Tuesday 16 April 2024

Moons around the Storm God

What moves the wind, brings the rain, boils the clouds into the sky and freezes them into snow? 

Not the Storm God. He is rather the one who takes what the weather gods have wrought and imbues it with his malice, his pride, his might, and his indignation. His task is to bring low, to strip away, to break down, and to shatter, splinter, smash. He waits in a brooding simmer, and at moments when his umbrage at the sheer gall of the living grows too great, he summons the power of his rage to remind them that their lot is to suffer.

He sits as a tempestuous mass of wondrous colour deep in the great ocean of rainbow dream-scape that is drawn into the sky of all possible worlds. But he does not sit there alone. Around him he has flung his children - ninety-five of them he has sired - as a man casts a great fistful of salt into the air around him. Each a world in its own right, hanging imprisoned and transfixed before the vastness of his bulk and the greatness of his outraged splendour; they are the closest to the power of his anger, and bear it at its most frequent and savage. 

But the peoples who inhabit them, near as they are to him, also know a secret - that when a storm abates, in its wake is revealed a world transformed in its freshness and clarity, such indeed that it never fails to be shown as it really is, with all that is shrouding, or misleading, or veiling, or deceitful, swept aside and gone forever. It is in such moments, these peoples know, that opportunity takes its moment to presence in creation - and the Storm God is unwittingly displayed to be the agent not only of sorrow, but also of hope.

(A Moons of Jupiter planetcrawl to put the new Spelljammer in WotC's pipe and make them smoke it. 'Nuff said?)

Thursday 11 April 2024

Real World Dungeons: The Norman Chapel

To be truly effective, a good narcotics agent should know and love narcotics. Similarly, a good DM should know and love dungeons.

Today I went to the Norman Chapel at Durham Castle, a subterranean place of worship built around 1080. It was packed with sightseers (Durham Castle isn't normally open to visitors) and, because it was cold and wet outside, the air within was full of that distinctive warm, slightly foetid smell that seems to arise in an encolosed space in which there are a lot of people who have just stepped in from the rain. My eldest said it smelled like the reptile house at the zoo; I thought it smelled like my old classroom at school on what we used to call a 'wet lunch' when we weren't allowed outside at lunch hour because it was too inclement. 

But it retained its ability to impress. It is not a large space - I would estimate something like 10 x 10 metres if that. And it was empty of the paraphernalia that must have once been in there: pews, candles, altars, etc. Yet there was a lot going on in it all the same. There are a lot of columns, none of which are identical, and all of which are decorated with interesting symblic carvings at the top (including a mermaid, leopards, hunting dioramas, and so on):

There was attention to detail evident everywhere. This was an empty room, but it was no 'empty room'. There was stuff - were it a room in a D&D dungeon - for a group of PCs to investigate, ponder, note down, ask about when back in town. Giving some of the carvings a minor magical effect when interacted with, or some sort of historical importance or thematic tie-in to objects found elsewhere, would transform it from something to merely pass through to an entire mini-encounter in its own right.

I was most struck, though, by how difficult it would be to fight down there - even with lights on, let alone in the dark. This photo gives a good taster (click to enlarge):

But it doesn't quite convey just how cramped it is. There's barely room to swing a cat, let alone a sword, and there is everywhere something to duck or hide behind. It gives the '1 minute combat round' a whole other aspect to imagine how hard it would be to actually land a telling blow in a fight in such circumstances, considerations of armour set aside. 

More crudely, the room makes a very good case for the column. Like most DMs, the rooms in my dungeons tend to lack columns unless I feel it would be interesting to include them or they had some aesthetic or other purpose. But, of course, 'real life' dungeons would be full of columns. This makes the column a much neglected phenomenon in OSR writings. How to make columns interesting ought to be a subject to which we have devoted large amounts of time and generated much theoretical insight. Courtney Campbell, Melan/Gabor Lux, Prince of Nothing, Ktrey Parker - we are looking at you.

Monday 8 April 2024

I Do Not Hate This: Or, is the OSR of Lego a Thing?

I took my kids to the local shopping mall the other day and we went into the Lego shop to play with the Duplo. And there, in the window, I saw this:

Yes D&D Lego is now a thing.

I must be going soft in my old age, but I was surprised to discover that I do not hate this. Indeed, I am sure that if I was 10 years old, I would have absolutely loved it. I would not have loved the price (£315 bloody quid!!); I can still remember gazing longingly at Lego pirate boats as a small boy and knowing that there was no way my parents would have been able to afford them. And the way in which poor kids are increasingly priced out of hobbies by the geek chic arms race does irk me; one of the big problems associated with the prevalence of nerd pursuits among adults with comparatively large disposable incomes is a gradual inflation of cost that pulls up the drawbridge to ordinary children without deep-pocketed parents. But, I do have to confess that there is still a small part of me that finds it possible to get excited at the thought of playing with Lego, and that in that regard D&D Lego is kind of a no-brainer.

This, though, got me wondering. Even when I was a child I can remember my dad venting about the direction in which Lego had gone. The nature of his complaint was that real Lego, ironman Lego as it were, should just involve the basic standard Lego pieces with which we are all familiar. To utilise those simple, orthodox building blocks for all of one's building needs was, in his view, the mark of proper creative Lego use. The fitting together of pre-moulded chunks of plastic to make things like the dragon's wings, or the tree trunk, or the beholder's head and eye-stalks, was to him an anathema. It was 'cheating'. If one wanted to make a Lego dragon, say, then one ought to do it with the standard bits. Otherwise one was a mere hack - engaging in the act of building merely to pass the time.

That must have been in the late 80s. Goodness knows what he would have made of the Lego kits that are available now. I concede that he may have adopted this line of argument as a way of kidding me into not nagging him to buy expensive pirate boats. But I think it was based on a genuine desire to imagine Lego not as a mere toy but also as a tool to boost lateral thinking and creativity. As fun as it looks to put together the D&D Lego diorama shown above, it is a creative straightjacket; you can't really do more with it than just follow the instructions. My dad wasn't into just following instructions, and I can see now that I must have inherited something of that sensibility. I prefer the idea of putting bricks together to realise an idea of one's own.

This is all, though, a roundabout way of saying: presumably there are people out there who are of the mindset as my old man, and who refuse to partake in modern Lego's embrace of the pre-mould. There must be Lego enthusiasts - call them the OSR of Lego, as it were - who like to stick to first principles and will only build things out of the basic, standard bricks and old-fashioned smiley-faced men. This has to be the case, doesn't it? Fly, my pretties, and see what you can unearth.

