Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Recommend Me Books, Part 347

This has always worked well in the past, and my 'to read' pile has shrunk from being about as tall as the Eiffel Tower to being only about the height of my house, so it's time to get some more books. Please therefore recommend to me some reading material, particularly, but not limited to:

  • Good 'minor' Jack Vance. I have read all his major works, by which I mean all of the series, except for Durdane, which is on my shelf and probably next in line to read. I would like to know which of the standalone novels and short story collections are good. (Bear in mind I've read Emphyrio and also have Nightlamp on the shelf.)
  • Histories of the French Revolution.
  • Biographies of Napoleon and Lenin (preferably in the Robert Caro vein).
  • Books about SF and Fantasy (literary criticism/theory).
  • Histories of Latin America, particularly Brazil, Argentina and Chile. 
  • Military history.
  • Political biographies.

I am also always in the market for good novels in general, of any genre, with a preference for anything written before the year 1990. If you just happen to have read something great lately, put it in the comments.

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

The Joy of Sub-Games; the Guiding Five Hundred Refugees System

Now and again, the opportunity comes up to develop a sub-game within the campaign proper. My favourite example of this was my Riding a Giant Tadpole Over a Waterfall into a Lake Full of Giant Pikes(tm) system that I developed for an old Ryuutama game. This week, due to reasons too complicated to get into, I have to devise a new one, which I am provisionally calling Guiding Five Hundred Refugees Across a Wilderness While Possibly Being Pursued by Giant Swans and Swanmays. 

My normal rules for wilderness travel are more or less what one finds in the Rules Cyclopedia. Each day, roll 1d6 to see if there is an encounter (usually 1-2, depending on the environment), and each night, roll 1d12. But that's for a group of, say, 4-12 people, inclusive of PCs and entourage. When there are five hundred non-combatants involved, the calculation changes: they are going to be moving more slowly than usual; they are going to draw much more attention (especially in open areas); and they are going to occupy a wide area of ground in which an encounter might take place (is the encounter at the van, to the rear, or to one flank or another?). 

So, the tasks break down as follows:

1. Calculate distance coverage. Each individual occupies 1m of space. So if 500 people are walking in line, they occupy 500m. This is a little artificial, but represents the fact that when a large group of people are walking in a wilderness area, they will tend to walk in small clumps of ones, twos or threes, often with some distance between the groups. 500 people will occupy on average 500m of ground.

Then plot the walking column as a sequence of 50-person numbered squares. 500 people will occupy 10 such squares, thus:

Ask the players to position their PCs in one of these squares, 1-10. There is no requirement for PCs to all be in the same square.

2. Calculate chance of encounters. For a group of more than 50 people, the chance of an encounter increases. If the chance of an encounter is normally 1 in 6, it becomes 2 in 6; if the chance is normally 2 in 6, it becomes 4 in 6, and if the chance is normally 3 in 6, it becomes automatic. 

3. Calculate speed. The column moves at the rate of its slowest member. 

4. Roll for encounters each day and night as normal. If an encounter is indicated, roll for encounter distance as normal, but also roll 1dx, where [x] corresponds to the square in the column at which point the encounter takes place. For instance, if the encounter is 20 orcs, and the accompanying roll is an 8, this means 20 orcs appear at square 8 on the column.

5. Check PC reaction speed. If a PC is within the square at which the encounter takes place, roll for surprise as normal. That PC can react to the encounter. A PC can also react if an encounter takes place in a neighbouring square (if travelling in forest, hills, badland, etc.) or up to 5 squares away (if on flat ground in the open) - again, roll for surprise as normal. PCs who are too far away from an encounter to react must be alerted. An alert will spread up and down the column from the square in which the encounter takes place at a rate of 1 square every other round.

6. If a PC is not present to react, roll the reaction dice for both the creature encountered and those travelling in the column. For those travelling in a column, on a 2-3 the refugees flee; on a 4-6 they are panicked (roll again in one round with a -4 penalty); on a 7-9 they freeze in fear (roll again in one round); on a 10-11 they are brave (roll again in one round with a +4 penalty); on a 12 they stand their ground.

Should be useful with modifications for any journey involved large numbers of people. I'll test it out on Friday and, possibly, report back on the results.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

So What Is Behind Gently Smiling Jaws?


