Saturday, 12 October 2019

Punth: A Primer Ch. 3

Punth: where the scribes records details of the latest five-year plan on clay tablets beneath the eyes of watchful green four-armed aristo-commisars!

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.

[I suppose that first paragraph could be taken to mean that Punth is a satire of leftism or some sort of failiure state of progressivism. That capacity does exist, but that's not really the point.  There is something comical about trying to go as quickly as possible from Pharaohs and Pyramids to Soviets and Sputnik (as desirable as that might be), both because of the cargo-cult nature of it and because it seems so unlikely - as if Birmingham were the centre of a Venetian-style mercantile republic; or casting Calgary as the next Singapore. Seeing like a State (which I have now read!) and the failure of central planning - if it results from the thought and practice of the left or the right wing - may be the appropriate political text.

That said, the Qryth are meant to have some of the pathos of the shipwrecked - as well as the heroic stature of the Green Martians and the glamour of Star Trek.]

Before the Tribunal

A trial in Punth is conducted before a tribunal, which will usually include at least one of the Qryth. It takes a lot to come to trial - the pettier, breach-of-the-peace offences can be dealt with by a local headman or Gendarme sergeant by summary beatings* or withholding food. A trial in Punth does not involve a jury, nor does it really involve an advocate or legal adviser (an interpreter or spokesperson may be provided in the case of juveniles or foreigners.) Commercial or property disputes will probably be settled by a decision by the highest ranked local state official - who generally have a judicial role as well.

The trial is held in public at one of the ziggurats-citadels. A designated Official Witness (who is in fact probably working from numerous witness statements) will describe the offence. A few other witnesses may also be called, especially if they were the ones who were involved in the crime.
The accused may speak - though this is often fruitless, except for those who really know the Punth Codes. After all this, the judges will render a verdict.

Therefore, consider the following example trial. Aside from those named below, you may assume the presence of other petitioners, a scribe and sundry guards, Gendarmes, citizens &c.

Chief Judge: Let all who hear, attend.
CJ: When the Sky Princes speak, none else shall speak, for they speak wisdom.
CJ: When the Sky Princes command, none else shall, for theirs is might.
CJ: When the Sky Princes settle, none else shall, for in their gift is peace.
CJ: Let justice direct might. Let all who may attend. Let justice be marked and recorded.

Official Witness: If the people are to be fed, work must be divided between them. Therefore, offices and duties will be given to the just.
OW: All men should live in peace, from which comes plenty.
OW: If there strength at our gates, who shall come against us?
The foolish, the reckless, the malicious.
OW: The foolish will do as the malicious, though justice coupled with might stand against them.
OW: If a man has fallen in the dust, let his neighbour bend to him.

[OW gestures to AP]

Aggrieved Party, with a prominent wound to the head: Who must rise first? The mighty. Who shall be raised up? The just.
Aggrieved Party's Partner: All men should live in peace, from which comes plenty.
APP: When the sun is down, work must cease.
APP: Let each man be seen at his work.

OW: Let no man take more than is needed. May the fruits of the people stay with the people.
OW: The Sky Princes and the Servants of the People will the tend the ways of peace.
OW: Those who do not attend to correct teaching shall leave these places by such means as are best.

Associate Judge 1: May the fruits of the people stay with the people. Where there is harm, let it be seen by the just and amended by the mighty.

[OW proffers a tablet to the tribunal]

OW: That which withers may be replanted.
AP: The blocked channel may be cleared.

AJ1:  If a man has fallen to the dust, let his neighbour bend to him.

[CJ gestures to the Accused Man]

CJ: Let all who may attend.

AM: Where there is labour, let there be comfort. Where there is thirst, let there be water. Where there is wind, let there be a shelter.
AM: Offices and duties will be given to the just.
AM: When the Sky Princes command, none else shall, for theirs is might.

CJ: All voices in time will fall silent. But let the just speak last.

[CJ, AJ1 and AJ2 confer]

AJ2: Folly will lead to weakness; weakness to malice. By our efforts, let us suppress all three.
CJ: If two men fall to the dust together, they must bend to one another.
AJ1: Justice and might are offered to all.
AJ1: The Servants of the People will the tend the ways of peace.
AJ2: The spiteful seek to confound their victors
CJ: Where justice and might are in concord, all are in concord.

