Saturday 24 July 2021

Her Grace of Wyrms

I am moving house soon and the heat is driving me mental so posting will be slow. Here is some more development on the Queen Mab project with Alcopopstar which is still ongoing. 

You Hear
She treads the air upon blue flame which pierce the vault like spears, keening like kettles, roaring like rain or a river piercing rock.
The Silent Shroud - Her Grace can silence her step. She sings a song of interference which reaches out with a rhythmic throb, the only sign of her presence a pulse of pressure, until she drops the shroud and the scream of her blue tongues lashes forth.
You Smell
She passes in a stink of acrid pitch, a biting smell like curls of metal from a smiths work fallen into a hot forge or, (whisper it), the sharp tang of a tanners yard.
You Feel
Her gaze prickles like ant-bites and heats the skin like a boiled bath.
You See
A  perfect blackness, without depth or inner shape. Only the blue tongues of fire and the borders of her form are clear. Her shape is ever-shifting, never still, her edges crackling with angular sharpness like paper endlessly refolded into different forms; an hawk, a kite, an armoured angel. She dances through the air on tongues of blue flame twisting like a weavers hands.

Her Character
Her manner tilts between a cavalry commander and a bitter courtesan.
The teasing false solemnity of woman of great beauty, the arch and prickling vagueness of an artists model, almost flirtatious, then, a shift to the imperious violence of an impetuous knight or a bloodthirsty general. Her Grace moves constantly between a near-coyness, as if she were considering a kiss, to a barely-repressed belligerence, as if she were about to demand a duel.
Beneath all this lies an uncertain bitterness. For all her power and wrath, one might think she were a teenaged girl abandoned by her lover.
Her Desires And Demands
- From the Parliament, Elpizoi & the Pythians, she wants TROOPS, meat for the Crusade
- From Melinoe she wants FOOD and WATER for her Courtiers.
- From the Nome Queen she wants DRAGON BLOOD - for the old fraction engines to be awakened
- From Mab she wants ATTENTION and VALIDATION - "Do I not serve you my creator?"
- From Night she wants TARGETS - "Find me fat realms ripe with unearned wealth!"
Her Powers and Frustrations
A Mistress of Dragons who have slept too long. Gifted with startling powers of annihilation on a battlefield, or the skies of realms undreamed of, yet these do her little good amid the mouldering schemes and dim poverty of these shrunken times.
Much of her Power is born from possibility; if or when the Wyrms are loosed again to harrow another realm _then_ she will decide who goes, and who returns, she will be the arbiter of gifts and the mistress of favours.
Contrarywise; if Her Grace were to set herself to the direct destruction of any Court or Lady, she might do them terrible harm. Yet this would mean terrible destruction as she cut her way through the palace like a knife, followed by chaos, anarchy, broken oaths and the disapproval of Queen Mab.
Yet still, she might, she might do so, and from this might-be, much might be devised.
Unfortunately the nature of Her Grace is too-direct to take best advantage of this trade in possibilities. Schemes, she loathes, and wishes only to once again cut the sky above a trembling realm.
The Harrowings
When the time comes for a great Harrowing of the corrupted, earth bound and unwise, the Beasts of the Parliament, many dancers of the Symphony of Forms, the detritus of Midnights Realm, and all the flotsam of the palace are herded and driven and piped into the Wyrms and the Queen of Air and Darkness opens the way, tearing open a gateway to the sky of a defenceless world, a world to be liberated, its resources commandeered for the revolution and the most oppressive of its rulers and decadent parasite repressive class, brought back for trial and justice.

