Monday 29 March 2021

The Auction of the first Hundred Words

Text prioritisation in encounter, monster and room design. We know it when it's bad,- we are reading a dungeon and we think; "Oh fuck, time to get out the highlighter, time to underline things, or pull a pen out and essentially re-write this deal".

And probably we have had the opposite experience, of reading something and thinking; "Ah yes this feels like it would work, feels like it would be easy and immediate to run."

But how much have we thought consciously about how it *works*? (Probably someone has yes, but *I* haven't, (much).)


For reasons of clarity I want to remove many of the layout methods we used in real situations to help differentiate and prioritise text in books. So, for instance, no talk of titling, bolding, italics, parenthesis, visually transmitted levels of the information hierarchy, no bullet points, coloured inks etc.

There is nothing wrong with these methods, but I hope that by excluding them from discussion we can focus almost entirely on the procession of concepts as written in the text. 

For, an encounter or room, when we consider it from the point of view of people within the imagined world, is a whole thing, apprehended, if not at once, then at least, in a global sense, with later details more filled in as time goes on. But a sentence, paragraph or string of text is entirely linear, and may only proceed one after the other, with the first thing made clear first and the second after that etc.
So when we convert from perception, or even imagined perception into text, and then back again, we are simulating a more global awareness with a more linear one, and then unpacking that text, and transmitting it, into voice and performance.


One way to think about this is that every part or aspect of a scene, a room, an encounter or an adventure element, is in a kind of competition, a sort of bidding war within the paragraph, or the block of text, as to which should have priority and become the dominant element, preceding the others and shaping perception before them, so that they are integrated into an idea shaped by it, rather than the other way round.

But the 'bids' or the arguments each idea puts forth are complex, not just about how important they are 'in abstract', but about the relations they have with each other and with the game as a whole.

To explain this to myself and help make sense of it, I put forth these 'bids' or arguments, as if they came themselves from the different forms and types of information, each making a request or argument that *they*, themselves, should be at the front of the first sentence describing a room or encounter in an adventure.


"I am very extremely obvious on entering this room, I will be noticed immediately by the PC and therefore I should be at the front. It would be perceptually and logically incoherent NOT to include me. I am so big and obvious that not putting me at the front is 'burying the lede' in a way that makes the whole experience silly."

So - "This room is hung with hundreds of brightly coloured flags" or "This room has a BRASS BAND playing in it, and they are WAVING brightly coloured flags"

A counter-argument to this might be about the necessity of prioritising 'hidden' or less obvious information which might be vital to the running of the 'room' or its integration in the larger adventure
So "This room contains an illusion cast by a small goblin, that of a large brass band."

(Though this intuitively seems slightly or very wrong or stupid. I would write it more like; "This room seems to contain a large brass band parping and stamping. (Actually the illusion of a small goblin hiding in the room.)"


The very question of 'obviousness' vs 'hiddenness' differentiates information between that directly for the Players, and the PCs, and that which the DM must know perhaps separate to the players and PCs. 
That leads us to;


"The PCs won't notice me immediately, and might not even interact with me directly, but the fact that I am present has a meaningful effect on the context and procession of other actions. The DM needs to know about me immediately, even if the Players and PCs don't."

A situation in which a hidden element might claim higher priority could be if the room or encounter has a certain overarching trick or concept, not obvious to the PCs but vital to the DM in order to run the encounter. 

In which case it needs to be moved to the front, perhaps with an encompassing over-statement.

The alternate version to this, or the counter-argument is; "yes this room has a trick or deception in it BUT

- it only becomes evident if PCs prod or investigate it

- this prodding or investigation is locked some 'layers deep' in the interaction with the room (i.e. its unlikely to happen immediately as they walk in)

- it doesn't deeply affect the way the DM would run the room as a whole, there is no secret intentionality which must be considered 'up front' as even the preliminary interactions take place"


Does it have a Goblin in it? How about a Goblin assassin waiting to strike? how about a Goblin jamboree?

"I am an active living thing with intentionality and my own perceptions" - this is a strong argument for being moved up in priority, or at least it seems so to me.

Why though?

- Both PCs and Players are strongly coded to think about living things first.

- Its a deeper and maybe more attractive challenge in mental modelling for the DM as well, there is a lot of complex information in thinking about the actions of living beings but it tends to be the kind of info human minds are good at processing and therefore is "pleasurable work"

- Consequentiality, interactions with a living agent will have possibly stronger, more immediate and more long term consequences?

Some Questions - 

- Is it a potential threat maybe even waiting for the PCs?

- Is it something that might notice the PCs and will respond if it does.

- Is it a big active thing (the jamboree) which will be very obviously noticed, but might not notice or react to the PCs even if they just straight-up walk in there.

Obviously the active nature of any element makes it 'more obvious' which brings in a different argument. It might benefit us to consider the following idea which, though rare in practice, does neatly separate 'livingness' from 'obviousness'.

- Is it an invisible being, which will obviously not be noticed by the PCs, but which will may notice and react to them?


"I am a piece of information very different to what the Players, PCs and DM have encountered and described so far, so much is this the case that I should be moved to the front, my novelty should precede all other elements"

How "different to expected" does a situation have to be to move it up the priority list?

