Monday 27 November 2017

Thoughts on the Post Apocalypse

I was thinking the other day about the worst days in my life. (Don't ask why I got onto that subject.) I tried to come up with a top 5. I quickly decided that by a long stretch, the top of the list was 11th March 2011, the date of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. That was the biggest negative watershed that there's been in my life: relationships almost irreparably damaged; treasured belongings destroyed; loved ones in mortal danger; financial ruin for the extended family. The actual physical experience was easy to get over and I don't remember at any time feeling any great sense of fear, but the aftermath was literally indescribable. The best I can do is to say that it was like living in an Etch-a-sketch picture which God suddenly grabbed in both hands and violently shook into disintegration for no reason. Or living in a kaleidoscope which had been stuck on one pattern for years and years and was then suddenly twisted repeatedly by a capricious child, throwing everything into utter confusion.

But fast forward 6 1/2 years and things have stabilised, as they inevitably do. There is a new normal. Recovery is underway. Homes have been rebuilt. Huge white-elephant "economic stimulus" public spending projects of the kind in which Japan specializes have been completed. Children have been born and others have grown up. Time has healed psychological wounds. Thing will never be the same as they were - the land is permanently scarred, friends and family members have died, the decline in the population levels in coastal towns may never be fully reversed. Yet the post-apocalypse, it turns out, is the green freshness of spring. Sometimes the apocalypse isn't an apocalypse at all; but it takes years to find that out.


One thing I'm always struck by when in the hills of Scotland, Wales or Northern England is that walking through those landscapes is to walk through the aftermath of an environmental catastrophe that in totality if not in scale far eclipses the deforestation of the Amazon. Once, Britain was almost entirely covered in woodland. In 1919 only 5% of the country was forested. The hills have been stripped bare. Entire ecosystems have disappeared, to be replaced by bleak windswept humps picked clear by sheep. What remains has great beauty, but it's almost a dead landscape. Just the merest fragments are left - some songbirds, badgers, foxes, the occasional buzzard. Refugees of a disaster that took place in slow motion over thousands of years. To them, modern Britain is like Gamma World.

It isn't over yet, though. Sheep were the unlikely harbingers of doom in previous centuries. Now it's monocultures and other modern agricultural practices. Turtle doves have declined by 97% since 1967. When I was a kid vast clouds of starlings would swarm in city centres at dusk. Their population has crashed by 89% since 1967. Sometimes a post-apocalypse isn't the end of the matter. Sometimes the apocalypses keep on coming.


Sheep - innocent, stupid, fluffy sheep - are often at the forefront of the apocalypse game, as it turns out. Visitors to the Scottish Highlands and islands are usually staggered by the emptiness of the landscape. It's one of the least-populated areas of Europe. The reasons for this are complicated, but one of the main ones is that during the 18th and 19th centuries landowners decided sheep were more profitable than people, and the latter had to give way as a result. An entire way of life disappeared over the course of a few generations; the island of Tiree had a population of nearly 5000 at one time; now it's a little over 500. Gaelic culture effectively no longer exists, the language is barely spoken, and all that's left is whisky distilleries, the occasional ceilidh, and holiday homes for rich people from Edinburgh or England.

A post-apocalypse may have its benefits for outsiders.

Monday 20 November 2017

The Autumn Wyvern Shoot

Each autumn, for just two weeks, the forests and mountains of Taynedale fall silent. Everybody knows what is coming: as the leaves begin to turn brown the cloud giants who rule the valley release their wyverns for their annual shoot. Nobody sane leaves sight of their bastle house until the leaves are beginning to fall and the hunt is over.

All year, the wyverns are fattened up on goats' meat and adolescent humans - one from each village. They are housed in special adamantine cages in each of the giants' estates, so small that they are unable to fly - this keeps their wing muscles artificially weakened. The combination of obesity and enfeeblement means that, when they are finally released, they can only manage short stuttering flights and must spend most of their time rushing about in the undergrowth until startled by the hunters.