[The Judges turn to the court]

CJ: Let all who hear, attend.
CJ: To learn peace is to learn wisdom. To the wise will come plenty.
CJ: The Servants of the People will the tend the ways of peace.
CJ: For the People to prosper, many offices must be filled.
CJ: If the roads are clear, if the roof is sound, all will travel in safety and arrive to comfort.
CJ: Let justice direct might. Let all who may attend. Let justice be marked and recorded.

A man who occupies a minor office has come to the court. He has been attacked and robbed. The Official Witness describes the incident and recomends a spell on a Workgang. The wounded man is exhibited and accuses his attacker. The wounded man's wife mentions the time of the attack and how she knew the attacker.
A judge asks for details of what was taken or damaged. These are provided.
The accused man defends himself, blaming the wounded man for abusing his position.
The judges confer, and elect to send the accused man to a work gang. This is announced to the court.


Shades of the Fallen Tower

The spirits of those sorcerers who ruled Punth before the Qryth still linger in the desert. THe strongest are known to the desert tribes as djinn. Here are several ways in which they might manifest.

1. A spectre in armour, upright but still bearing the marks of their violent demise upon their person. ("Hamlet's father")
2. A man in the imperial finery of the ancient world, with a carefully benevolent expression.
3. A monarch, dressed for a ceremonial hunt. Their most notable feature is a long, well groomed beard (or crown of hair).
4. The head of a lion sits on a stone pedestal, although no blood shows from the neck stump. Bones are littered around it. The lion's head moves, eyes tracking your motions and the jaw moves.
5. In a depression in the dunes, something like vegetable oil bubbles and steams - though the puddle never reduces.
6. Within a small cave, there is an amphora of wine, which is quite fresh to the taste - though unlike any modern vintage. Those who taste will see the spirit of that place.
7. Thirteen large serpents who travel in convoy.
8. Someone is sitting on a rock, in the shade of an old pillar. They turn as you approach, but do not get up. They cannot rise, for the below the waist they are one with the rock.
9. A tall flame, most clearly visible at sunrise and sunset. At night it is gone entirely.
10. A cleft in the ground, where a vast flame burns constantly. Smoke steadily rises up.
11. An eagle with feathers of gold and lapis lazuli. It does not seem to flap its wings much when in flight.
12. As a tiger is to a house cat, this vast thing is to an elephant. Though it does not seem to leave footprints.
13. A floating palanquin with purple curtains. Inside is only a skull, resting crookedly on silk cushions
14. What's a goat doing out here?
15. Something gleams against the sun. When you squint, the planes of a tetrahedron seem to shimmer briefly.
16. A four-armed figure, with the head of a bird. Each hand toys with something that is either a weapon or an ornament.
17. Blue smoke rises from the platform of a chariot. The chariot is being pulled by winged jackals with bronze collars.
18. A tall, pillar of open air, about which the clouds cluster.
19. There is a voice on the wind, if you will only attend to it.
20. You, but prettier, better dressed and better groomed.

*'The people meeting in counsel may judge, but no one is to receive more than a hundred blows.'

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Something for Your Shelves: Doctor Syn

Over at False Machine a few months ago there was a few articles dealing with Robin Hood in various works of fiction and characters inspired by him. The concept of 'The Walter Scott Fictional Universe' was raised and discussed (this is worth a look into, if you haven't done so already). You may perhaps consider this a belated contribution to the conversation.


Who is Doctor Syn? That's perhaps the question of the work itself. The first book Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh, was published in 1915 by Russell Thorndike. Several others were written in the 1930s, and show the difference in content and themes. Here's the Wikipedia entry; here's a link to the Wikisource text of the first book.

Anyway, having given you a chance to encounter the work on your own terms, I'm going to offer my account of the stories. They are set in the late eighteenth century on the south coast of England in the village of Dymchurch on the Romney Marsh. This is the parish of Dr Syn - country vicar, old friend of the squire, Doctor of Divinity and a pillar of the quiet rural community. However, smuggling is afoot, led by the mysterious figure known only as the Scarecrow and his diabolically-costumed gang, the Night Riders - who are pursued both by customs agents and the Royal Navy. 

