is born. It follows the development and mass adoption of the colours you and I would consider primary, the kind our crayons are made of, which show up on our colour wheel and which rarely appear in nature.


Our story is set largely in America, where the culture of democratic industrial capitalism is being born and shaped, and in France, where style is born.

The fact and idea that French style, specifically Parisian style, *is* style is a central fulcrum of the story. America is developing a visual and aesthetic culture very different to that of France but America still wants, in a sense, there to be *a* style, something foreign yet accessible. An "other", yet something which can be reached.

America has industry, huge markets, democracies, and its (relative) lack of unbuilt colour and aesthetic institutions makes it perhaps more of a blank slate. France has what? Information, beautiful information. It’s not the actual stuff which is transmitted so much as the code.

Very broadly, *style* is created in Paris, and US manufacturers know that whatever Paris thinks is good will in approximately three or so months (hope I got that right), be the popular thing in the U.S. This is roughly how long it will take for the factories to dye and cut the cloth that will form those fashions, (longer if you are a leatherworker, meaning those trying to predict popular colours for shoes etc need to be even more ahead of the curve). So discovering, describing and transmitting these colours (and cuts, silhouettes aesthetics etc), is a big deal and a number of different schemes are arranged to do so, the chief of which is the American Colour Card Association under Margaret Roarke but more on that later.

The nature of this umbilical cord of information between America and France is important , firstly, what we would call the "bandwidth"; transmission of colour images doesn't really strongly exist (in a mass sense, I know we had early versions), until the 1950s or so, so we are dealing with telegrams, physical letters and fabric swatches. All of these are going back and forth across the Atlantic through wires and ships.

This means Roarke must first seek out people who have the wealth and status to be wandering around Paris looking at clothes, and the free time to do so. And who are really good with colour and form.. AND who understand what Roarke is doing and who she is trying to communicate with (Paris-to-Factories-to-department stores essentially) but most importantly, who can write telegrams and letters which effectively describe those colours and styles.


Now it’s time for submarines to get involved!

Yes, Ares is one of the many parents of modern colour. This happens across two major strands, the development, and then reverse-engineering of camouflage, and in the intermittent cultural separation between America and France.

The relationship of America to French style is never clear full-on simping. Or more accurately is is like simping because it carries its own counterforce within it. As much as America loves French style it also seems somewhat resentful *that* it loves French style. Well that’s the Other for you.

During WWI, U-boats disrupt the trade in dyed cloth and the transmission (in the form of physical colour cards and swatches) of information between France and the U.S., this lends impulse for a form of 'colour nationalism; a massive boost to Americas capacity to dye and colour clothes. It also creates a psychological shift - since style can't come from France then there *must* be an American style, and a boost to the American Taylorisation of colour, the lack of colour cards and swatches from France aids in the development and adoption of American colour systems.

The Franco-American link is restored, but many of the structural changes remain in place, and accelerate in the 1940s when the Nazis totally cutting off Paris for an extended period. This again means that every part of the world concerned with Paris fashion can and must shape their own style.

At the same time militaries in the U.S. are making a LOT of uniforms for the various different service branches. these all need to be designed to look good and to all be a little bit different. This also adds to the Taylorisation of colour and the military in particular like the idea of systemisation and there being "one best way".

Returning to WWI, the mass adaptation and systemisation of camouflage, from the disruptive patterns of dazzle ships to the blending techniques used on the front lines, essentially inducts and entire generation of young patriotic artists into the military and gives them direct experience of 'hacking' the minds visual recognition systems on a huge scale.

A key individual in this exchange is Ledyard Towle, a camefleur who moves into industry after the war and who is adopted by motor corporations and then other companies specifically to use 'reverse camouflage' to alter the perception of the shapes and forms of products, using synthetic paints now available on a mass scale.

Later similar 'anti-camouflage' techniques are used in the 'colour-taylorisation' of factories, hospitals, military areas and municipal spaces, colour used to signal, divide, to make obvious and clear, to intensify the communication of particular utilities, to improves safety, alter mood and so on.


Paint is the geology of aesthetics. Synthetic chemistry on a mass scale is the deep control of modern human style. Synthetic chemistry leads, and is lead by, human tastes and capabilities in colour.

The 'Vulcan' of modern aesthetics is really the major synthetic paint corporations. This is a corporate history, and  as much as a history of the middle ages would talk about noble houses and lines of descent this speaks of  capital and factories. All of these characters, individuals and conflicting systems are dealing with colour-concepts made real by the forges of colour -Du-Pont, Monsanto Chemical Company, Kalle & Co.

the light of Vulcans forge comes from the Westinghouse Eclectic and Manufacturing Company and General Electric providing new forms and capacities of light itself, shaping the architecture and the concept of what a city is -what a city looks like at night.

