Thursday, 28 September 2023

Lost By Translation

Before you venture into the Dreadful Dungeon, it would be wise to acquire a map, or some record of those dreadful tunnels. But the only scraps of information you can find on the subject have been translated - either from a form of the Common Tongue so old as to be unrecognisable, or from the writings of another culture.  

Such translations are rarely exact, of course.

  1. Distances As it turns out, the Dwarven Foot is a little shorter than the Human Foot. Who knew? This is probably fine in Five Foot corridors, but when assessing longer distances, the difference will add up.
  2. Similar, but not Identical Perhaps as a result of 'False Friends', or some other linguistic custom, the difference between varieties of Goblinoid are not well marked in the language this guide was written in. One cannot readily tell whether these tunnels are infested with Goblins or Orcs.
  3. Genre The translator of this text describes a frieze depicting 'A Curious Static Dance, with Masks'. He appears to have no notion of stage drama.
  4. Zealotry The translator of this text renders 'Highly Potent Idols of the Spider God' as 'Ferocious Idols of the Spider God'. It seems that he does not believe that anything connected to the Spider God could be more than a Paper Tiger. 
  5. Biology The original text was written by a Dwarf (or possibly an Elf). They refer to Vinth and Aggal (or Ulvian and Briolant*) features on a tiled floor. The translator has not rendered this into a form humans can understand - possibly from a desire to remain literally accurate, possibly from a lack of knowledge concerning the tiles in question. At any rate, some of the tiles are trapped. 
  6. Idiom According to this translation, within a certain high-ceilinged suite of the Dungeon, Felids and Canids will descend to rule over you. 
  7. Prudery Be it a personal or cultural peculiarity, the translator has declined to uncover certain terms. The precise bodily features of a certain statue that must be pressed to open a secret door will remain a mystery.
  8. Poetry The original had it that in a certain room, witchfire would burst in thin but intense columns from a dozen sculpted ram's head. The translation merely refers to many ram's heads and much fire.


This quick little post is the result of being partway through Umberto Eco's Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation. First published 2003 - there is a description of the use of translation software it would be interesting to follow back on two decades later. I found Mouse or Rat? quite readable, but it helped to have read a few of Eco's own works beforehand: he references the translations that were made of those on several occasions. 

Having written all this, I do realise that this is effectively a Rumour Table with extra steps. But sometimes those extra steps do add flavour to an adventure - there is a difference between getting your faulty information from (variously) the Soaks propping up the Bar in the Local Tavern, the Few Scraps High Command has been able to Piece Together or a Crumbling Tome of Eldritch and Forgotten Lore. 

*To say nothing of Jale, Ulfire and Dolm.

Wednesday, 13 September 2023

Humanity's Elementals: Necessary for the Life of Men

The principal things for the whole use of man's life are water, fire, iron, and salt, flour of wheat, honey, milk, and the blood of the grape, and oil, and clothing.

Ecclesiasticus 39.26, Authorised Version*. 

(The Book of Ecclesiasticus is to be found in the Apocrypha and is also known as the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach.)



Appearance Not the water of the deeps, not water of the torrent, not the water of the hillside spring, not the water of the life-giving rain. Man's water. Five legs, made of pipes, bottles, jars and jugs support a large sphere of water. Within the sphere is a curious face, with the fluid features of a brush-and-ink work.

Assorted Sense Data Strong light through the elemental's body casts a strange glimmering pattern on the ground. It has a voice like water chugging through a borehole. 

The Subtly Supernatural Wake this Elemental can Produce A scatter of droplets - either refreshingly cool or startlingly cold.

Disposition Serious-minded, slow-moving, lucid.

Threats and Assorted Offensive Capabilities Kicks from five legs, jets of high-pressure water.

Gifts the Elemental may Offer A small stone carved with the elemental's face. This can purify a tun of water.

Trophies gained Once the Elemental is Dispelled Five small stones that will each reduce a tun of water to a fine grey powder.


Appearance Not the wild fire, not the elemental fire, not the sorcerous fire, not the heavenly fire. Man's fire. Picture a being like a goat. This goat has a stone hearth for a torso, two fire pots for protruding eyes, two candelabra for horns, a clay oil lamp for a brief tail. A mouth of curiously unconsumed hot coals. Each leg is an iron poker, terminating in a human hand made of four fire-strikers and a pointed flint thumb.

Sense Data Walking over stone the elemental makes little clicks. A small trail of smoke follows the elemental, growing thicker in moments of conflict or stress. The elemental speaks in the voice of a furnace. A faintly caprine furnace.

Wake A startled elemental can create a great cloud of sparks. 

Disposition Hungry - ravenous, even - but curiously affectionate, not to say clingy. 

Threats Flame, Iron-shod knees, two big horns, sparks, four sharp thumbs, a mouthful of burning coals.

Gifts The elemental coughs up an ember. This is perpetually just shy of bursting into flame, needing only a good strong puff and may be extinguished only by magic. Storing it? That's your problem. 

Trophies Twelve of said embers, but they all hate you.


Appearance A tottering pile of iron plates, gathered around a handful of iron spits that rise up like a thick neck. About this, two overlapping slopes of plates descend to two ingot-like feet. Two sets of tongs protrude from left and right about the midriff.

Sense Data A voice like tuneless chimes, as of metal on metal. Thumping heavy footsteps.

Wake A strange cold sensation in the air, and a subtle oiliness.

Disposition Stubborn, inflexible, cold and reassuringly firm.
[Iron and Salt were once lovers. Or siblings, possibly twins. It's a little difficult to tell. They had an affair of alarming torridity and concerning intensity. Or a family quarrel over the supramundane equivalent of father's pocket watch. Either way, whenever Iron encounters Salt, the elemental goes a strange reddish-brown colour.]

Threats An iron-hard body. If provoked, the elemental can also make a noise like all the hammers of the Nibelungs, except so loud you can feel it like the mother of all migraines. 

Gifts The elemental gives little, but will reshape metal implements as desired. The elemental can also get just about any Fairy junior to Oberon to shove off.  

Trophies As much iron as you can carry.


Appearance Imagine the armour of a hoplite, but make it white, crystalline and translucent. Fill it with rock salt in the shape of a department store mannequin. 

Sense Data A soft white trail on the floor. A briny scent in the air. A voice like somebody taking rasping, softly crunching steps in fresh snow.

Wake Out of the air, something begins clinging to you, coating you, causing little tensions on your skin.

