Sunday, 16 September 2018

Rats, Cats and Albatrosses

Over at Against the Wicked City, Joseph Manola has been doing a very decent series of reveiws of
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 1st and 2nd edition [Link]. The Skaven form a large part of that. In a comment of mine on one such review, I referenced the rats of Fritz Lieber's The Swords of Lankhmar as an inspiration for the Skaven. [Link] A month later here I am actually doing something about it, presenting a few extracts.

I would still contend that The Swords of Lankhmar is an inspiration on Warhammer Fantasy and the Skaven in particular - albeit an inspiration a few degrees lower than Michael Moorcock's Gods of Law and Chaos and that the Skaven have been notably reworked from their Lankhmarese ancestors.

I am quoting from the Mayflower Books paperback edition of The Swords of Lankhmar from 1970.
Image result for The swords of lankhmar 1970

Those who lack knowledge of Lieber's adventures of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser may wish to look them up first; see Wikipedia, for instance.

Chapter 5, Page 52. Skwee is a talented white-furred rat; Hisvet his carer (and more besides, not that our heroes know that yet).

The Mouser watched the little scene with clouded and heavy lidded wonder, feeling that he was falling under some kind of spell. At times, thick shadows crossed the cabin; at times Skwee grew as tall as Hisvet, or perhaps it was Hisvet tiny as Skwee. And then the Mouser grew small as Skwee too, and ran under the bed and fell into a chute that darkly swiftly sped him, not into a dark hold of sacked or loose delicious grain but into the dark spacious low-celinged pleasance of a subterranean rat-metropolis, lit by phosphorus, where robed and long-skirted rats, whose hoods hid their long faces moved about mysteriously, where rat-swords clashed behind the next pillar and rat-money chinked, where lewd female rats danced in their fur for a fee, where masked rat-spies and rat-informers lurked, where everyone - every-furry-one - was cringingly conscious of the omniscient overlordship of a supernally powerful Council of Thirteen, and where a Rat-Mouser sought everywhere a slim rat-princess named Hisvet Sur-Hisvin.

I should note now that the Council of Thirteen is in reference to the Nehwon legend that '...for each animal kind...there are always thirteen individuals having manlike (or demonlike!) wisdom and skill.' (Chapter 2, Page 26). A legend we learn to have some very real truth to it.  The Grey Mouser here has in fact been drugged (not that he is presented as un-whimsical when not high as a kite), but the image of the under-empire and shrinking prefigures later events.  This paragraph with its Council of Thirteen and political intrigues does seem to have much of the Skaven about it - albeit in a rodent polity that, however grim seems significantly more pleasant than life in the Under Empire. The Skaven as eventually presented would, of course, separate out this Council of Thirteen and the white-furred rats into the political and religious leadership of the Skaven.

The rats of Lankhmar are not humanoid and are of normal size - albeit they are highly organised, armed and determined in their ambitions for dominance. The rat plague in Lankhmar produces the following speculation in Chapter 7, page 92.

Their behaviour made old folks and storytellers and thin-bearded squinting scholars fearfully recall the fables that there had once been a humped city of rats large as men where imperial Lankhmar had now stood for three-score centuries; that rats had had a language and government of their own and a single empire stretching to the borders of the unknown world, coexistent with man's cities but more united; and that beneath the stoutly mortared stones of Lankhmar, far below their customary burrowings and any delvings of man, there was a low-celinged rodent metropolis with streets and home and glow-lights all its own and granaries stuffed with stolen grain. 

The ancient, unified, vasty empire of the rats. Skaven unity may be a tenuous thing, but this paragraph fits very nicely into some of Manola's thoughts more specifically on the Skaven here - their power, their depth, their secrecy. The Skaven may have gatling guns, weaponised plagues and ninja skills (among other things) and may be twice as cruel as any of the Lankhmarese rats but there seems a goodly thematic connection here - the Skaven as a (warped, diseased) limb of the tree with Lieber's roots.


I will also use this space quickly to mention the line between The Swords of Lankhmar  and Terry Pratchett's first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic. The obvious link is the brief appearance of pastiches Bravd the Hublander and The Weasel - not uncommon for the fantasy-satirising early Discworld books, though the prose style for those fragments concerning them seems decently Lieber-esque on a brief overview.