Friday 5 April 2024

Incomplete List of Monsters Which Might Inhabit the Moon

Regular readers will know of my fondness for the moon as a location for campaigns, not envisaged as it really is, but rather in the illustrative and imaginative ways that it was before we had the technology to visit it - an ethereal, distant, sibling-world, silvery and pale, constantly shifting and changing; a place of magic and of strange, inscrutable influences on the hearts and minds of men.

We can all of us imagine (well, I hope so) a D&D campaign taking place on that kind of moon: with moon orcs, moon dwarves, moon elves, and the like. That can be the subject of future posts. For the time being, it is I think worth asking: which existing D&D monsters (let's limit ourselves to the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual) can you imagine living on the moon without any tweaks to appearance, abilities, and so on? Bearing in mind, of course, that this the fantasy moon, which has earth gravity and breathable air.

Here is what I earlier noted down when I was working productively at my desk doing the job I am gainfully employed to do:

List of Monsters Which Might Inhabit the Moon Without Significant Tweaks





Bat - Sinister


Broken one

Cave fisher


Displacer beast

Moon dog (natch)

Dragons - probably silver, amethyst, crystal

Galeb duhr

Gelatinous cube

Giants - formorian, fog, stone?







Ogre mage




Umber hulk

Will o'wisp

Xorn, xaren

The advantage of this exercise - what you might call setting-creation-via-monsters - is that this list in itself provides an imaginative framework within which to work. Just to read it is both to taste the flavour of what is intended, and to immediately begin generating ideas. I recommend the method, and it would clearly work well for other types of setting. 

Tuesday 2 April 2024

What if gods were real?

I went to two church services in the last few days, it being Holy Week. The first, the Good Friday liturgy at the local Anglican church, was attended by not more than a dozen of us; the second, Evensong on Easter Sunday, took place at Durham Cathedral, one of the finest buildings ever constructed and a world heritage site, and was attended by a large crowd. You couldn't really get two more dissimilar occasions in many ways, but at root the emphasis was the same: God's becoming real in the person of Jesus.

Don't worry - I don't mean to smuggle Christian apologetics into my blog through the back door. Instead I mean to raise the question as to what human behaviour would be like if there were in fact real D&D deities, who inhabited the physical world, who had personalities and needs and desires, and who one could talk to and otherwise interact with and perhaps some day even rival, fight, slay. Not to get too Joan Osborne about it, but what if Gruumsh was one of us?

In some respects, of course, it would make religion even more important than it is, and was, in human societies in the real world - which is to say, very important indeed. Religion governed basically every aspect of our ancestors' lives; they not only prayed and worshipped as though they meant it, knew what saint's day it was each and every day, worried incessantly about the afterlife, and confessed their each and every sin. They also constructed the entire political economies and legal systems of their society on the basis of what they considered to be divine right, and imagined the exercise of government itself to be a reflection of the proper relationship between God and creation. They were, to the modern eye, complete fanatics. 

Now imagine what they would have been like if there was a realistic possibility that Poseidon, or Zeus, or whoever, might show up one day, hurtling lightning bolts. Everybody's lives would hinge on what would or not be pleasing to them to an even greater extent than would have been the case for a 12th century French peasant or 5th century BC Spartan. And that would be rather a lot.

At the same time, though, the relationship between the human individual and the divine would be much more familiar and knowable. One of the great peculiarities of human religion is that it is contingent on guesswork: whether one is a modern Christian or Muslim praying, an Aztec priest pulling out some poor fool's still-beating heart, or an ancient pastoralist making an offering to the hearth god, one is making what can only be described as, well, a leap of faith. Will my god hear me? Will I get what I want? Will it work?

People in a D&D world would not have this problem. They would live in something more like a spiritual economy, in which one could be pretty sure what one's god would want of one in any given moment, and in which one could ask him or her directly to intercede on one's behalf - and therefore make trades and bargains: I'll sacrifice a dozen gorgons to you if you grant me a safe voyage across the ocean; I promise to never tell a lie again if you heal my sick child; if you give might to my sword arm when I make war on the men of Fnarr, I'll convert them to your cause when I win. And so on. By the same token, it would also be the case that one could be pretty sure - depending I suppose on the caprice of the god in question - whether one would be rewarded for doing x, y or z. 

The result would be a much more pervasive and important, but also more transactional relationship between deity and devotee. If one really wanted to, one could really push the spiritual economy point and imagine a system emerging in which rewards bestowed by gods could be represented by tokens and traded for one another or even exchanged like cash - redeemable from the god in question on a 'pay the bearer on demand' basis. 

Thursday 28 March 2024

On Emotion in the Creative Process

I have written a lot in this blog about AI and machine learning, and have probably established my credentials as a sceptic. It is not 'intelligence' and it will not, in my view, ever be able to create anything other than curious pastiche. That is not the same as saying it will not create things that people will utilise: most popular entertainment is basically pastiche. And these days 'entertainment' seems increasingly to mean addictive clickbait, at which AI will presumably excel. But it will not produce anything really worth reading, watching, or hearing.

This is because - I know this will shock and appall readers - human beings are not rational. We make our decisions on the basis of emotions. And anything that does not have emotions therefore cannot replicate human thought or decision-making. In this regard, I strongly recommend listening to this interview with Robert Burton, a neurologist who has written extensively on knowledge and decision-making. A transcript of the crucial passage in the interview runs as follows:

[There was] a cardiac surgeon of some repute, who did a study of whether or not hands-off massage--I have forgotten the name for it now but it's when you run your hand over the patient's body but don't actually touch them--will improve cardiac surgery. And, when they asked him why he came up with this idea, he said, 'Well, I had no a priori opinion on this.' Then, I would say, 'Why would you do this study?' I mean, that would be the equivalent of saying...eating lasagna helped cardiac surgery. You'd say, 'Why?--' and this was sort the plea that I have in my second book, is that: Scientists initiate almost all research, and I mean, I say, 'almost all' I'm just trying to be generous, from the point of view of some preconception. Often one that they don't understand at all. But it's just one that tweaks them. And I was--you think about Albert Einstein and the theories of relativity, and he was working at the Swiss patent office, and one of the big issues at the time was with the nature of time and getting railroad scheduling. So, trying to arrive on time. And he wasn't the only one thinking about it. Now, the question is: If he hadn't worked in the patent office, would he have come up with the same idea? Maybe. Maybe not. But did thinking about time and getting it so the trains--triggered an experiment about the man on the train? Well, you never know. I wouldn't call that a bias. I would just call that prior experience and his native temperament have shaded the way he starts thinking about the experiment. And that's not overcome-able.