A project which has been through so many iterations I've long ago lost count, but which is now whittled down to its bare essence - a mere three volumes of densely packed stuff. The ambition is that these volumes will be contained in a single slipcase out from which it will feel sensually exciting to slide them.

The "elevator pitch": an immortal crocodile, born before the dinosaurs, slumbers in a lost lake. To preserve their own immortality the members of the original human civilization, the Naacals, entered its memory palace. Later, other interlopers came as well. But then the contents of the crocodile's dreams began to seep into the world outside, the real world, until the seeping became an explosion and modernity was swept away. We now find ourselves in a distant eon after the crocodilian apocalypse - with humanity having long ago reconciled itself to survival on a planet, and in a reality, that has been radically and irreversibly altered by its encounter with a reptilian mind.

Volume I - Dusk in the Unremembered City allows one to construct one's own version of the Unremembered City, the home of the Naacals - an island many dozens of miles across, which has been floating for so long that many of its regions have gone back to wilderness and many of its inhabitants have retreated into madness. The city itself gains its name because it is the only region of the world (and possibly now of the universe itself) that does not derive its essence from having been remembered by the crocodile. The PCs are barbarians - "native" human arrivals come to make their fame and fortune in the great city, the original city, the city where civilisation was born. 

Volume II - Noon in the Remembered World allows one to map regions of the post-apocalyptic Earth and populate them with the memories and fantasies of the crocodile and the Seven Who Entered - and the remnant barbarian human polities who have come under their sway. The PCs are members of those barbarian petty statelets, or Young Naacal adventurers and explorers, making their way in a world remade.

Volume III - Dawn in the Crocodilian Apocalypse is an investigative affair in the vein of Unknown Armies or Call of Cthulhu. The crocodilian apocalypse is upon the world of 2022 (or 1982, or 1952, or 1922, or whenever you prefer), but nobody yet knows it. Nobody indeed knows anything, except for a very small set of eccentrics, conspiracy theorists, outcasts and weirdos who have begun to notice that the fabric of reality is fraying, and very strange things indeed are leaking out through the gaps....

I will expand on what is meant by all this in future posts. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Running Modules As Written

About a year ago, Luka Rejec made the case that nobody runs D&D modules "as written", and indeed that it is impossible to do so. What the author envisages will never be perfectly transposed into the text, and every reader will encounter and interpret the text differently. And that's before the plan, so to speak, makes contact with the enemy. Every gaming group is different, and will approach the setup in its own particular way. That there could be a "complete" module a DM could run off the bat is hence a pipe dream.

Prince of Nothing, everybody's favourite Dutch internet edgelord, has recently responded, calling this position untenable and making the case that a module-writer should think of a module as being something like a video game level - a set of obstacles, locations, threats, etc., which the PCs have to overcome. Every group will of course encounter every module in a different way, but a good module will itself play out consistently, in the same way, just as a video game level is the same for each player (even though the actual events play out differently in practice every time). 

Now, on the one hand, I am on record as saying: "I have never run anything I have bought as is, and can never really imagine how anybody would; I can only really imagine somebody buying an adventure or module and pulling out bits here, removing bits there, switching X around with Y and Z with A, or perhaps just going away inspired to do their own vague pastiche of the contents." So I suppose my natural inclinations run in Luka's direction. I don't often buy modules (and when I do, I am generally excessively critical), but I have bought enough to know that running one as written would feel to me a little bit like wearing somebody else's clothes. 

Yet at the same time, I recognise the virtue in attempting to realise PoN's quixotic dream. However people end up using modules, it is probably important that those who design them aspire for them to realise the ideal of being consistently playable, whatever the group or circumstances, "out of the box". The alternative - aspiring to create modules which will not be played, but merely read, plundered or pastiched - is likely to end in sloppiness and a kind of grab-bag mentality, with the author simply putting together a jumble of related ideas or impressions that lack coherence even as reading material. We must hold ourselves to high standards, in other words, because when we cease to do so, we tend to let ourselves go; once we have given ourselves the excuse that "nobody will ever play this anyway", we give ourselves license to create stuff which is, frankly, half-arsed. 

I suppose a simpler way of saying this is that I am "intensely relaxed" about people buying adventure modules purely to be read and never played, but the best modules to read are likely to be ones which the designer has made strenuous efforts to make consistent and robust. This is very likely to be correlated with quality in all other respects. The obverse is also true; if the designer hasn't made such efforts, this is very likely to be correlated with a lack of quality in the round. (I don't accuse Luka of this - I can honestly say I've never read anything he's written, but I do really love his art.)