[In game terms she is loaded with ship-killing and lady-killing weaponry, killing a crowd or a bunch of PCs is not going to be very hard for her, so the essence of dealing with her is going to be that the PCs are very much beneath her immediate notice - she is involved in super-war, constantly trying to organise shit, fending off endless requests for resources and attempts on her loyalty from various powers while also trying to get fuel, supplies, target information and TROOPS, legions for the crusade, from various powers.
She can’t employ her super killy powers in the palace, so she is FRUSTRATED - like a tank commander trapped in a party. Though she is super powerful and courted by all she is not very powerful socially, and in these circumstances, it all comes from a promise and a potentiality of what she might do either good or bad, for others, and since she is not politically adept - this makes her frustrated, so she is easy to manipulate, or fears she is, and so might have an interest in some low level drones she can bully into doing something useful for her - or at least into disrupting the schemes of others
and hopefully hastening the day when the Jacks meet and she can get a target for the next revolutionary crusade.]
[I imagine Her Grace of Wyrms as a pure A.I. starkiller hyperweapon, liberated from its creators by Queen Mab and allowed to destroy them. Intelligence and adaptability increased and given some kind of dimensional folding ability, like the ability to pack herself within a kind of dimension of herself.
Something like an f16 fighter or stealth fighter - matte black, anti radar, impossible to tell her depth, folding new or old parts of herself out of the blackness, like an angular black origami angel balancing on wings of vectored fire. Aer voice roars like that of a god, the boundary of her form is always changing, like paper being endlessly refolded, but usually in the shape of a woman wearing armour, or an ornate gown, or a winged creature or a shifting collapsing pattern of symmetrical jags. She is usually bilaterally symmetrical, crowned, balancing on jets of blue fire.
Light will not reveal her, no matter how much you use. Deep scans will suggest an opening to some impossibly deep space with the occasional wild ping of hard returns as somewhere within a flexing surface or edge returns and EM signal for a moment.

[yes a Courtesan turned murderous revolutionary, with all of the style and elan of a high fashion mistress, to which is added a near-deranges hyper-violence and a commitment to the cause of uplift and transhumanism - probably more than any other High Lady; for them it’s a cause they created but from which they are all slightly alienated by its unexpected consequences, mutual fuckery (and they fact they are all fucking insane and blitzed out of their minds), whereas Her Grace of Wyrms is a direct result of it and is actually a main 'hitter' for the organisation, their version of a military leader, who actively does much of the harm head-on and suffers much of the trauma thereof.]

Monday 19 July 2021

The Shadow Speaks


(I lost track of whatever our format was meant to be and have started just rambling about these guys)


God damn this was a good entry. Old Patrick, how do I get that energy back?

Honestly this reads more like a Neil Gaiman story or an eldritch episode of Cadfael than something you could put in a proper adventurer. Nevertheless- all of this is related to huge buildings, specifically; ancient buildings, which are places we might expect adventurers to spend a lot of time. So there must be something I can do with it.

Agnes Miler-Parker


A umbra-technical of ruins who remembers the old building and tries to re-create it through seduction and shadow powers - assembling lesser spirits in mimicry of old ways, maybe even a relatively safe space for small beings of less power as being part of this mummery brings you under the aegis of that potent but disordered spirit - could easily imagine a fey seduction situation where moony individuals summoned away to the ruins.

To be in love with the shadow of a place is something we would expect from poets, in fact probably a fashion - but what would it be like if the shadow of a place was in love with you? Would it try to trap you there? Maybe it doesn't care if you live or die since time means little to it and it can love your bones just as well.

(Trying to remove bones from an ancient place angers the shadow of the place which then sets its shadowy history against you).

Powers - so begin with shapechanging - a huge raptorial creature, perhaps as big and dangerous as a dragon or a wyvern, but capable of melding in and out of space according to the umbral nature of it, but add to this a kind of power of illusion, an ability to warp the vision - but let’s say also to warp the mind - to bring scenes and elements of the past to life, but only those bound to this place, and not directly from life but from their description in stone - a replication of a record of history, rather than a fresh re-creation. So perhaps the character and nature of the *artist" and the _age_ will show through in these illusions. Do you need an art historian to decipher/fight them?

Franz Schwimbeck


The not-knowing of self could be extended to the elemental and all its creations. Like there is something shadowy about its consciousness as well as its powers, not just a ghost or entity lurking in a place but a power that does not know it is a power - that does not know it *is* at all, with each expression believing that it is what it seems to be and is doing whatever it does for its own imagined reasons, and all of this is influenced by the contents and nature of the building - its record in stone and what the elemental knows about that record.