Of course, anyone with a name like Dr Syn is never going to be entirely what they seem. And given my invocation of Robin Hood earlier, you may have guessed by now that Dr Syn is the Scarecrow. Syn's past is not what it seems; a brilliant scholar at Oxford and a keen duellist, he seemed willing to settle down to the life of a village priest - until his Spanish bride ran off with another man. He pursued them to America, but was captured by pirates and in his quest for revenge turned to piracy himself, eventually earning infamy as the notorious Captain Clegg. Along the way he met Mr. Mipps, his mate and later sexton of Dymchurch. At last, wearying of piracy he sank his own ship and returned to England (where Dr Syn Returns picks up). Mipps in time joins him. Even as Syn looks to conceal his past, he longs to demonstrate his own prowess - and wishes to protect the smugglers that make up his parish from the harshness of the law. Thus, he takes up the guise of the Scarecrow. 

What makes these books notable? Well, 18th century smuggling yarns are nothing new, but these are well-executed and atmospheric. Dymchurch is a small place - this is no kind of epic - but the sense of place is quite strong. (The relative smallness of the place and stakes - a very human scale - perhaps contributes to its success). To my mind though, Dr Syn is the most compelling feature of these books.  Unlike Robin Hood, Zorro or Batman he is given a certain genuine unpleasantness. Firstly, he seems to enjoy the sport and power of smuggling - despite mastery of the smugglers of the marsh, he never quite manages to divert them from smuggling altogether. It is never an entirely heroic endeavour. 

Secondly, he is willing to kill in defence of his hidden identity - and not merely in combat (quite unlike Bruce Wayne, say). His position as parish priest, as well as his friendship with the squire and his ill-gotten gains him a great deal of sway over the village - which probably says something for the legal status of the Church of England at the time. (The elaborate codes of 18th century dress and manners are useful in making the hidden identity element seem a little more realistic; Dr Syn shaves off the locks of hair he wore as Clegg and dons a horsehair wig). Adding to this sinister aspect, the books are often have chapters written from the position of someone other than Syn, where his power, if never altogether malevolent, does seem overwhelming. His past as a pirate is rarely glossed over either; his eventual nemesis is a man whose tongue he cut out and he marooned.

Dr Syn Returns, Published by Arrow Books, 1959

Thirdly, when he plays the villainous Scarecrow, he puts all his powers to it. Even if he is not (always) as such a killer, the use of demonic images and manners is dramatic  - especially coming from a Priest! The elderly woman who keeps a hidden stable for his great black horse, Gehenna, frankly believes him to be the Devil. Now, she was subject to delusions about being a witch before this, so our protagonist is trading on an old woman's madness for his convenience. It's an unsettling scene - the urbane Dr Syn actually saying 'Yes, I'm the Devil' and hamming it up properly. Whatever Batman's vampire-esque affect, it never quite reaches that extent. 

All this makes Dr Syn a troubling character - more so, I think than his counterparts detailed above. The tone of Thorndike's stories varies: sometimes it is all pure pluck and valour and not a corpse in sight. But all the same, the eerie quality of the Scarecrow and the darkness of the marshes persists.

I haven't been too keen on seeking out adaptations, though Dr Syn has been put to film a few times. A television series was made by Disney, starring Patrick McGoohan (of The Prisoner fame) and filmed in Romney; from what I've seen of it this isn't quite dark enough for my tastes (possibly a quality of the technology of the time) and makes Syn into slightly too heroic a figure - with occasional references to George III's tyranny for the American audience. There's a little too much of the Western in it for my liking. Hammer Horror also did a somewhat reworked version with Peter Cushing as 'Parson Blyss'. To my mind though, the adaptation most worth looking for is the one narrated by Rufus Sewell for BBC Radio. The pictures are better.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Silent Titans: The Manmade and the Liminal

I am rather late to the party on this; much has been said (and conclusions drawn) about Silent Titans. Despite having contributed to the Kickstarter campaign at the time (full disclosure, as they say) and having read and enjoyed it, I didn't think I had much to contribute on the subject. I certainly haven't managed to play it.