Disposition Melancholy but interesting. Occasionally florid, never insipid. 
[Iron and Salt were once lovers. Or siblings, possibly twins. It's a little difficult to tell. They had an affair of alarming torridity and concerning intensity. Or a family quarrel over the supramundane equivalent of father's pocket watch. Either way, whenever Salt encounters Iron, the elemental becomes highly flakey.]

Threats Ever been in a sandstorm that hated you? Plus two salty fists.

Gifts  The elemental can also get just about any fell spirit junior to Mammon to shove off.

Trophies A pile of white powder. If you shove your hand it, it comes out covered in razor-sharp flakes. They will not cut you, and they will not come off readily.

Flour of Wheat

Appearance Shaped as a human, wearing a skirt or apron that reaches to cover the feet. The wedge of the lower body appears to practically hover over the ground. The surface of the elemental's body is dusted in fine flour: if you wipe this away, it reveals a body of plain dough. Cutting into the body reveals a sticky, over-watered dough. Much like hair, a golden sheaf of wheat sprouts from the elemental's head. A set of facial features and muscle-mimicing details are formed by scores much like the top of a country loaf.

Sense Data If burnt by sorcerous fire, the elemental may begin to cook and give off the smell of fresh bread. The speech of the elemental is like wind through a wheat field.  Divots in the body of the elemental are easily made and easily smoothed out. 

Wake The flour on the surface of the elemental can be shaken into a concealing cloud. 

Disposition Placid as a pig; graceful as a deer.

Threats Two big doughy fists. An engulfing body. 

Gifts A pie-crust containing fine white flour. The flour may be used to create high-end baked goods; the pie-crust may be refilled with something more interesting to create a delicious pie. 

Trophies The flesh of the elemental taken without permission is a tasteless toxic paste.


Appearance A camel, the colour of brass, bearing on its back in the place of humps a hive and a large clay pot. The camel's eyes and hooves are hexagonal. 

Sense Data A tuneful but inescapable buzzing. A sweet scent on the air. The voice of the elemental has a certain sweet clarity.

Wake A sudden swarm of bees.

Disposition Charming, Optimistic.

Threats Hooves, angry and focused bees. 

Gifts A wax ampoule containing honey: a taste will sate any human hunger, a dressing of it will cure most wounds.

Trophies A vast pot of honey - which will attract ten times the amount of flies even the sweetest vinegar does.


Appearance A floating vesica piscis or pointed oval, apparently made of a hundred pats of butter shaped like rose petals. Milk flows perpetually from a spot near the centre. 

Sense Data The sound of dripping. The voice of the elemental is smooth, its diction unhurried.  

Wake You have the horrible, almost overwhelming sensation that something is wrong and it will not be fixed. 

Disposition Irritable, but mercurial. The mood will not last. 

Threats A bombardment of cream. Lots of it. Enough to clot in your throat. 

Gifts How much milk would you like?

Trophies A puddle of clarified butter, contaminated with whatever detritus was on the floor at the time. This makes an excellent - nigh-on supernaturally effective - grease.

Blood of the Grape

Appearance A voluptuous but androgynous humanoid form, the colour of red wine. It wears a crown of vines and had green eyes. Cutting into the body spills wine: if this is not drunk, it clots into a black scab (which tastes strongly of raisins).

Sense Data Songs pass the elementals lips at almost all times. It has a deep-throated voice. 

Wake The smell of brandy worms into your nostrils, bringing you to the point of giddiness.

Disposition A jovial host, by turns caring and attentive or wildly exuberant.

Threats Intoxication, the possibility of choking on wine, two fists each with the weight of a hogshead behind them.

Gifts The elemental sets a silver spigot into a finger tip and pours out some of the best claret you've ever drunk. 

Trophies A skeleton, soaked in what appears to be Malmsey. It's even in the marrow.


Appearance A hooded figure, with numerous folds in the cloth of its voluminous garment. The folds have the static quality of sculpture. The hood and cloak have the colour of dull gold. The cloak seems to cling at the ground. 

Sense Data Glistening traces of oil on plant matter where the elemental has passed. The voice of the elemental hisses and fizzes like oil in the skillet. 

Wake The air becomes startling humid. Movement in armour becomes tiresome. 

Disposition Ingratiating at first, but easily nettled. 

Threats The floor below you becomes suddenly frictionless. Your sword-hand coated in a glaze of lard, the pages of your grimoire stuck together. Life becomes very difficult, even before your mouth is stopped by a glistening hand. 

Gifts An unguent that comforts and speeds the healing of a great many wounds and infections. 

Trophies A vast tarpaulin - that is, an Oilskin.  


Appearance As an octopus made of several bolts of cloth knotted together into a central mass which is bounded about with a broad leather belt. 

Sense Data An octopus made of cloth makes very little noise unless it wishes to. Naturally, the only odour from the cloth is a slight smell of cedar shavings. It has a voice like a shuttle being drawn through a loom. 

Wake The feeling of a dozen loose threads in your clothes, tickling and twining in inconvenient places. It becomes difficult to concentrate.

Disposition Fussy, detail-oriented, perfectionist. 

Threats Eight ensnaring tentacles and a great resilient head with which to butt.

Gifts A beautiful and nearly indestructible ribbon. 

Trophies Eight bolts of fine but fragile cloth, prone to ripping. 


*Cf. Douay-Rheims: The principal things necessary for the life of men, are water, fire, and iron, salt, milk, and bread of flour, and honey, and the cluster of the grape, and oil, and clothing
and the Revised Standard Version: Basic to all the needs of man's life are water and fire and iron and salt and wheat flour and milk and honey, the blood of the grape, and oil and clothing. I think the Authorised Version has the most fantastic possibilities with that pairing of iron and salt, and the 'principal things... of man's life' phrase. 

Wednesday, 30 August 2023

Faufreluches: A Thousand Days of Noise

Among the recent post series Faufreluches was my introductory post to the future feudal star empire, the Thousand Day Regency. Here is a recording of the central element to that post, 'The What' - largely becuase I wanted to see how the rhythm of the piece would develop.


Friday, 25 August 2023

August '23 Miscellany - and a Notion Entertained

A few things to flag up for you, largely unrelated to recent posts - as well as brief section once again Entertaining a Notion.


A Return to Saxherm: if you hadn't already encountered it, HCK over at Grand Commodore has recently posted an audio version of his story 'The Crimes of Jack Daw', set in my own Saxherm, which was created using his city-state creator. (Check the comments of that post for a series of people drawing up their own cities, and perhaps make your own!)


I enjoy the work of Tim Powers, and so when I saw a paperback by his fellow Ashbless scholar James P. Blaylock, I decided to pick it up. That was The Stone Giant, and it rather left me cold. The obliviousness of its main character mixed oddly with the very directly fantastical elements. 