The crucial phrases are there in bold. Human beings - even scientists, who are purportedly 'rational' - decide what they are going to investigate, and how they are going to investigate it, on the basis of emotion. Otherwise, why would they be interested in the thing they are investigating, as opposed to the infinite range of other topics they could be investigating? Why are they interested in investigating anything at all? The answers to those questions are based in 'prior experience and native temperament', on how the scientist is being 'tweaked' (which is to say, irrational motives), and not on reason. Why did Einstein investigate relativity? Because he was interested in it. And the 'being interestedness' is itself rooted in emotion, not rationality.

The emotion, then, comes first and is crucial. Why do we get out of bed in the morning? Because we feel that there is a reason to, as opposed to not doing it. More pertinently, why do we want to create a piece of art in the first place, let alone actually go about the process of doing it? Precisely because, well, we want to. The feeling and wanting are necessary - they are where volition comes from. And they are what dictate to us the direction in which we will go during the creative process. Human creativity is in other words only partly iterative, and only partly based on prior influences and knowledge of the genre in which one is working. It is emotion that dictates the decision-making processes which are continually made during the production of any given work of art.

There is a great interview available on YouTube between Rick Beato and Billy Corgan. You'll get a huge kick out of it if you're a Smashing Pumpkins fan and should listen to the whole thing. But if you're not, and just want to get to the salient segment, start listening at this point, an hour and five minutes in. Having been asked about the songwriting process, Billy makes clear that drawing from existing influences is only a very minor part of the exercise. Again, to provide a (somewhat paraphrased) transcript:

'Sometimes it might help when you get stuck to think...well, what would John Lennon do? What would Bob Marley do here? Sometimes that can just get you across the line... But as far as the core of what I do, it's always a mystery to me. And the best way I can describe it to somebody is, I'm at home playing the piano, and I'm singing a melody, and I'll sing a note, and I'll think, that's kind of a weird note, so I'll find the note on the piano... [and sometimes] it's dissonant....and I'll think, 'well that's wrong'. So I'll resing the melody, 'correctly', and there's a little guy in my head that goes, 'No', and there's an argument in my brain, and I cannot, not hear the melody that my brain is telling me to sing, so that's the melody.... and if I derogate from it, there's a voice in my head that says, 'No, that's the wrong melody'...'

He goes on (very illuminatingly when thinking about AI):

'There's the computer part [in my brain], and then there's the part which is felt emotion. It's hard to explain.... You're playing something and you think, well, this part's okay. You try something and you go, well that's a little bit better. But maybe it's too weird or out of context...and then you're into the binary choice of whether to go for the D, which is the 5th, or I could go to the F which is the flatted 7th of a G or something, and then you sing one way, and then you sing the other, and you sit there and go, eeny meeny miny mo....I think that's the moment that makes you a songwriter.'

The point, of course, is that the 'eeny meeny miny mo' moment is where emotion comes in. At any given point in time, when writing a melody, one could come up with one note, or another note, or indeed any other of a range of notes. At that level, the human creative process is the same as an AI process. The difference is that the decision of which note comes next to the human is rooted in emotion, whereas to the AI it can only be rooted in reference to other songs which it 'knows'. The human can make a leap based in the logic of feeling. An AI can only, metaphorically, act randomly or by reference to 'What would John Lennon/Bob Marley do?' reasoning. 

This is the difference between art and pastiche. And this is why 'artificial' 'intelligence' will not produce art. 

Monday 25 March 2024

Thoughts on the Theory and Doctrine of Golems

It is an important question, I'm sure you will agree, as to what qualifies as a 'golem' as distinct from an automaton, an animated statute, and so on. It has long troubled me that the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual treats Frankenstein's monsters, clay golems, doll golems, gargoyle golems, juggernauts and scarecrows as a single category, when to my eye these are an impossibly wide variety of fundamentally different types of thing that are being wrongly brought under the same umbrella. Many a night have I lain awake, tossing and turning in my bedclothes, staring at the shadows on the ceiling and whispering hoarsely to myself about the infelicities of this deep, fundamental misunderstanding and what it suggests to me about the impending dissolution of the world of concepts - this tends to happen when I've been at the whisky. In any event, it's about time I got this off my chest: YOU CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT DEFINITIONS ABOUT WHAT IS, AND IS NOT, A GOLEM ARE NOT MADE OUT. 

To a certain extent, philology can guide us. According to wikipedia, the word 'golem' appears in Biblical Hebrew once in the Bible, as golmi, meaning 'my light form' or 'my raw material', as in an unfinished, incomplete or uncultivated human being. This has some important corollaries.

The first is that a golem must have a humanoid form. This instantly rules out juggernauts, gargoyles, and so on (though, I would argue, they will also be ruled out for other reasons which I will come to). 

The second is that a golem must be fashioned from 'raw material'. This rules out finished goods such as stained glass or steel, and also anything that is or has been alive, such as flesh or wood. It also rules out things like scarecrows and dolls that may have been created for a particular purpose and are now being repurposed as an animated slave/servitor.

The third is that a golem must be unfinished or incomplete in the sense that it is not fitting for some other purpose than being a golem. In other words, something that had an independent existence as, say, a statue, objet d'art, etc., and is now being animated for use as a putative 'golem' is not in fact one. 

It follows that there are other categories into which it is more appropriate to put things like juggernauts or scarecrows, to wit:

Animated statues are things like gargoyle 'golems' and stone 'golems' which were originally created for an inanimate, cosmetic/aesthetic purpose and have subsequently been animated.

Automata are things, mechanical or otherwise, that have been 'finished' as putative 'golems' - this would include, for example, juggernauts, steel 'golems', clockwork 'golems', glass 'golems', and so on.

Animated objects are things like scarecrows, doll 'golems', animated chairs and tables, etc., which were created for some original useful purpose but are not deployed as moving servants. Some sages dispute whether perhaps animated statutes and animated objects are in fact two sub-categories of a broader category.

Reanimations are things that were once alive and have now been, well, re-animated - whether as a whole or in a collection of parts. The flesh golem would be the archetypal example, but a golem made from wood would perhaps be another.