The hunters themselves go out a week after the wyverns are released. Armed with huge composite bows, they stride out into the woods in search of their prey, accompanied by packs of tamed dire wolves who rove through the trees aiming to flush out quarry. The goal is to kill the flapping wyverns with single arrows through the heart or neck, although this takes exceptional shooting; more frequently the reptiles are brought down like pincushions by volleys of arrows and then savaged by the dire wolves when they crash to earth. Their bodies are hauled back to the giants' castles by teams of human servants with teams of oxen, and feasted on throughout the winter; sometimes the spoils are shared out among the local human serfs in special yuletide feasts.

Anybody travelling through Taynedale during the first half of the month of November may encounter wyverns, hunting parties, or both. Replace half of all entries on the random encounter table for those hexes with "wyvern" (75% of replaced entries) and "hunting party" (25% of replaced entries).

Wyvern: HD 7+7, AC 4, #ATT 2 (bite 2d6, stinger 1d6*), Move 60/Fly 120 (E). 
*Stinger is deadly poisonous on a failed save vs death
*Can only fly for 120 yards and must then rest for 6 turns

Hunting Parties consist of 2d6 cloud giants (HD 16+2, AC 4, #ATT 1 (short sword 3d4+11, composite bow 4d6+11), Move 180). Of these, 1 in 4 will be unarmed wolf handlers accompanied by 1d6 dire wolves each (HD 4+4, AC 6, #ATT 1 (bite 1d6+2), Move 180).  

There is a 1 in 3 chance each hunting party is accompanied by 1d3 teams of oxen with 1d4 human handlers. These are unarmed and 0-level.

Hunting parties generally have no interest per se in hunting humans, adventurers or otherwise, but their dire wolves are not so discerning. 

Friday 17 November 2017

Detective Work on Forgotten RPG Fanzines [Part I]

Somebody has, perhaps unlawfully, uploaded scans of the complete back catalogue of legendary 1990s role playing magazine arcane to t'internet. I've been enjoying reminiscing and being struck by how many things I remember in some of the editions; it's funny how vividly memories can come back to you even 20 years after the fact.

One feature that I had forgotten about was a regular update on RPG fanzines: basically, fanzine creators would send their wares into the magazine and the editor would provide details on how to get them. Out of curiosity, this evening when I got home from work I started googling some of them. I quickly found myself descending into a rabbit hole. There is something unbearably nostalgic in reading about these artifacts of an ancient era - the time of geocities, letters, international postal reply coupons, photocopies, staplers, the post. You can't help but feel an overwhelming sense of affection for that distant and optimistic decade, and a huge warm fuzzy glow for all of these dedicated amateurs slaving away over labours of love for (presumably) scant reward.

Here is what I have found regarding the 'zines mentioned in Issue #2:

Sumo's Karaoke Club: Described as a "well-written" 'zine respected for its direct attitude (the publisher "isn't afraid to print what he sees as the truth"). It seems to have been primarily focused on board games. It cost £2.95 per edition. I have managed to track down an index and some further information to this site (; apparently it ceased trading in 1998 but has a still-living descendant, Counter.

For Whom the Die Rolls: A play-by-mail 'zine which ran its own games (including Rail Baron and Railway Rivals) and had articles on how to run PBM games. It is listed as costing 30p plus P&P. Staggeringly, it still apparently existed through to 2014 (2014!!) and had 215 issues in its run. Its website and a back catalogue are all available here:

The Ides of March: Another play-by-mail 'zine specialising in Diplomacy. It is described as being "held together by one cock-eyed staple in the top left corner" and having a "lively" letters column. It cost £1. I have had difficulty finding information on it, although it is listed as number 64's list of Greatest UK Diplomacy Zines of All Time (yes, really); in the same website's 1995 Zine Poll it came in at number 7 (although the publisher is castigated for his "insistence of winding up his subscribers through his own brand of moral Conservatism" - the snail-mail version of shitposting?). 

Vigilante: A free (yes - all you needed to do was send an SAE with international reply coupons to the Irish publisher) RPG 'zine specializing in WoD games. It is described as "pushing hard to achieve professional status" with "surprisingly good layout". I can find out absolutely nothing about it on the internet, and it seems to have disappeared without trace. 

Flagship: This seems like it was a big fish in the PBM pond - it even had separate editions for the UK, USA and Europe and its own Wikipedia entry. "Slick, clean, and extremely useful for anyone who is remotely interested in PBM games". It was £3 and staggeringly (again) it lasted for absolutely ages - 1983-2010. Its website states that it widened its coverage to board games and RPGs in later years.