That was until I encountered a comment referring to 'the bewildering liminality of Northwest England'. The train of thought promptly left the station.

The Wirral (or Wir-Heal) unquestionably has something of the liminal about it. As the book says, Wir-Heal is made from swamp and hill with little in between. One way lies The Sea of Broken Eons, another way the Wrecked Heptarchy, still another way Wales. ('Beyond the Rood-Die lie the black hill of the Welsh, to whom every fear and terror-legend clings. No one from Wir-Heal would ever willingly go there.') The place Silent Titans deals with is stuck between terrains, between states, between legal systems (as the roaming Courts make clear), between realities.

The titular Titans, in the soil itself of Wir-Heal are the stand-out feature of the book. They are strange distillations of the modern and/or the world to come, both grotesquely artificial and biological. However, they are not what I wish to talk about.

The inter-connective tissue of the peninsula has a feel about it that might be very familiar to those who have wondered round portions of the intensely farmed, settled English countryside, especially where town and country meet. The landscape is distorted, made difficult to navigate, by the schemes of human cultivation and construction. One simple indication of this is the difficulty one experiences in walking across a newly-ploughed East Anglian field in November.

I shall offer two more briefly. I once had it in mind to walk out of Canterbury for a quick run near the back of the student quarter. I could leave by a fairly obvious gate - but then found myself in a sloping field, with a concrete wall at the bottom. The wall was continuous, as if trying to firmly separate town houses and fields - though it had not been built at a time that would require defence from beasts or raiders. Water gathered at the foot of the wall, by the most obvious path, making it a muddy bog. There was in time a turning back into the streets, but far further along than I had predicted.

Another occasion had me cycling through a portion of Cambridgeshire. My path had diverged from that predicted, and thrust me onto an odd set of lanes to turn away from a major road. This in time took me to a solar farm. It was quite new, a field of panels surrounded by a high, secure, green-painted metal fence. A wide track ran around it. The field and the track shared the same soil: light, biscuit-hard, almost devoid of plants. It is tempting to think that it had been chemically treated. The track had clearly been made by tractors and earth-movers; anyone not in one of these vehicles would likely have a troublesome journey.

These are fairly well fleshed-out examples: I leave aside walled, dead-end villages, innumerable broken barns, concrete slabs, old railway lines and bunkers. When Silent Titans describes 'A maze of narrow pathways squeezed between dense nettles, thorny bushes and chain-linked fence.' it is certainly familiar. An inhospitable suburbia, as well as the effects of intensive agriculture and dense transport infrastructure all produce the confusion that defines Wir-Heal and the Wrecked Heptarchy, titans or no.

All this is to say that in the world of Silent Titans it would be quite correct for you to fight goblins clad in armour made from discarded lager cans who dwell in the hawthorn thicket between the back of the supermarket and the golf course.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Why do I like this book?

The book in question is a 1945 Atlas of the Soviet Union.

Well, it's not purely the content. I mean, it is interesting - but feel obliged to apply the occasional pinch of salt. This was published just as the grand wartime alliance was ending - so the creators may be a little too tempted to believe official Soviet figures. Perhaps that's uncharitable, but I feel caution is called for here.

Anyway, I like this book. I appreciate the old Penguin format anyway, but the let's not judge the book by it's cover. Take a look at the inside. There are maps detailing variously the boundaries, infrastructure, landscape, products and industry of the Soviet Union. The variety of such things is considerable, but perhaps no more than might be expected from a book of this kind. Though I wonder if the modern equivalent would be as comprehensive.

How many varieties of cross-hatching can you conceive of?
(Enlarge if you wish)

Your setting could aspire to such agricultural complexity.

These figures are presented as fairly isolated from external context; Stalin's regime is not dwelt upon or dissected. Though there is perhaps an implicit degree of praise for the extent of industrial development. Putting this aside to think about worldbuilding, one's fictional creations should aspire to such variety.

To concentrate on matters more widely applicable for a moment, consider the layout and appearance. There are only two colours used, beyond the colour of the paper. I appreciate the textured, slightly tan colour of the paper - this might be down to age, though I'm not sure how white this would have been to begin with - rationing can't have done much for paper quality; it certainly limited supply.

Speaking of paper...