Like if its clearings in a forest, and a storm has been raging anyway, then you don't need to know - "hey the storm is still raging here". And if its a 'standard dungeon' with stone walls, 1 foot corridors etc, sconces with flaming torches every so often, then there being another 30ft by 30ft stone room is not a big deal

But if the weather is very different in this one place, or if the rooms shape, substance etc is very different than expected, then that should be a bid.

A key concept here being the difference to the already-running set of assumptions between the players, PCs and DM.

Interesting - every adventure and series of play ends up creating its own structure of assumptions about the environment and situation being simulated or talked about, and these assumptions grow and deepen in depth as play goes on. 

So for the start of an adventure or dungeon, everything is novel to some extent, but as play proceeds, we would expect everything new to make some kind of sense with what went before, if it comes from the same 'adventure'. Even a 'funhouse dungeon' has the built-up logic of 'ok this is a funhouse dungeon, expect everything to be unique, bounded by place, puzzely and a bit gonzo." So if it suddenly started 'making sense', i.e. being contiguous and more like a coherent story or environment, then it would make less sense...


"I am a global phenomena, like light, or weather, or a sticky sweaty cloud, I reach out and I affect a lot of things, and everything I effect shows some result of this, to the extent that both the DM and the Players and the PCs should know about this soon, sooner than anything else"

The range and 'wideness' of the phenomena’s interactions, the more 'global' it is, the more things is touches upon, affects or changes, then the further up the list it goes.

Difficult to separate this from 'obviousness' and 'consequentiality'.

AND - such global phenomena are much more likely to be familiar- non-novel. Things like light, weather, smells, gasses, gravity effects, all seem likely to 'spread' and therefore to be more common in the adventure.

All of these arguments gain in strength from mutual combination but this one perhaps has one of the weakest 'bids' when considered in a singular sense.


"I am where I always am! The DM knows where to find me quickly and if you move me from this position I will be harder to locate, slowing down comprehension and even  disordering all other information, making the whole section harder to understand!"

This is an important argument!

It is the similitude, place and placement of information *within a block of text* that allows the reader to rapidly scan and know ahead of time, what information will be where.

So that, if the *sequence* of information is always the same, even if the information ahead of the vital text is boring, repetitive or irrelevant, as in; "a square stone room, 50ft each side", then so long as this information is *always* at the start then the eye may scan rapidly over it and therefore latch onto the part of the description which is novel, active, consequential or necessary.

It seems to me that this is a much more potent argument when applied  to titling and information hierarchies as a whole rather than *within* the short initial text blocks I'm considering here.
It may matter more where something is on a page than where it is in a paragraph.

A danger is the 'numbing' effect of regularly repeated identical or very similar low-consequence information which the DM must read through to get to the important stuff.

The two negative possibilities that spring to mind are firstly, that the DM might just miss something important because the text has trained them to 'skip over' or scan certain sections, and secondly the more subtle danger that the similitude of 'dead' or repetitive text disconnects the DM from the imagined world, quenches their inspiration and engagement, to put it simply; it bores them. 

And if text is boring the DM it must therefore have a negative effect on the game.

There should be room here, a necessity even, for *some* flexibility regarding the customary and regular arrangement of a piece of work, absolute regularity, at all times, regardless of consequence or circumstance, is stultifying, deadening, and perhaps ultimately, not useful.

In fact its necessary to hold in mind at all times; "Is this actually interesting to read?"

Not everything on an adventure page or spread can be interesting all the time, and if *everything* is interesting, then that might be too much for the DM to handle and have another, different, negative effect.

But, there must be interest, even if it comes at the price of ease of comprehension, because that interest, engagement and enlivening of the imagination is the absolute core of the experience, much more than any simply procession of techniques.

nevertheless, this argument of 'accustomed position' should perhaps form the initial strongest bid, against which the others might perhaps combine their values, overwhelming it if enough of them have a strong enough argument,

And of course, there is a meta-element here, because if there is a common structure to the ordering of text in a piece of work, then that very initial structure is subject to exactly the same bidding war as any specific paragraph

Thursday 25 March 2021

Velvet Hooks: Xaxavraznazak

  • fast and back
  • long body like a seahorse
  • galloping legs
  • it is LATE
  • it has a schedule planned
  • worried, afraid, talking to itself about its thoughts
  • recurseively
  • does not feel inertia (hw?)
  • often goes the wrong way
  • wants to be faster
  • has multiple schemes
  • a horde of enchanted objects related to movement, flying shoes, any-door-key, teleport spell, magic horse
  • does not use them, just ponders them
  • it thinks it is a scientist
  • tends to destroy its subjects, especially those which are alive
  • hates magic, steals spellbooks
  • a materialist
  • turns the spells into equations and those into little men and eats those
  • no ecology, no reason for being, simply IS
  • eats spells baked into little men and only this NOTHING ELSE
  • breathes prismatic fire
  • breaks things into miniature versions of themselves
  • (there are multiples of this thing?????)
  • puts tiny people in huge mazes
  • sometimes the tiny people escape
  • it might know how to reverse the breath
  • it says the breath thing is simply a technique (because magic isn't real)
  • sometimes shamefully uses magic items to steal other magic items (relating to speed, travel especially)


The Xaxavraznaak, a Beast Inconceivable. 