However, other elements emerge. The City of Ankh-Morpork might sound like Lankhmar, and be as rotten but Pratchett has denied a specific connection. The political offices of Overlord and Patrician have a similarity; the Lankhmarese symbols of starfish (and other piscatorial emblems in the palace and fleet of Lankhmar) chime with the seafood sweetmeats of the Patrician in The Colour of Magic. Lankhmar's tavern Silver Eel has a likeness to Ankh-Morpork's Crimson Leech. The various Guilds of Assassins and Thieves perhaps owe something to Leiber.

This early version of Pratchett's Death, irked by Rincewind's survival and active trying to ensure his demise must owe something to the Death of Nehwon (absent - at least personally - from the pages of Swords of Lankhmar). The Overlord of Lankhmar's vessel for slipping out of the bubble within which Nehwon is said to sit and through the oceans of the universe to another world bears a conceptual resemblance to the wizards of Krull and their vessel for journeying around Great A'Tuin. Nehwon's Year of the Leviathan or Month of the Serpent are similar to Discworld's Century of the Fruitbat or Year of the Intimidating Porpoise. I also rather suspect that Blind Io owes at least a little something to Ninguable of the Seven Eyes.    

Finally, (and rounding off the animal theme of this post), the notion of Albatross mail might well be unique to these two fantasy series.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Siege Hands

Catapaulta, by Edward Poynter, 1868*

The Horatione Empire produced numerous expressions of martial valour. Troops that were the first to cross the walls of an enemy city were rewarded with a ceremonial crown. The renown of the armoured lancers of the Equestrian Commandery is well-known. Honour placards and sacred banners attested to the bravery of individual regiments. Personal valour and a polished manner could reward a trooper in the Imperial Corps of Intimates. But seemingly unique to the Horation armies was the phenomenon of the Siege Hands. 

Only an army like the Horatione one, at such a time, with the conquests it led and the cities it broke could give birth to them. Strictly speaking they were siege engineers - though they spurned and scorned sapper work, leaving it instead to the labour gangs. The care of the great engines was theirs, rather. Catapults, ballistas, siege towers, rams- these were the subjects of their attentions. Siege Hands pushed battle platforms, turned windlasses, loaded missiles, extinguished fires**, made running repairs. 

They did not wear the cuirasses or prominently ridged helms of the legions; still less the lighter garb of the flank-troops and allied forces. Often they would wear little in the way of armour - armour that would weigh them down, or impede them in narrow places. All this meant that the recruitment pool for the Siege Hands skewed towards the plebeians, who could not afford to equip themselves, but who nonetheless would work the engines of the Imperial Wars. Indeed, in time the sight of Hands sat atop the war machines in the Triumphal processions instilled a vision of the Siege Hands as an expression of plebeian military virtue. Such a vision was doubtless not hindered the sight of muscular soldiery in ceremonial military harnesses that echoed their stripped-down combat practices.

Think the showy, intended-for-exhibition gladiator armour.
(Couldn't find any really good suitably muscular gladiatrix images, but feel free to imagine as you will).

For a Siege Hand to be separated from the Siege Engine or for that engine to be destroyed is a horror. The centurions of any unit they might get assigned to tend to give them a big shield, an arbalest and a big hammer - on the basis that this is closest to what they might use were things as they ought to be, and on the basis that they might actually be able to heft all that about with them.


To play a Siege Hand (or something very like unto one) in The 52 Pages, roll higher than 16 on Strength. You take the background word 'Siege Engineer' and thus possess a certain knowledge of the strength of stone, wood, metal and cord; further, you are a good rule-of-thumb ballistician. Even if you have a terribly low DEX score, you may use the simpler missile weapons without penalty.

Receive a bonus on Athletics rolls - when lifting, pushing, pulling, at any rate. The Long Jump and the Pole Vault are not for them. 

*Cyber-cards on the electronic table - this image is roughly the only reason this post exists. The composition is interesting to me; the dark interior of the siege tower dominating the image and that strip of background showing a towering city (you may wish to open the image in a new tab). Straining, bare figures contorted in the centre of the picture, contrasting with the static armoured soldiery behind. The small bare wooden footholds within the siege tower; the raw hides outside. A little glimpse of what the tower is pointed towards - and the archers cowering from whatever it is. 

I also have been edging around the 'barbarian of the city' notion - not, as such, an urban survivor possessed of street smarts, but that strength-of-limb and inner fire notion given to someone who wasn't covered in hides and living miles from anywhere. 