This is simple and clear. Again, to compare to a hypothetical modern equivalent, I suspect it would take hyper-detialled relief maps or photographs and overlay information on them. Too much information? Perhaps. But this is purpose designed for the book.

Even the graphs and stick to this rule. Two colours, with differences represented by different patterns. I recall having a collection of historical maps of this kind - I still like this black and white effect. I like the idea that this is a way of presenting information that could be relatively easily produced with pencil. You don't even need a penny paintbox.

(That said, there is plenty of Red for Russia.)

There are other, quieter details. Looking at the maps or graphs and the explanatory texts, the font for the paragraph is sans-serif and plainer, whereas the text on the maps is in a heavier, seriffed font. This not only gives it, to my mind, a bit of gravitas but also definitively differentiates it from the paragraph.

A reminder of how much of Central Asia the USSR contained.

Why talk about this now? Well, by happy coincidence Skerples's Magical Industrial Revolution setting is coming soon and has a Kickstarter - and this does a very nice job of describing an industrial state. The detail here is worth examining if you are world-building: there are numerous crops and industries described; to feed people, to feed cattle, to clothe them, move them, entertain them, to give them chemical stimulants.

But I also look at this and wonder if one day we will look up and all the draughtsman - the simple sketch artists, the magazine illustrators, typesetters, blueprint-makers and the designers - will have gone. There will be a gentle replacement with stock photographs, computer-generated cartography and the sheen of digital mock-ups. Perhaps that is putting it a bit too far. But I'm still going to preserve this book, both in my library and on this blog.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Crystals, Healing and Mine-Dwellers

Crystals are verboten; taboo for the latter-day OSR (or other current term) designer. The Artpunkifex Maximus has proclaimed it.

But if I may crave a moment of your time....

To exaggerate and condense somewhat: the Middle Ages in Europe didn't have science, they had natural philosophy. This leads to interesting conclusions. 

St Hildegard of Bingen wrote about the origins and potency of crystals and gemstones in the Physica, or Book of Simple Medicines. I'm taking this translation from Mark Atherton's Selected Writings published by Penguin Books.

All gemstones contain energy and moisture. They terrify the devil, who hates and despises them because he remembered that their beauty appeared in him before he fell from the glory which God had given him, and also because some precious stones are created from the fire and energy in which he himself has his punishments. It was in fact by fire that the devil was defeated, through God’s will, and he fell into fire, just as he is also defeated by the fire of the Holy Spirit whenever people are rescued from the devil’s jaws through the inspiring breath of the Holy Spirit. 

Precious stones and jewels have their origin in the East, and in those areas where the heat of the sun is particularly strong. The mountains that occur in such areas have a great heat, like fire, which comes from the heat of the sun; similarly the rivers that flow in these regions are always boiling hot, due to the same great heat of the sun. Accordingly, when at times the rivers flood and break their banks, increasing in volume and rising up to the mountains that are burning with the great heat of the sun, and when these come into contact with the rivers, then, in those places where the water makes contact with the fire, they throw up a kind of foam, in other words they ‘singelent’, that is, send out spray, just as a burning piece of iron or stone does when water is poured on it. And so the foam hangs in those places like ‘glitten’ or glue, and within three or four days hardens into stone. When the flood of waters has ceased and the waters have resumed their normal courses, then the drops of foam, which remain hanging at various locations in the mountains, are dried by the heat of the sun according to the various hours of the day and their corresponding temperatures. The stones therefore assume their colours and powers according to the temperature of the hour of the day at which they are formed, and once they have dried and hardened into precious stones, they drop like scales from their locations and fall into the sand. And when the rivers rise again in flood, they carry away the gemstones and deposit them in different regions, where eventually they are found by human beings. Owing to the many gemstones which they bring forth in this way, these mountains shine as bright as day. 


In this way, then, precious stones are made out of fire and water; they therefore contain energy and moisture within them and they have many powerful qualities and effects, so that many actions can be carried out with them. These actions are nevertheless good and honest and useful to human beings, and not works of seduction, fornication, adultery, hostility, murder and the like, which are vices in opposition to human beings. For it is the nature of precious stones to seek the honest and useful and reject the evil and false in human beings, in the same way that the virtues throw off the vices, and in the same way that it is impossible for the vices to act in conjunction with the virtues. 