Onieric, thaumaturgic, exotic, Extra-Cosmic (perhaps), interruptive, its method of generation unknown, its method of subsistence known, but inconceivable. Is it a passenger from some other Realm, or a product of this one? does it have a soul? Does it have a name, other than 'Xaxavraznazak'? Is it a creature of natural science, unnatural science, impossible science or inconceivable knowledge?
Like an interruption in reality, madness given form.

Clearly a solid and coherent living thing, and one that can be encountered in a way regular enough that its worthwhile finding out facts about it.

It doesn't seem to be a devil, demon or angel. At least it doesn't go around persistently doing super good or super-evil things, and has no known relationship to any particular god or faith, its not the only Xaxavraznazak ever, (unlike say, the Eno@ian Wyrm, a singular and legendary entity), there are rumours, stories and records of Xaxavraznazaks in distant places and long ago times.

Neither is it entirely a natural creature, like the Zug-Zug, (a Beast Material, yet Rare,) for it can move faster than most things bound to physical laws, feels no inertia, has a strange power of breath. Its only food is magical books, though we do not know how many it needs and when.

It is also self-aware, intelligent and has long-term goals, though its not clear if it is a Named Person. 'Xaxavraznazak' may be a title.

What makes sense of this insane being? We have only theories.

Most suppose that magic is the cause. Perhaps a certain spell that all magicians inevitably try to perform, or the result of circmventing the laws of speed too much and getting bonked by Reality. Another theory; this is what happens when a High Level magician goes totally nuts. Or; this is what crawls out of the corpse of a high-level magician, (or its a spell given form, which is why it needs to eat spells).

is the Xaxavraznazak a self-closing wound in reality? Something left behind when a great mage ascends, dies, or simply exits this world? Or a long-term plot or tool left by powerful mages specifically as a spell-collector and destroyer, something to make sure no other mage ever follows in their path, or at least, that only the subtlest ever do...


There is the possibility of a curse. Perhaps the creatures bite. Or perhaps the killer of the creature takes on its aspect. Perhaps some artefact in the creatures collection is the true source of the curse, or some particular _form of knowledge_, there are rumours of a pattern of knowledge which is itself infections and transformative, and the inference that the Xaxavraznazak is a kind of container for this knowledge, making sure it does not spread, and that this is the source of its neuroses


By collecting these things, it is slowing down the world, and likewise, by collecting spellbooks, it acts as a limiter on magic.

This is one reason magicians hide the fact that they are magicians, and why those with spell books will always lie about the fact that they have them. 

That might be one reason why society, cities, kings and tribes, don't really mind the fact that it is around. Simply by existing the Xaxavraznazak limits the explicit power of magicians, limits the buildup of magical knowledge, forces them underground and likewise it prevents the breaking of boundaries, the crossing of spaces at impossible speeds, the breaking into well-guarded zones, the breaching of borders, the entry into prisons, towers, etc. In some ways this is a limit on human ambition but it also strongly shifts power away from classical spellcasters and towards governments and societies which wield material power. Its strange aversion to using magic itself, or even admitting to its use, also helps. 

So, we imagine the minister or Vizier might think; let this child of chaos, itself limit chaos.


On the OTHER hand, if one WERE to ... incapacitate, perhaps kill the Xaxavraznazak, then all of its collected artefacts would fall to the posessor, and with such tools and wonders the posessor would be perhaps akin to a kind of demi-god, able to travel wherever they wished, as fast as they liked, (surely), so it is a wonder, really, that no-one has managed it so far, (that we know of).

Really, most state groups are more likely to be trying to defend the Xaxavraznazak. Or at least to limit the ablity of others to grab its treasure.

Its fine if they (the government) grab those treasures. But since that can't be absolutely guarunteed, you would have to work through intermediaries and whomever actually gets their hands on the stuff first would actually have it, and by having it, be eaily able to escape with it, then it might be better not to even try.

Honestly, the only people with something against the Xaxavraznazak would be those it steals from, and those trying to steal from it.


  1. the worlds fastest horse
  2. other fast animals - cages full of birds
  3. road-runners, emus, kangeroos
  4. imagined steam engines
  5. da-vinci flying machines
  6. new forms of ship, say an entire tea-clipper
  7. ten mile boots
  8. door to anywhere
  9. key to any door
  10. rideable cloud (trapped in a jar)
  11. moon cannon
  12. ancient von danekin class condor-style solar airplane
  13. flying sandals
  14. mirror of journeys
  15. actual time-sand (time-travel being the ultimate travel accelerator)


- "I was robbed by the Xaxavraznazak - get my book back before it eats it." A simple task from a simple magician, but there is nothing wrong with the classics.

- "I was blasted by its breath and made tiny by the Xaxavraznazak, get me its guts!" - The Raging Mage Swarm. This would actually be a pretty horrific thing to encounter, a person-shaped swarm made up if identical and individually-tiny people. Worse still if they are a magician, what happens if they all try to cast the same spell? Do you get a swarm of smaller spell effects? Impossible to nullify them all.
With some gigantifying magic, this swarm of mini-wizards could become simply a colony of identical wizards..

The whole 'colony-swarm mage' thing is more a potential villain or major setting element that could possibly be resolved by killing the Xaxavraznazak.