But seeing a copy of The Last Coin, I decided to try again.

This is more like his pal Powers. Set in Seal Beach, California (part of the greater Los Angeles area; I assumed reading it that it was a pastiche of somewhere rather than a real place), contemporary with the book's publication (1988) it is about the assembly of the Thirty Pieces of Silver paid to Judas Iscariot by an old man called Pennyman. But most of it is told from the point of view of Andrew Vanbergan, who is trying to open an inn, and deal with aged relatives, and get the right kind of breakfast cereal, and...

There is the perennial comment about how stupid people in horror films are, how they ought long ago to have gone down to the basement, and sat there with a shotgun pointed at the door. Vanbergan is, like the lead of The Stone Giant, oblivious and fussy and caught up with his own mundane troubles - and this is exactly as he should be. It is a wild leap for a man in 1988 to work out that someone is gathering thirty very particular pieces of silver, even if we know it from the prologue or the blurb. Watching someone not quite notice and not quite understand what is going on is exactly how this should be going. 

The grubby, furtive - petty, even - Vanbergan is an unlikely paladin (not that he ever really becomes one). Compare Indiana Jones, who is supposed to be somewhat ruthless and morally compromised, another unlikely saviour - but who has a handsome jawline and good suits and a winning smile, and eventually becomes another Hollywood icon. Obviously this man rescues the Holy Grail: that's just what he does. (Cf. Bond: 4/5 of his assignments were meant to be run of the mill, and lots of the books start with him grousing about paperwork. Fleming even intended his name to be boring! But a decade or so of movies and...) Anyway, Blaylock gets a portion of Grade-A kudos for maintaining the unlikeliness of his unlikely hero. 

The best book of its kind I've read? By no means. But the midpoint mix of obscure signs and obliviousness, mundanity and creeping horror is quite good. If I knew more about David Lynch, perhaps I'd call it Lynchian.


The Pantographia of Edmund Fry. A 1799 work collecting as many alphabets, scripts and writing systems as the author could get his hands on. It may be found here at the Internet Archive.

Rather lovely in its broad sweep and unique collection of printed scripts. Good to flip through, even if online. Fry does not quite distinguish continually between a script and an alphabet (e.g, on one page we have both the Gothic script found in High Medieval manuscripts and the alphabet of the Goths); likewise Danish is produced in the Latin Alphabet. Things like the Philosophic language of John Wilkins, Bishop of Chester are included - Cf. The Search for the Perfect Language, Umberto Eco. (Pantographia is at least of the spirit of TRoAPW).

Using it as a reference, it would irritate me that English and Saxon are distinguished - especially when one entry under English reproduces something by Alfred the Great. See also the entries for both High Dutch and German, or Ancient British and Celtic. The Pantographia reproduces languages from across the globe, some of them from quite far off and quite recent discoveries to Fry and his audience: see entries under 'Nootka Sound' or 'Friendly Isles'.

The colonial and imperial aspects are baked in, of course: the entry for New England (sandwiched between [pre-Rosetta Stone] Egyptian and English) does not appear to be in a dialect of the Pilgrims, but is possibly Wampanoag (see also Virginia and New Zealand). This practice is not consistent - see Ecclemach. The specimen text for many languages is the Lord's Prayer, be it Siamic, Orcadian, Formosan or Mohawk.

Terms are also unfamiliar - Esthonian, Esquimaux, EthiopicSclavonian, Manks, Saracen (as well as Arabic), Servian, Thibetan. I am unable so far to identify 'Molqueeren'; it looks like Dutch and is perhaps a sort of Frisian. 

Fry also introduces as Welch the 'Bardic Alphabet' of Edward Williams. There's something of a collision in this between the Romanticism (and Nationalism) of the late 18th and 19th centuries and the (mid-18th) Enlightenment project of encyclopaedias and catalogues: see also Ossian. It's tempting to view this as a narrative of Romantic-Nationalist passions and obsessions colliding with Enlightenment naïve benevolence - but that's perhaps a little too neat. Cf. the 'alphabet of Charlemagne'.

Anyway, none of those last few paragraphs should prevent you from at least leafing through this online. An interesting work and I would very much like to see an annotated version.


Tales of the Alhambra: a collection of stories and essays by Washington Irving of Sleepy Hollow and Old Christmas fame, written while mixing travel and diplomatic work in Europe, published in 1832. It is set in and around (surprisingly) the palace of the Alhambra in Granada. This was a chance find and an interesting one. My edition was enhanced by a variety of colour plates: the publisher has not identified the artists, and the internet is little help. I have identified some, but others are made more troublesome to find, especially when they appear mirrored and differently coloured on image sites. (And yet still they lack the name of an artist! Pah!)

Tales is in part a description of the Alhambra and the countryside around it, together with sketches of its inhabitants. It is not as such uncharitable, but it is through the lens of a Protestant republican American observing the customs of a Catholic kingdom in the Old World. I would call it benignly disposed next to  The Monk or Browning's 'Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister', but they share certain elements. 

Anyway, Irving's Alhambra is full of earthy peasants, genteel poverty, Royal officials, guitars being played, chaperoned maidens in mantilla and basquiña, muleteers, maimed veterans and roguish contrabandistas. It's a more colourful account than that Sackville-West gives - in part perhaps because of the relative climates of Avila and Granada.

The other portion of Tales is stories, dealing either with the distant past or the present inhabitants of the Alhambra. In many of these, the presence of Moorish Spain makes itself felt - though of course Irving has already spent much time describing the architecture of the Alhambra . Sometimes honest peasants are shown the way to stashes of buried treasure in the ruins, or enchanted caves. This is frequently the work of ghosts. In others, the story is set during the Middle Ages and the conflict of the Emirate of Granada and the Kingdom of Castille. Some of this, with the presence of astrologers, gallant princes, talking birds and flying carpets shows the hand of the Thousand and One Nights

Other pieces, such as the chapter 'Mementos of Boabdil' (Muhammed XII), display a more grounded approach, with Irving ruminating on the history of the Moors in Spain towards the end of the Reconquista. This is, of course, not colourless: 'the splendid drama of the Moslem domination in Spain', 'if it be a true representation of the man, he may have been wavering and uncertain, but there is nothing of cruelty or unkindness in his aspect'. Likewise, there are some stories of intrigues between the Governor of the Alhambra and the Captain-General of Granada.

[That is, Captain-General of the Kingdom of Granada: united with much of modern Spain under the Crown of Castile but de jure separate until the 19th century. English Wikipedia will guide you inevitably towards the Captains-General of the Spanish Empire in the New World or modern high-ranking officers.]