All a bit like that, really. 

So: let's say crystals can heal you quite reliably and have naturally very useful properties.
But only if you believe in the true faith.
And certain crystals only work for certain ailments.
And they don't seem to work terribly quickly.
And precious stones are still sort after and expensive.

Onyx is warm and grows at the third hour of the day in thick cloud, when the sun burns powerfully but is covered by various rising clouds which prevent it from appearing through them because of their flood of waters. Thus the stone does not hold great heat of fire, but it has the warmth of the air, for its origin is in the root of the sun and the conglutination of various clouds. Onyx therefore has great virtues against illnesses arising in the air. 

For dimness of the eyes and the like, or anything due to ‘augswern’ [complaint of the eyes], place good, pure wine in a bronze, copper, or iron receptacle, add onyx to the wine and ‘beizze’ [steep] it for either fifteen or thirty days. Then remove the stone, leaving the wine in the receptacle, and touch the eyes each night with a little of the wine; they will clear and become healthy. 

For pains in the heart or sides, warm an onyx in your hands or close to your body, also taking wine again and heating it in a vessel over a fire; then remove the wine from the fire and hold the onyx over the steaming wine so that the sweat coming from the stone mingles with the wine. Finally put the stone in the hot wine and drink it as it is, and the heat in your heart or side will cease. 

For a complaint of the stomach, prepare wine with onyx as described and then prepare a ‘sufen’ [soup] from the wine with hen’s eggs and flour. Make and eat this frequently; it will purify your stomach and make you healthy. For a complaint of the spleen, cook the meat of a goat or lamb, put the cooked meat in the wine and onyx mixture as described above and eat the marinaded meat like those dishes made by marinading in vinegar. Do this frequently; the spleen will heal and the swelling stop. 

I suppose you could readily find a list on your own, but our fantasy crystal healer might propose:
Diamond or quartz as valuable in strengthening the bones.
Onyx brings relief to the bilious.
Beryl for disorders of the blood.
Smaragdus to remedy the eyes and nerves.
Jacinth for the fever.
Sapphire against poisons and venoms.
Topaz to clear the windpipe and purify the air.
Amethyst to cleanse the bowels.
Chrysophrase for the phlegmatic.

And if someone falls in a fit of epilepsy, then - right where they are lying - place a piece of smaragdus in their mouth, and their spirit will revive. And after they have got up again and taken the stone from their mouth, they should look at it attentively and say: 

‘As the Spirit of the Lord has fulfilled the circle of the earth, 
So may the house of my body be filled with his grace That it may never again be afflicted.’ 

They should repeat this again and again on the following days in the mornings, and they will be cured. But they should take care always to have the same stone about them and look at it every day in the early morning, and while they are looking at it they should say the words given, and in this way they will be healed. 

And if all the above seems unlikely or preposterous, even with those conditions, even in Medieval fantasyland -

All the above only applies to Dwarves, the children of the stones.

Dwarves have good reason then to mine so greedily and so deep: they seek not only riches, but health. A dwarf with a spouse on death's door is expected to be in the mines - not because they are heartless delvers, but because this is where a cure might be found.

Incidentally, this means that when Dwarves meet human monarchs, their crowns make them look a little like a man wearing a hat decorated with aspirins. 

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Go Sackville-West, Young Man

At a market second-hand bookstall I found a copy of Vita Sackville-West's The Eagle and the Dove. I have no significant interest in her work, but a friend is rather interested and it was a nice enough (and cheap enough) edition to merit a purchase.

Vita Sackville-West and the Bloomsbury Group as a whole have sufficient literary-historical pedigree to demand their own study, so I shall not attempt to summarise anything about them here. The Eagle and the Dove is a study of both St Teresa of Avila and St Therese of Lisieux. I knew little about either going into this, but this was a pleasant enough read: a popular history, first written in 1943. I suspect that a modern equivalent on the same subject would be rather less palatable to me.