- "I am the Grand Vizier, someone is trying to rob or kill the Xaxavraznazak, we want you to stop them, or at least, make sure they don't succeed (without leaving a trace)."

The idea of the PCs playing potentially traitorous hirelings to a super high-level party is a so-far unexplored possibility in D&D I think.

- "I am the High Chancellor, we want you to rob the Xaxavraznazak of this very specific item but you have to switch out the items so that it doesn't know it has been robbed."

(Only stealing one thing hopefully won't trigger the intervention of other states and hiding the theft hopefully won't trigger the Xaxavraznazak.)

- "We are trying to trap the Xaxavraznazak so we need to assemble a library of magical books, or, more likely, create the impression that we have assembled one. Then we need to find a way to trap and contain the creature when it comes.

- "I am a secret master of magicians and we already have a super-secret library of magical books and/or speed-imbuing magical items for study and we are afraid the Xaxavraznazak has found out about them, or is about to. We need someone to defend the collection!


Gotta say I wrote a pretty weird monster. I have no idea where this stands in the system of adventure. The closest thing to it in other games is maybe something like the Jabberocky? A creature of near-dragon power, but very highly conditional, and with a highly specific range of threats and flaws.

It really is more like a Lewis Carrol monster than anything else. I wonder how many of these I made?

I also feel like I didn't do a great job on the Hooks, despite all the verbiage above. Sigh, things were simpler in the Yam Lands. Perhaps you sweet souls can do better.

Sunday 21 March 2021

Possible False Machine Book Titles

"The Usual Caveats About Copyright"

"The creative tension between visions of the future and the now"

"seem to have gone on a tangent again"


"Pretty obvious Placeholder"

"possible tragic mistake"

"not really about anything really"

"Inevitable Backlash"

"I am not a rules guy"

"clearly not even about RPG's"

"And keep your concourse in the deeps of his shadowed world"

"Actual Play"

"a bit heavy for most people"

"Character Generation"


Thursday 18 March 2021

The mystery of the YAM LANDS

The latest in the multi-blog VELVET HOOKS series, where Scrap and I do a deep dive on monsters from our book 'Fire on the Velvet Horizon' and work out hooks to make them workable in adventures.

Today we have the noble

Yam Man

Desert and dry scrub, live singly, waiting buried, listening, symbiotic owls, muttering in the language of the owls, VERY PROTECTIVE. WALKS AT NIGHT, MUTTERING, combative, fatalist, irregular rains, years without a drop, people try to tap the yam. Starlit boxing matches, very formal, big on weight classes, in a hooting ring of owls, yam man slam, absolute hatred of edged weapons, blunt weapons ok, fighting with fists - very good. The hand of the yam.


Like many of these creatures, once everything is known about them, dealing with them becomes largely a matter of attention and resources.

So making them 'more interesting' means creating a context of discovery, highlighting what is not know and then suggesting interesting paths by which to know it. So; we begin with the idea that the PCs know little or nothing of the Yam, and must discover more


1. YAM LANDS on a map, what could it mean?

2. 'Spiky Jack' the wise old boxer with a face full of spines that won't come out. What are his secrets and where did he learn is slow but deceptively powerful boxing style?

3. The lost Aurulent Empire allegedly knew the language of the birds and the writing of its golden books can teach such. The Language of Owls, it is said, was never forgotten in the margins of the empire.

4. These are largely untraveled lands by outsiders. Each pueblo or nomad camp is about a days journey from another. Locals move during the day, but almost never at night. "Explorers" and merchants tend to disappear on the Plains when they move without guides. Locals just shrug. Its sad, they say. 

5. Camels get knocked out in the night.

6. The people of the Plains have a taboo against edged weapons, even edged tools. They will avoid them if at all possible, and hide them beneath ritual veils if not. Even the old girls working with machetes in the fields will look around carefully before swinging and stow them beneath their hanging belt covering after each use. Almost never is anyone killed with a blade.

7. These pueblos and nomads always seem to know a huge amount about what is happening everywhere on the plain, even incredibly distantly. It seems as if news travels across the plain faster than a horse could ride, though it’s not clear how. Your arrival is almost never a surprise and you can hear chatter of events from very distant villages commonly.

8. In foreign lands there are rumours of huge monsters moving by night, muttering like massive owls.
They may not use knives but they are a very pugilistic culture, ready to fist-fight over any argument. Everyone does it, even the cute village girls have broken noses, old people will roustabout with each other. They are obsessive over the idea of a 'fair fight' though. Only fighting someone in your 'class' is legitimate. People who brawl outside their class are shameful. No tricky business either, cheating is for scum.

9. Harming an Owl is also Taboo on the Plains. Don't do it!

General Adventure Stuff

1. Fight the yam, it’s in the way of progress! Maybe a water source is too dangerous to access due to the yam man presence, that’s good for the environment, possibly, but limits human ambitions.

2. A notable person was lost "exploring" or just moving across the plains. Either they have some important info on them or the family just wants the body back fast. (Turns out they were killed by a Yam Man and the corpse is still stuck to their spikes.)

3. Similar - An imperishable magical sword or spear has been lost on the plains and no-one knows where. (Its in a Yam Man still sticking out of their yam skin, a good nesting spot for its owls.)