The mind of Vulcan is filled with competing architectures of colour, from Munsell, Baily, Wadsworth and many others. Just as our words for colour seem to evolve along with our ability to manipulate specific colours the mass explosion of available pigments in the 20th century demanded a new language of colour; in her office in the ACCA Margeret Roarke receives the first letters describing a designer who has labelled their pet colour 'shocking' pink for the first time.

All of this flows from out ability to manipulate the materials of colour and that is driven by materials science, supercharged by corporate power, and that itself is in a relationship with desire itself, humans want colour, Aphrodite inspiring Vulcan.



This book sparked an odd moment of pattern-recognition for me, a callback to 'Playing at the World', Jon Petersons magisterial epic about the birth and development of Dungeons and Dragons. In particular the strange dual-hand of systemisation, of the Taylorist 'one best way'.

So on the one hand we have Taylor, systemisation, democracy, industrial mass production, 'fairness', openness, universal availability to all, immediate communication *using terms known to all* and which are always the same. Curiously, the universalism of full Taylorism has no room for the 'other', or at least, there is no way for the 'other' to exist within it. Corptatism largely fits in well with Taylorism.

And on the other hand we have the individual, the boutique, rareness, specialness, hierarchies, the particular, the individually inventive, secret or specific languages, 'your own way of looking at things', and to a degree, 'foreignness' and 'otherness', permission for the other or outer to exist and the idea you can communicate with the other or outer, but not absolutely, not in a systematic way. The small creator or cottage industry fits in well with whatever this anti-taylorist viewpoint can be called.

Colour, and fashion, like Dungeons and Dragons, exists across an unresolved polarity between these world-views. Both ideas exist simultaneously, neither ever fully resolving into the other, always in conflict, but also in communication, stealing from, adapting from, 'reading' each other in a creative dialectic which seems to me to capture something at the heart of our culture.

Margaret Roarkes American Colour Card association is not beloved by all. Many small creators, and especially high status boutiques, refuse to use it, they complain that it restricts individuality and individual creativity. It’s also the desire of those seeking high-status that their colours, shapes and aesthetics be something related to, but clearly separate from, whatever is commonly available.

The mere existence of a 'common tongue' of industrial colour, when placed against the simultaneous taylorist and democratic / individualist and hierarchal dialectic of our culture, almost necessitates the creation of 'hidden tongues' - secret or non-publicised languages of colour and form.

This polarity seems to be built into geography itself, repeated and symbolised by the Franco-American connection. The strange relationship between the two, at once in communication yet also on some level denying each others qualities.

It repeats again in the unending flowing conflict between monochromy/tone and hyperchomy/PUNCH. People are drawn towards one or the other and, having exhausted it potentialities and growing tired of its excesses they move to its opposite, from monochrome to hyperchrome, from soft tonalities to vibrant primary oppositions. No one movement of this drama is the same as any other and they all take place over different battleground, the kitchen appliance, the car, bags and bonnets. But the drama never ends.

It repeats again in the dialectic between 'high' and 'low'. In America 'high' culture begins as male, Anglo, wasp, monochromatic and tonal, and 'low' culture is recent-immigrant, polychrome, vibrant, 'loud'. The language of colour used to both display and create different kinds of hierarchies and identities is always shifting but there is always some polarity between them. Though we might say forms of anarchy and uniformity do break out occasionally, the Great Male Renunciation being some kind of reassertion of uniformity and the 1960s being a moment of anarchy.


A last curiosity for me is the role of women as an engine of colour. Compared to other books about the same period, (and especially for histories of corporations and chemistry), there are really a relatively startling number of women in key roles.

Some of this may be down to Regina Blaszczyks selection of interest, but I doubt it. Women seem very early to have taken on the role as the priests of colour. They drive high fashion, they form the core of the reportage of its aesthetic, Margaret Roarke and her A.C.C.A form the kind of high bureaucracy of colour, but other similar groups and idea-organisations often also have very largely female personnel. (This is the first book I have read about an industry where the head of a national regulatory organisation, who is a woman, is pissed off at being excluded from the design management meetings of a major trade fair, all of whom are also women).

Women drive the 'seasons' for colour fashions. The first great colour displays of the department stores are created for women. Women drive kitchen appliance purchase but, interesting for me, in the development of coloured automobiles, when DuPont develops the tech to break away from 'Ford Black', its generally considered by those in the industry that "the wife chooses the colour of the car". So those colours are largely designed for women too.

I think is likely that our current global aesthetic of colour is largely shaped by female tastes, even in those parts where women have no direct role.