Saturday, 11 July 2020

An Experiment with Covers

I have in my library a number of old paperbacks with rather fine covers. These do not depict directly the contents of the book, but are rather patterns, abstract or otherwise. Here is one of these.

Now, you will note that this is the back cover, lacking the title. I wonder if those seeing these for the first time can identify the writers or subjects or time periods that these books discuss just by seeing these characterful covers. So take a look and put your answers in the comments.

I shall say that these are all volumes of poetry, generally by English-speaking authors, largely from after the 16th century.

It would be wildly optimistic of me to expect that you will get it spot on. But it will be interesting to see how close you get.

These last two have price labels printed as part of the cover.
Could this be of any assistance? Who knows! 

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Alternate Planets

Reading about Chalcidius's commentaries on Plato, I learnt that about a number of alternate names for the planets of the Ptolemaic universe.

These appear to have been names for Mercury through Saturn, either from the (lesser) gods of Pagan antiquity or from attributes of those gods. You will have to find them in the original text - translations seem to render them as Mars, Jupiter &c.

Mercury - Stilbon
Venus - Hesperus
Mars - Pryois
Jupiter - Phaethon
Saturn - Phaenon

This set me thinking. Often, when sketching out the bounds of a world for the tabletop, a creator will gravitate to one very like ours - if tweaked a bit. This might be out of an interest in a given period ("I'm very interested in Tang Dynasty China/Colonial Mozambique/High Medieval Poland/Arthurian legend/Byzantine theology/Incan agriculture,") or just a path of least resistance ("They're basically Vikings, O.K.?").

Starting with something familiar needn't be bad. Not being on a planet with two suns and five moons helps prevent questions about day-night cycles. But still, is somebody going to ask about them? And is that thing called immersion going to be broken if you say "Mars is bright tonight" or "Not-Jupiter is in the fifth house"?

Maybe. So, one might use the names above. As far as I'm concerned, Terrae Vertebrae now does.

But in order to make this into a slightly weightier post....

Each planet of antiquity had it's attendant planetary metal. Recalling my last post and the Latin names of the metals there, one might combine these with one of the various Latin words for star (a planet being, after all, a wandering star).

Thus, Pseudo-Venus might become Cupraster. Mars might be Ferrostella. Jupiter, perhaps, as Stannosidus (or even Stannium Sidius).

There are other possibilities - the Babylonians were astronomers too, and perhaps your players are less familiar with the names of their gods. Likewise the Chinese - but names like Chen-xing might sound a little too specific in terms of phonemes.

I am tempted to suggest the use of C.S. Lewis's Cosmic Trilogy, and the names of the Solar System's planets from that. But doing so would perhaps raise even more questions that just saying Jupiter.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Punth: A Primer Ch. 8 - Names

Names in Punth are of three sorts.

(Seek wider context here and here).

Those of Punthites

The Punthites, as a result of the codes rarely adopt names. If they need to identify themselves, their compatriots in their place of residence or work (often the same) will recognise them.

If a Punthite is compelled to travel, they identify themselves by their place of residence or work. Thus, one may refer to him or herself as Collective 101, Patrol 2442, Station 4077 or Ziggurat 17.
(Collective farms or Patrols will number in the thousands,  Factories in the hundreds and Ziggurats in the tens).

Should further markers be needed, two coloured badges are chosen at random and pinned to the Punthite's tunic. Hence: RoadCrew 313 Grey-Mauve, Warehouse 890 Charcoal-Red, Battalion 290 Green-Green, &c.

Roll 2d20 for the coloured badges:

  1. Black
  2. White
  3. Grey
  4. Red
  5. Orange
  6. Yellow
  7. Green
  8. Blue
  9. Purple
  10. Brown
  11. Mauve
  12. Pink
  13. Beige
  14. Crimson
  15. Teal
  16. Chartreuse
  17. Amber
  18. Khaki
  19. Charcoal
  20. Ash

Those of the Qryth

The Qryth adopt names combining the world around them and abstract traits. Each Qryth is named individually at birth; they may later elect to re-name themselves. These names are (roughly) translated from the Qryth original.

The first part of each Qryth name is a quality of some description. It is generally a virtue, or at least desirable.
The second part of the name is an element of the periodic table, compound, alloy or material.

Thus, 'Strong Hydrogen' would roughly be the equivalent of John Smith or Jane Doe.