An even simpler way of stating my position is that, in general, people in 2022 are already a bit too ready to make excuses for themselves for being kind of shit in most aspects of their lives, and anything which encourages that kind of mindset should really be discouraged. I like the idea of at least aspiring to make something perfect, not just jotting down some nice concepts. 

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Stories Are Important

 [I]t often seems to me that of all the good things in the world, the only ones humanity can claim for itself are stories and music; the rest, mercy, beauty, sleep, clean water and hot food...are all the work of the Increate. Thus, stories are small things indeed in the scheme of the universe, but it is hard not to love best what is our own...

-Severian, from Gene Wolfe's The Citadel of the Autarch

We are the only things in the universe, as far as we know, which make up and tell each other stories. We are homo narrans

Does this serve some instrumental purpose that is opaque to us but may one day be figured out? Is it a mere epiphenomenon of our brain development and evolutionary background? Is it a gift with which we have been endowed by God, so that we might do him proper homage as the original creator - and hence storyteller - who began telling the tale of the universe at the dawn of time? Or all (or none) of the above?

In a sense it doesn't matter: suffice to say, when you're telling somebody a story, you are engaging in possibly the most uniquely human activity there is - even more so than music or the visual arts, which the behaviour of other animal species can sometimes approximate. Reading and writing fiction is not frivolous, time-wasting frippery. (Unless Louise Mensch is involved.) It's what makes us us.

I prefer to think of stories as the way we make sense of what it is to be human. For whatever reason, whether through a blessing or a curse, we are engaged in that project from the moment we are born until the moment we die, though none of us chooses it. If we attend to the matter of being human carefully enough, we may get some of the way towards a conclusion - though, as is the case with any conclusion really worth making, we could never state it explicitly. Stories, then, are a means of attending - a method by which we can hold up some aspect of human life to the light, turn it this way and that between forefinger and thumb, and see what we can see within it. We rarely get this opportunity in our real lives, because we are caught up in the business of living them. It is only in moments of quiet repose, when writing, reading (or hearing) a story, that we get the space in which to do it. And the fact that it happens obliquely, through what is in essence a metaphor that whispers its meaning to us without our conscious minds often even hearing, is only what gives it its power. 

(I can think of no better illustration of why "the human brain is like a computer" is an utterly foolish way to think about ourselves than reflecting that, of all the works on politics, political theory and political philosophy I have read, it is Turgenev's Fathers and Sons that stands out head and shoulders above the rest in the understanding I feel it has given me about political belief. A computer would understand politics by reading a textbook on politics. We understand it best through stories - and the madness of our current politics is surely in large part due to the decline of reading of serious novels and biographies.)

If stories are the most uniquely human activity there is, then playing RPGs takes on additional importance. Unlike any other form of storytelling, a D&D campaign is both shared, and unpredictable. One doesn't just attend to what Dickens, Chaucer, Vance or Helprin has gleaned about this business of being human. One attends to what one's friends make of it, around a table, with beer. Done right, this gives it even more potency. It is storytelling squared

A word of warning, though. The minute an author tells himself, "I'm going to explore what it is to be human" rather than just setting out to write an interesting story, or the minute a reader approaches a book thinking "This will give me profound insights", the magic quickly dissipates. The same is true of D&D. Be a philosopher; but amidst all your philosophy, be still a man - and there are orcs out there with stuff that needs taking.

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

LESS THAN 48 HOURS REMAIN

Only 46 hours remain for you to back the first issue of In the Hall of the Third Blue Wizard. Featuring contents as advertised, plus "The Devil in the Land of the Rushes", a weird science fantasy hexmap from yours truly. 

That is all. Fly, my pretties. 

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

How Your Favourite Authors Cheat, Why That's OK, and Why Every DM Should Too

[Warning: this entry contains mild spoilers for A Song of Ice and Fire and The Book of the New Sun.]

When reading an intricately-plotted novel, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling intimidated by the author's great intellect and technical skill. How can this author have planned this all out in advance?