This perhaps explains why it can be such a seductive lover for some people, it almost has no "self" or no awareness of such, so it is totally focused on, absorbed by, the object of its attention. 

Richard Tennant-Cooper


> Ruin the Relationship!. Hot poetic heiress "in love" with the Elemental - they want to be together so to break up the relationship you need to make them no longer in love with the building.

> Seduce that Shadow!. Someone looking for ruins or has already fond them, says they want to study the ancient carvings, paintings etc. These are long-gone but if they can find a way to summon out the elemental of that place they hope to seduce it - but it is fractured and a bit nuts.

> The Lover Without a Self. Most shadow believes it is light - is there an adventure in that? It runs towards the sun and dies. The idea of a shadow that wants to die - lets say someone either is in love with the shadow or wants it to be more stable and needs to find a way to stop it running towards the sun each morning, so you have to persuade the shadow that it is not light, but it has no name or selfhood and takes on different forms depending on the situation. Ok this was a difficult idea to put in an adventure.

> Skeletons Up To Something. There are ghostly undead knocking around the cathedral at night, walking corpses and liches doing dark rituals, but hat disappear to nothing, but it turns out that its just the elemental, but then it turns out that there are actually evil undead doing conspiracies in the crypts and the elemental was inchoately trying to let people know.

> Rambo vs the Protestants. Have to defend a Cathedral or ancient temple from religious radicals who want to smash up its images for being heretical - PCs are massively outnumbered but if they are clever they can gain the aid of the elemental which inhabits this place and it will aid them with shadowy illusions drawn from its deep memories (but they can't communicate directly, and must do so by inference with its conjured selves).

> Its a cult!. A group charmed to the service of the elemental but they think its something else (and so does it) like a mysterious goth cult or something.

> Child of Stone - or more really child of the memory of stone. born of the union between an elemental and a woman - they have nebulous but highly situational shadow abilities, are massively drawn towards this particular place and strange dream-memories of being a building for 5,000 years. They actually know quite a lot of history though they don't understand it. The Hook? Maybe they are a noble, a future King or Queen and them being a massive wierdo is going to cause problems for the Nation. Can the PCs do something about it?

> There's a ghost of some old dude, we can't banish it, please investigate. [It’s the Elemental who in that form, _thinks_ it is the man, or even the ghost of the man], to get rid of it will you play along or do something else?

> The shadow that fled to the night and returned. The Shadow elemental of a place suffered somehow, or its building was changed, so it fled into the night and changed, becoming something more aggressive, savage, consuming and powerful, now it returns to the bones of the place that was changed and this now-modernised building is draped in the shadows of its ancient past, even silhouettes of things that are no longer there - people being taken in the half-dark, others being seduced and compelled, epidemics of blindness, only the undead in the walled-off crypt actually remember or understand what the threat is.

> Art Crime. The shadows that loved beauty - some building or place where its said to favour the beautiful and make them even more so, like if you are a hotty then if you go there you will be well-favoured, a fashion for high status women to be painted in this place, even though its not really for that - whole deal where you have to break into this cathedral, get this fancy woman and the artist in (maintaining their dignity, you can't just cart her over the wall), and distract the guardians of the building for as long as it takes the artist to paint her face at least - but you have to do all this non lethally, harming no-one, not offending the spirit of the place and also not irritating or annoying the principal, a kind of highly specific art-crime if you will.

> The Invisible Man - they want cycles of things repeated - perhaps one actually has a formal role within the maintenance of a great temple, and the hierarchy even knows they are a shadow elemental, though they do not - there is an office, an expected series of responses and interactions with others during certain hours but the rest of the time they simply 'don't exist' - in fact they become, and are, the shadows of the place and so in a sense know all that the shadows see - the enemy of the PCS is an "invisible man" who isn't even real and doesn't know that - or maybe that's the quest giver and the rest of the clergy know but they themselves don't - the missions are all about preserving the cathedral but "in disguise" so that’s not always obvious.