Life's Rich Pageant: Another PBM specialist - a "grassroots fanzine that simply bubbles with enthusiasm". Information on this one is thin on the ground, although I found mention of it in another Diplomacy zine, Spring Offensive. (Why do I begin to get the impression you could write an entire PhD thesis on the world of Diplomacy 'zines?)

PBM Zine: An "amateurish" looking affair with well-written advice but "annoying" layout. It cost £1.50 and looks like it was very yellow. It has such an un-Google-able title I just couldn't find anything on it online. I expect there must be something on it somewhere.

One Man's Rubbish: Described as being expensive because it is £1 (£1!) for 24 pages, this is another PBM-focused affair which also published reviews of RPGs and card games. It "does not have any content of sufficient interest to make it worth buying regularly" (ooh, the burn). Oddly, there is an entire scan of one volume available online - you can read it here: It is an amazing thing - articles on the Proper Care of Floppy Disks nestling alongside rules for Armchair Cricket and a History of Motorsport. It already had fifty readers by its second issue and what looks like a lively correspondence with its readership; to think that we used to actually communicate with each other with letters and do so voluminously. How the world has changed in 20 years.

Games Games Games or G3: Originally titled Small Furry Creatures Press, this 'zine seemingly had ambitions of getting into retailers and had a good reputation "as an oracle of advice and reviews for gamers". It was £1.95. There is a Wikipedia stub entry for the publisher; I also dug out this page, which says the 'zine went quiet in 2001 after its anniversary issue - which staggeringly (again, again), was #150.

Games Gazette: A "genuinely amateur magazine" stuffed with reviews of all kinds of games. It seems to have been old even in arcane's day (it had recently celebrated its 15th - 15th! - anniversary) and, staggeringly (again, again, again) still exists in the form of this website (which definitely has the same owner, a man called Chris Baylis).

There is way more - way, way fucking more - of this to follow.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Pupa Man Hates Person Man

Person man eats noisy mess chewing spitting swallowing lips throat teeth. Person man stinks oily sweat excretes toxins pores oozing. Person man and person woman mating masturbating sleeping fleshy hairy bodies arms legs squirming writhing grunting. Person man writing scribbling books paper meaningless drivelling nonsense thoughts feelings words words words.

Pupa man hates person man.

Pupa Man: HD 1+1, AC 14, #ATT 2 (1d2/1d2), Move 120, No. Enc. 3d20
*Pupa men attack relentlessly, chanting their hate. For inspiration, roll 1d20 on the following table:
1 - Pupa man hates oily sweat!
2 - Pupa man hates noisy chatter!
3 - Pupa man hates swallowing lips!
4 - Pupa man hates oozing pores!
5 - Pupa man hates fleshy skin!
6 - Pupa man hates hairy bodies!
7 - Pupa man hates squirming legs!
8 - Pupa man hates wriggly fingers!
9 - Pupa man hates floppy arms!
10 - Pupa man hates grunting coughs!
11 - Pupa man hates stupid eyes!
12 - Pupa man hates reedy voice!
13 - Pupa man hates gibbering words!
14 - Pupa man hates veiny hands!
15 - Pupa man hates mammal stink!
16 - Pupa man hates phlegm-snot-spit!
17 - Pupa man hates breeding organs!
18 - Pupa man hates filthy orifices!
19 - Pupa man hates feelings!
20 - Pupa man hates person man!

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Gigaku Demons [Work in Progress]

These evil spirits manifest themselves as pitch black, semi-corporeal figures who move with an unusual dance-like grace and wear face masks which are distinctly corporeal - one might say hypercorporeal - in the vividness of their colours and the way those colours seem to burn themselves into the retina like lights. Through the eye holes stare very human-looking eyes.

If the mask is ever removed the spirit is banished; this can be done by making a successful grappling attack with both hands and then winning a straight STR check against STR 16. The spirit is instantly extinguished from this world, never to return.