4. PORTECT the Yam, it plays a part in the local culture and some ill devils are poisoning it!

5. MISSION - Learn the Hand of the Yam, this means a lot of learning their culture, owl-based level grinding (finding mice etc) and getting punched in the tits by a spiked cactus man.

6. The Mouse King has the McGuffin you need but he wants you to protect his desert tribes who are being preyed on by owls, who are in turn, protected by the Yam.

7. We keep sending people to these ancient ruins to gain valuable historical research materials but they keep not coming back. Find out why. The ruins are dangerous, but also a Yam Man Slam is taking place above them every night until a champion is found. In the day the place is ringed with slumbering and angry yams which causes its own problems.

8. Somebody wants to eat one of them yams, they might be evil but they are offering a lot.

9. YAM-MAN MEN need a Plains Witch to commentate on their Yam Man slam, but don't know where to find one, so now they are stumbling into pueblos causing all kinds of shit - will someone just find them a fucking witch! (The witches are incredibly dangerous).

10. A Pueblo was destroyed by raiders but the bodies of the children were never found. The relatives from other villages and those who were away at the time want the kids back, but where are they? (They are dressed as Owls and living with a group of Yam Man Men - they went there to hide when the raiders came and the remaining baddies have not been able to get them out.)

11. An Owl-obsessed bird enthusiast from the City has survived in the desert and learnt some of the language of Owls, to the surprise of the locals who view them with a half-wary respect. But ill-doers are using the ornithologists knowledge to hook into the owl-mail networks to do crimes on the Plains, even feeding in false information, something no-one has done before. The Ornithologist themself is innocent of how they are being used.

Thursday 11 March 2021

The Crypt of the OSR

Gather round, my greybearded fellowship, come closer to the fire. Warm yourself a little, for I have a proposal for you. A quest, if you will. An expedition into the very depths. Don't be afraid, it is only... an adventure..

You like adventures don't you?


Its coming up on the ten-year anniversary of this blog, which was itself quite "late to the party" of the O.S.R. 

The OSR which has itself died and been reborn more times than a Hindu cosmos. The culture has moved on, from the ancient Forge through the age of the Purple City, still living but driven now to madness and a culture of purge upon purge, to the rise of the Red Bazaar, Constant-Con (does anyone remember that?) FLAILSNAILS, the rise and rule the Mad Titan and his banishment to the negative zone, the great migration to the Halls of Discord, Zuckerbergs Labyrinth of Pain and the Screeching Azure Cage.

Much has passed that was once known and much is forgotten that was spoken in ages gone. By the secret of the undying self-necromancy at its heart the OSR has lived many lives, died, and grown again from its own ruins.

Fritz Schwimbeck (thanks to Monster Brains)

In fact, we might say that in digital terms, the OSR is itself a Dungeon. A network of forgotten digital links and lost blog posts burrowed from the ancient forums and the old Forge.

I was there! I was there when arnold posted about a melon tree. But even that was not so long ago, there are much deeper relics, and darker halls...

The original Monsters and Manuals post references StoryGames Rules and RPG.NET!! 

"Let me explain why. I loathed, and continue to loathe, the 3rd edition of D&D and its bastard, scurrilous, spoiled and badly-brought up offspring, edition 3.5. They have no redeeming features for me; everything from the rules to the writing to the art makes me positively cringe to even think about"

Ah yes, classic Noisms.

Who now remembers Joesky the Dungeon Brawler?

Or Straits of Anian? (last seen 2014!)

How about Valley of the Blue Snails!  last seen 2010! We only had three short years!

Jeffs Game Blog goes back to 2004!, but there is  a tripod blog going even further back!


My challenge to you; go forth into the forgotten halls of the OSR. Seek the treasures of the ancient world and drag those glimmering shards into the nacreous light of our dying reality so that we, the mutated survivors of 'The Current Circumstances' may dance about them, flapping our wattled mouthparts, waving our stubbed and sore-pocked limbs as we chant praises to the secret powers of a forgotten ageof wonders we lack now the capacity to even comprehend! 

Yet still we may regard them, and paw them with our fur-matted and crook-boned hands, wishing hungrily for the might and power of that lost eon!

Delve too greedily and too deep! (be careful to mine around the antimatter corpse of the fallen Titan).

(one touch may destroy you)

Tell me! Tell us all!

What are the oldest posts you remember?

What should be known of the first posts of ancient blogs, made when the world was still young? And what things about them might strike the eye strangely to a traveller from current times?

What are the blogs on your blogroll with the most distant updates, yet still you cannot quite let them go?

Perhaps even mark those mouldering walls with a comment to speak of your passage and to tell those time-wreathed spirits, forgotten now even by the gods; "Ay, men, or things that dream themselves men, still live!"

Dare you enter a hobby which is itself a dungeon? A culture which feeds on death so that it may never truly die? The Ghoul Craft? Dare you enter..

 The Crypt of the OSR

Monday 8 March 2021

Velvet Hooks; Zen Beast

 So, this is an omni, and all-destructive monster, like a giant evil cartoon. Only comes at night, kills and destroys randomly, whatever goes into its mouth disappears forever (where?)

But – it’s actually the psychic projection of a Tenebrous Monk inside it, and the creature is trying to provoke the monk to stop it, i.e. to stop meditating, by doing TERRIBLE THINGS.