Friday 16 July 2021

The Bug Under Your Tongue

A brief idea about language in RPGs and how it does or doesn't work differently compared to IRL assumptions.

So we've all had the idea that a game world should, like the real world, contain many languages.

This is difficult to make work neatly in D&D. There are workarounds and an intelligent DM with smart, committed players can accomplish nearly anything, but in general it’s hard to maintain table discipline when one or more PCs don't understand a language being spoke while others do, and while the players and DM understand much more.

Add to that the sheer number of languages in anything like an "accurate" game world. You enter one mountain kingdom or micro-culture and then have an adventure, learn a bit, then enter another, and so on and so on. So the partly ends up depending on magic, hiring translators, using trade languages which are usually only known by narrow classes in those cultures etc etc.

Interesting and fun if you are into that stuff, frustrating and irritating if you are not.

Other ideas are based more around the way a game actually plays and then doing the old RPG trick of taking a game artefact and reading it back into the diegesis of the imagined world 

Idea One - Animal, Ancient, Monster & Magical languages

I don't think I am the first person to come up with this but;

Most of the "normal" people you speak to have the "common tongue", but there are other languages, these either belong to people "far away" (i.e. you need to level up a lot to get there and once you do you are essentially embedded in another culture, OR they belong to animals, monsters and magical stuff.

Idea being that its a lot less essential to be able to speak the languages of these things, i.e. it won't necessarily logjam the game if no-one in the party can do it, but it’s a nice, situationally-useful benefit that a character can have.

Monster Languages may be just like normal tongues - knowing one is like learning French. Depending on the tonality of game you want, speaking to animals, can be a magical or pseudo-magical skill. If you want to expand that to being able to talk to rocks or rivers or whatever, with a Le Guin-style idea that in this world everything has a language of some kind and if you meditate long enough or experience the right things, you can learn it.

The utility of this is easily controlled by having animals and rivers and rocks simply act like those things and continue with their own behaviours and values.

Magical Languages and ancient languages have already been covered well in D&D by many people.

Idea Two - The PCs as Natural Translators

If it’s hard to run a game where people in the world understand each other but the PCs generally don't, perhaps it would be easier to play one where the PCs and the Players, understand everything (or nearly everything) while people in the world do not.

If there were some diegetic in-game reason that the Player Characters could understand the languages of the people around them, even though those populations might not be able to understand each other - how would that play and what kind of game would it create.


The first two kinds of game that sprang to mind were firstly, that the Players would naturally take on a kind of peacemaker/diplomat/travelling problem solver role. Since they understood everyone and understood their problems and how they relate, they would do some JRPG shit and go around fixing problems and settling disputes.

Then I thought that I was being soft-headed and that the PCs would instead use this power over others to become even more effective murder-hoboes. The language thing gives them what any manipulative scumbag desires, the ability to easily leave a social matrix once they have completely fucked it up and to move onto somewhere new, with no way for their old doings to follow them.

Or they could use this power to extract resources from a variety of communities and build some kind of palace-fort at the point where territories intersect.

Well who knows, maybe that was the experiment the Mind-Flayers were running when they gave the PCs language powers.


Reasons the PCs Can Speak Many Tongues

1. The classic RPG opener; you woke up in a laboratory, have no idea who you are or how you got there. The place is wrecked and you escape. No-other subjects got out. (Until much later when you find the super evil/super good prime version of you which did).

2. Got infected by a magic bug which now writhes under your tongues. Bug may have a long-term plan but who knows.

3. Raised by creepy experimenters who did the whole "raise a baby in darkness/a grey void" thing t see if there was a "natural language". Good(?) news! There is and you speak it. Alternative version is a bunch of magicians adopted a range of children and raised them only speaking in the Enochian language or the weird glyph language to see if something useful would happen.

4. Demon did it! As  group you exchanged your memories for language facilities. The Demon decided to have some fun during the summoning and 90% of the people there died. Left a bit of a mess. None of you are quite certain if you are one of the summoners or one of the intended sacrifices who escaped.