**The Siege Hands who actually dealt with incendiaries were rather more sinister than the rest of their kind, and tended to wear big aprons. Never quite as popular.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Punth: A Primer Ch. 2

An ongoing topic here has been Punth and the Qryth. A desert land, split by rivers, ruled by four-armed folk taller than men - who take the tongues of people for their own.

As other posts have explained, Punth operates rather like Ascia in Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. Language is purely the product of the Codes - as written long ago by the alien Qryth. A Punthite can only communicate in extracts from the Codes.

If this is to be made into something usable, some of those Codes need to be available for use on the tabletop. Whilst I do not presume to write anything meticulously complete as the books of propaganda, law and instruction that constitute the Codes, I can at least produce a comprehensive slice of them. I shall attach to these encounter tables for the land of Punth.

Firstly, the Codes' set up on the borders of Punth:

1. All that pass here must halt. All that halt must read.
2. To those who do not, a mutilation is due. To those that are mutilated, death is due.
3. This is the dwelling of the Sky Princes and all those who co-prosper with them.
4. Such lands are called by some Punth.
5. All men should live in peace, form which comes plenty.
6. Thus, the Sky Princes raised these stones.
7. Thus, the Sky Princes and the Servants of the People will the tend the ways of peace.
8. Those who do not attend to correct teaching shall leave these places by such means as are best.
9. To learn peace is to learn wisdom. To the wise will come plenty.
10. Might and Justice shall be theirs, by which peace shall ever reign.

Next, the Codes' Statement of Coupling.

1. There must be two for creation, but many for rearing.
2. Two may meet, but the many must grant their abiding.
3. To abide in peace and plenty, there must be might and justice.
4. The two may meet, but the Sky Princes must grant their abiding.
5. But no voice speaks against this. None of the Codes is against this.
6. Therefore joy is the grant of the many, of the Sky Princes.
7. Let those raised in peace and plenty ever heed and honour them!

A few notes on Qryth infrastructure in Punth

The Qryth were, in their first days in Punth, possessed of much foresight about the future. They planned accordingly.

It is a shame they were wrong. Wrong about the society they were building;  wrong about their chances for technological progress.

The Qryth maintain, in a semi-Medieval Near East, the sort of administrative tools that would better suit a state in the 'Western World' of 21st Century AD Earth. Border checks; extensive records of comings and goings. There are roads everywhere, carefully maintained - a great advantage in war, but a great expense (there is often less in the way of immediate funds to spend on a campaign). Moreover, they go everywhere. Not just between cities or along trade routes. They do not appear to have come about naturally.

Some seem to head out to dead ends, terminating in desolate valleys or contaminated springs. The first generation of Qryth extensively scanned Punth; doubtless somewhere beneath the sands is a great bounty of petroleum or the minerals needed to make DVD Players - but this means nothing in contemporary Punth. But the Qryth must maintain the great monuments of their ancestors. So long highways to empty places are sweated over by workgangs, guarded by Sky Princes and Gendarmes.

This is indicative of a lot of Punthite administrative practice. It is worth reading this blog post. I've not read Seeing Like a State myself, but Patrick Stuart does an interesting review. Consider also Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France - though the Qryth could rewrite so very much more than the Constitution, the Calendar and political geography (indeed, they were positively obliged so to do).

[It occurs to me that there is something reminiscent of Warhammer 40,000 in the Qryth. Tradition-bound Orwellian maniacs, stronger than anyone else in that polity, trapped within the structures - physical, political, cultural - of another, greater age.  More aesthetics of ruin, for those who care for them - but the tragedy and loss, the dislocation, of 40k's Imperium of Man has a disticnt likeness to the Qryth.]

The Gendarmes

Nominally, the Qryth are the only military of Punth. One advantage of this is that they are bigger than anyone else (they struggle with Half-Giants, but Half-Giants don't like the heat). But ultimately lesser forces were required. Sentries, quartermasters, teamsters, police forces. Therefore, a gendarmerie was created. It was even called by a word equivalent to 'Gendarme' in the Qryth tongue.

The gendarmes are the most visible military and police presence in Punth. They have some human commanders, but none above what we should think of as regimental rank. The Sky Princes monitor them closely.