All that aside, reading this made me entertain a certain notion. I have of late been marinading in Tolkien. My mind went to a great citadel, of the country and yet not of the culture, once a chief stronghold of the enemy, ruined and upon a time glorious, in strange relation to its neighbours...

"The Tower of the Moon" by Ted Nasmith

Let us look to Minas Morgul.

Once Minas Ithil, tower of the moon, renamed after its conquest to the tower of sorcery. Counterpart to Minas Tirith. Aragon II, King of Gondor and Arnor, commanded that it would be destroyed and that none would dwell there (The Return of the King, Ch. 15, 'The Steward and the King'). Ithilien, the land East of the Anduin that was once its territory became the domain of Faramir, Prince of Ithilien.

But even King Elessar would in time die, and pass the crown to his heirs: likewise the children of Faramir and Eowyn would take up the title of Prince. And how readily may a city be utterly erased? Minas Morgul would endure a time.

Generations on, none is meant to dwell in the ruins of Minas Morgul. But a watch is kept on the land once called Mordor, and this means that a guard must be kept in the Morgul Vale, as a principal pass through the Mountains of Shadow. So there is a garrison in Minas Morgul. And where there are soldiers, there must be armourers, and farriers, and cooks. And with settled non-combatants, there are families. And all must be fed, so suppliers and procurators and traders come and go.

But they must not dwell there: all say, and all are told, that they will one day leave and never return. However, in the meantime there they pause, and tell tales of the ancient decorated halls: of stashes of coin and precious gems found in the walls, of ancient yet keen-edged weapons of strange make, of charms and enchantments in flowing scripts. 

Yet it is firm law that Minas Morgul will not be occupied: if any go there, it is by the King's authority alone. So the Castellan of the Morgul Vale is directly appointed, unlike his near neighbour the Prince of Ithilien, who inherited his title. But even if Prince and Castellan get along quite happily, the men under each will clash, and claims of jurisdiction must be judged. Furthermore, any Castellan would rather be the Castellan of Minas Ithil, rather than bear the infamous name of Morgul - though any Prince would have none of it. 

Who comes and - pauses - in Minas Morgul, in the ruins from which all shadows have been chased? The regular soldiery of Minas Tirith. Detachments from the Fiefdoms, serving their term: archers of the Blackroot Vale, hillmen from Lamedon, Lossarnach fighters with great axes. Men of Dol Amroth, who wished to leave their homes, but would not be sailors. Work crews, that must one day be road menders or masons and one day be sappers and eidoloclasts. The Castellan, and such of his household as he cared to take into Morgul. Couriers and rangers of the Prince of Ithilien. Opportunistic traders of Near Harad, or from the Kingdom of Dale and the Lonely Mountain. Elves from the Gardens in Ithilien (see Appendix A of LotR).

Anyway, were I forced to create a Tolkien-derived fantasy dungeon, that's perhaps what it would look like.

Friday, 18 August 2023

A Trio of Chimerae

The Susvul, females of which are known as Sauvixen, partake of both the fox and the wild pig. They have the swine's distressing likeness to humanity, with the cunning of the fox. The torso of the Susvul is as that of a heavily haired pig - a red or sandy-coloured pig, though it has the legs and clawed feet of a fox. The tail is more like a fox's brush than the curled pigtail; the face is that of a thin-snouted hog, albeit with the ears and eyes of a fox.

All this might be outlandish enough. But from vulpine wit or porcine humanity, the Susvul somehow manages to make the sounds of human speech from its maw. It speaks, and if it attempts to converse, it will attempt to gain A) Food and B) Prestige. It is rare that a Susvul can negotiate human social structures with sufficient aplomb to obtain either, but this will not stop them from trying.


The Ippopolemos is a roughly equine beast, if larger than almost all horses: reddish in hue, with a human skull for a head and armoured forelegs. It is a horse as suited for battle as the hippopotamus is suited to the river. 

There are two legends of the Ippopolemos. Firstly, that it is the steed of the Great God of Battles - a fitting steed for the deity of the clash, and that it is full of yet more wrath than the rider. The Great God of Battles therefore carries not only shield and sword, but also the Adamant Bridle to restrain and direct the Ippopolemos. 

Therefore, if you see the Ippopolemos alone, there are two options. Firstly, that the Great God of Battles has let him off the rein - let him wander through the world of men.  A terrifying enough prospect. Secondly, that it is one of the Ippopolemos's progeny; as almost all divine beings, he is dramatically fecund - and not even the Great God of Battles would be able to geld him. These are perhaps less potent than their forebear, but less used to the bridle.

The second legend is that the Ippopolemos bears on his back not the Great God of Battles, but one of the many men who have thought that they might be able to control War, to steer and ride it to the place they desire. Those fools borne away by the Ippopolemos are rarely ever seen intact again.


Thanks to a very literal wizard, the lion has finally lain down with the lamb. The result was the Agneleon.

Having the head of a sheep and the body of a lion, it has all the appetites, drives and social inclinations of a herd ruminant with the physical might and range of an apex predator. The Agneleon laughs at fences, drystone walls and sheepdogs. It will cross many miles to find new pastures. If threatened, an Agneleon may run and pounce upon you, attempting to slash with its claws and butt with its horns. (Thanks to some quirk of enchantment, the Agneleon is more prone that most sheep to producing irregular numbers and shapes of horns).

The gold-ish fleece of the Agneleon can be used to produce wool, which is sold for a significant sum to a particular type of aristocrat. Actually sheering an Agneleon is, of course, rather troublesome. Their flesh tastes not quite like lamb (or hogget, or mutton) - it is also notably tougher. 

Agneleon Prideflocks are sometimes followed by very confused hyenas. 


The Ippopolemos originated here.

Tuesday, 8 August 2023

GW's Jackson's Tolkien's Middle-Earth

In a post over at Tales of the Lunar Lands I threatened to put together a grouchy nostalgia-fuelled comparison of Middle-Earth designs made by Games Workshop. Well, this is it - although I don't want this blog to become my Bespoke Whinge Manufactory. So the aim here is, if you'll pardon the phrase, ad astra per nostalgia

A note on my relationship with Tolkien: I am of an age to have seen and enjoyed the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films during their first release into cinemas. However, even then I was in a position to recognise the problems of adaptation. I had read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and portions of The Silmarillion. I had leafed pretty thoroughly through a copy of David Day's Tolkien Dictionary and seen the variety of illustrations there - Ian Miller, Jaroslav Bradac, Victor Ambrus and others. I had also found, in the local library, a copy of the BBC Radio adaptation of Lord of the Rings on CD (Ian Holm as Frodo, Bill Nighy as Samwise, John Le Mesurier as Bilbo. Music composed by Stephen Oliver).