5. Magic.. I don't know.. Bird? Wait! You are all actually mynah birds, parrots and corvids polymorphed by either a Wizard or pre-existing spell/curse/prophecy situation you all blundered into. Never human so nothing that took language from them doesn't affect you, plus natural language skills now you are human. Char-Gen is based on bird species.

6. You have a Universal Translator. Maybe it’s a semi sci-fi orb that goes about your heads like a psionic stone, or an actual box you got from the bodies of a Star Trek escape team or an ethereal guardian angel you got after accessing a hidden crypt.

Reasons No-One Else Can (much)

1. Literal Tower-of-Babel incident. All the local towns and forts are built of its stones. Even a major range of hills is made of the wreckage.

2. Magical Disease/Curse. The Plague of Unknowing. It passed a generation ago but those who survived and gained resistance had to develop languages using new pathways in their minds, and all of these are different, so they can't be learnt as conceptually-similar structures like before. People have "tongues" or ways of speaking but no "languages" exist any more.

3. Ethnoterror leading to Orwellian annihilation of shared history leading to crazed enclaves who just don't like "them whatever they are's!" but don't really know why.

4. Ah Ha, it’s the (increasingly complex) DAWN OF MAN, everyone is various different descent lines and you are just the first group to have worked out even the concept of a shared language.

5. Dang old Ballardian dream-apocalypse lead to complete ontological breakdown, everyone going strange and Stanley coming home from tesco "looking awful queer". Reality has since healed and is now stable enough that leaving the house is not like taking ketamine.

6. It’s a Carcosa, or a Tekumel. All these "people" are either the residuum of old lab experiments, created specifically so they can't understand each other, or are aliens from different dimensions or something, so their brains are literally totally screwy compared to one another. But none of them really remember this exactly.

Saturday 10 July 2021

The Maker in the Game

Games Workshop, a company that designs little men, has a curious habit of placing the diegetic in-world designers of those little men, in the world in the world they are designing.

Don't know who did this but good work!
A lot of the imaginary soldier-boys were deliberately created by individuals in the imaginary world, and a lot of those individuals actually have miniatures themselves....
Let us look through a few

Belisarius Cawl and the Primaris Space Marines

10,000 years to make a slightly bigger marine! Well here you go, and they were all designed by one dude, and here is that dude, so now you can role-play them hanging out together on the tabletop...
Godhood - no
Creator on the Tabletop - yes
Creation on the Tabletop - yes
Method - SCIENCE! (upgraded mortals)

Nagash and the Dead Bois.

Vampires - immortality experiment/spiritual weapon gotten (possibly) lightly out o control.
Ghouls - the same weapon now mutated and even more out of control.
AoS ghosts - there used to be ghosts anyway but now they are organised, radicalised and ranked up by Nagash. Ghost ISIS!
Super-Skeleton Ossearch Bonereapers - essentially Nagashes 'Space Marines', Skeletons with more Skeletal power, but very specifically _designed_.
Godhood - Yes
Creator on the Tabletop - yes
Creation on the Tabletop - yes
Method - soul corruption, soul manipulation, soul recycling/upcycling.

Sigmar and Grungi - kitbashing best pals

Sigmar - god of beards and hammers but not dwarves, and Grungi, god of Dwarves until he "went out for cigarettes" - now best pals and hanging out in the heavenly realm making super-bodies for heroic souls.
The new stormcast even have Grungis 'makers mark' on them
Godhood - yes
Creator on the Tabletop - no
Creation on the Tabletop - yes
Method - soul upcycling/magical bodies

Teclis - soul-recycling eugenicist "ethnogroup optimisation specialist"

Teclis and Tyrion, the good (ish) elven gods, got togeher with the more goth elven gods and after somehow tricking Slaanesh into letting zirself be tied up, proceeded to stomach pump him/her of all the elven souls that got consumed in the death of the old world.
Results were mixed. Seems like it took Teclis a few tries to get 'proper' elves and the castoffs escaped into the sea in what was no doubt a heart-warming pixar film. Still, all the current elves are presumably descended from his stomach-pumping operation.
Godhood - yes
Creator on the Tabletop - yes
Creation on the Tabletop - yes
Method - soul recycling/upcycling