Among other things, the gendarmes conduct regular border patrols (even along the desolate stretches of Punth's deserts). They act as a first line of defence - but a line of defence that is expected to fall back in good order and get one of the Qryth if attacked by a serious threat. Not that they are absent from Punth's campaigns or the order of battle.

They wear strange garments of a mustard-like colour, tight fitting and with several pouches, a little like modern police uniforms. Armour can be placed over this; it is padded at several spots to help accommodate this. There are two traceries in red braid on the flanks - roughly where the second set of Qryth arms would be. The officers sport peaked caps. Urban garrisons tend towards truncheons and lathis - at least, in most places. Outside the walls, they are armed well, often with pikes and crossbows. A cavalry contingent is maintained, as are supply trains for the outer garrisons.

[Aside from echoing the dislocated modern-world tendencies of the Qryth, this is deliberately reminiscent of the extensive interior guard or state security forces of totalitarian regimes. To refer again to Recluce, Natural Ordermage and Mage-Guard of Hamor are worth referring to. ]

Friday, 6 July 2018

The Majestic Vision

As before, there's been a rumbling notion in the back of my brain for a while about an 18th Century setting to put together, which needs a lot of finessing - something called (sometimes) White Hot Sparks from the Crucible of the EnlightenmentThis post over at Against the Wicked City is worth considering.

However, I do now have a notion of how a clerical character class would occur within this setting.

First of all, this is grounded in fairly European eighteenth century ideals - even if not every player character, nation, or so forth shares in traits considered European. The eighteenth century in Europe was not, as such, a time of perfect religious tolerance (when has been?) but it is worth noting that the tenor of the age (if you will) is for a relative lack of strife. The Thirty Years War leaves a heavy shadow. The up-springing of new sects or movements (for instance, the Methodists and Pietists) is not met quite with the same social violence as the churning mess of non-conformsits around the English Civil War. Religious differences certainly exacerbate conflict, but are not as often the cause of it. Consider the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Even if Church and state work in tandem, there is a lessening of the connection between the two - witness the reforms of Joseph II (or indeed Peter the Great, to look Eastwards) and receding Papal influence. Towards the end of the century, witness the Deist influences on the Founding Fathers of the United States of America - and the separation of Church and State. Come to that, witness also the anti-clerical works of the French Revolution (this is putting it mildly).

Consider also Church interiors. There is a movement away from direct depiction of religious figures or events - even in Catholic buildings with the excesses of the Baroque and the Rococo. Compare the wall paintings of the Medieval period:
Image result for St Peter and St Paul's Church, Pickering
St Peter and St Paul's Church, Pickering

and the white and gilt patterning of the Eighteenth Century.
St Mary Le Strand, London.
If you zoom in on the altar, you will see three smaller paintings around the panels behind it.
Two larger paintings are on the left and right, largely unseen from this angle.
The ceiling of the dome above the altar is decorated with numerous winged heads,
rays of light and floral arrangements. A triangle with the Hebrew name of God is at the centre.
The presence of the Hanoverian coat of arms is not an irrelevant touch.
If you've any doubts on this matter, take a look here and in sections below. Even where the scene is exuberant, well-financed and well kept, there is a focus on specific areas - rather than a sort of seamless, continuous pattern of images about the building. The presence of the Tetragrammaton or the Alpha and Omega rather than an image of God the Father is another facet of this to consider. This can also be seen in clerical dress. Here's the Cadaver tomb of Henry Chicele, Archbishop of Canterbury 1414-1443:

...and here's a portrait of Thomas Herring, Archbishop of Canterbury 1747-1757:
By William Hogarth, May be found in the Tate Britain.
To counterbalance any excessive Anglocentrism in this blog post, here's Charles Antoine, Count of La Roche-Aymon, Cardinal and Archbishop of Rheims.
WP Charles-Antoine de la Roche-Aymon.jpg
And he may be found in the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.
More luxuriant than Thomas Herring? Perhaps. More colourful and grandiose than Henry Chichele? Not quite.

So, it is these kind of characteristics that an eighteenth century inspired faith would need to fit. As capable of producing hellfire preachers as subtle Jesuits; popular reformers or Princes of the Church. Capable of presenting a relatively abstract sort of theology. Possessed less and less of the power of the state, but capable of raising force and spirit when needed.

Anyway, this is what I've come up with.


