Thursday 15 November 2018

Hiatus; Or, Becoming Jaded; Or, Toys, Pram, Thrown

I am taking a hiatus from the blog and all online discussion of RPGs. There are a couple of reasons.

First, I think I am becoming jaded. When I look around, what I mostly see are people with products to sell, most of which I think are over-priced, focused on style over substance, and not particularly interesting. I can't tell if this is accurate or because I am losing my enthusiasm. Probably it is a bit of both. Either way, it's a good reason to take a step away from things for a while.

Second, I am basically sick to death of the culture war bullshit surrounding the scene lately - which has raised its brainless boring head once again. As somebody broadly in the political centre I look to one side and see nothing but sanctimonious, judgmental pricks and on the other side nothing but childish mud-flinging philistines, and it increasingly feels like being stuck in the middle of a primary school playground. There is nothing for a sane person to do but say "A pox on both your houses!" and disengage. You're all wankers: you know who you are.

Third, my proper career is moving to the next level and I have family commitments which result in less and less time for thinking about RPGs. I am still keen on creating. I have less juice for it. I need to take a break to see if it is rejuvenating.

Don't view this as a melodramatic move or a cry for help. I think a big part of the reason why I am losing patience with this whole thing is because things are going well elsewhere and I can see less and less value in being part of the silliness of what the OSR thing has become. Let me put it bluntly: I can't give a flying fuck whether Writer X wants to work with Publisher Y because of Reason Z or not. I have better things to do. Get over yourselves. You're not important.

I will resume posting if and when I feel like I miss it. I hope most people reading this entry will not feel too alienated by it; sorry.

Tuesday 13 November 2018

The Night Hagdoms of the Calf Plateau

On the bare galeswept hump of the plateau, nothing can grow except for the most rudimentary life: lichens fed by starlight which achingly spread across the rock, inch by inch, century by century; fungal growths which grope their way over the surface, laying completely flat as though ducked down against the wind. But the surface is riven with deep ravine-like networks of cracks and chasms, gouged into the landscape by earthquakes and tremors, and those places are thick with life, scrabbling around in the utter blackness of permanent night where not even moon- or starlight penetrates. The reason is simple: guano. The bats which lair on the Calf in their millions are constantly producing nutritious effluent which flows in streams - sometimes rivers - of rain that gradually collect in these networks of cracks and flow downhill to the sea. All this waste produces enough food for entire ecosystems to be sustained.

Much of this life is the most base and unthinking kind: giant lice sucking on effluent and the giant centipedes and axlotls which feed on them; myriad types of nameless clawed arthropod things whose origins could only be guessed at if even they were known to the outside world. But there are societies there too: in those pitch black chasms, radiating across the plateau like old tangled cobwebs, are night hag triarchies, each ruled by a coven of three sisters, living off food their minions catch or grow for them, and permanently jostling for prominence against their rivals. There is no use speculating where these night hags came from: probably they are instantiations of the night itself, as though its sheer permanence in the seas of Nox Aestiva had to give effect to personifications such as them. Their slaves are the descendants of the rare travelers who have visited the Calf over the eons and become trapped; most of them ruined by inbreeding but adapted to life in the endless night with almost supernaturally elevated senses of smell, touch or hearing - and without the unnecessary encumbrance of eyes. These slaves in many cases now number in the thousands after generations of breeding across the eons, and have built entire towns by burrowing caves into the walls of their ravine homes. They war, trade, spy and conspire with and against one another with an intensity that is precisely converse to its import: the rest of the Fixed World has no idea they even exist, save for the aboleths who lair in the reefs off the coast and the tiny number of sailors who visit the island. 

To generate a night hag triarachy, roll on the following table. Descriptions of Assets and Issues are found below.

Minion type
Assets (d3)
Jermalaines – originally stowaways on a wrecked ship blown off course
Humans – originally pirates or traders on a wrecked ship blown off course
Magical lichen
Toxic gases
Derro – who originally burrowed up from some ancient now-collapsed labyrinth leading to the underdark
Mineral seam
Halflings – originally seal hunters from Mane Hiemalis carried on the back of an iceberg
Aboleth alliance
Slave uprising
Githyanki – originally pirates carried on the back of a zaratan which died nearby
Ochre jelly spawning site
Rival agents
Grippli, tasloi or lizardmen  – who were trapped on a giant tree which was blown into the sea in Meridiem Aestivus and carried to the Calf across the ocean
“Pet” galeb duhr
Monbat predators
Urds – who were flying in Mane Hiemalis and blown off course by a storm, to land on the Calf for respite
Magma pool
Tenebrous worm nest
Pech – who accidentally came through a temporary portal from the Plane of Earth and were stranded when it closed
Umber hulk breeding pit
Phase spider attacks
*Minions have their ordinary abilities. Unless they have innate infravision, they are now blind and rely on their other senses, and have accordingly outsized noses, ears and hands. This allows them to "see" in the dark, albeit at -2 to rolls requiring quick reactions (including "to hit" rolls).