All that is to say that I was capable (as a callow youth) of recognising the defiances of and gaps in Jackson's films - beyond the simple 'They left out Tom Bombadil!' approach. The use as broad comic relief of Merry, Pippin and Gimli. A skateboarding Legolas (however briefly). There was something off, to my youthful image of the Medieval world, for the armies of Minas Tirith to be clad in complete plate armour.

But they still had something to recommend them. And I am inclined to believe this still: they could have been considerably worse. A few years on, 'Good with Distinctive Flaws' seems like a near miracle.

I saw The Hobbit films. Even for research into this post, I have chosen not to see them again. If you are reading this blog, it is more than likely that you have seen them yourselves and have well-developed opinions on them.

At the same time as the Jackson LoTR films were being released, Games Workshop started putting out a range of miniatures and rules for the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game. There was cooperation with Jackson and New Line for this: the GW LoTR SBG Frodo looks like Elijah Wood, their Urak-Hai are painted with the purply-red skin tones of the films. Designers Alan Perry, Michael Perry and Alessio Cavatore got cameos in The Return of the King as Rohirrim. My friend group got interested, as did I. We were apparently not alone - according to White Dwarf, the Fighting Urak-Hai box outsold Space Marine Tactical Squads that year. 

The production of miniatures is easier than that of cinema. So GW delved deeper into Tolkien's world than the films could. Here we return to my initial post in the Lunar Lands - accordingly, there are designs from GW that would later be contradicted by The Hobbit films. 

So, on the left is GW's Radagast. Perhaps a bit basic, a rather simple 'nature wizard' - but quite logical as an explicitly rustic, nature-orientated version of Ian McKellan's Gandalf. On the right is a model of Radagast as portrayed by Sylvester McCoy. I rather think there is something off about portraying an Istari with Ragged Trousers.

Here, into the bargain is an interior illustration from Shadow and Flame showing Radagast.

Who looks like he wants you to get off not just his lawn,
but his entire damn forest. Perhaps he could be played by Clint Eastwood?

This is Thranduil, looking nothing like Lee Pace. I'm not terribly fond of the miniature - sword and bow and staff looks a trifle indecisive, but the background inspiration of 'regal, mature version of Orlando Bloom's Legolas' makes sense.

The Elves of Mirkwood are in evidence as well: these were designed as Wood Elf troops to go with Thranduil, along with these musical sentinels. Compare the stripped-down, sparse look - Jackson LoTR elves minus the armour - with The Hobbit-derived rangers and household guard


By the way, I'm not intending to list every such point of comparison. You may peruse a catalogue from before The Hobbit films here. In a quick overview Wikipedia lists the material published - including rules for Tom Bombadil, the Scouring of the Shire, an extended Harad. But there are a few more things I want to touch on. 

Incidentally, the memorable characters of Lord of the Rings and recognisable actors in the Jackson films means that there are a great many character models for the Strategy Battle Game - as displayed to greatest effect in this post.


Gondor's fiefdoms would get attention from GW that the Jackson films could never offer. Firstly, in the form of an article detailing suggested conversions, and then in miniatures for Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth (Middle-Earth's resident Lohengrin impersonator and the real hero behind the Defence of Minas Tirith) and his men. I'm not too fond of these Clansmen of Lamedon ('Clans? Mountains? They must be Highland Scots, give them kilts and claymores.')

Better is Arnor, which would get their own short-lived range, who strike me as a sort of 'Arthurian Gondor' with their helmet torses and green, fringed, banners. See also King Arvedui's fur-trimmed robe and general affect. 

The Variags of Khand are Mongols with Axes and Sometimes Chariots - linking them to the Wainriders defeated by Gondor in the Third Age. (That's a lot of Central Asian peoples GW has skipped over: as ever, The Wicked City is a blessed alternative). Easterlings are all of the scale-armoured exotic look shown in The Two Towers film, but I have some appreciation for the palanquin.  

Some of the Haradrim expansions are sensible enough: cavalry and an elite guard (who look as if they've stepped right out of the Hyperborean Age). The appearance of assassins, desert ninjas and (for want of a better term) thickset Harem wardens we will pass over swiftly. From Far Harad, we have Mahud camelry.

Who make me ask vexed questions about the price of ivory south of Gondor.

In addition to the strange 'mounted Maasai' look, I am reminded of a comment by Fitzgerald of Middenmurk about how 'the Osprey Men-at-Arms series of books will interpret everything in the fightingest way possible'.

Speaking of the Kingdoms of Men, GW would eventually produce unique models for the Nazgul. These were first produced as the black-robed spectres of The Fellowship of the Ring: in time, the Witch-King and Khamûl the Easterling (the only ones that Tolkien identifies, if I recall correctly) would receive models. The rest followed


I don't care for the names ('The Betrayer', 'The Shadow Lord', 'The Dark Marshall') but I prefer these relatively mild designs to the inhuman animate armours of Dol Guldur shown in The Hobbit films (here's a longer break-down by another chap). GW also did a 'Sauron as the Necromancer' model before The Hobbit films, which works well as an 'incorporeal presence' Dark Lord.


All this aside, there is one productive comparison I think can be made between GW's Middle-Earth and Jackson's. Let us look to the Dwarves. 

In the Jackson LoTR films, we don't really see the Dwarves. We get Gimli and the other members of the Dwarven delegation at Rivendell, the desiccated remains in Moria, the 'Dwarf kings' of the opening sequence. The Dwarves were one of the first principally-designed-by-GW factions in 2003's Shadow and Flame

So: GW had relatively limited room to work. The Dwarves have to look like part of the world shown by the Jackson films. The Dwarves also can't look too like the Dwarfs of Warhammer Fantasy (I don't know that Cavatore or either Perry or someone actually stood up and ever said or wrote that, but I think that has to have been on their minds). It's an interesting set of limitations on a creative project, and an almost comic situation - we made a wargame with significant reference to Tolkien, now we have to make a Tolkien wargame without diluting either of these products.

I think they accomplished this. Here are the first few miniatures of LoTR-Dwarves; here are several images of WHF-Dwarfs. Aside from the obvious differences - ranks of square-based miniatures vs scattered round-based, no helicopters, no gunpowder, no crossbows, no mohawks - there's a few deliberate touches. Less ornament and figurative designs on the LoTR-Dwarves, smaller axes (frequently skeletonised), more exposed areas of cloth. No cartoonish touches - as the WHF-Dwarf Miners, or horned helmets, or vast runes. 