In the city of Loribides, some four hundred years after it's foundation, during the fourth term of office of the Exarch Ctionas, there was a teacher, a debater, a scholar. He went by the name of Procophon and gathered a small but intense following. In time, he gained enemies - petty malice and envy from some, irritation from others. Their accusations led to his being declared an enemy of the state and he was forced to drink a slow but sure poison.

He died, or did something very like it.

However, after this he rose up again and a voice very like his own sprang from the cold lips; a voice like unto that of a son or daughter. His family certainly thought it him.  Procophon then told of the world he had seen that lay the other side of death and thorough what eyes it is seen. Men propel themselves into the next world, moulding their souls over the course of life. The better the soul, the more Majestically it is transformed after or by death.

Some said Procophon had been favoured by the Gods and so had been granted this vision. Some said he was a fraud. Some said that the poison had been too slow, and had given him time to prepare himself perfectly for the next world. Accounts differ one what the man himself said.

Perhaps the poison was slow - some six months slow. The body fell and began to turn into corruption and the voice very like Procophon's was heard no more. The body was dismembered by his enemies and buried in secret. Procophon's daughter, Cnoh, was later killed by his grave. But their malice did not stop the teachings of the Majestic Vision had left from spreading.

Three of his pupils penned separate accounts of his life, before and after the deadly cup. These were collected into a book, the Words of Procophon.  Later, dialogues and epistles of the faithful would be added to this. Five hundred and ten years after the foundation of Loribides, nationalist sentiments folded historical records of Loribides before and after Procophon into the Words, offering useful context of those times. A jumble of other proverbs, poems and writings were placed into the canon at this stage. It is this version of the Words that is the standard text employed by Diverse Realms and Kingdoms subscribing to the Majestic Vision.

Teachers spread the marvellous news and hope of the Majestic Vision. Some exhibited powers, derived from the potential energy of the Eidolon, or Soul-that-is-to-Come. By this they made their word known.

The tales of ghosts and the deeds of necromancers helped convince many. Ghosts have clearly not died peacefully, or with time to make proper use of the teachings of Procophon. Those things summoned by necromancers have no resemblance to Procophon as described in the Words.

Those subscribing to the Majestic Vision have a number of Schools that regulate the faithful. Perhaps the largest is based in Malicarn, but it's authority had been challenged upon multiple occasions by other, newer schools in different cities.

Charity is a virtue to those subscribing to the Majestic Vision, but, as it were, contingently. Folk with health and (moderate) wellbeing are better able to follow Procophon's example. Prayer, Sermons, Meditation, Scholarship, Discipline - these are the hallmarks of the Majestic Vision. Spiritual exercise for the refinement of the self. Many coming of age rituals are accompanied by tutelage, however perfunctory, in the principles of the Majestic Vision.

The hope of the Majestic Vision for the poor is to transcend what they have. The rich, having greater access to accounts of the supernatural or time to make a detailed study of the Words, generally have a more cerebral relationship with the Vision. Death may come at any time and one should not get the Eidolon get out of shape, but a wholehearted devotion can be delayed for the busy man. Of course, most folk subscribe to the Vision; conversions are not vital, rejuvenation might be.

Some have the mastery still to use the power of the Eidolon in this world. They are often feared and respected - or loved, depending on their uses of those powers.

A fairly obvious set of influences - though one quite a way under the surface is the heavily divided Egyptian soul. But I think that they fix the Eighteenth Century flavour well into the matter. There a relatively well recorded historical reality. There is a background set of ritual and worship, but upfront or vital. The Majestic Vision need not even be Theistic. 

However, one thing this is not is Spiritualism, though the Majestic Vision acknowledges and considers ghosts and necromancy. But actively contacting the next world is impossible. No seances, no ectoplasm, no automatic writing and table knocking.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Age of Mythology: A Checklist of Beasts

I have been in the midst of a moderate nostalgia kick for Age of Mythology, a real-time strategy computer game from 2005. The premise of setting civilisations and their various deities, monsters and heroes at one another's throats was moderately irritable. The inclusion of a scenario editor was a very good choice - however poor I was at using it versus the versions found in Age of Empires. If you want more of a background or assessment, here's Wikipedia and here's a podcast.

One thing, however, that might appeal to readers is the visual inspiration. Many of the monsters - 'myth units' - took their cues from cinema. Hence, the cyclops looked like this:

reminiscent of this cyclops from Ray Harryhausen.