If a human being wears one of the masks then they gain the ability to invoke the relevant magical abilities of the spirit owner, but the mask cannot be then removed - doing so results in the wearer's instant death. The wearer's speech, vision and hearing are restricted and he is at a permanent -4 penalty to initiative rolls, DEX checks, reaction dice, and any dice roll requiring clear sight, speech or hearing.

Some of the gigaku demons also carry additional corporeal paraphernalia with magical or non-magical effects. Their use does not have the same drawbacks as wearing the masks.

The gigaku demons are as follows:

Governor of the Way: A male figure wearing a mask with a tall black head dress and long silk sheets flowing down the back like a cape. He can open and close portals at will, and force up to 15 HD of enemies to dance uncontrollably in a procession in any direction for 400 yards, 3 times per day. Victims are allowed saving throws if this would force them off cliffs or into water or other clearly life-threatening scenarios. He also carries a war fan which can be used to send messages over long distances; the user whispers his message and then flips the fan around back-to-front, and this sends the message to the desired target as long as he or she is in eye-shot.

HD 7, AB +8, AC 16, #ATT 2 (War fan 1d4+2, Tetsubo 1d6+2), Move 120 

Lion with Tamers: One of these figures wears a big, bright red lion mask with staring eyes and a grinning snarl. From the back of the mask flows a vivid blue cape which swirls behind the Lion as he dances and capers. His two companions wear brown head masks with ruddy red cheeks and carry poles with hoops on the ends; they attempt to capture the Lion but never succeed. The Lion can bestow curses three times per day, and the Tamers can remove them and all other maledictions, likewise three times per day. The Tamers' weapons protect them from any attack by a wild beast, making them impervious to harm from teeth and claws; they function as lassos. 

If encountered, both Lion and Tamers will plead for aid in defeating the other. Each will immediately betray the PCs as soon as they make a choice, attacking from behind when combat is joined.

Lion: HD 4, AB +5, AC 14, #ATT 2 (Bagh nakh 1d4+1 x 2), Move 120
Tamers: HD 2+2, AB +3, AC 14, #ATT 1 (Lassoo), Move 120

Duke of Wu: A mask portraying a stylized vision of a Chinese nobleman, with a black cap, placid features, and a supercilious beatific smile. The shade-like figure wearing it walks serenely back and forth with folded arms, taking small graceful steps and gazing about itself with an arrogant air. 

The Duke of Wu can cast charm person once a day, hold person three times a day, confusion three times a day, suggestion three times a day, and feeblemind three times a day.

HD 7, AB +3, AC 14, #ATT 1 (Cane, 1d4), Move 120

Wrestler and Strongman: Two figures who are always seen together, guarding the Duke of Wu. Their semi-corporeal forms are big and somehow hulking; the first wears a top-knotted mask with jowls, the second a brutish bald visage. The Duke of Wu may amuse himself by offering gold, magic items and so on to anyone who can beat either of his guards in a grappling bout; beforehand the challenger must also put forward a valuable item as a "stake". The Duke of Wu's stakes are:

1 - A random magic item
2 - A random 'special' treasure
3 - A random gem stone
4 - A random item of jewelry

The Wrestler and Strongman both have STR 18.

HD 5, AB +6, AC 15, #ATT 1 (Sumo rush 1d6+2), Move 120

Old Widower and Old Widower's Child: the former is a bent, warped shade wearing a narrow-faced head mask from which are draped long, frail-looking wisps of grey hair and moustaches. The latter is thin, as though an adolescent; his mask is smooth, red-cheeked, and has a bowl-like shock of shortish black hair. 

These spirits claim their wife/mother was stolen from them by the Duke of Wu, who forced her to suicide when he tired of her. They will say that they seek help in gaining revenge, in return for the granting of a boon which they will bestow on the most powerful of their future helpers. But the "boon" in fact binds the recipient to the Old Widower and his Child in perpetual service; it is a geas which they cast on the recipient as he bows before them, binding him in perpetual servitude and causing him to die if his new master is destroyed. The Old Widower and Child will use their new servant to amass wealth, sending him out into the world to bring them gold and silver. This geas can only be undone by a powerful magician using a remove curse spell.

The Old Widower can also cast Command, Glyph of Warding, Sticks to Snakes, and Insect Plague three times a day.