It also follows that the only two types of 'golem' listed in the Monstrous Manual that actually qualify as golems are clay, and possibly iron and stone on the proviso that the latter two types must not be statues that have been later animated, but must be crude, unfinished humanoids fashioned from the material in question. It also follows that there may be other varieties of golem that are as yet undiscovered - for example, golems formed from the mud at the bottom of the sea, or from soft metals, or from ambergris perhaps.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Three Boos for AI

Readers who have been following along with my posts about AI in RPG publishing (see here, here, here and here) may be interested to read the latest missive from the excellent Ted Gioia. In it, he describes how tech nerds at the SXSW conference this year, well, roundly booed a video extolling the virtues of AI:

At first, just a few people booed. But then more and more—and louder and louder. The more the experts on screen praised the benefits of artificial intelligence, the more hostile the crowd got.

The booing, he continues: 

started in response to the comment that 'AI is a culture.' And the audience booed louder when the word disrupted was used as a term of praise (as is often the case in the tech world nowadays).

'These people,' he concludes the opening section to his post, 'literally come to the event to learn about new things, and even they are gagging on this stuff.'

He goes on from there to make quite a strong case that we are reaching a tipping point with respect to tech in general, citing various surveys that both he and others have conducted. But in the end he quite rightly makes a more subjective but more forceful argument: 

Almost every one of you feels this in your gut: You can’t trust the tech. Not anymore.


I feel it, you feel it, we all feel it. The world that big tech has imposed on us is, quite simply, a pretty crappy place to be. What we need is to act on this knowledge. And what we can do in our little corner of the multiverse, as elf game enthusiasts, is I think clear: we can tell the truth more. The use of AI art and writing is creatively redundant; it is lame; it is dehumanising; it is the refuge of the unskilled and uninteresting; its results are insipid, soulless and uninspired. It should never be used except perhaps as an amusing toy or meme generator or way to make throwaway clipart to liven up a PowerPoint presentation, and it certainly should never make an appearance in anything approaching work that aspires to be taken seriously. It is the last refuge of scoundrels, and you should stop using it. 

Friday 15 March 2024

Feel like my soul is beginning to expand - look into my heart and you will sort of understand

Sometimes a picture tells a thousand words. Let us, then, tell many thousands of words with the following images, from what I think of as the holy triumvirate of artworks depicting a conceptual World of TSRan (see posts here, here and here). This triumvirate consists of Larry Elmore, Keith Parkinson, and John Howe - the latter of whom never to my knowledge having illustrated anything for D&D, but whose Tolkien pieces were roughly contemporaneous, and certainly just as influential on the formation of my imaginative contours in my early teenage years (as always, click to enlarge):

In the end, if I can add just a few words, I think what makes these pieces so important in building the necessary mood is the combination of three key elements: first, a sense of vastness of scale; second sufficient hyperrealism to allow the viewer to imagine entering the world depicted; and third, a sense of the transcendent or sublime. These are in short romantic images, and it is perhaps helpful to think of the World of TSRan as imbued with romanticism. 

What can also perhaps be observed is that many, if not all, of these pieces are also curiously intimate despite the size and grandeur of the backdrop. The best example of this I think may be the image of Sturm and Flint travelling through the snowy mountains; these are real people, and you can imagine yourself there with them. There is a kind of genius in this.

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Nostalgia, Hope, Wonder: The World of TSRan

I increasingly look to the future with an inchoate sense of foreboding. The physical world around us seems to be deteriorating before our eyes; there is a degeneration of basic civility in our interactions with one another that speaks of a rapid decline in empathy and common decency; young people walk about in a daze as though shell-shocked by the cataclysmic forces their constant phone use has unleashed on their psyche. This doesn't end well, and it's not in the gift of our political, cultural or religious leaders to fix. 

I therefore become less and less interested in 'dark' themes. The skies are darkening enough. What I would rather do is try to carve out creative spaces in which I (and ideally other people) can re-engage with the best aspects of human imaginative potential - our love for what was good about the past; our capacity to hope; and our excitement about being alive in a glorious world and universe more extensive than we can dream of. This is not naive escapism, but what one might call - if one were of a mind to be provocative - committed escapism: escape not for the sake of running away, but for the sake of re-engagement with certain things that make it good to be alive. Who knows? If enough people start doing it, maybe together we can get somewhere.

Almost two years ago I wrote a post about The World of TSRan, an idea for a campaign world which tries to recapture and also improve upon and intensify what was good about the way high fantasy was imagined in the AD&D of the period 1985-1995. This is an idea that is dear to my heart. Being an adolescent boy is pretty crap, but reading through the material TSR put out in those days - everything seemingly illustrated by Larry Elmore or Keith Parkinson, everything writ large across vast landscapes that made one desperate to run out without a pocket handkerchief and go exploring, everything relentlessly emphasising adventure adventure adventure - was a call to a world that was bigger, grander, and imbued with potential. It suggested not just that there were no limits on what could be imagined but also that what could be imagined could itself be aspirational. One could imagine beauty, and awe, and spectacle, and daring deeds, and that could in itself give you the wherewithal to transcend the limitations around you and make real the burning ambition to be someone, and do things, and leave one's mark. One might, if one tried hard enough, imagine oneself to glory

Partly, the appeal is of course nostalgia - what I earlier called our love for what was good about the past. And the past was good (not perfect); characterised by human interaction largely unmediated through technology; by emebeddedness in community; by a sense that what was coming tomorrow would be largely the same as today but slightly and gradually getting better. I've written this before on the blog, but watch an episode of Friends, or Frasier, or Seinfeld, or an early episode of The Simpsons, if you want to recapture that optimistic world - a world that had its flaws but that was characterised by smiles, humour, conversation, affection. But it is not just that which makes the World of TSRan such an alluring place. It is also that it is filled with hope, and wonder - a dangerous world, to be sure, but one in which it is possible to make one's name, and to see and experience great things along the way. 

One can achieve this, I think, without being too twee, and in acceptance of a certain amount of po-facedneess. What makes the World of TSRan so compelling is that despite its cheesiness it is sincere, and in its sincerity it transcends cliche. It is a world in which in the end - in the distant, distant end - good triumphs over evil and light over dark. Doesn't that sound refreshing set against the backdrop of what we 'consume' by way of culture in 2024?

Monday 11 March 2024

Monsters and Manuals: Best 200 of the First 2000

Dear readers - I am around 40 posts shy of reaching the 2000th post at this blog.

The celebrations can wait until the finishing line is reached, though I have a vague plan to write a post a day for 30 days once I reach the 1970 mark. For the time being, I thought I might enlist your help in a GREAT TASK of INTERNATIONAL IMPORTANCE.

Once the 2000 mark is reached I would like to release a book featuring the best 200 posts on the blog. I might even go crazy and release two versions, one containing the best 200, and one containing the whole thing.

This will be done POD, not via a Kickstarter.