We have Dwarven heroes not shown by the films: Dain Ironfoot and Balin (Shadow and Flame contained a series of scenarios set during the reclamation of Moria). Dain looks like an ornamented version of John Rhys-Davies's Gimli, in a commanding static pose. Balin has a different approach - he is pointing onward, inward and wears a sort of crown with angular cheekpieces which looks (in a fashion) very Dwarven. 'He's so much a Dwarf that he has armour-plated his cheekbones.'

Later LoTR-Dwarf miniatures follow in this line. A more extensive range of Dwarf Warriors - shown painted with plain wooden shields, quite unlike any WHF-Dwarfs. The Rangers would make a good base for Thorin et al in The Hobbit and are an excellent contrast to WHF-Dwarfs in their lack of ironmongery. 

(If I say 'war games need more civilians' it will sound terribly strange, but I rather think that there should be some designs in miniature war gaming that refer to civilian life, rather than ONLY WAR. The profession of arms is not necessarily a common one, even if it has a distinctive costume - a pre-modern state should have few if any walking tanks. Anyway, the Rangers linked above look like they could have been working in the smithy half an hour ago.)

The Iron Guard are slightly ludicrous - how does dual-wielding help you protect trade routes? - but aren't out of place among their peers. The Vault Warden team seems to have derived solely from that cave troll wielding a trident in the film of The Fellowship of the Ring. Given that they must fight underground, direct fire is of more use than indirect, so LoTR-Dwarves have a ballista not a catapult. It hurls stones, which is at least fitting.

I trust you get the point: GW managed to balance things out fairly well. A variety of new Dwarven units in new but not unfitting designs. Then came along The Hobbit movies. Dain and Balin receive brand new designs. We see whole regiments of Dwarves pouring out of the Iron Hills or fighting at Azanulbizar. And they aren't remotely the same as those that have come before. 

Jackson and the team filming The Hobbit did not (of course) feel bound to copy GW's designs. Nor do I think they should have been compelled to do so - there is a difference in tone between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, there is a difference in forms between a tabletop miniature and a costume for a film, and in any case I would prefer to err on the side of artistic freedom rather than constraint. None of this means I like the armies of Dwarves shown in The Hobbit films.

Designs become more complex and aggressive. There are greater layers of armour, to a dehumanising degree. There is an unmistakably industrial look to it all - where the LoTR films fairly obviously pointed towards an anti-industrial theme. These chaps with mattocks aren't too bad, but seem to be entirely clad in oily-looking gun-metal grey armour. GW has shown masked Dwarves from the beginning, but these chaps are practically identical next to the Khazad Guard. Perhaps it would help if the beards were different colours. Likewise, contrast these Warriors with the Rangers. Why do they all have the same colour jerkin? I'm also not quite certain about those flanges below the spearhead - which in any case is suddenly quite large. 

I'm equally less than enchanted by these crossbow-carrying Dwarves. How the hell is that supposed to work? Where's the string? Moreover, it is so stripped down and vicious it looks like something an Orc would carry. Had we forgotten - 'Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted. They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones.' As I recall, the only ones in the LoTR films with crossbows are the Uruk-Hai.


You take my point. Dwarves go from being akin to the other folk of Middle-Earth to suddenly and dramatically different. There's a few things I would suggest this illustrates.

Firstly, the change in what the LoTR films did to what The Hobbit films did. A different look, a different impression. There is the problem of the success of the LoTR films: battle scenes had to be equalled, martial ingenuity matched. Perhaps there is the effect of success: entering production of the first films with trepidation and the second set of films with swaggering confidence.

I don't know enough about the use of CGI to meaningfully compare the LoTR films and The Hobbit films, but the latter struck me as that much more egregious. Not merely bulking out battle scenes, but creating them. I know this will sound terribly rose-tinted (The films from my youth got it right! The films of the same series from my maturity got it wrong!) but I am going to stand by it. CGI is very useful for when you don't have thousands of Soviet troops to dress up as redcoats and grognards, but shouldn't dictate your art, in the same fashion that one doesn't plan a meal of any great worth around the capabilities of the microwave.  

I also invite a comparison between the audience receiving (and the people making) the LoTR films in the early 2000s and the The Hobbit films in the early 2010s. How many artists and designers in the 2010s had a set of cues from internet nerddom; from complex digital art, from video games? The Neal Stephenson novel Reamde refers to a conflict in a MMORPG between groups of players: the Forces of Brightness set against the Earthtone Coalition. Designs in The Hobbit films are hardly literally as bright as a World of Warcraft avatar, but if one adjusts for a notion of 'conceptual brightness', it applies. I don't know how life changed at (say) Weta Worksop between those two times, but it would be interesting to know. How many of them had encountered GW products, or things inspired by GW products? It's at least tempting to make the poetic suggestion that GW's success in one set of products utterly and unpredictably warped another set of their products.

Be this true or not, we see the strange intertwined and distorting nature of these franchise juggernauts. There's something unpleasant - even presuming a lack of malevolence on the part of all involved - of designing a piece of (near-original) art only to have it memory-holed not a generation later.

So, yes: Bennett of the Lunar Lands has it correct. There should be many, many interpretations of Tolkien's work at your fingertips. Even if I like or liked the consistency of GW's extension to Jackson's vision of Middle-Earth, Jackson's Middle-Earth should not be the only starting point. 

Thursday, 27 July 2023

Wrecked Heptarchy: Bocage, Puritans, Stumps

I've written before about Silent Titans, and chances are you've heard of it anyway. You might even have an opinion on whether it's workable, or any good, or anything else. If not....see here.

However, what I'm really here for is the section Beyond Wir-Heal, specifically the sub-set 'Your Own Wrecked Heptarchy'. I don't suppose I'm the first one to write something like this, even setting aside the pre-existing Land of Rushes (to be found In the Hall of the Third Blue Wizard). All the same, this stuff's been brewing at the back of my mind for a while. It's probably not going to turn into anything substantial, but I might as well share it. So here we go...

It’s History.

Silent Titans is set in a world wracked by time spasms and dimensional collapse. In its geography, society, environments and characters are warped or alternate versions of the Wirral Peninsula in North West England. Driven through this like needles through skin, are terrifying shards of a distant, ruined, high-technology reality whose broken weapons and poisonous ontological waste has been dumped and hidden in its own past. It has both sword fights and robots

Of course, I don't know the Wirral. That's difference one. As an effete Southron, this is going to be about inner East Anglia (largely). Let's call the region Estengle (for now?). 