The truth of the matter is, it is almost certainly the case that the story was largely made up as the writer went along. (If memory serves, Bernard Cornwell and Kurt Vonnegut are notable exceptions.) They have followed Humpty Dumpty's advice and begun at the beginning and kept going until they have got to the end, and then stopped. The intricate plotting really just comes from the author using what he has already written as seeds for future plot developments ("I know, wouldn't it be interesting if the lady in the red hat from way back in Chapter Two turned out to be the sister of the dwarf who I've just written into Chapter Nine?"), and then going back and ret-conning things later to keep things tidy. It's a product of being constantly attentive to what one has written and how it might tie into what one is writing, or imagining, now - coming up with interesting premises, situations and characters and then making connections between them as one goes.

Think, for example, of Dr Talos and Baldanders in The Book of the New Sun. I don't care how much has been read into that book, or Gene Wolfe's writing process, but you will have a hell of a job convincing me that those two didn't just appear as interesting figments of the imagination to begin with ("Wouldn't it be cool if Severian ended up in cahoots with a fox-like playwright and his giant companion?"), who Wolfe later on decided to bestow with much greater significance during the course of the writing of what became The Sword of the Lictor. He didn't plot out the entirety of their role before sitting down to begin the first sentence of The Shadow of the Torturer. He wove it into the telling of the story as it unfolded in the course of the writing. Once it was clear who Baldanders really was, and he had completed his first run-through of what would become the final version of the book, Wolfe then presumably went back and made all the necessary amendments in the rewrite so you couldn't see the "join". 

Think also of Tyrion killing Tywin Lannister towards the end of A Storm of Swords. Did George RR Martin have it in mind that would happen at the start of writing A Game of Thrones? Almost certainly not. The idea that Tyrion might end up killing Tywin may have crept up on him gradually over the course of writing the first drafts of the books, or occurred to him in a flash of insight, but it would have been something that emerged from the story - and how the relationship between those two characters, and the characters themselves, had developed in Martin's mind - during the initial writing process.

What seems like very clever plotting, in other words, is clever, but it is really better described as clever rereading and rewriting. As readers, it is very easy to forget we are not reading the story as the writer wrote it. We are reading the final product of a long process of rewriting and editing: the final version that is presented to the world, not the first draft that was 100,000 words too long and will forever remain locked in the author's attic.

It helps to bear this in mind as a DM. The idea that one could plot out "an adventure" in advance (except for a very simple and boring railroad), or could fill in all the details of a campaign setting before play commences, is a pie-in-the-sky. As with writing a novel, DMing is really an iterative process - it's just that while an author merely riffs on his own ideas, a DM can also riff on those of the players. Events transpire not because they were carefully detailed back before the start of the campaign itself. They transpire because the interesting locations and NPCs the DM has come up with, and the PCs' interactions with them, bring about connections in his mind. It's not that Steffi the Orc was intended to be the PCs' arch enemy all along. It's that Steffi the Orc was captured by the PCs after the rest of her companions were killed in a random encounter, and she was then released, and the DM thought, "Wouldn't it be interesting if she decided to get her revenge? And wouldn't it be nice if she teamed up with Cedric, the hireling the PCs kicked out of their party for stealing, after finding him wandering in the wilderness? And wouldn't it be good if the two of them decided to burgle the PCs' treasure stash while they were away...?"

The exercise comes, in other words, not from pre-plotting, but plotting as a continuous process or flow.

[I am running a Kickstarter throughout April. You can read more about it, and back it, here.]

[I also did a nice interview with the ever-interesting Solomon VK of Worldbuilding & Woolgathering here. You will find it relevant to your interests.]

Friday, 22 April 2022

Books that I like in theory but dislike in practice

The title of this entry is probably self-explanatory, but in case it isn't: there are some books that are recommended to you again and again over the course of your life, or which you see described in glowing terms on repeated occasions, and which you feel very strongly that you ought to like...but really do not care for. 

Here is a non-exhaustive list of mine:

  • Little, Big by John Crowley is really the paradigm case. A series of worlds, each contained within one another like Russian dolls, at the heart of which is a faerie realm, and the plot revolves around a house that has been built so as to contain a portal into that realm? I want to read that book very much. Just not the version of it that John Crowley ended up writing. The experience of hearing about Little, Big is one of intrigue and wonder. The actual experience of reading Little, Big is like that of having been dropped into a tin of treacle and being aware that the only way to stop oneself from drowning is to stop struggling and give up, then await rescue. 
  • Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. I have made several running jumps at beginning this series, but the fact of the matter is that I just do not like Stephenson's prose - which somehow manages to be  both smarmy and bland - in any of its iterations. I'm willing to believe that it is all marvellously complex, interesting, insightful and immersive - for some people. I'm afraid I'm not one of them.
  • Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon. Some books are difficult - indeed, some are nigh on impenetrable - but you feel it is worth the struggle: The Critique of Pure Reason, Thoughts on Machiavelli, the Oresteia, The Mabinogion, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa... many others spring to mind. Books that you may not fully understand, or feel as though you do not, but which nonetheless seem enriching - as though the act of trying to understand them has made you more intelligent. Mason & Dixon belongs in the opposite category: books which are both difficult and substantively slight, so that at a certain point you feel as though to read on would be to somehow damage your soul - like being forced to do a job which is both boring and actively bad for you all at once.
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey. Whenever anybody tells me I should read this, which has happened to me more than a handful of times, I smile politely and say something like, "Sounds interesting" - but deep down inside I am crossing them off my Christmas card list forever, and quite possibly plotting their murder. This is a bad, bad book, though once again the thumbnail description - it's credible semi-hard SF in which humans have only just about colonised the solar system - attracts me. 
  • Steven Erikson's Malazan stuff. I am persuaded Erikson can write. I am also persuaded his books are probably the best modern epic fantasy has to offer. And the premise - turning epic fantasy to 11 (no, to fucking 12) with a plot of Byzantine complexity spanning millennia - is one I can thoroughly support. I dipped into House of Chains and really enjoyed it for the first two-thirds or so before it began to get samey and hard to follow. But I have tried to start Gardens of the Moon several times and found it so terribly po-faced that it is beyond cringe - like I would rather crawl into the nearest bin than have to go on reading it. 
  • Anything of the Iain M. Banks SF books. I've tried. God knows, I've tried. Is it just that I find the whole idea of the Culture to be stultifyingly dull, or is it just the mundanity of Banks' writing? Then again, why discriminate? It can be, and probably is, both.

What's on yours? 

[I am running a Kickstarter throughout April. You can read more about it, and back it, here.]

Thursday, 21 April 2022

Demonic Incursions and Other Shenanigans in the Relationship Hexmap

Years ago (11 years ago - just let that sink in) I wrote an entry about using a hexmap to plot out interpersonal relationships. I deployed this system informally for a Cyberpunk 2020 game I ran for some time, but otherwise never did anything with it.

The basic idea behind the relationship hexmap was coming up with a visual way to keep track of the social dynamics between NPCs. I'm not sure it is actually a great way of doing that, but it is worth fiddling around with. Have a look at this example (and excuse crappy visuals and silly names):


So: blue blobs are physical locations which connect NPCs. Green blobs are NPCs. If I had PCs in there, they would be purple or some other colour, but PCs complicate matters a bit too much. 

The Blue Room is a bar; Frasier, Eric the Red, Miss Moss and Temujin are regulars at it. They are connected to each other through the bar. 

The Art School is an art school; the Cathedral is a cathedral. Same idea.

The circle of people around the Art School (students and teachers) is connected to the circle around the Cathedral (church officials, parishioners, etc.) because Swedish Amanda is a sometime lover of Vivaldi. And it is also connected to the Blue Room because Billy Bob and Caligula have hated each other since they were childhood "friends", and Caligula happens to be married to Miss Moss, who goes to the Blue Room a lot.

Bill and Wendy are a married couple who are otherwise not connected to the other NPCs in the chart.

In the bottom right are Jeremy's gang - a bunch of hoodlums with their eponymous leader. 

Now, the most obvious way of using something like this (I emphasise that I'm aware this is all rather half-baked) seems to me to be to track relationships in an investigative kind of game, whether a police procedural, a Call of Cthulhu style paranomal investigation affair, or whatever. The PCs encounter Vivaldi and ask him questions and pretty soon they're led to Diana Ross and hence the Cathedral, and also perhaps to Swedish Amanda and thereby the Art School and that circle. As it becomes necessary the hexmap expands in size and more and more people are added.

Another use for it, however, might be to function as a visual aid or reference for running a "demonic incursion" type campaign in a location not amenable to geographic representation.