I know that there are many, many thousands of people - possibly millions - who carefully pore over every word I have written here, commit it all to heart, and are able to recite entire posts from memory to impress people at parties. If there are any posts that you really, really liked or think ought really to be included, then please say so in the comments. I will be downloading the whole thing and reading through to make my selection, but it would be good to have my attention directed to any 'greatest hits' in particular that you would like included. 

Friday 8 March 2024

Forget Trump v Biden

The most important decision in all of public life, on either side of the Atlantic, is now before us:

Are frost giants better than hill giants: YES OR NO?

This is the question that has been revealed by what now, in retrospect, appears to be a giant (pun intended) giant primary election in my previous post. The result: exactly the same number of people chose frost as hill giants as their favourites. There is now no alternative but to have a battle royale. Which will win?

I'm sure you will agree with me that the only fair test is simulated combat. 

In the RED corner, with proponents citing its faithfulness to source texts and ancient myth, not to mention its sexy blonde beard and Nordic good looks - the FROST GIANT!

In the BLUE corner, with proponents citing its 'no frills' ape-like brutality - the HILL GIANT!

The rules are straightforward: Marquis of Queensbury Laws of Giant Combat. Each participant has a random allocation of hp based on HD. Round 1 consists of one opportunity to hurl a rock. Then each combat round thereafter is fought on the basis of ordinary melee rules to the death. Initiative is determined by 1d6 rule each round. Let battle commence - no axe or club blows beneath the belt, and keep it clean. 

STATS: Frost giant: 72 hp, AC 0, dmg 2d8+9; Hill giant: 59 hp, AC 3, dmg 2d6+7

Round 1: rock hurling. The hill giant throws first, and HITS, scoring a solid blow to the frost giant's chest (for 11 hp damage). Roaring in anger the frost giant responds and also HITS with a glancing blow to the shoulder (for 5 hp damage).

Frost giant has 61 hp remaining; hill giant has 54

Round 2: melee. The frost giant advances, swinging his axe ineffectually. Ducking contemptuously aside, the hill giant then brings his club smashing into the frost giant's torso, doing 11 hp damage.

Frost giant has 50 hp remaining; hill giant has 54

Round 3: The frost giant again swings and misses, perhaps due to overconfidence, or perhaps due to overeagerness for revenge for the wounds already suffered. The hill giant, inflated by how well the fight is going, experiences a surge of strength and certainty and clouts the frost giant over his helmeted head, doing another 18 hp damage.

Frost giant has 32 hp remaining; hill giant has 54

Round 4: The hill giant now senses an astonishing upset victory. He advances once more and his club of death (tm) slams into the frost giant's now reeling body, doing another mighty 18 hp damage. The frost giant, sensing grave danger, finds that desparation lends strength and accuracy to his arm, and for the first time his axe connects, slicing a great wound across the hill giant's chest (17 hp damage).

Frost giant has 16 hp remaining; hill giant has 37

Round 5: Both giants can now sense that victory may be at hand. The frost giant, bloodied but unbowed, again goes on the offensive, and has now got his eye in at last - he deals the hill giant another grievous blow (19 hp damage). The hill giant, likewise, like a true champion, goes toe to toe with his opponent, giving no quarter, dealing a blow to the head that would have shattered the skull of a lesser giant (14 hp damage).

Frost giant has 2 hp remaining; hill giant has 18

Round 6: It comes down to this. Which of our pugilists can win the knock-out blow? The fate of our age may depend on the outcome; this is serious stuff. Frost giant strikes first! A hit, sir! A palpable hit! Hill giant sways....stumbles....but stays on his feet, suffering 14 hp damage. Steadying himself, he raises his club for the killer blow....and misses (rolling a 2)! The battle comes down to the bitterest end.

Frost giant has 2 hp remaining; hill giant has 4 - I swear I honestly didn't rig this.

Round 7: Which giant can finish the job? One feels as though fate rests entirely on the initiative roll. Frost giant rolls a 4....and so does the hill giant. The tension mounts. Re-roll....frost giant gets a 2...and so does the hill giant. Tension mounts yet further! Re-roll....Frost giant gets a 6 and hill giant gets 2. Ok, will this be it? The giants square off once more and the frost giant swings.... and hits, cleaving the top of the hill giant's skull clean away, so that his brains spill out across the floor as his gigantic carcasse crashes to the ground.

So there you have it, folks. The answer is frost giant. I thought there might be an upset on the cards for a while there (I kept rolling remarkably low on a 1d20 for all of the frost giant's melee attacks) but in the end, D&D combat is almost always a case of higher HD beating lower HD. I hope you tune in next week for, 'Which is your favourite D&D golem?'

Thursday 7 March 2024

Favourite Giant Poll

Philosophy can be defined as the pursuit of answers to permanent questions, and there is no finer example than the question of the best type of D&D giant.

Vote for your own favourite in the comments; I will keep all comments unpublished for 36 hours or so. This is a scientific exercise and the results are of the most fundamental importance. The options, taken from the AD&D 2nd edition Monstrous Manual, are: 



















Monday 4 March 2024

How to OSRise Any Game in One Easy Step

A lot of people have spent a lot of time trying to describe what the 'old school' approach to role playing is in a nutshell. Quite a lot of people have boiled it down to XP for gold, which I think is pretty close. I would, however, nuance and broaden that a bit. The reason why XP for gold works is that it is the easiest way to operationalise an endogenous system of advancement. If getting gold is the thing that gives your PC XP, then it means firstly that advancement is based on something that has reality within the fiction (gold pieces are a 'real' thing within the game world), and secondly that it is not dependent on external judgment of value: the PCs want gold not merely because it results in advancement, but because it actually allows them to do things in the game. 

Everything within the OSR 'style' of play is founded on this, because it is how you make a sandbox environment work (the PCs naturally want to go adventuring in order to get gold in order to advance) and how at least ostensibly you give the PCs agency (they choose how they go about the matter of adventuring). Other methods of awarding XP (for example, story goals, good roleplaying, etc.) do not work in anything like the same way. They are contingent on the players to a certain extent acting so as to please the DM or jump through exogenous hoops that he has put in place. They might be happy with that - no judgement is being made - but the result will be something very different to what OSR gaming is all about.

It follows that you can more or less 'OSRise' any game if you can introduce into it a similar endogenous system of advancement. The best way of doing it I think has to be based on the gathering of money or items of a certain useful type, because this fulfils the requirement that the gathering of the thing has use within the gameworld rather than being a matter of chasing after otherwise meaningless tokens. That could be anything from gathering spells or some other type of magic item, say, to capturing sprits or monsters that provide some benefit; the important point is only the endogeneity of what is being pursued. 