The nature of the wreckage is different in this portion of the Heptarchy. No Titans, silent or otherwise. That's difference two. No terrifying shards, no peninsula girt by the tides of time. There's likely a drip-feed of displaced history, but it would be less flotsam and jetsam and more .... strangers riding into town? A ghostly train? 


Estengle. What's it like? A blend: market towns, dense bocage, the rolling fields of drained marsh, planned planed business parks, thorn-choked dykes, the lurking survivals of the old fens, chalk pits, golf courses, race tracks, abandoned airfields. The weather: aching, pitiless sun, sullen rain or oppressive grey cloud.

The people in Eastengle:

Alchemy Puritans: clean shaven, simply dressed, well-read, soft-spoken. Keen enthusiasts for Better Living Through Chemistry. Probably taking some sort of mood-alterer, sense-enchancer, suppressant or relaxant. There is a sophisticated colour coding system to indicate this - different coloured badges, different coloured streaks in the hair, different jewelled studs along the cheek bone, different stripes of make-up spiralling away from the eyelids. 

They would be insulted to be call lotus-eaters. They know exactly what they are taking, how much, and when they will stop. Everyone requires some measure of pharmaceutical support; they're just being systematic and rational about it. 

Aiming to strike out into the Fens and bring them into order for the growth of cash crops. 

Fen Tygers: Want the Fens back for their own. Grubby and rustic; much more given to occasional excesses than the Puritans. Have somehow acquired several noisy motorcars and a pack of heraldic tygers.

Ferrymen: merchants, dealbrokers, expansionist middlemen.

Fane-raisers: raisers of great monuments, architects, devotees of order, ritualists, hierarchs, dwindling fraternities.

Aviscaputs: Could there be some of these around?


The most obvious thing to point to, the most Titan-like would be the restless bones of Gog and Magog: thorn-tunnels in the spinney lead to actual tunnels in the earth lead to rib-caverns and femur-passages. 

There would be the vast heaven-seeking towers made by the predecessors of the Fane-raisers. Empty, chill - poisoned? Ruined?

Inspired by the likes of St Botolph's, Boston, St James's, Louth and other wool churches - to say nothing of Ely Cathedral, the 'Ship of the Fens'.


As above, I'm not sure that there are any plans to work this up any further. Certainly, I would need to do some further reading - the late Ronald Blythe, for instance. There is at least one piece in Anglo-Norman I'm currently working my way through. Anyway, I hope this has been of some interest.

Saturday, 22 July 2023

The Rest of All Possible Worlds: The Wrong End of the Staff

There are two things that prompted the writing of this. The first thing is a few recent posts by noisms on the problems of writing from the point of view of humans in a fantasy - or even pre-Englightenment - setting. Of course,  TRoAPW is specifically an Enlightenment or Enlightenment-equivalent setting. So, how does one avoid writing a setting in which everyone sounds.....suspiciously reasonable and modern?

First of all, of course, our own age is post-Englightenment. Quite when it became 'post' varies, I think, with how you judge such things. In literature, the ideas of Modernism post-Great War suggests a world where the settled march of scientific knowledge and Whig history is interrupted by the death and devastation of the Western Front. Of course, nobody told the architects: witness the square, 'rational' designs and 'machines for living' of Le Corbusier. This is to say nothing of the grand schemes of the post-war 1940s: social democracy, the centrally-planned welfare state and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - all of which must, I think, count the Enlightenment among their forebears. Still, there is a sense of distance between us and the Enlightenment that would make the magical Enlightenment of TRoAPW as if not more distant.

Secondly, change does not occur equally. TRoAPW positions its Enlightenment as taking place mainly on one continent: Calliste. Even there, it might be centred around a few states or a few cities or a few social groups. My mind goes to Manola's Own Private WFRP (see Points One and Two): 

'There's a Renaissance in progress! The cities are growing. The economy is booming. The tax receipts are up. .... The progress celebrated by the elites is real, but it has been purchased at a terrifying price in social dislocation and human suffering.' 

Even in the compact and politically active Datravia, not everyone is going to be up-to-date and alert and with it (whatever it may be). I've written enough about the Majestic Vision to suggest that it is still a meaningful force in Calliste. 

The second thing is that TRoAPW was in part suggested by the idea of being wrong about things - hence 'White-Hot Sparks from the Crucible of the Enlightenment'. Are you a brief speck of light and heat, or are you part of the final product? When we're talking about a process occurring across an entire continent, you might well be going down one of the dead ends of the maze. 

The suggestion of Voltaire's over-optimistic Pangloss in the title is no error! You might be going as far wrong as he is in Candide. Indeed, if Valentine Sims and Principia Arcana are the most influential and important product of Calliste's Enlightenment (they quite specifically are not!) it should be possible for Our Heroes to encounter 'That irritating little squirt Sims who's always barking up the wrong tree' and get written into the popular history books two centuries later as narrow-minded dunderheaded hidebound reactionaries! I've written it before: It's all the discarded ideas and first efforts and groundwork that contributed, bundled up and dressed in a periwig.

Indeed, when building up the ideas for TRoAPW and the magical debates ongoing in Calliste I did contemplate writing in a few Red Herrings. Eventually, I decided this wasn't necessary. Firstly, some schools of thought (e.g, Ante-Grimoireans) are wilder than others anyway and can act as potential implausible explanations. 

Secondly, a number of the debates I was writing up weren't about anything as solid as (say) the orbit of the planets or the circulatory system - how one divides up Spells for use by human wizards isn't something one can answer in a mathematically correct manner. This isn't to say that a GM can't say that in their Calliste (to take a side at random) the Polycameralists have it mostly right and their opponents are wrong, but I have no wish to put that rule in place.

Thirdly, in my experience RPG players are quite good at picking the wrong end of the stick all by themselves. When it's something as open as TRoAPW rather than a mystery solving game like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, perhaps best not to through additional obstacles into their way. 

In addition to Pangloss, of course, there's meant to be a sense of possibility in TRoAPW. The Bastille has been stormed - now the future of France is wide open, and you are right there in the heart of Paris! You are a participant, not a tourist - Cf. Faufreluches - and unlike the rulers of Lakoto, you can make some bloody stupid decisions. 

Fine, some conclusions:

  1. Even setting magic aside, the TRoAPW point of view should be in almost equal parts as like and as unlike to a modern PoV. There might even be an 'Uncanny Valley' effect - the reformers of Calliste trying so hard to be capital-M modern without succeeding that they end up becoming somehow repellant.
  2. Players coming up with half-baked schemes is right in the spirit of TRoAPW. Players getting it utterly wrong is right in the spirit of TRoAPW.
  3. You might be part of a movement with some overall positive effects - that doesn't mean you're a paragon of virtue.
      Likewise, that Calliste is presently free of Thirty Years War-style religious conflict does not mean it is free of strife. 