Fabius ("Fabulous Bill") Bile

A distaff member of this club. Famous for being an "ethnogroup optimisation specialist", most of his lore involves him trying to make new forms of mankind, though unfortunately none of these have ever been produced +specifically+ as minis.
Godhood - no but by now kind of yes
Creator on the Tabletop - yes
Creation on the Tabletop - not really
Method - SCIENCE! (plus mild [serious] sorcery)

Ahzek Ahriman

Not famous as a big designer, and not a deliberate creator, but after turning his friends to dust he can now hang out with them on the table.
Godhood - no
Creator on the Tabletop - yes
Creation on the Tabletop - yes
Method - magical accident

Genestealer Patriarch

Finally a father figure that sticks around and looks after the gene-line. Infects your gonads and controls your brain.
Godhood - no, but if feels like yes
Creator on the Tabletop - yes
Creation on the Tabletop - yes
Method - GENETICS (plus psychic parasitism)
What, if anything, does any of this mean?
Its curious no? - this repeated relationship of the creator and creation, the shaper and the shaped, inside a paracosm which is itself based around those things shaped
all of these little men have a designer, or more likely a gestalt of designers, but at every point there has been a human mind, or a series of them, deciding the shape and arrangement of every single piece of forM, specifically arranging all the symbols and symbology, thinking about the silhouette, the god angle profile, what they look like arranged as a group, the types of forms and shapes used and how they relate.
And in the world there are designers with personalities with specific histories and backgrounds, who are even aware of each other, and who are engaging in the same, or similar processes. You can imagine Sigmar and Grungi having a sit-down meeting with a whiteboard the same way the GW design team might have had
Replication of a thought process, or a role of creation, within the creation itself. Holographic. Ian McGilchrist would probably relate this to left-hemispheric dominance - the obsession with re-creating a 'model of reality'. It reminds me of homunculus theory - the man inside the man, and the recursive question of the nature of consciousness.
It also reminds me of the multiple D&D dungeons and modules arranged around models of the brain.
What is happening with all these imagined creators? Perhaps the mirroring of a function which is impossible to observe directly, but its imputs and outputs can be observed, so this replication and recursive repetition of the role of the creator - split into a thousand shards (ok maybe 5 to 10 shards max) is a kind of spectrometer reading of the emotional, psychological and cognitive role of creator.
A reading of a gestalt, of "Games Workshop".
So what do they have in common?;
Nothing from Nothing.
None of the creators create from nothing, most adapt something else - most of the 40k charaters start with basic humanity and alter it with science and a little bit of magic, but beneath all of their 'creations' is a prior - standard, forgotten human, a template for creation, to be morphed and altered in a huge range of ways.
The AoS fantasy creators start with souls or the pieces of souls - this is the molten plastic of their dreams.
Grungi and Sigmar pull mortal souls from the moment of death, Nagash corrupts, infects, and combines pieces of soul energy into something new. Teclis stomach pumped his, but everything comes from somewhere else.
A great curiosity of the Warhammer world is that there are, (i think) no *primary creators* - there is not Brahma or God of Abraham who simply says "Lo - let there be souls where there weren't before", instead, all of these changes and alterations are built either on a quotidian life imagined mainly through its inferences in the lore, or from relics of a recovered past.
Sketchy Creators and Hidden Flaws.
Almost all of the creators have a slightly-sketchy to very-corrupt relationship with their creations. The act of creation is almost never a clean on it seems, there are bad feelings involved.
Nagash, Fabius and the Genestealers are clearly meant to be bad, but Teclis is good-ish and essentially dumped an entire race for being "imperfect" and even the elves that passed quality control ended up going mental.
The Stormcast have their flaws, many are a bit odd to begin with and they buy immortality at the price of slowly becoming divine golem with each re-creation.
Space Marines - well read any Aaron Dembski-Bowden book for a deep dive on the strangled feelings in that relationship.
What a strange curiosity in that the accumulated inferences of these connected paracosm'(s) is that the act of creation itself is a violent act, in some ways an almost, (or directly) cruel act, for which both creator and creation must pay some kind of price, and which is never entirely morally pure.
Every creation is a little crime. Every act of selection and shaping carries some kind of moral cost, which every creator hopes will be paid off by the final result.