Image result for cyclops from Ray Harryhausen.

Likewise, the Gorgon carried a bow and had a serpentine lower half - just as Medusa in Clash of the  Titans. This continues across the civilisations - Greek, Egyptians and Norse (Atlanteans* were added in a less well-recived expansion). The Egyptians seem to have come straight out of The Mummy or The Ten Commandments.

But the use of popular culture elements as inspiration, as well as the mix of mythological origins is, on reflection, more than a little reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons et al**. This said, the best known monsters get used as myth units pretty quickly and the creators (Ensemble Studios) had to fill in the gaps - sometimes using their imaginations pretty freely. It's interesting to see how they plug the gaps.

So, below is a list of myth units from Age of Mythology and The Titans Expansion with notes about each one and if it has appeared elsewhere (that I know of). Age of Mythology wiki link with more information here (elements of the in-game encyclopaedia are hilarious). Reference is made to the first edition Monster Manual in the first instance.

Pegasus - must be one out there somewhere.
Cyclops - yup.
Minotaur - in skeletal form, even.
Centaur - ahumph.
Manticore - yes.
Nemean Lion - functionally a dire lion.
Hydra - multiheaded dragons are known; not so certain about regenerating heads.
Scylla - basically a multi-headed plesiosaur, rather than a woman with multiple dogs at her waist and a serpentine tail.
Chimera - yes.
Medusa - the correct term would be gorgon, but yes.
Carcinos - giant bloody crab.
Colossos - a bit like Ted Hughes's Iron Giant. But Grecian and with a sword. Think a mass-market Talos.

Anubite - jackal-headed humanoids with two blades. Can jump very far. Found purely as a homebrew.
Wadjet - winged serpent from the Pharonic crown, but scaled up to bigger than a man. Spits poison.
Sphinx - ahumph x 2.
Scarab - no longer tiny. Bigger than a four-door saloon; massive pincers to tear down buildings. Nothing new about giant beetles.
Petsuchos - bejewled laser crocodile. Based on a sacred crocodile, probably without the lasers. Giant crocodiles one can find; lasers are extra.
Roc - giant bird that serves to transport people. See the giant vulture - complete with cage - from Clash of the Titans.
Leviathan - also serves as a transport. Old Testament references now; see Jonah.
Scorpion Man - there's one in the Peridot.
Avenger - nothing to do with John Steed. Mini-Horus with two swords.
Mummy - not hard to find. Can convert you into a minion.
Phoenix - yes, these can be found.
War Turtle - sodding great turtle.

Troll - these ones throw stones and can get an extra head.
Valkyrie - Nordic-themed mounted female paladin with obligatory Wagnerian metallic bodice.
Einherjar - spirit of heroic Norse warrior. Bit like a Death Knight.
Frost Giant - yes. Elite frost giants get horns, for some reason.
Mountain Giant - standard issue giant with beard and club. 
Kraken - not quite as big as some examples.
Battle Boar - golden boar; think a mass-market Gullinbursti.
Fire Giant - yes. Somewhat like a hornless demon.
Fenris Wolf Brood - functionally a dire wolf; gain greater strength in packs (beyond there being more dire wolves, that is).
Jormund Elver - sea serpent. Though also referred to as elvers - giant eels are also a staple.

Promethean - golem (Prometheus made men out of clay - were these prototypes?). Split into two smaller versions after death.
Automaton - robot suit of armour.
Caladria - winged healer. Doesn't fight herself.
Servant - benevolent water elemental. _ of Oceanus is implicit in the name.
Satyr - ahumph x 3.
Neriad - aquatic woman on a shark with a trident.
Behemoth - triceratops meets armadillo. Eighteen feet long. Old Testament again.
Stymphalian Bird - bird that slings razor sharp metal feathers at you. Can't find any likely suspects.
Argus - floating octopus that can drool acid. Many eyes.
Lampedes - Underworld nymph that keeps Persephone company. Looks a bit like a Drow sorceress.
Man o' War - jellyfish that shoots lightening.
Heka Gigantes - Only four arms, but still giant. 

Go forth and investigate further, if you've a will to.  The game is full of details that could be plucked for ideas. I personally should like to see more laser crocodiles on the tabletop.