Old Widower: HD 3, AB +2, AC 12, #ATT 1 (Stick 1d4), Move 90
Old Widower's Child: HD 2, AB +1, AC 12, #ATT 1 (Tanto 1d4) Move 120

Garuda: a lithe humanoid figure wearing a mask depicting the divine bird-man of legend - a sharp yellow hooked beak, like a scimitar, and a vast semi-circular head-dress of colourful foot-long feathers extending all around the top of the skull. In each hand it carries a Karambit of Sharpness. It acts like a predatory bird - rapacious, intelligent, perceptive, implacable.

The Garuda is only interested in hunting, stalking and killing.

HD 7+3, AB +9, AC 16, #ATT 2 (Karambit 1d6+2 x 2 [special]), Move 120

Chinese Maiden: a diminutive, sylph-like form maintaining her elegant movements despite her tiny crushed feet. Her mask's features are thin, expressionless, and cold; a long braid of hair hangs down from the back almost reaching to the ground.

The Chinese Maiden is pursued everywhere by the Drunken Persian King and his Followers (see below); she is almost never seen without them being within earshot. The Drunken Persian King longs for her hand in marriage; she will never give it, but will call on him for aid without compunction.

The Chinese Maiden undertakes to marry anybody who can bring her a blue rose. She can cast ESP, Audible Glamer, Phantasmal Force, Stinking Cloud, Confusion, Fear and Passwall, all once per day.

HD 3+3, AB +1, AC 12, #ATT 0, Move 120

Drunken Persian King with Followers: A corpulent figure with exaggerated movements demonstrating the strange agility intoxication can bring. His mask has a long beard of horse hair and a tall gaudy brass hat. He carries a gourd from which he occasionally takes a swig; it never runs out of its contents and instantly intoxicates anybody drinking from it (-4 to all dice rolls) for 12 hours. The Drunken Persian King is accompanied everywhere by 12 followers, all of whom wear crude masks with incompetently-carved features.

The Drunken Persian King is a suitor of the Chinese Maiden. He and his followers are always loitering near her so that if she looks their way they can demonstrate the King's virtues as a husband. This might involve showing he can knock his followers over, lift them above his head, leap over them, and so on. 

Drunken Persian King: HD 5, AB +6, AC 14, #ATT 1 (Sabre 1d8), Move 120
Followers: HD 2, AB +3, AC 14, #ATT 1 (Halberd 1d8), Move 120

Monk: A small stooped figure carrying a gnarled cane and a begging bowl. His mask is bald, and lined with deep exaggerated wrinkles cut into the wooden "flesh".

The Monk begs for money for sustenance, holding out his bowl. Nobody he asks for money can resist giving him all of the coinage which they have about their person. This they deposit in his apparently bottomless bowl. The money is transported to the Monk's grotto, where he retreats each evening; there is always 2d1000 gold pieces' worth of random coinage in this cave.

If the Monk is attacked or his bowl stolen, it is revealed to be empty.

The Monk's cane can be used to cast Teleport three times per day.

HD 2+1, AB +1, AC 12, ATT 1 (Cane 1d3), Moe 90

Friday 3 November 2017

New Rule: The Coterie

Comments on the last entry raised the possibility of playing a PC sage-with-bodyguard double-act. The sage gets the glory; the bodyguard gets the XP. This keeps sages nicely wimpy (why bother with the frivolities of combat or the hocus pocus party tricks of spellcasting?) while providing an outlet for their XP gains and proper protection for dangerous expeditions. I like the idea.

I wonder if it could be expanded to general play. Every time your character garners enough XP to gain a level you can instead elect to find him a henchman who the XP goes to. Your first level fighter could go up to second level.... or, instead, get a first level thief as a glamorous assistant. The XP left over (because a thief level costs so much less than a fighter one) gets saved towards that nice new first level magic-user you've had your eye on.

The DM might want to restrict the number of henchmen, chiefly at higher levels - big XP rewards could theoretically allow a PC to employ a miniature army of first level thieves. But then again that's not all that different to what happens at name level anyway. There's also a natural break on numbers because XP rewards get diluted the more henchmen there are - if a PC has five henchmen, all getting shares, he garners less XP to spend on his growing throng.