'Strong', 'Noble', 'Wise' 'Dextrous' or 'Prudent' might be used as first names; 'Hungry', 'Perfumed', 'Enrobed', 'Moist', 'Muscular', 'Royal' or 'Keen-Eyed' are either too temporary (it is easy to become un-hungry; one was not born wearing robes or scent), too fleshy or, in the case of 'Royal', connected to an institution. 'Observant' would be better than 'Keen-Eyed'. 'Pathetic', 'Psychotic' or 'Lewd' are technically correct but unlikely to be used by any well-adjusted Qryth (one might acceptably use 'Amorous' or 'Romantic' instead of 'Lewd' - the Qryth do not lack passion).

The periodic table of elements furnishes last names.
In accordance with the distance and mystery accorded to the Qryth, if an element has a name not ending in -ium, -on, -en, -ine, &c (IE, Iron, Gold, Copper, Silver, Lead, Mercury, Tin) consider using the Latin name (Ferrum, Aurum, Cuprum, Argentum, Plumbum, Hydrargyrum, Stannum).

An elemental name is considered more traditional, but this does not necessarily match to high social standing.
Common compounds such as 'Salt' render as Sodium-Chloride. I would suggest only using the simpler sort of chemical compounds, were one to use them at all.

Only a certains set of alloys and materials should be used in Qryth names. These materials should be inorganic - no leather or wood. A rule of thumb - if an engineer on Star Trek would commonly encounter it or recognise it or without using an Encyclopaedia, it can be used.
Thus, 'Steel', 'Diamond', 'Carbon-Fibre', 'Teflon', 'Transparent Aluminum', 'NeoSilk' or 'FauxWood' would work but 'Bakelite', 'Ivory', 'Parchment', 'Pewter', 'Brick', 'Corduroy' or 'Worsted' would not'.
[As some of those names suggest, if you wish to use Space Age materials such as these, do.]

So, Qryth some names might include:
Learned Neon, Swift Lithium, Harmonious Stibium, Righteous Uranium, Ubiquitous Zinc, Just Bromine, Fierce Copper-Carbonate, Charitable Potassium-Permanganate, Ambitious Electrum, Curious Brass, Benevolent Cordite, Practical Nylon, Musical Leatherette.....

The Qryth are sufficiently advanced in terms of genealogy and record-keeping to maintain a knowledge of family lineages without the use of surnames. No Qryth will name their child the same thing as themselves.

Those of the Punthite that do not spend time with the Qryth think of their names as the equivalents of their own temporary identifiers.

Those of the Ka-Punth

The Ka-Punth, as they are not aliens or part of alien-dominated society have names closer to the rest of humanity. Whilst they are more likely to have absorbed names from other cultures than the Punthites or the Qryth, one may use names from the Ancient Near and Middle East.

Consider opening the Old Testament and leafing through it until you find a name you don't recognise. Other source (such as this list) are available.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Punth: A Primer Ch. 7

It is the expressed view of the state of Punth that no god or gods exist. The Qryth, if there was any formal tradition of worship in their background before the fall, have left it far behind. Religion in neighbouring states is seen as a result of dishonesty, folly and ignorance. Punthite citizens do not appear to have any great sense of the divine - however, the Codes are treated with reverence bordering on the spiritual and the appearance of a Sky-Prince in an isolated village might be treated with a superstitious wonder.

The Codes structure all things, as the beams of a house. All things may be understood as part of the Codes.

"Prophets are Wizards"

Miracles happen, if less regularly than the Church would like. Prophets (as The 52 Pages labels them [downloadauthor's blog]) are held by the Codes to be wizards of a faith sufficiently strong to influence the character of their magic. That choir of angels is merely the result of an aberration of the wizarding psyche. The same is held, incidentally, for anyone summoning up spirits: the direct, properly taught mage would just summon a firestorm, rather than producing some puppet ifrit to produce flames.

The inner power serves the state best that when it is simplest. 


The Ka-Punth are an exception, of course. Never having been under the Codes, they have such scraps of religious belief as survived the fall and the arrival of the Qryth. Their practices of serving or appeasing the spirits that reside in the deserts are (often) religious in nature, but the Ka-Punth leader that has treated with such spirits long enough knows the limits of their powers.

Foreign Relations

Given that those states around Punth frequently either hold one specific belief or encourage a number to reside within them, foreign relations can be fraught. Even if foreign citizens are not actively prevented from taking part in religious practices, they are deliberately monitored and prevented from proselytising.

Practices from outside the Codes should be monitored as a toothed beast.

Cardinal Directions

To the north lie the nations belonging to the Holy Empire, home to both expansionist zealots and amoral merchants. The mountains of the Hydraulic Dwarves (scrupulously neutral in all conflicts not involving water supplies) lie between. [A version of this is sketched out here].