If the monk stops meditating then the beast evaporates but the monk believes that by facing this temptation and overcoming it, they achieve true enlightenment. So it’s a bit of the buddha underneath the tree plus the ID beast from Forbidden planet plus a bit of Grendel.


This monster has a religious conspiracy backing it up, protecting it and hiding its rampages, or at least hiding the cause of the rampages. 

Which you would think would be quite difficult as who would suspect a group of black-clad fanatics called 'The Tenebrous Monks' of being behind anything shady.

But maybe;
a - they don't call themselves that and
b - they are just *that good* at conspiracy


1. A strange series of seemingly unconnected disasters, killings and disappearances, luckily the local monastery of extremely helpful monks is there to help people recover. EXCEPT, a local malcontent nobody likes has grown suspicious and hired the PCs to find out what is going on..

2. A Knight of the Cognitive Sun dies or gets disappeared on the hunt for ... something. The Order of the Cognitive Sun want to know what happened to him.

3. A PC gets tagged by the Monks as possibly being the next Ascended One. They offer resources, information help and training, but don't say exactly why, only when the PC is in too deep to they start bringing out the really dark stuff

4 The PCs are hired by the Monks to find a sacred text about the 'opposing self' but its guarded by an 'evil cult' - shock twist (eyeroll) the evil cult was actually good and the 'good' monks were actually at least neutral evil.

5. The PCs know about the monks, somehow, but no-one else will believe them. And as they speak about it, the likelihood of them being targeted by the monks, or the Zen Beast itself, grows.

6. The Ascended one becomes friends with, and particularly good allies of the PCs - at the same time that they become targets of the Zen beast. Of course the Ascended one genuinely does like the PCs, its for that reason the Beast attacks, it is the greatest possible provocation. The greatest threat to the PCs is actually the deepening, and genuine, friendship.


A lot of this depends on setting up the monks as 'good guys', or at least hiding their evil in an interesting way. So I should dedicate some time to thinking about that.

> Have the monks help the PCs against the worst evils they encounter.

> Have the monks being attacked by someone or something the PCs already hate.

> Have the monks them be charming and funny in a way unlike most 'good guy' factions (maybe a bit 'absurd' with it - hey it’s always a fun time at the slightly comedic monastery).

> Clearly they don't call themselves the Tenebrous Monks, so what other names and declared theologies might they have?


Great collectors of ideas and news, though staunchly apolitical, they believe reason and learning can uplift mankind, and so do what they can to absorb, replicate and share whatever information possible. Famous for their printing press, their maps and their library as well as their records of explorations and their histories. Exactly the place adventurers would wish to go before an expedition, and they are happy to share any information they have, with the only price being a full report of your own adventure and the chance to copy any (non-magical) books.


Great entertainers, riddlers and playful absurdists, the monks still take time to offer free healing and a bed for the night to those without one. Made up of thinkers and acters who have abandoned ambition, they are a very frugal and simple order who find meaning in absurdity. Though often a little sad, they put on great entertainments and are wonderful jugglers, acrobats etc. Wherever there is sadness and despair, they are present to bring joy and the ridiculous with a sympathetic yet ridiculous performance.


A group known for being very good men, workers in charity and supporters of the poor and the weak, but very dull indeed. Doctrinaire, grey and full of received wisdom and tiresome aphorisms, droning on and on and on. Though they seem to bore everyone they meet, this mild tiresomeness makes them somehow more tolerable and even more liked by the general population. They are such evidently good men, if they were purely good they might be a little hard to take, but as they are so very dull, everyone who experiences them feels more virtuous for putting up with them, then may roll their eyes at each other as if to say "yes I had a monk over droning at me for an hour too".


That isn't their official name but one they somewhat gave themselves. Known for being a kind of retirement house for political operators, kingmakers and powerful uncles and grandfathers who have retired, or been pushed out. Now they hang out in their library/monastery/beer room/apiary etc, basically cosplaying as monks, living the simple life, selling honey and illuminated books, getting mildly sloshed on mead and doing good works every now and again. They are liked the way once-powerful, once-dangerous men are liked when they are no longer powerful and dangerous. Now old and slow, they are genial, and a bit cheeky, a font of sound advice and often sought out for that reason (though they stay out of current politics). They are not really very religious and everyone knows it and winks at it, probably a common joke in the ale houses - after all the whole place is really a kind of retirement home.


A silent order made up entirely of philosophers and intellectuals who have given up on thinking for a living, either alienated from the whole mess or simply grown to indifference. Now they live simple monkish lives, instead of regular prayers they meditate together in groups at regular times. Healing and safety are free to all who may reach their distant monastery. They also maybe operate a free ferry service over a dangerous river and guide people through the sometimes-lethal mountain passes. They have even rescued a few lost people. (They have very competent rescue dogs, and rescue ravens who circle the land and report back. Everyone feels safer when they see a raven overhead. – Probably the Foolish Philosophers out looking for that lost girl.) Everything is cool but they do indicate that they desire you to respect their vow of silence in it spirits as well as in details, so no writing things down or elaborate hand signs please.