At any rate, I found it moderately engaging (and I have some interest in British reactions to Catholicism...). But the true prize came in passages like this:

This is central Spain, no country of sunny patios, fountains and orange-blossom, but a dour and ascetic land where the men go wrapped in cloaks, a corner thrown across the shoulder, so muffled that, with the hat pulled down over the eyes, the fine and bony features are almost hidden; a land where honour is of fierce importance, the quarrel quick and mortal. It is a common and conventional error to regard all Spain as the gay land of romance and song. Excessive and without compassion, the spirit of El Greco's Toledo in its lurid storm comers closer to the tortured intemperance of a fanatical people. Spain, in some aspects, is terrible, not soft, not pretty. Castile, not only geologically, is made of granite. Northern though it is, there are no mists here, no softening of the naked ashen plains, but a clear light relentlessly discouraging dreams and fallacies, and leaving only the realistic truth as these people see it. Their imagination runs along the same stern lines  - the polished lance-like imagination of an honourable chivalry. Don Quixote rides these plains on a gaunt horse. He may be an idealist, but realism always keeps him company. It is impossible to lose the consciousness of strife in this country where a gritty dust stings the eyes in winter or a shadowless sun burns the hands on the reins in summer, as to remain without the enlargement of the spirit begotten of all desolate places. 

Now, there is something of the stereotype in this: not just the denial of a romantic Spain, but in the invocation of a the 'quick-blooded Latin' and the superfluous mention of Don Quixote. The Spanish Inquisition and the treatment of Jews and Moors does not go unmentioned, though it does not occupy the foreground of the book. I would not like to comment on Sackville-West's knowledge of Spain, or if the Spain of Franco and the Civil War was in her mind whilst writing this. My own knowledge of Castile, let along Spain as a whole is limited and as much through literature as experience.

However, I still found this quite a nice descriptive passage, evocative of bottom-up historical considerations and daily experience - and an explicit counter to the Spain of Philip II, the Armada, the Count-Duke of Oliveres and Velazquez at the Royal Court.

Velázquez - Conde Duque de Olivares (Museo del Prado, 1634-35).jpg
Equestrian Portrait of the Count-Duke of Oliveres, by Diego Velazquez
Found here.
In fact, it was almost a perfect invocation of major elements of Kapalleron, a southern Imperial province in Terrae Vertebrae. Something that had struck my mind before I had found an example of it. Reading Sackville-West, I think that Kapalleron might still have some life in it - especially as the land north of Punth.

Asceticism, not indulgence was again the note, as asceticism compounded of soldierly honour and religious intensity, a mixture of sobriety and excess, severity and pride. There was the background of high deeds, celebrated in romance, a romance not dressed in silks and velvets but leather and chainmail. There were stone floors and thick walls, all grey; and between the battlements the views opened over the grey plains where a convoy of waggons slowly crawled or a messenger rode swathed and huddled on his mule.

Velazquez - condedqolivares03.jpg
Clearly an ascetic.
This is Olivares by Velazquez again, found here.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Priests, Beasts and Sacred Geese

If we consider a number of cases from real-world history and religion:

The Sacred Geese of Rome.

'What's that, Mr Hissy? Timmy's fallen into the aqueduct?'
(Image found here.)
This is a beautiful picture. Those are some implausibly fancy goose houses.

The Sacred Bull of Apis, in the Histories of Herodotus.

Crocodopolis, on the Nile and the sacred reptile there within.

The Sacred Cow of Hinduism and the various animal or half-animal incarnations of Vishnu.

The imagery of the Lion of Judah, or the Brazen Serpent.

The prophet Elijah being fed by ravens.

Odin's surveillance ravens; the cats on Freya's chariot and the goats that pull Thor's.

The tame bear of St Corbinian and the Swan of St Hugh of Lincoln.

St Hugh of Lincoln, being pestered at an inopportune moment.
Image found here.

To say nothing of literature:

Shardik, the titular great bear of Richard Adams's novel.

Image found through AbeBooks.
Shardik is a pretty major influence on this post. That and the goose painting.

The Chronicles of Prydain, with their oracular pig and assistant pig-keeper.

The Chronicles of Narnia, with Aslan, who is definitely a lion, not one who is strong as a lion (as Trumpkin finds out) - and certainly not a tame lion.

Small Gods, and its numerous invocations of incarnate deities...

There is ample reason for clerics (prophets) to have an animal companion of some kind.