To the east of Punth is the thick mountains of the Spine of the World. A few passes and valleys zigzag between these, but the bulk of the inhabitants are Dwarves of a distant and traditional type.

To the west of Punth, across the Stained Sea, lies the League of Civic Etiquette, joined to the Inner Sea by the Traitorous Passage. The city-states across from this are sophisticated in their learning and busy hubs of trade - but suffer periodic bouts of frightfully intricate and subtle internecine violence.

To the south is an expanse of hostile desert that slowly transitions into sparse forests and coastal mangroves. The kingdoms of the Bronze River, the Potter's River and the Rawhide River jostle for elbow room along the river banks, both amongst themselves and in ambitious attempts to gain access to the other rivers.

20 Groups of Foreigners

1. A trade factor of Lameravis and his assistants carefully ignore the Gendarmes patrolling outside their warehouse.
2. A survey party of Hydraulic Dwarves chart a water course down from the mountains.
3. Dust gathers as a party of Imperial missionaries process along one of the distant, beautifully maintained roads. As a contingent of soldiers ride to meet them, a lone figure to their rear is discreetly doing the real work of mapping routes.
4. An ambassador of the Etiquette is deciding which sort of incense to employ in his meeting with a Qryth Prince.
5. Two Chieftains from the Potter's River nervously debate which Punthite minister to visit first as their escort squat and cast dice.
6. Knights of the The Equestrian Order of the Seventh Aspect whoop as they sabre-rattle in sight of a fortified ziggurat.
7. A scholar of the Bronze River is investigating some carvings on an ancient shrine outside the city walls. No-one is sure if she should be there.
8. League fishermen have stepped ashore for fresh water on the Punthite coast.
9. Dwarves of the Spine have erected a blockhouse-cum-habadashery for the Ka-Punth rebels. Weapons are not openly sold, but they do not take much persuasion to open the armoury.
10. A ship belonging to the White Star Order of St Lemuel has arrived at a Punthite quay, purporting to be there on behalf of shipwrecked sailors.
11. Craftsmen from the League have resorted to mime in order to instruct Punthite artisans in their style of sculpture.
12. Travelling herdsman from the Rawhide River adjust their face coverings as they wonder how best to get back across the border without having to negotiate the Gendarme Outpost.
13. Two noblewomen of the League admire the carvings of a ziggurat from the interior of their palanquin.
14. Dancing Fauns attract admiration from the other outsiders and confusion from the Punthite citizens nearby.
15. An expatriate of the Etiquette lapses into the Codes as he talks to his pet cat, surprising the feline.
16. The liturgy used by Imperial Merchants in Punth differs from that used by priests in the Empire - first in its frequent prayers for their home and loved ones, second in that it is less explicit about who the enemies of the faithful are, and third in that it is kept at a discreet volume. All the same, perhaps you can hear a low chanting from one of these houses?
17. Gendarmes are busy trying to settle a dispute between feuding southerners from the Rawhide River. The quarrel would be tiresome and convoluted, even if they could all speak the same way.
18. Merchants and Factors of the Empire and the League have decided to pool their wine stocks. Everyone involves this is a very good idea, and worthy of a drink.
19. The Custodian Knights of St. Castrum have managed to erect a fort near to the wells of Junction 1477 in the Northern Desert. They would be glad of news, supplies or armour polish.
20. An angry troop leader from th Bronze River insists to the skeptical Gendarmes that this aggressive chanting and stomping is purely ritual in nature, and not a prelude to unrest.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Punth: A Primer Ch. 6

As part of my ongoing Punth project, I have been building up a lexicon of Punthite phrases. These I have set to match with the classes of The 52 Pages (download, author's blog). Along with this, a character chooses background words at creation. Below is a list of the suggested background words in The 52 Pages, along with a few more Punth-specific options.

Some classes are compelled to choose one Background word. (Wizards, Prophets, Dwarves, Elves). This can be avoided by a human-only reskin of those classes; as before, I like Pioneer and Guide for Dwarf and Elf. Dwarves would loose heat vision and active defence, but move at 12. Elves would have Spells reskinned to 'Skills', and possibly restricted to Knowledge and Illusion.