When generating a triarchy, place the following adventure sites and generate further details using the relevant sub-tables:

1 - Night hunter lair
2 - Abandoned settlement
3 - Powerful exile/hermit
4 - Genie pilgrimage site
5 - Mephits
6 - Lava tube network

[Something incomplete I am working on.]

Saturday 10 November 2018

The Modern D&D Venn Diagram

D&D really is a thing again. A colleague of mine - a woman, 26, good-looking, reasonably "cool" or whatever word the kids are using these days - announced over lunch today to a group of us that she had recently switched from playing Settlers of Cataan with her boyfriend and mates to D&D. And she was loving it.

Never has a generational divide been more in evident. Everybody else around the table - 35+, professional, sensible, successful - cringed (except for me: I did my level best to be nonchalant). To them, D&D screams NERD if it screams anything at all. To somebody who is 26, D&D somehow manages to scream NERD, BUT THAT'S OK BECAUSE IT'S COOL TO BE A NERD NOW, SO HURRY UP AND ROLL UP A CHARACTER AND LET'S GET SOME CRAFT IPA AND E-CIGARETTES AND WAX OUR MOUSTACHES.

What interests me is not that D&D is reviving in popularity - it undoubtedly is (even the BBC is onto it). It's that it is popular in a totally different way to how it was in the past. I was not old enough to be playing D&D during the boom years of the late 70s and early 80s. But I am pretty sure even at the height of its popularity in those days that it was not being played by professional 26 year old women with robust social lives. Things have changed. The opening paragraph of the BBC article in the above link puts it down in part to "nostalgia". I don't buy it. My colleague ain't nostalgic - she probably wouldn't have had a clue what D&D even was 3 or 4 years ago. She's enjoying the game for what it is.

The real "meat" of the story is the fact that people are meeting up to play D&D at BrewDog pubs now. For those outside the UK, BrewDog was one of the first hipster craft beer companies to really get successful about 10 years ago: it has always billed itself as a "punk" brewer and branded itself as being a kind of market rebel (it probably tells you all you need to know that one of its lines is called Tactical Nuclear Penguin (insert eye-roll smiley here) and is 32% ABV). In the year 2007, it would have been about as far away from D&D as you can get. But in 2018, BrewDog is so D&D. It is almost painfully D&D. It is craft beer, it is guys riding around on old bicycles, it is ironic tattoos, it is veganism, it is gluten-free brownies, it is vintage plaid/checked shirts, it is taxidermy, it is urban beekeeping, it is bookbinding, it is shops and bars built inside cargo containers, it is Urban fucking Outfitters. Whether due to some work of marketing genius on the part of WotC, or (more likely) due to sheer accident, D&D has nestled in alongside those other pursuits perfectly - the paradigmatic post-ironic so-uncool-it's-cool pastime that exists outside of trainspotting and lawn bowls. Draw a Venn diagram of all those activities and somehow find some way to fit them all together and D&D could be right there in the middle.

Is this a bad thing? Yes and no. I am glad that lots of people like D&D, because I like D&D and can see its great virtues in a world full of anxious people alienated from each other by the siren-song of fake technological connectivity and emancipation. At the same time, though, there is a part of me that cannot help finding every element in that Venn diagram profoundly irritating, and is horrified at the prospect of D&D becoming tarred with that particular brush.

Thursday 1 November 2018

Pied Piper of Syr Darya

I lie here on the couch watching football. I am infected by norovirus and feel about as bad as I can ever remember feeling. I can't eat, drink, move, or sleep. But what I can do, goddamit, is blog. "I blogged didn't I? At least I did that." Put that on my tombstone.

Feverish dreams gave me an idea: some renditions of the Pied Piper of Hamelin story end with the Mayor (who, you may remember, asked the Piper to get rid of the rats but then refused to pay, causing the Piper to disappear with all the town's children in a fit of pique) going off to search for the missing children - and he is often described as "still looking for them now". A bleak ending - in the book version my daughter likes, the Mayor is even depicted on the final page as an impossibly old man wandering through empty mountain passes in a perpetual and fruitless search.

So, I wonder - what if the Mayor's wanderings lead him to Yoon-Suin? That would make a great novel idea. He never finds the children. But he finds other things instead.

Other ideas for Yoon-Suin/real world crossover novels:

-Spanish or Portuguese conquistadores discover the Yellow City; Europeans are ravaged by horrible diseases
-An account of the British Purple Land Company setting off on voyages through oceanic wormhole things that open in the Gulf of Morays
-An account of the lost tribe of Israel wandering into Sughd from the West
-First contact with a trading vessel from  a Yellow City Noble House sailing up the Thames/Mersey circa 1800