* In the first game, Atlantis was Greek with a few extra bits of set decoration. In the expansion, the Atlanteans become Titan-worshippers drawing on Roman elements (IE, Murmillo are the standard infantry unit) with a scattering of other stuff (IE, llamas, implying theories about some Native American civilisations being Atlantean).

It's all a little unconvincing next to the semi-realsitic other civilisations - the Greeks have actual hoplites and triremes, for instance. But at the same time, the designers have had freedom to make it all up as they went along. So you get a masonry and metal-heavy semi-Modern architecture, and hints in the flavour text at a slightly egalitarian society. To say nothing of the occasional gem of strange gameplay justifcaion lore:

A Contarius distinguished in battle, upon returning to Atlantis, was presented with a lance made from petrified wood found in one of Atlantis’s most distant western colonies. When the stone lance of a Contarius broke, the soldier’s name was carved on its shaft and the fragments were returned in honor to Atlantis. These fragments were arranged in a palisade around the Palace of the Theocrat. It did not take long for the competitive Contarii to begin seeking out targets that would most swiftly break their lances - namely buildings. 


Splendidly evocative stuff, but ultimately not enough of it to satisfy, however daft it all is.

** To say nothing of the unlikely pin-up illustration high fantasy renditions of the gods and goddesses involved (Theia, Hekate and Hyperion spring to mind). Some look reasonable enough; others are begging to have the numbers filed off and to be re-used elsewhere.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Postmodern Architecture, John Outram and Babylon

Currently at the Sir John Soanes Museum of Lincoln's Inn fields in London, there is an exhibition on Postmodern Architecture; see this Link.  I have no notion of what you think of when you hear that, but it basically involves bring traditional forms back into a world of modernist clean lines and corners - though rather having a sense of fun with them, it would seem. Something beyond pastiche, though hardly parody.

Apparently the Vauxhall Cross ziggurat that currently houses the Secret Intelligence Service is an example of the style (you might have seen it in a James Bond flick, if nowhere else).

This is a small exhibition, but quietly fascinating - not because of any great reveals to me, but some of the conceptual designs and art displayed, along with models of the buildings in question. The most impactful stuff was by a chap called John Outram (there's an interview here).

He did a pumping station in the Isle of Dogs that looks like this:

Those capitals are a bit much, really. 

The pumping station is thought well enough of by certain of the powers that be that it has been listed. Not something that appeals to me, but some of Outram's other stuff is interesting. The Judge Business School in Cambridge, for instance.

Or his design for 200 Queen Victoria Street. But for the best...

This painting, by Carl Laubin is an interpretation of Outram's design for a new building for the Financial Times:

Carl Laubin, Imago Terrarium, 1987.

I should open it in a new tab to see it in the largest size possible.

It is something, is it not? The Thames-flooded Middlesex around it, cypresses atop the ruins that serves as a cutaway diagram, the archeologists uncovering side by side with the builders raising it up. Laubin has done some other fun stuff, cramming architecture together like a Dark Souls map (not that I know a thing about that game).

Carl Laubin, Hawksmoor, 1996-2000,
His website is here:, if you want a look. Some of his plaza scenes are quite good.

I think both Outram and Laubin have a notion of a place in history for buildings, which I like. The obsession with ruins and the OSR has been noted, of course (there is even a comment about Sir John Soane as a patron and art of how the Bank of England will look, centuries from now when it is ruined....)


What use do I intend to make of this, however? Well, Outram's stuff all has a rather ancient Near/Middle East feel to it. Those aren't Grecian columns in the ruins above (he has even done some specifically Egyptian themed stuff).  The bright colours also rather point me towards Babylon: see the blue tile of the Ishtar Gate.

A reconstruction in Berlin. Doubtless the Punth equivalent depicts Qryth fang-lizards or Behemoth-bests
rather than oxen and dragons.
Now, my in-world Babylon is Punth. Which is fallen and ruined; first by the Tower of Babel equivalent, second by the decay of Qryth technological abilities.

So, a notion of Qryth architecture: when first made, the ziggurats, mansions, walls, &c. were all marvellously parti-coloured and bright - either because that was what the Qryth had, or just how their grand earthmovers and building machines dealt with strange materials. Now, however, the strange coloured panels are cracked, spalled and dusty. Later buildings imitate these in tile and brick (or tapestries, wall cloths or banners for interiors), but are never quite as vivid in tone as the Qryth originals.