A slightly laughable order of those who intended to be, or attempted to be, stylites, but for one reason or another, couldn't hack it. So they became "stylites together" - so basically just monks. They are actually of different faiths - unified by their life stories rather than absolute doctrine - and are known to be very tolerant of all faiths and views, curious and willing to learn and discourse on them. The stylites are known to be peacemakers amongst all men and whenever there is trouble or discord, often they will be sent for, and will always bring calm, of course they are liked because they are holy, but you know, not too holy, not so much they get weird about it.


Another table idea was for a list of possible patsies, as no good conspiracy starts doing crazy shit without one, or more, 'bad guys' prepped to take the fall once the whole thing has shaken out.
But we are out of time so PEACE OUT.

Friday 5 March 2021

Velvet Hooks; Zug-Zug

Aye the content-mines have ruined many a man..


For behold, after consulting with my Art Director, I/we now continue and enhance our long-running additional content series for out book 'Fire on the Velvet Horizon' (see right side bar for copies), in which we add adventure hooks for the monsters, hopefully making them slightly more workable for an actual game.

So now we will attack this alphabet of creatures from both ends. Scrap from the front and I from the rear.

Here are Scraps already done posts;

The Zug-Zug, a creature with the scaled physical capacities of a giant man-sized Honey Badger. Dangerous enough if it were simply an intelligent beast, but the Zug-Zug is not only incredibly hardy and physically dangerous, but very long-lived, and measurably more intelligent than a man, though still with the instincts and priorities of a solitary beast.

Hooks that are pretty much in the text already:

1. Bring Me Its Skin. A depraved (and stupid) ruler demands a Zug-Zug skin, offering an astonishing price. Finding and killing a Zug-Zug will be hard enough but if the tribes local to its area discover your intentions their responses will vary from unhelpful to outright hostile.

2. Bring Me The Beast. A deranged Thaumaturge has built the worlds ultimate prison and wants a live Zug-Zug to test it on. Something never before achieved.

3. Avenge My Balls. A great hero and leader defeated many terrible monsters in the area and was beloved by all the tribes. he seemed set to unify them into a nation until he was semi-castrated by the Zug-Zug in the night. Now, crazed and embittered, yet still wealthy from his adventures, he seeks a fresh source of testosterone and revenge against the Zug-Zug.

4. Find The Child. The only child of a high-status tribal leader has wandered off into the bush and disappeared. The evidence suggests they may have encountered The Zug-Zug. They have been known to "adopt" lone children and defend them relentlessly. The chief wants their kid back.

5. The Zug-Zug War. A wandering shaman has declared a great vision quest against the Zug-Zug! No longer will human communities act as passive cattle for the creature but unify, break it dominion and become great themselves. Some groups favour this loudly, others quietly, and some are against it. Many are split. The cultural shift has lead to internecine strife, group-on-group violence, and more Zug-Zug attacks. If you enter this territory, you better be prepared to take a side in the developing Zug-Zug war. Some thing the Shaman is protected by his magic, others think the Zug-Zug has allowed him to preach to further divide the tribes.


6. Nothing but a Soulless Man. Some wacko wants to turn into a Zug-Zug and believes they can do it if they can only find a way to remove their soul. The religious authorities are dead-set on stopping this person, mainly due to the soul thing, but also because they are quietly worried he may be right. What does the Zug-Zug think? 

7. Caverns of the Zug. The Zug-Zug has disappeared and a hunter claims they have stumbled upon its abandoned lair. Most of their party were killed by simple but cunningly arranged traps of various kinds, or the less-dangerous creatures which have also taken up living there, but they did come back with some strange and rare items. (The Zug-Zug is breeding in another territory but will be back).

8. Invasion of the Zug-Zug. A young new Zug-Zug has broken away to form its own territory. This intersects with the expanding satellite settlements of a growing frontier town. Now its a brawl; human society vs The Zug-Zug. A battle across every level, tactical, strategic and logistical.

9. The Too-Wise Girl. A much-loved local healer has begun having complex thoughts about her communities relationship to the Zug-Zug; "Do we belong to the Zug-Zug?" "Are we its pets, or its food?". The locals, who all like her a lot, desperately want someone to find a way to get her to stop thinking these things.

10. You Are Expected. The PCs are hired to protect a researcher travelling the plains interviewing people about the Zug-Zug. But as they go on it emerges that many of those who chose to speak to the researcher are killed shortly after they leave. Is the Zug-Zug  using you to indicate potential future threats, or is something else going on?

11. A Sacrifice Too Far. The villagers make regular sacrifices to appease the Zug-Zug. Its not clear this is really necessary, other local tribes don't do it, but they are all convinced they have a special relationship with the creature. They now believe they have to sacrifice one of their own or the Zug-Zug will be enraged.

12. Voice in the Night, Words in the Dust. A local tribal poet gains some fame abroad after their verses are transmitted by a traveller from Jukai. But are they real or did the traveller make them up Ossian-style? Investigation reveals there is a Poet, but local rumours say they only transcribe words in the night and signs in the dust from secret encounters with the Zug-Zug. What is the real truth?

Tuesday 2 March 2021

Snake Magee's Rotary Boiler

 From The Life Treasury of American Folklore

(Grammar and spelling as the text, some paragraph breaks added)


"I hear it spread around in some fields that the reason a rotary rig uses four boilers while cable tools only use one is because a rotary got so much more work to do, all of which is a fundamental lie. It taken four boilers for a rotary because none of them is any good, as to which no man in the country is in better shape to testify than I am.