Friday, 14 July 2023

"And I only am escaped alone to tell thee....."

There have been more deaths in Abermawr. These have been discussed and analysed sufficiently in the past, and I see no reason to add to any previous memorials.

But the adventuring doesn't slow down. New characters are rolled up, backstories compiled, adventurers take over empty rooms in the slowly accumulated compound. The newcomers pick up the notes of the previous party and pick up where they left off.

Who is briefing them? The domestic staff? Magical familiars? Friends and family? How would they come to know all this? A little unlikely. (Not that that this quite matches the Three Mile Tree scenario at present.)

A thought crossed my mind: what if one escaped? Maimed, injured beyond the level of fighting-fit, but possessed of all the knowledge needed to set up a new party of adventurers. If an agreeable trajectory for players is full-blown establishment and possibly even retirement, it should be no surprise that someone becomes a manager.

The most ghastly fate of all.

The process is thus: TPK. GM taps Player A on the shoulder, asks her if she wouldn't mind having Character X stick around via a tiny little Retcon as M to a pack of 007s*. (The less flattering comparison is presumably the maimed recruiting sergeant in Starship Troopers). Player A says Yes; off-screen Character X crawls out of the dungeon minus left hand, right leg and fearfully scarred over the left eye. Character X takes over HQ duties, including bringing the newcomers up to speed.

Does this appeal? Certainly, if this was a new season of a television serial or Book Five of the Chronicles of XYZ, the reappearance of Star-Captain Fletcher Irving or Lady Steelheart might delight an audience. Master Bernardus escaped from the Platinum Immortals of the Supreme Syndic and has undergone a change in appearance, mannerism and motivation....allowing his actor to display a greater range.

Would such a thing work at the tabletop? Well, recurring figures in campaigns can delight the players. If your mysterious employer in the concealing cowl turns out to be our old friend Ajax Barjazid, it could do likewise. If cleared with Player A, who has fond memories of Ajax's STR 18 and CON 17, and doesn't appreciate this shabby resurrection. 

But cue the seeking of magical solutions: Get Barjazid a healing miracle! Get him a magical iron hand! Tear it off a god! Let's Corum that beautiful bastard Barjazid! That might even be an interesting quest, but this is all in some sense the same as bringing them back from the dead.

Mike Mignola's Corum.
(Looking less than delighted by the Eye of Rhynn and Hand of Kwll.). 

Anyway, if the Adventuring Party is in the sort of frequent deaths-no resurrections arrangement, I at least like the image of a scarred veteran directing the next generation (though perhaps a surviving NPC is better). But this is the sort of thing where tastes will differ, and there's probably something I missed. 

*Or whatever the collective noun is. A martini of 007s? An Aston? An innuendo?

Friday, 7 July 2023

Six Strange Rivers

All these rivers resemble and behave like water. Most of the time. Sometimes it's murky water, luminescent water, weed-choked water, &c, but still water. Each river has a single course: there are no or few tributaries. Some may have gates, dams, cataracts and the like.

The Styx*

Flows Into: The Underworld.

Is the River of: Unbreakable Vows, Supernatural Boundaries.

One may cross it or travel it by means of: A dark, low, boat.

Piloted by: A grim, greasy, bearded ferryman.** 

At a charge of: A Coin, held in the mouth.

A Child dipped in the River: becomes Invulnerable.

Charon and Psyche, 1883, John Stanhope

The Bhallduin 

Flows Into: The Celestial Realm.

Is the River of: The Course of the Sun, Day and Night.

One may cross it or travel it by means of: A floating palace of mirrors and mosaics.

Piloted by: The Signs of the Zodiac, commanded by a Solar Hierophant.

At a charge of: The recitation of a litany from approved scripture.

A Child dipped in the River: Will never suffer the loss of his or her senses, other than by outright mutilation.

The Izonn

Flows Into: The Realm of the Forms.

Is the River of: Supernal Order.

One may cross it on: A giant bearded snake, with the voice of every single one of your schoolteachers speaking at once.

Piloted by: The snake decides where to go.

At a charge of: You must argue why you should get to ride the Snake in a dialogue with the Snake. 

A Child dipped in the River: Will always know what time it is, where they are and what is around them.

The Novar

Flows Into: The Prelapsarian Garden.

Is the River of: New Souls, the UnBorn, Virgil's Fourth Ecologue

One may cross it on: A canopied litter wreathed with plants carried by muscular tritons.

Piloted by: a pearl-white Pelican perched on the front of the litter.

At a charge of: One pomegranate per triton. (It is considered good manners to offer the pelican a fish.)

A Child dipped in the River: will be 'bonny and blithe and good and gay'.

The Thyrss

Flows Into: The Land of Cockaigne.

Is the River of: Intoxication, Second Helpings.

One may cross it on: A polychrome barge with numerous pavilions.

Piloted by: A mob of Maenads.

At a charge of: All the booze on your person.

A Child dipped in the River: will never suffer a hangover, or gout, or indigestion, or food poisoning.

The Sennus

Flows Into: The Dying Earth, the Age of Rust, the Æon of the Red Sun, the Slow Ragnarok.

Is the River of: Bitter Resolve, Leaden Darkness.

One may cross it on: A floating chariot decorated with Baroque statuettes pulled by moth-eaten mer-lions.

Piloted by: An old wounded soldier in a worn uniform.

At a charge of: A small bowl of your blood, mixed with myrrh.

A Child dipped in the River: will only die in battle.

The Eilex

Flows Into: The Blessed Lake and the Isle of Crowns.

Is the River of: Healing Rest, Useful Dreams.

One may cross it on: A carrack with an elaborate crenellated fo'c's'le. 

Piloted by: Twenty Assorted Medieval Kings under the command of a beautiful Damsel.

At a charge of: You must throw away all your weapons. Especially the magical ones.

A Child dipped in the River: will become a judge, a priest or a captain - if perhaps not literally, and in accordance with the circumstances they grow up in. 

You may decide for yourself what surrounds the river, and where in the realms of men it emerges. 
The cost of the ferryman's fee may be low, but actually making it as far as the ferry is hard. 
It is assumed that none of the various ferrymen below will drop you into the river accidentally.

This post is rather in the vein of Rheingold, et al - but somewhat less focused. 

* There's a bit of both Acheron and Styx here, admittedly. 
**Aeniad, 6.300