There are other systems of what one might call semi-endogenous advancement systems, being based on achievements that are quantifiable on the basis of actual activities within the game world - the number of hexes visited, the number of miles travelled, the number of monsters of a particular type killed, and so on. But these are not I think perfectly endogenous, because there is no particular usefulness to the PC of performing the activity in question beyond the fact that it provides advancement. They are not like the system of XP for gold, in which the getting of the gold is itself useful in addition to the XP it generates. 

It would be interesting to put the reasoning into effect in the context of other games, such as Cyberpunk 2020, Call of Cthulhu and so on. CP:2020 obviously lends itself to the XP for money dynamic; Call of Cthulhu much less so, but it could be made to function on an 'XP for mystic knowledge' basis. Other games will vary; to repeat, the idea here is not to create a 'better' way of playing those games, but a way to make them more 'OSRish' if that sounds appealing.

Tuesday 27 February 2024

'It is important that it be fully detailed': What the BBC makes of D&D down the ages

While idly looking at cricket scores on the BBC website earlier today I came across a link to this recent 5 minute 'BBC sounds' podcast on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of D&D. This took me down a rabbit hole, in which some quick Google searches dug up other brief BBC coverage of D&D down the ages; here are two fun examples (the first of which because it features Ian Livingstone, Steve Jackson, Joe Dever and other luminaries of the early British D&D/Warhammer scene, the latter of which because it features Gary Gygax):

I was intrigued by what these efforts all fail to achieve, more than what they actually show. The BBC Sounds' 2024 piece (I don't know if it is accessible outside of the UK) is chiefly revealing of contemporary anxieties, focusing almost entirely on the fact that the audience for D&D has increasingly become more diverse, but that there is still 'more to be done'. The first of the two videos (from 1983), on the other hand, is more like an exercise in anthropology; one could imagine an identical approach and tone being adopted in a National Geographic documentary shot on the Sentinel Islands. The second of the two videos, meanwhile, simply gives the opportunity for Gygax to expound, in between some short segments at a gaming convention in London, in the manner of an academic at a tutorial in an Oxbridge college. None of them comes close to explaining what D&D actually is, or takes any time to document what happens in a typical session. If one were a layperson, one would be absolutely none the wiser. The only continuity between them is a certain wryness on the part of the documentarian, and a sense that some terribly nerdy people are doing something kooky.

That's fine, of course; it's probably pretty accurate. But I do find it interesting that 'normies' find it so difficult to process the nuts and bolts of a D&D game. There are likely two reasons for this. On the one hand I think it is probably the case that D&D enthusiasts are not always very clear, or consistent, in what they think the hobby is all about. Some of the people being interviewed in the various clips seem to be describing communal storytelling; others (like Gygax himself) emphasise how it is all about worldbuilding; others suggest it is about exploring oneself; still others that it is 'like a board game' that goes on inside the participants' heads. On the other hand, when faced with something that is a bit difficult to initially conceptualise, it is human nature to default to the assumption that it is basically and irredeemably incomprehensible and weird - there is clearly a bit of that going on in the heads of the producers of all three clips.

All of this I suppose reinforces, obliquely, what it is that makes D&D so successful, 50 years on. It defies easy summary; it is protean. No two groups play even the same edition of the game the same way, let alone its different variants, and this malleability (what Ron Edwards would have labelled its 'incoherence') is clearly its strongest selling point as a role playing game. Some time ago, I heard the advertising executive Rory Sutherland comment that the reason why McDonald's was more successful than KFC was that not everybody always wants to eat fried chicken, but there's something on a McDonald's menu to provide a mediocre meal for any palate on almost any occasion. Its comparative lack of definition is in fact its great virtue. There is definitely something similar at work in the enduring appeal of D&D.

Saturday 24 February 2024

17 Times the Incidental Illustrations in the 2nd Edition DMG Rocked

Nostalgia can do powerful things. I must have bought the 2nd edition AD&D DMG at the age of about 12 or 13, at a shop in Tel Aviv on a road lined with palm trees; it was early evening and the sky was a beautiful shade of golden pink. One must be careful when under such a sky. It can lead to love. And so it did with me and the strangely evocative incidental illos (particularly the pseudo-linotype ones) in that much-loathed and misunderstood book. Here are my seventeen favourites:

1. She is beautiful, she is mysterious, she is distant and untouchable. These were the days before the internet, when even an innocent picture like this could arouse Strange and Powerful Feelings within the...er...breast of a teenage boy. Setting that to one side, I actually think it is a beautifully executed miniature portrait with just the right amount of late-80s cheese.

2. I am a wizard and I am simultaneously concerned, sad, shocked, and imbued with eldritch energy. FEAR ME.

3. I am a wizard and I have a staff that shoots lightning as I wield it before me, and yet also somehow simultaneously radiates light behind me. For such as I, the laws of physics contain no import! Again, look at his face. Such emotion - a man of great sensitivity and depth, who even as he blasts his enemy with lightning is moved by vast pity.

4. Squint, but squint well. Has he been disturbed in the middle of practicing his wizardly break-dancing routine? Or does he always theatrically fling open the lid of his chest, just for effect? Or is he a thief who has been disturbed? No idea. I am a sucker for wizard's study pictures, though.

5. Again, this one must be squinted at, but I find it deeply evocative. This is what a dungeon looks like when nobody is around. It waits with endless patience for adventure to begin.

6. Even halflings can have excellent hair. 

7. The elegant simplicity of this piece I think deserves more widespread recognition. Look at the stark beauty of the empty landscape; the care with which that withered shrub is depicted and the way it conjures in the mind an image of aridity and desolation; the contrast between it and the blazing glory of the dawn (or dusk); the desperation of the silhouetted figures who traverse that bleak landscape; the sense of coiled energy in the sweep of the monster's tail. A work of evocative power. 

8. This picture is not perfectly executed - the hand almost seems to be gently caressing her in a 'there, there' sort of fashion, and there is something going on with her left arm; it just looks wrong. And yet you can't tell me it lacks 'B' movie charm.

9. I probably hated this piece when I was an adolescent, because I would have seen it as childish. Now I'm old, and can appreciate its daft good humour. 2nd edition's vices - a desire to court less controversy, to be more family friendly, to be self-consciously less 'dark' - are well known, but people often overlook that these can in the right light also be virtues. Must we be so very serious?