Imagine for the sake of illustration the campaign is about a cell of madmen, eccentrics and weirdos who have discovered that sinister alien presences are manifesting themselves in their local city. One could deploy a method similar to that I advocated here and in the follow-up here, but transposed to an abstract non-physical "map" like the relationship hexmap above. So, what you would do is list the locations and NPCs present on the map in a table, like so:

Dice

Hex

1

0203 Temujin

2

0302 Frasier

3

0303 The Blue Room

4

0307 Vivaldi

5

0308 The Cathedral

6

0309 Bishopy McBishopface

7

0402 Eric the Red

8

0403 Miss Moss

9

0404 Caligula

10

0406 Swedish Amanda

11

0407 Diana Ross

12

0408 Woolly Mammoth

13

0505 Billy Bob

14

0506 The Old Monkey

15

0510 Aragorn

16

0601 Bill

17

0604 Karl

18

0605 Art School

19

0606 Bartholomew

20

0608 The Whisperer

21

0609 Jeremy

22

0701 Wendy

23

0705 The Silver Fox

24

0706 Dorcas

25

0709 Cthulhu

26

0710 The Artful Dodger

Now, instead of generating a "demonic incursion" and locating it on a physical hexmap, you instead associate the "alien presence" you'll be generating on your cool random table with a location or person. So, let's imagine your "alien presence" generator looks something like this:

D6

Base type

Number

Ability Orientation

Motive

Special

1

“Gray”

Single

Combat

Kidnap

Rivalry with other presences

2

Insectoid

Psionic

Raid

Limited time

3

Blob

Pair or small group

Mutation

Breeding

Wounded or sickening

4

Monstrous

Possession

Personality stealing

Driven insane by Earth conditions

5

Robotic

Large group

Manipulation

Study

Non-corporeal

6

Shapeshifter

Confusion

Settlement

Must eat continually to survive


And you roll for your "alien presence" a blobby thing in a pair or small group, oriented towards confusion, with the motive of settlement, and having been driven insane by Earth conditions. And then let's imagine that you roll a 26 for its association, and thus come up with the Artful Dodger. This now gives you the hook: the member of Jeremy's Gang in question sighted these strange presences (maybe the cellar of a house he was burgling) and they deployed their confusion-causing powers to make him blind and scramble his power of speech. He has turned up at Jeremy's hideout and the other members of the gang can't figure out what's wrong with him. Knowing the PCs, they get in touch and ask them to investigate. 

And so on.

C+ so far - must try harder. But I think the effort could be worth it.

[I am running a Kickstarter throughout April. You can read more about it, and back it, here.]

The Incursion Generator Expanded

The other day, I posted a random demonic incursion generator and an example of its usage in a traditional D&D hexcrawl campaign.

Somebody made the excellent point in the comments that you could reskin this method for a more 'fey' setting (perhaps even a New Troy or Summerland), with the demons replaced by faeries, witches, and other fantastical entities, and the Abyss replaced by Faerie/Muspel/'The Woods'/etc. It got me thinking that I may inadvertently have hit upon a method that could have almost universal application for campaigns in which the PCs are the 'good guys' and you want to ensure that player agency remains the driving principle in the context of sandbox style play. All you would need to do would be to come up with a better set of tables than the simplistic ones I put in the entry, and then tweak them for different genres. Hence, for example:

  • A Raveloft-esque horror campaign in which zombies/warlocks/ghosts/etc emerge from Hell, Hades (insert afterlife of choice) to bother the living; the PCs are priests, paladins, and the like
  • An X-Files affair in which the PCs are paranormal investigators of some kind in a particular region of the world; the intruders are aliens abducting farmers, annoying cows, and so on
  • Lovecraft: A band of scholars has discovered the awful truth about the universe; horrible entities from beyond the stars or under the sea keep appearing in the area, and only this group of academics, philosophers and cranks has any idea what they are or how to stop them
  • The things in the looking-glass world have found a way to slip into our own, and the PCs are a secret cabal trying to put them back....

And so on. 

This method is also readily transposed between time periods and locations. The four examples I posted above could all take place in more or less any setting; the scholars investigating Lovecraftian interlopers could just as well be Ancient Greeks as 1920s academics; the 'paranormal investigators' fighting off secretive alien intruders could just as well be low-ranking officials in the Inca Empire as Mulder and Scully. 

My own personal interest at the moment is using this method for a longstanding ambition to do Shadowrun properly: it's Cyberpunk 2020, but reality is fraying and the supernatural is intruding into the natural in all manner of terrifying ways... 

The crucial next step is to expand the generator's geographical scope to include not just hexmaps, but also cities and other locations which are not so readily mapped in that way. More on this tomorrow.