However: there is a distinction between a priest having a pet and a divine presence in the shape of a beast. The one is commonplace and adds little thematically; the other has some degree of greater interest. The distinction is much like that of G K Chesterton's Father Brown: he is a priest who solves mysteries, not a detective who sometimes says mass.

So, I shall determine a number of states in which a prophet in The 52 Pages might have a Sacred Animal around them and how this effects play.

This is deliberately dissimilar to spells like Call Familiar or Befriend Beast. The latter could hypothetically co-exist with the Sacred Animal.

Firstly, there is a theological status to consider:

1. Animal is God. Trying to herd or constrain the Sacred Animal is blasphemous. Aslan is not a tame lion. It has a direct line to the deity, or the Animal is the deity.  + 2 spell casts a day

2. Animal is Beloved of God. The believer must not direct the Sacred Animal, but may advise it as best possible. Any true Sacred Animal will listen - at least some of the time. No goad or leash is permitted. + 1 spell cast a day

3. Animal is Sacred The Prophet is the Animal's keeper. They are blessed, if not outright divine and may be guided or questioned - as a cleric might a hermit. Nonetheless, harsh or abusive treatment is blasphemous.

Then there is the nature of the animal to consider:

A. Animal may readily Ignore Man A bear, a lion, a dragon. Pretty terrifying, largely unstoppable. None of these could be a domesticated animal.  Start with 2 extra spells of a suitable school.

B. Animal may be Led by a Man A bull, a horse, a crocodile - you wouldn't want to tangle with them, but they are not the most fearsome of beasts. Some may be domesticated. Start with 1 extra spells of a suitable school.

C. Animal is Easily Controlled by a Man A goose, a dog, a tortoise - they may be actively domesticated  they certainly can be picked up.

The Sacred Animal functions rather like a Wizard's spellbook - it must be present at some point throughout the day for the Prophet to cast spells.

The movements of the animal are determined by the factors above, the player's choices and the GM's decisions (as well as what kind of animal it is - a bird can fly, but may be unwilling to go underground; a sacred whale is subject to numerous restrictions). A Sacred Animal might be tougher and cleverer than other animals - but it can still be killed (in what will doubtless form a new portion of divine scripture).

In play, (not that this has been tested) a Prophet with a 1A Sacred Beast (for instance) has the assistance of the Tiger Avatar of the Bone Goddess (IE, a larger than usual tiger will turn up and rip into your foes) and more spells and more chances to use them. However, said tiger goes where said tiger pleases.

A Prophet with a 3C Sacred Beast is rather in the position of Brutha from Small Gods (yes, I know the tortoise is Om himself); more guile and craft will be needed, though the player is freer to move around.

A 3A Sacred Animal is rather like the novel Shardik (never mind the actual theology of the Ortelgans); a massive bear roughly speaking on your side, but still a massive bear that goes it's own way.

A 1C Sacred Beast is powerful and portable - but the prophet is still compelled to acknowledge their demands, which may be awkward.

Dragons and other outsize beasts probably deserve an 'A+' ranking: you really can't follow them - but you don't have to so much; their spell granting influence lingers a little longer. They don't turn up often, but when they do, you have a dragon by your side, with all that entails. No A+ Sacred Beast can be a 3.


You are playing a Prophet from the Church of Stern Feudal Monotheists. There is an inquisition, a hierarchy and flagellants.
The Church of Stern Feudal Monotheists once had an sainted exorcist that trapped demons in pigs. The pigs have been kept over the years and may be convinced by sundry means to perform magical spells for the benefit of the Church.
As a Holy and Devoted Servant, you have been entrusted with their use and will presumably evolve a humorous buddy-cop style relationship between yourself and a pig that occasionally speaks with a voice straight out of diabolical central casting to offer you a Faustian bargain.


The Scapegoat, William Holman Hunt.
You have to follow this thing everywhere.
Found here.
The Beast is far from sacred, but must be supervised anyway by a Holy Man. It is a scapegoat, burdened with the sins of many and so a vessel of a certain degree of power. Your job is to bind the sins of many into it on your travels (there's your Level-up mechanic!), use it wisely and hopefully get it killed somewhere remote doing something useful.

Any thoughts?