10. This, on the other hand, is a great fantasy RPG rulebook illo. It makes you want to play the game. Actually, it makes you want to be within the scene itself, experiencing the delicious hair-raising thrill of seeing that thing come out of its sarcophagus. 

11. Yes, the monster (stone giant?) looks rather like it has just risen from the sofa, hands aloft, and a six-pack of Carling to the good, to celebrate the final whistle in the second leg of the Barcelona-Chelsea Champions League semi-final of 2010. But look at those dwarves with their spears, ready for the fight; again, this makes you want to play the game

12. I am a wizard and I could be about to bless or smite thee; the suspense will be over..... NOW!

13. A great wizard's study study. 

14. This is another light-hearted piece which, to my old and jaded eye, remains on the right side of whimsy. Look harder. There are more of them than you think,

15. Another piece which I think, for obvious reasons, struck me as being deeply fascinating and worthy of careful study when I first saw it. 

16. This looks like it belongs in a very different game to what would I suppose be understood to be the OSR's default tonal palette - redolent of something much more bucolic and fairy-tale inspired: Lyonesse rather than Conan. Is this so very wrong?

17. I just think this is a very well composed and executed picture. No showiness, no special effects, no slo-mo, no CGI. Just two guys who are about to try and fuck each other up. My money's on the swordsman. Those are the stone cold eyes of a killer.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Does What Happens at the Table Matter?

My previous post generated considerable debate (chiefly about, of all things, Daddy Pig). But it raises wider, and more important, questions that I think it would be worth devoting a post to addressing.

There is a tendency I have often noticed among nerdish men of a certain age to get defensive about particular hobbies - video games, heavy metal, horror films, comics, D&D, and so on. Having been told that these pastimes are variously stupid, evil, corrupting, a waste of time, sinful, and so on in their youths, such men have adopted a position at the opposite extreme, which is that it does not matter what media one consumes. One can listen to as much Cannibal Corpse as one likes, watch Driller Killer five times a day, and spend the rest of one's time murdering disabled children and puppies on Call of Duty: Ed Gein Edition, and it has no effect on one's psyche at all. Nobody is corrupted by any of this; nobody in the real world is affected; one can consume whatever media one desires and still be perfectly well-adjusted.

It is understandable why some people think like this, but it is difficult to imagine a position which could be less accurate. To demonstrate its foolishness, one simply has to ask a couple of straightforward questions. First, do you think it would be appropriate for a six-year-old to be given unrestricted access to pornhub? Second, do you think it is impossible to be moved by a work of great art? And, third, do you think it is impossible for characters in fiction of any kind to be inspirational, or to reinforce a negative stereotype? Well, I'm afraid that if your answer to any of those questions was 'no', then that means that you concede that the media one consumes matters in respect of its impact on the psyche, soul, mind, or whatever word you prefer. All reasonable people can do is argue about the extent to which it matters, in what context, and to whom - and what to do about it.

(A closely related argument concerns the question of 'copycat' behaviour, as when that shy young man Jimmy McJimmy who kept himself to himself and was polite to his neighbours one day commits a vile murder and it is discovered that he had spent the last three days locked in his basement watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or whatever. Clearly, the chain of causation is not clear and nobody has ever been able to identify a situation in which a crazed killer has had his brain borked simply by watching a video nasty. But, equally clearly, it's pretty unlikely that watching such stuff has no effect at the margins. No media savvy person alive in the 21st century can possibly deny that young people in particular are prone to copy behaviours and attitudes which they pick up from watching YouTube, TikTok, etc.; is it really such a stretch to imagine that what one watches as entertainment has an accumulated effect on the way one thinks?)

In short, of course cultural products matter, and of course they influence how people think and therefore how they behave. How could they not? Acknowledging this doesn't, and shouldn't, mean that our culture needs policing or that anything in particular needs banning. It simply means that it is foolish to go through life thinking that what one consumes by way of culture has no effect on how one sees the world, or how one acts in it.

This raises the interesting question, to my eye, as to whether what goes on at a D&D table matters. And here I don't mean to suggest that when a bunch of D&D players imagine their PCs massacring a tribe or orcs that it is going to turn them all into genocidaires or desensitise them to violence. Rather, I mean to ask whether the choices which one makes when thinking as a PC - the decisions which one makes when 'role playing' broadly understood - can have an impact on how one approaches choice-making in real life. To boil the inquiry down to its essence, is it possible to use a PC in an RPG auto-didactically as a way to experiment with what it would mean to behave more honourably, more decisively, more compassionately, etc., and to then reflect on how that could be implemented in one's actual life?

Monday 12 February 2024

What's the Story? A Problem with Plot

Yesterday, I had the misfortune of attending the cinema to watch Peppa Pig's Cinema Party, consisting of 10 'never before seen' Peppa Pig episodes (question: Do Americans, Australians, etc., know about Peppa Pig?) interspersed with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?-style filler in which real-life children interact with cartoons of Peppa and her friends.

It was dreadful. But it was dreadful in an illustrative way. I have nothing against kids' entertainment, and I actually don't mind Peppa Pig as a general rule (although I hate the militant misandry of its depiction of the buffoonish Daddy Pig). But watching the Cinema Party, it rapidly became clear that the reason why these episodes had never been seen before was that they were rubbish. They didn't have stories. They were just a bunch of stuff that happens. Peppa learns to play tennis and has strawberries and cream afterwards. That's an episode. Peppa goes to a wedding and it rains and they all have fun playing in the mud. That's an episode. And so on. Not so much 'a show about nothing' as 'a show about pleasant events in the life of a four-year-old'. 

But stories aren't - cannot be - just series of pleasant events. Stories need conflict, and children's stories especially have to be characterised by a very basic structure in which something bad or undesirable happens and is ultimately resolved. This is true at even the most basic level; a great example that springs to mind is Emily Gravett's Where's Bear?, a book that can be enjoyed and understood by any 2 year-old. In it (spoiler alert) bear and hare are playing hide-and-seek together. They give it a couple of goes. It's too easy for hare to find bear, so hare has a go at hiding. Bear looks for him and can't find him, and ends up looking in the bed, where he falls asleep. Hare emerges, having become bored, and looks for bear, but now can't find him, and a moment of panic ensues - hare misses his friend and rushes about looking for him. Bear is wakened by the commotion, finds hare, and gives him a hug. The end.

Here we have an elementary lesson in what story is: a set-up, an emergent problem, a pleasing resolution. And it works because of the crucial moment of tension in the second act where the game goes awry. Without that moment of tension, all there is is fluff: two animals playing hide-and-seek with some diverting pictures. What's the point of that?