This now is Punth: Orwellian four-armed green giants clutching half-functional ray-guns in dusty funhouse vastnesses and a brainwashed populous outside...

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Punth: A Primer

An ongoing topic here has been Punth and the Qryth. A desert land, split by rivers, ruled by four-armed folk taller than men - who take the tongues of people for their own.

As other posts have explained, Punth operates rather like Ascia in Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. Language is purely the product of the Codes - as written long ago by the alien Qryth. A Punthite can only communicate in extracts from the Codes.

If this is to be made into something usable, some of those Codes need to be available for use on the tabletop. Whilst I do not presume to write anything meticulously complete as the books of propaganda, law and instruction that constitute the Codes, I can at least produce a comprehensive slice of them. I shall attach to these encounter tables for the land of Punth.

Firstly, the Codes' account of how Punth came to be as it is, the Statement of Being:

1. Let all who hear, attend.
2. In days that are no more, sorcerers had the keeping of the people. Let those days come no more!
3. The wicked man is he that seeks his own power.
4. The sorcerers sought their own power in many lands and drew to them the Sky Princes.
5. By this shall you know the just: intention. By this shall you know the mighty: success.
6. When the mighty are just, their intention will meet with success.
7. In falling, the spiteful seek tp confound their victors, but the Sky Princes can ever win through.
8. Yet a people long oppressed will be weak and weaker still when the cruel strike falls.
9. But the Sky Princes extended the arms of might and justice to them.
10. This was all recorded, so that the might and justice of people and princes, but ever renew itself.
11. From the days in which this was written, unto all other days.

Next, the Punthite creed, or Pledge of Allegiance: the Statement of Belonging:

1. Let all who hear, attend.
2. If a man has fallen to the dust, let his neighbour bend to him.
3. If two men fall to the dust together, they must bend to one another.
4. Who must rise first? The mighty. Who shall be raised up? The just.
5. The exile is ashamed of making his new home. The shipwrecked man is not.
6. The might of the scribe is in the pen, the might of the soldier in the sword, the might of the builder in the rod. What might do the Sky Princes lack?
7. The might of the scribes in our books, the might of the soldier is at our gates, the might of the builder is in our homes. What might do the people lack?
8. If there is wisdom in our books, who shall gainsay it?
If there strength at our gates, who shall come against us?
If there is peace in our homes, who shall afflict us?
The foolish, the reckless, the malicious.
9. When the Sky Princes speak, none else shall speak, for they speak wisdom.
When the Sky Princes command, none else shall, for theirs is might.
When the Sky Princes settle, none else shall, for in their gift is peace.
10*. From the days in which this was written, unto all other days.

*If spoken, "From the day in which this is spoken, unto all other days."

Ten Encounters in the Deep Deserts of Punth
1. Two young Qyrth, out on a hunt of their own. They are liable to be trigger happy and haughty.
2. A caravan of the Ka-Punth, picking their way over a blasted section of twisted rock. A covered camel bears the fragile spirit-vessel of an ancient sorcerer, and its nervous, twisted keeper.
3. A ruined tower, from the days of the Sorcerer-King. It is sandblasted and scarred - and likely long empty, though who knows what might be visible from the top?
4. Scouts from Kapaleron in the north. They are doing their best not to be seen. The Qryth would pay for news of them; they would pay for news of Punth. Who knows how complete their maps are - or how deep their 'discretionary funds'?
5. A djinn of the desert, once perhaps a sorcerer, circling in the heat haze. Below, a Ka-Punth initiate hopes to commune with it. He has been staked to the ground. The rest of his number are likely out of sight - and earshot.
6. Across a dry riverbed, a column of Punth gendarmes swarm. They are monitored by a stoic, muscular Qryth commander. 
7. A herd of Qryth behemoth-beasts passed this way - as the hoof marks and fewmets suggest. They must have broken the bounds of a reserve - who knows what else lurks out here?
8. A skirmish, atop the flat top of a high mesa in the pitiless sun: Ka-Punth tribesmen scurry to retreat as Punthite gendarmes advance on them.
9. A party of smugglers, lightly laden and watchful. Their packs might have weapons for the Ka-Punth or trade goods for remote, unsupervised Punthite towns. One veiled figure is in fact a priest from the north, hoping to carry the evangelical mission to the enslaved of Punth. 
10. The sand churns; there is a rush of wind - who shall withstand it? What is it that comes through the desert?