  • Magic: (See Ch. 5)
  • Religion: N/A *
  • History: There were days that were, and days that are. Correct Though will distinguish them.
  • Heraldry: In knowing the signs of men, know their hearts. May our symbols be as true as out hearts!
  • Monsters: As man is surrounded by beasts, so are the Sky-Princes by Star-Beasts. Great as the Sky-Princes are, so are their beasts.
  • Etiquette: The arms of might and justice are ornamented by proper conduct.
  • Law: Knowledge of the codes is knowledge of the state. Knowledge of the state is knowledge of the mind.
  • Medicine: To each disease there is a cure. To each cure there is a formula.
  • Qryth Studies: All things are known by the Codes, the source of which is the Sky Princes.


  • Underground: N/A **
  • Woodland: Many leaves give strength to a tree; many trees make a forest; a forest sustains a great host.
  • Plains: Between the cities of the plain are the roots of the cities.
  • Sea: To those that return from the engulfing waters, let correct teaching be available.
  • City: From the ziggurats come the Codes. Therefore men gather about them in the cities of the plain.
  • Mountain: In the heights and the valleys both, you walk with the knowledge of the Codes.
  • Swamp: Even where the lands are scattered by water, the state will unite the people.
  • The Ruins: Where the wicked have fallen is no place for men to dwell long.


  • Blacksmith: All tools pass through the fire. The one who keeps that fire must be peerless.
  • Jeweller: By the cut gem and the untarnished plaque, make prowess known!
  • Architect: The builder's plan must be as strong as the base of the pillar.
  • Stoneworker: Buildings are the bones of the state. 
  • Alchemist: In the potion as in the person, the difference of a single grain may be calamitous.
  • Mechanic: Devices redouble the efforts of a man, as the Codes redouble his focus!
  • Burglar: N/A ***
  • Horse(wo)man: The bond between horse and man is strengthens both. Might and Justice may be found in the reins of a rider!
  • Healer: Health of the body is in the hands of the Physician. Health of the mind is in the hands of the Code.
  • Musician: The sound of the cymbal and the slughorn may punctuate a recitation of the codes.
  • Irrigator: Where the water flows, there will be life. Therefore a path must be cut for the water. Therefore tools must be made. 
  • Sorcerer's handler: In days that are no more, sorcerers had the keeping of the people. Now, the people have the keeping of sorcerers.
  • Procurator: What one land has in abundance, another land lacks. But let no man go in want for food, or the goods of the house, or the goods of the state.
  • Scribe: A good record is a joy to Correct Thought.
* Religion deserves its own post.
** There are no underground Dwarven cities or Gnome communes in Punth. The underground background might be applicable for miners (or Punthite soldiers fighting against the Dwarves?).
*** Burglary is not explicitly described by the codes. See Ch. 3 for more details.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Tip & Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa

Imagine a country three times the size of Germany, mostly covered by dense bush, with no roads and only two railways, and either sweltering under a tropical sun or swept by torrential rain which makes the friable soil impassable to wheeled traffic; a country with occasional wide and swampy areas interspersed with arid areas where water is more precious than gold; in which man rots with malaria and suffers torments from insect pests; in which animals die wholesale from the ravages of the tse-tse fly; where crocodiles and lions seize unwary porters, giraffes destroy telegraph lines, elephants damage tracks, hippopotami destroy boats, rhinoceroses charge troops on the march, and bees put whole battalions to flight. Such was German East Africa in 1914-18.

H. L. Pritchard, Ed.
History of the Royal Corps of Engineers, Vol. VII, p. 107


Tip & Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa is a history of the East African campaign by Edward Pearce, first published in 2007. This took place in German East Africa - now Tanzania and Rwanda. German East Africa was utterly surrounded by British, Belgian and Portuguese colonies at the beginning of the war, isolated and outnumbered. Yet German commanders held out until 1918, giving us an extensive look at this form of war and its effects. (The other German Africa colonies were rolled up fairly swiftly, but they do receive a mention.)

So, why talk about this here? Not my usual material. Well, the intersection of the tools of industrial warfare with the less-developed wilderness of East Africa leads to a series of interesting situations to consider.

Firstly, the sheer dearth of Europeans. It should not be a surprise that colonists were outnumbered by natives, but it leads the strange workings where a modern European war must be fought (at first) by levies: 1914 sees British settlers summoned into Nairobi to learn about the emergency and to be organised into military units. Some of these endure to become formal units - see the splendidly named Legion of Frontiersman. Police units are also pushed into paramilitary roles - notably the Northern Rhodesia Police. A European colonial civilian lived in a state of emergency, for at least the early war.

East Africans were both recruited in high numbers to serve in colonial armies (generally referred to as 'Askari' - though this has connotations of irregular soldiery, which would not be true for all African troops). However, this is a conflict with the tools of industrial war that were hear so much of on the Western Front, but without the extensive roads, rail links and factories that allow that to take place. German East Africa was blockaded very early on, and suffered shortages that were frequently mitigated by looting supplies from elsewhere.