Monday 5 July 2021

The Worship of Stone and Time - a review of Titus Groan


Holy fucking shit the prose is amazing.


Like sunlight on clouds.

The sheer scale of invention and the beauty of the embroidery of word and concept, it reads like someone had painted full-scale paintings of each scene and moment and then had a poet write their impressions of them. 

"She rose to her feet, 'God shrive my soul, for it'll need it!' she boomed, as the wings fluttered about her and little claws shifted for balance. 'God shrive it when I find the evil thing! For absolution, or no absolution - there'll be satisfaction found.' She gathered some cake crumbs from a nearby crate, and placed them between her lips. At the trotting sound of her tongue a warbler pecked from her mouth, but her eyes had remained half closed, and what could be seen of her iris was as hard and glittering as wet flint.

'Satisfaction', she repeated huskily, with something purr-like in the heavy-sounding syllables. 'In Titus it's all centred. Stone and mountain - the Blood and the observance. Let them touch him. For every hair that's hurt I'll stop a heart. if grace I have when turbulence is over - so be it; and if not - what then?"


Every image and moment is clear, as if it were held before you, but each image and moment is also near-verse in its rhythmic and syllabic construction, and in its music. But almost every image or moment is also a touch sly. It is a book without clichés, at least in prose. YET - and this is the really difficult part, it is also a book without awkward inventions or interventions of humour;

"..He was only just in time, for the circle, like a golden plate, was balancing upon its rim on the point of the northernmost of the main crags of Gormenghast Mountain. The sky above was old-rose, translucent as alabaster, yet sumptuous as flesh. And mature. Mature as soft skin or heavy fruit, for this was no callow experiment in zoneless splendour - this impalpable sundown was consummate and the child of all the globes archaic sundown’s since first the red eye winked."

It reeks of paracosm, of a world and of scenes imagined so totally, in such detail yet with such precision and economy, reading more like multiple great acts of sub-creation than one, as if the castle were already there in Peakes mind, full and complete, the produce of many long years of imagining and detailing, as if it already lived, an internal stage and then he populated it with characters, and then placed them in each individual scene and - seeing that so totally in his mind, he simply looks at it, as one might look at a painting in a gallery.

No actually not as just anyone might look at a painting, but as a painter/poet might, someone who understands both the craft of painting, the arrangements of light and form but also the joint, weight and fixture of words. He works as well with sound and aural timber as with light and lens.

I'm going to go to a random page and pick out the first line that stands out to me;

"Where have you been since then? said Lady Groan, suddenly addressing her sisters-in-law and staring at them one after the other. her dark-red hair was beginning to come loose over her neck, and the bird had scarred with its feet the soft inky-black pile of her velvet dress so that it looked ragged and grey at her shoulder..


Gormenghast has no actual agricultural land around it, and no religion, (apart from the Countess in the quote above where she says God shrive it, though in the end she swears 'Stone and Mountain - by the blood and the observance', which if anything is the true religion of Gormenghast. Blood and stone.)

So far there is not even a road.

So it is a castle in a dream, which synthesises neatly with the social world of the people inside; they, strange introverted apolitical (in terms of the larger world) nobles, their immediate servants and the grey, quantum, serving classes who no doubt are descendants of Mallorys quantum squires. Their social and mental world is entirely within the castle, so its ok for the story and everything it means to be entirely within and about the castle.

But, there is an Outside.

There are poets and historians, a library full of them, until it is burned down. One character, Keda, goes quite some distance outside, and she gets work, so there are at least farms and rivers out there, and there is an immediate outside, the twisted woods, the mountain and the moors.

It feels very like a place visited in a dream or almost like an elfin palace in a story. There is a strange kind of slumbering half-magic, the countess and her near-unearthly abilities with cats and birds, the hugeness of Swelter, the arid slenderness of Flay, a strangeness bordering on dream. 