This I think, more than anything else, is at the root of the reason why I have always found narrative-style play, in which the players go through a pre-ordained 'plot' (however loosely sketched), so unsatisfying. The simple fact of the matter is that telling a good story relies on set of basically artificial devices to work, and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that within the context of a good story, it is almost definitionally a straitjacket - it can't survive being exposed to the chaos of free-decisionmaking on the part of the participants. To do so disrupts the narrative structure. What narrativist games always in the end therefore devolve into, in my experience, is coercion or manipulation (railroading and/or quantum ogres) or a feeling that the PCs are merely jumping through a series of essentially consequence-free hoops, a la Peppa Pig learning to play tennis. The former might be tolerable if the DM was an acknowledged master storyteller like Stephen King; the latter never is. Either way, the likelihood of success is remote, and the most common experience is a blancmange of 'meh'. 

Friday 9 February 2024

Ancestries and Character Backgrounds in the Crocodilian Apocalyps

PCs in Behind Gently Smiling Jaws each have one of four ancestries, and a background which follows from whatever their ancestry is. Ancestries may be randomly determined, chosen, or assigned, as seems appropriate to the DM and player; backgrounds should generally be randomly determined. The exercise of selecting both should always be done after rolling stats and choosing a character class.

PCs may be Degenerate Humans, Somnic Humans, Young Naacals or High Naacals. There is a fifth type of ancestry, Old Naacal, which is for NPCs only.

Degenerate humans are descended from those humans who were living in the world at the time of the Infraction, and who organised themselves into whatever polities they could in its aftermath. Now, an eon later, they comprise a great patchwork of many different societal archetypes (nomadic or semi-nomadic; pastoralist or agriculturalist; urban or marine), levels of organisation (city-states, empires, petty-kingdoms, bands of hunter-gatherers), levels of technology (from stone-age to gunpowder) and character (theocracies, thalassocracies, republics, monarchies, kritarchies). Many of them are independent; others are under the sway of suchian entities, Somnic Humans, or Naacals.

Degenerate human PCs may have one of the following backgrounds, meaning their parentage; after determining the background, roll for broad geographical/cultural origin or choose as desired:

1. Tribesman or -woman (1 - Desert/arid, 2 - Forest, 3 - Marsh, 4 - Steppe/grassland, 5 - Mountains, 6 - Tundra) 
2. Farmer or pastoralist (1 - Piedmont, 2 - Grassland, 3 - Flood plain, 4 - Forest margins) 
3. Fisherman or -woman (1 - Lake, 2 - Sea, 3 - River) 
4. Merchant (1 - Rural, 2 - Urban, 3 - Seagoing) 
5. Soldier (1 - Piedmont, 2 - Grassland, 3 - Flood plain, 4 - Forest) 
6. Noble (1 - Rural, 2 - Urban)

Degenerate humans have no special abilities, but suffer no advancement penalty.

Somnic humans are those rare humans who were born and raised among the degenerate ones of their kind, but who due to happenstance or unusual sensitivity bear some of the somnic influence of one of the Seven. Recognised by their peers as larger-than-life, whether for good or ill, and imbued with an intensity of purpose, they take after whichever of the Seven is somnically dominant over them. Their backgrounds therefore derive from that respective member of the Seven:

1. Sese-Mahuru-Bau (passionate and strong-willed, +1 STR, +1 WIS; can pass without trace 1/day) 
2. Xu Fu (cerebral and domineering, +1 INT, +1 CHA; can command 1/day) 
3. Pape Jan (wily and determined, +1 INT, +1 WIS; can create a sanctuary 1/day) 
4. Anak Wungsu (resourceful and talented, +1 INT, +1 DEX; can create fool's gold 1/day) 
5. Jorge de Menezez (strong and ferocious, +1 STR, +1 CON; can remove/cause fear 1/day) 
6. Ebu Gogo (resilient and fecund, +1 CON, +1 CHA; can detect evil 1/day) 
7. Abu Yaqub Al-Sijistani (cunning and insightful, +1 WIS, +1 CHA; can identify 1/day) 
8. The PC is that very rare thing: a combination of somnic influences from two of the Seven; roll twice, but double the advancement penalty (see below)

Somnic humans suffer a 5% advancement penalty, meaning they must deduct 5% from all XP awards they receive. The player should also roll a sub-background, using the table for degenerate humans, to determine the PC’s origin.

Young Naacals are the descendants of the weak-blooded Naacals who returned to the world from the Unremembered City in the aftermath of the Infraction. Though described as ‘weak-blooded’, this refers to the strength of their somnic ability rather than physical weakness, and they are typically the more vigorous and active of their kind. They are the Naacals who have forged empires and kingdoms within the world, and who often hold sway over vast masses of degenerate human slaves; they are also the most likely to have strayed far from their cultural heritage, and to have engaged in practices unknown to the High or Old Naacals - such as marriage, parental child-rearing, commerce, war, and feasting.

Young Naacal religion is complex, and characterised by the worship of many different gods and spirits, but there are four sets of paired deities, each a brother and sister, who are held to be primordial or supreme. It is the ultimate veneration of one of these pairs which determines a Young Naacal PC’s background. These are:

1 - Nu and Naunet, the gods of fluidity or flow; of transience or the lack of a defined state (attuned to the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, +2 WIS, +1 DEX; can cast change self and hold portal 1/day) 
2 - Hehu and Hehut, the gods of unboundedness, or of the lack of limit - of air, and of the void (attuned to the infinite nature of existence, +2 INT, +1 STR; can cast enlarge and feather fall 1/day) 
3 - Kekui and Kekuit, the gods of darkness, and of obscurity - of the passing of day into night (attuned to the fact that all comes to an end, and that all will pass, +2 WIS, +1 CON; can cast light/dark and erase 1/day) 
4 - Qerh and Qerhut, the gods of repose, of inactivity, of halting and stopping (attuned to the qualities of stillness, and of attending without haste, +2 CHA, +1 CON; can cast hypnotism and sleep 1/day)

Young Naacals suffer a 10% advancement penalty, meaning they must deduct 10% from all XP awards they receive.

High Naacals are the pure-blooded, high caste Naacals who still inhabit the Unremembered City as it floats through the skies of the post-Infraction world. Aloof, arrogant, and strange, over time their somnic abilities have weakened and become attenuated and difficult to control. But they remain the only inhabitants of the world who able to summon and command suchian entities. How this is done is detailed in a separate post.

High Naacals suffer a 10% advancement penalty, meaning they must deduct 10% from all XP awards they receive.