Notably, vast numbers of Africans were recruited as porters. With only a few railways and navigable rivers, supplies of food, ammunition and medicine had to be carried. They suffered the same privations as the soldiery, as supply lines extended perilously far and the rains fell. Disease was rife, food was short. Casualties mounted so high that

British forces drew from the resources of Empire as well: Indian regiments and Australians fought in East Africa, as well as forces raised in West Africa and (notably) South Africa. Given the recent Second Boer War, these last had a cloud of suspicion over them that Jan Smuts was keen to dispel by eagerly committing to the fight against Germany. Colonial politics made the war in Africa a political football as often as matter of survival.  Belgian forces were fighting on the last unoccupied Belgian soil in the Congo (no longer King Leopold's personal domain), and thus their success had a unique significance. Portuguese efforts look small beer compared to the rest of Europe, but their colonial possessions brought them into play no matter what, even though they lacked the resources or talent necessary to wage war effectively.

The mismatch of wilderness and modern warfare lead to some astounding developments. Thus we see the haphazard deployment of early aircraft to hunt down German ships, operating in wholly unfamiliar conditions for the pilots. The battle of Lake Tanganyika was settled by hauling two motor launches (HMS Mimi and HMS Toutou) overland, a journey of many miles and much toil. If this seems odd, remember that Lake Tanganyika has a surface area of 12,700 square miles. Even more unlikely, if less successful was the 1917 German attempt to resupply their East African forces by zeppelin, the L59.

By 1917, the German forces under von Lettow-Vorbeck were on the run, stretching a long trail of pursuers and looted villages behind them. Supply lines stretched, and the terrain made bringing him to bear difficult; it's a little reminiscent of the great 18th century campaigns. By this stage, von Lettow-Vorbeck felt no need to hold much ground - there was no sacred German soil to possess or cities to defend, nor did the civilian administration of German East Africa mean much at this time. Despite being broken, his army survived undefeated until the Armistice.

I've not mentioned half of the history this book covers (hunting a battleship in a muddy river delta, the Propaganda War, imperial concerns about an Islamic uprising, the effect of Spanish Flu on a post-war Africa), but suffice it to say that this is an arresting area of First World War history.

There's a lot that could be put towards a tabletop game or setting: two great powers warring over the player's land (like a less perilous Qelong), a caravan game with a zeppelin full of supplies (think Ultraviolet Grasslands), a perilous environment with devastating seasonal changes. I wish I'd read this book before I picked up the Vorrh trilogy.

I'll round of this post with a few flavourful quotes from Tip & Run.


' "The campaign had degenerated into something like searching for a needle in a haystack, with a handful of Germans hidden in thousands of square miles of bush. They had made a splendid stand, but they were not the real enemy. The real enemy was the deadly climate, the wild regions, and the swamps and forests, and scrub." ' (Deneys Retz, Trekking On, 1933)

'On the Rufiji front the German askari subsisted for months on half-rations and were often forced to succumb to the same desperate measures as British troops eating roots and hippo meat; while the death rate among carriers was as high as one in five.'

'In many areas the bush was so thick that, as the commander of one of th Kilwa columns put it, "large bodies of troops [could] pass each other within a mile distance without being aware of the passage of the other"; maps were rudimentary with place names usually referring to an area of twenty square miles or more; violent bush fires frequently raged across the steppeland; and, as ever, it was the terrain and disease that were to prove even more formidable enemies than the German askari.'

[On the Portuguese East Africa border] 'Pouring rain turned the black cotton soil into a quagmire, and elephant grass taller than a man often restricted vision to a matter of yards.'

'When the death toll among British troops was added to that of the carriers the official "butcher's bill" in the East Africa campaign exceeded 100,000 souls. The true figure was undoubtedly much higher.....Even 100,000 deaths is a sobering enough figure. It is almost double the number of Australian or Canadian or Indian troops who gave their lives in the Great War; indeed it is equivalent to the combined casualties - the dead and wounded - sustained by Indian troops. '

Sunday, 10 May 2020

The Dark is Rising on Daemons and Heretics

Briefly, two things you may care to take a look at:

Firstly, there are recordings of the Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature here. I have enjoyed the 2017 lecture by Susan Cooper; you might as well.

Secondly, a Jolly Good Pal has written a little hack of John Harper's Lasers and Feelings called Daemons and Heretics. It is Dark and Grim, but certainly not Grim and Dark. I would suggest taking a look!