I only work with one rotary boiler in my time. It was not a rotary rig otherwise - just good old cable tools - and I would not have working with it if I knew what it was. The first intimation I got that anything was wrong was with the safety valve. You taken a good cable-tool boiler and hang a six-inch bit on the safety valve, and you got a head a steam that pulls a mile of hole right up on top of the ground and pulls the derrick right down where the hole used to be. But this rotary boiler - I didn't know that was what it was - didn't react properly.

I hang a six-inch bit on the safety, and she goes to jumping up and down, like a walking-beam on soft structure. And I hang a Stillson wrench, a sledge hammer, a short piece of 15-inch pipe on the safety, and the results was alarming. The pressure gauge only showed 380 pounds to the square inch, but them boiler plates begin to wiggle and squirm like mustard plasters on a itchy back, and the whole thing to jiggle like a little boy when the teacher can't see his hand.

We only making about 1,400 feet of hole a day, so my tool-dresser been staying in town until I need him. But I work with tricky boilers before and I need no help. I do not even need to put the fire out. It was a secret of mine, but I will tell it to you in case you should need to fix a boiler when the fire is going.

Take and jump into the slush-pit where the mud is fresh. Then, before the mud getting hard, think of something that throws you into a cold sweat. The cold cause your body to contract, and the first thing you know is there is a wall of perspiration between your body and the mud. This keeps the mud pliable and easy to work in, like a big glove, and the sweat keeps you from scorching, when you step into the firebox.

How do you keep from breathing the flame? Wel, I will tell you another secret. Most people taken breath from the outside and breathe in; when you are working in the fire, you taken a breath from the inside and breathe out. You can do this, when you know how, because the body is 99 per cent water, and water is nothing but H2O. Besides, water purifies itself every 15 feet and all you got to do is keep moving and you always get a fresh supply of air.

I leave the rig to run itself because we are not making more than 1,900 feet of hole a day, and there is really not nah-thing to do. Then, I take a Stillson, a bell-peen hammer, a acetylene torch, and a new set of flues and go out and climb into the firebox. Right away I says to myself, "Magee", I says, "this boiler is uncommonly frail. I would almost suspect it of being a rotary boiler. We have only 436 pounds of steam and the heat indicator only shown 1,197 F., but there is every evidence of inferior materials. Something must be done with expediency."

I see there is no use putting new flues in the old can, because the plates have begun to melt and will not hold a flue, so I think rapidly. If I have had my sky-hoooks there, I would have flipped the boiler over so the pressure is against the bottom instead of the top, but I loan them out that very morning. I finally see the boiler will have to be reversed, so that the outside of the plates, which is cool, will be turned in. This is just like turning a coat wrong side out, and I have done it many times. But just as I am pulling the smokestack down through the fireox this rotary boiler explodes.

When I wake up I think I am in jail, like I have sometimes seen pictures of men of, because there is bars all around me. But then there is nah-thing beneath my feet or over my head and I am sailing through the air at terrific speed, and I remember what happen. "Magee," I says, "these are the grates that are wrapped around you, and you are in the air because the boiler blown up." 

I worry somewhat because I am a law-abiding citizen and do not have a license to fly, but then I begin to see that I am slightly hurt. The mud protecting me some, but I have six broken ribs, a fractured back, concussion of the brain, a ruptured appendix, a busted nose, both arms and legs broken in from three to twelve places, and a slight headache.

"Magee," I says, "you have excellent grounds for a damage suit against the rotary manufacturing company. When you are through there will be no more rotaries and wells will be drilt with cable tools as God originally intended."

I do not think anything very long, of course, because I am travelling faster than light which is 42,000 foot-pounds per second, and before I know it I am back in town 16 miles away and dropping down in front of our boardinghouse.

I holler for my tool-dresser Haywire Haynes, who is still sleeping, to come out.

"Are you hurt, Magee?" he asks.

"Only slightly," I says. "I doubt I will be incapacitated for more than 30 or 40 years. But I am going to sue the rotary manufacturing company for every cent they are worth. When I am through there will not be a rotary left on the face of the earth."

He shaken his head. "You can't do that Magee. You been blown back here so fast you arrived before you got started. You can't sue because you ain't been to work yet this morning."

I thought a moment and seen he was right. "If that's the case," I says, "I might as well make up my mind to get well, right now.""


From the text; Snake and his fourth-dimensional adventure with the rotary boiler illustrates how a mans infatuation with a highly-technical job and its equipment can spawn bizzare stories. Drillers in West Virginia oil fields were commonly called "snakes" because the rock formations there are so hard and complex that, it was said, only a snake could wiggle through. The rotary drill was a replacement for the older cable drill, and each required its own kind of boiler. Men who had worked all their lives with the cable drill were deeply loyal to it and despised the new invention, which explains Magee's belligerant attitude towards a rotary rig and any driller who would use it. An average boiler could take only about 100 pounds of pressure, and a good days work, with both driller and tool-dresser going hard at it, was about 100 feet of drilling.

Originally from 'A Treasury of American Folklore. By Jim Thompson. Edited by B.A. Botkin.