Leave Gormenghast a travel to the hills as you will find a monastery with William of Baskeville venturing the mysteries of the Aedificium. Go through a door and you enter the Halls in Clarkes Piranesi, the Addams Family are next-door-but-one, Edward Gorey lives down the street, at the turning to Cumbria or the Pennines or Wuthering Heights or Jamacia Inn. You would not have to step far off the path from any of these places to reach Gormenghast.

"Where is Gormenghast!" seems like the kind of imponderable, unsolvable, eternal question which might drive mad one of the residents of Gormenghast.

So what are they doing, this magical, ritual, impossible family? What do the rituals do?

The book itself is in two minds. There is a Kafkaesque horror to Gormeghast, at the core of which is that the rituals do nothing, that all of this, this great accumulation and sustainment, is dedicated to nothing and absolutely nothing, that it is a mad prison for everyone involved. It starts with terrible horror - the wonderful carvings, works of burning majesty, abandoned and ignored, forgotten, but, as the book goes on, it either reveals slender slices of an already-considered meaning. or falls more in love with the feelings of its cast. The ancient blood of the Groans, the continuance of the rituals.

The Countess Gertrude certainly believes in them, and she is strong.

Where did she come from? Who are her kin?

This is in the last lines;

"And then, as he stood quite still, his hands clasped about the handle of the feather duster, the air about him quickened, and there was another change, another presence in the atmosphere. Somewhere, something had been shattered - something heavy as a great globe and brittle like glass; and it had been shattered, for the air swam freely and the tense, aching weight of the emptiness with its insistent drumming had lifted. he had heard nothing but he knew that he was no longer alone 
The Castle was breathing, and far below the Hall of the Bright Carvings all that was Gormenghast revolved."


All the victims are monstrous and all the monsters are victims. Flay, who abandons a young man to starve to death in the initial scenes, but who later battles the monster Swelter and who is possibly redeemed. Steerpike, the hero-monster, Prunesqualler the primping tightening performing nightmare doll who it seems has a heart, the mad Count, the possible-witch or Giant Countess.

Who is there who is not wounded? Who is there who has no capacity for terror, or who has not dome something important utterly utterly wrong.

This I will stand by; there is no normal person in Gormenghast. Keda nearly is, but then becomes a tragic heroine.

What this means I know not, but from such an assemblage of performing marionettes and horror masks one would hardly expect humanity, yet they are the most human people imaginable; all mad distortions of psychology and bone, and all with their sympathies and sorrows, secrets and desires


yes because it has scenes but those scenes aren't scenes from a play, or a drama, (largely), also it has these flowing, idly slow-time manga-panel moments;

"A bird swept down across the water, brushing it with her breast-feathers and leaving a trail of glow-worms across the still lake. A spilth of water fell from the bird as it climbed through the hot air to clear the lakeside trees, and a drop of lake water clung for a moment to the leaf of an ilex. And as it clung its body was titanic. It burgeoned the vast summer. Leaves, lakes and sky reflected. The hanger was stretched across it and the heat swayed in the pendant. Each bough, each leaf - and as the blue quills ran, the motion of minutiae shivered, hanging. Plumply it slid and gathered, and as it lengthened, the distorted reflection of high crumbling acres of masonry beyond them, pocked with nameless windows, and of the ivy that lay upon the face of that southern wing like a black hand, trembled in the long pearl as it began to lose its grip on the edge of the ilex leaf."

It is a moment, but what is it? a scene? a painting? It is not the scene from a film, because the literalness of the effects requoted would make it mediocre, and the narrowing of time, the economy of need that a film has would either squeeze it out or make it a foolish frippery. It is a moment from a poem, but poems rarely have maps and a large cast.

It is a scene from an anime I think.

Gormenghast is already half-unreal, it is running on the surface of story under the real air - it must be half-real, almost stylised.

clearly Gormeghast is a well funded, overproduced and high quality anime series that bankrupts the company because not enough people watch it for the budget.