Sunday, 27 September 2020

Punth: A Primer Ch. 10 - Goals

This looks to be the final post of the Primer proper; two other posts are in the works to round things off.

Punth! Aristocratic republic of former astronauts. Long roads dividing a howling desert. Scribe schools engaged in mass call-and-repeat lessons in the baking sun. Gendarme patrols, regular as clockwork. Polychrome pillars and glazed bricks. Long-necked herbivores pulling carts; six-legged steeds for the Sky Princes. 

(Newcomers may wish to seek wider context here and here).

The Primer thus far has talked about professions, conditions and tactics: now we talk about Goals. Some of this will doubtless repeat earlier parts of the Primer, but it this Chapter still seems necessary. 

Security By the might of the Sky Princes are these lands secured.

Safety Shelter, plenty and benevolence: these sustain a sheltering, plenteous, benevolent populace. 

Find a Community The longing for a home is the longing for Correct Thought and those who speak it.

Find a work-team To be idle is to decay.

Prestige To be known as a vessel of Correct Thought allows transmission of Correct Thought.

Accomplishment The application of might and wit is properly praised.

Perpetuate Culture To the offspring of the Codes, let there be taught the Codes.

Expand Culture Where Correct Thought is not, there is only fruitless toil. This is no proper state for the populace.

Expand Territory Correct Thought has no borders. 

Find a new home Neither men nor land should be idle, but idle men and idle land may be set together and transformed.

Reform By the refiner's fire, both gold and the populace may be remade.

Re-invigrate/Repair Water refreshes the spirit; water with earth makes mud; from mud are shaped bricks; bricks restore the house.

Destroy Might joined with righteousness surpassed all other things. 

Defeat Cast folly into the dust.

To Die Well To die for the populace can be as worthy as to live.

Punish Malice is thwarted in the Servants of the People.

Harmony, Coordination From the scribe, instruction. From the labourer, action. For the populace, joy. 

Prosperity Where bellies are empty, let them be filled. Where granaries are empty, let them be filled. Where granaries are ruined, restore them.

Strength Might is won be devotion and wisdom. These come from the Codes. 

Good of the Qryth The might of the Sky Princes is wondrous and perfusive!

Good of Punth The lands and teachers of correct thought must be sustained.

Justice Who must rise first? The mighty. Who shall be raised up? The just.

Learning Correct thought is the pathway to all abilities that may be considered natural.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

The Qryth: A Class for The 52 Pages

Half as big again as a full-grown man. Hunters; Soldiers; Magistrates; Central Planners. Green four-armed aristo-commisars, acting out Star Trek cargo-cult legends in colourful stone ziggurats!

Details of their history are found elsewhere (the background of Punth is found here and here); for now, I shall concentrate on physical features. Ten foot would be moderately tall for a Qryth. They possess two forward facing eyes, but set in what would be the forehead on a human. Skins tones vary between shades of ochre and green, but rarely approaching the bright green of grass or the solid dark green of moss. The Qryth are hairless, but have been known to use animal pelts in (perhaps unconscious) imitation of body hair. 

They possess four arms and two legs, the arms being set either side of the torso. The lower, slightly smaller set of arms is commonly used for fine-detail work or in expressions of intimacy. To greet someone with the upper arms only is - in fact and in verse - to propose a formal, distant relationship. The musculature of the limbs is somewhat helical to the viewer. 

The Qryth give birth to live young, although they do not suckle them and are, accordingly, breast-less. Eggs are swapped between Qryth, rather like seahorses. This is a private affair - though it is possible that Qryth mores have been shaped in this regard by their time in Punth. Likewise, the organs of generation are generally concealed. Male and Female are adopted as terms of convenience. This has relatively little bearing on the matter of Qryth behaviour: they are Sky-Princes before all else.  

Qryth youths go fairly promptly from parents to creches to isolated boarding schools. Given how few the Qryth are, their children are gathered together to create a lasting Qryth identity. 

One hundred years is a not uncommon age for the Qryth to reach - though having made your century is grounds for retirement. After the age of sixty (or thereabouts) the Qryth develop a distinct sheen and set of streaks to their skin, rather like the bark of a hornbeam. 

Qryth names are discussed here, in Ch. 8 of the Primer. 

This class should function with a party of adventurers from outside Punth or inside. Rogue Qryth are exceedingly rare, but this should not stop them from appearing on the tabletop. As much as Qryth do have a fairly rigid set of social roles, hunting trips, solo journeys and other forms of independent action are not unknown. 

In a Punthless and Codeless setting, adjust as necessary. 

So, to the mechanics - using, as before, The 52 Pages (downloadauthor's blog).


Size: 2

Move: 15

HP - d8+1+ CON +/-.

Attack Modifiers - +1/+1
Mind Save 5 + WIS +/-
Speed Save 7 + DEX+/-
Body Save  5 + CON +/-

Knowledge    Notice Detail   Hear Noise   Handiwork   Stealth   Athletics

      [X]                           [X]                    [X]                    [X]                      [ ]                 [X]

Must start with Background word Punth. This encompasses a Desert background, plus the unique traits of that land. Qryth prefer the warm and suffer in colder climes. 

Four Arms: A Qryth can carry more things at once than other people, though this does not translate to STR 18 encumbrance. They can, however, effectively wield a two-handed weapons and a shield simultaneously, or reload a Heavy Crossbow in one turn. A Qryth could carry two two-handed weapons, but would be obliged to use them alternately. 

Stealth and Size: The Qryth are used to trying to conceal themselves in the desert, though their size can work against them. Indoors, naturally, this becomes harder. A Qryth can go on all fours (legs and lower arms), making them lower but longer. Thus they can go inside human-size dwellings and still use the upper arms to fight or work - but this is relatively strenuous and going round corners is difficult.
If a Qryth below Lvl 3 has to spend a game turn like this, they take Fatigue Damage.
Some Qryth soldiers, akin to commandos, specialise in this sort of unglamorous work.

Qryth Anatomy: Healers from outside Punth will struggle to assist the Qryth. They can turn a Mortal wound to a Critical one, but they cannot Speed Recovery.
There is a One in Ten chance that a particular poison will not effect a Qryth.

Languages: A Qryth starts with twos Languages: the Codes and the script of Punth. 
Any language slots a Qryth player might otherwise possess are 'banked' until later levels. 
In the event that the Qryth are hiding a secret about how they speak, it is assumed that any Qryth would be cautious about saying as much. At least a few levels worth of cautious. 

Hirelings and Henchmen: Outside Punth, normal rulings apply. 
Inside Punth - it is always possible for a Qryth to find Hirelings or Henchmen, CHA notwithstanding. Social problems may arise from this, but not mechanical ones. 

Armour: Outside Puth, all Armour must be made specially for the Qryth. Extra costs will apply.
A Qryth may start with Light or Partial Medium Armour.

Level Advancement: +1 Melee, +1 Missile every Even Level

                                    +1 to all Saves every Odd Level

A player that wishes to roll up a Qryth must have at least 13 STR.

Suggested backgrounds and other details: Typically, a Qryth would be expected to be a Soldier, Magistrate, Tactician, Logistician, Pedagogue or Scholar-Poet. The first four of these will have a fairly formal rank structure (as before, a Qryth fighter would be known by certain high and ancient names  - Astronaut, Espatier, Star Commander, &c. Vertebraean usage tends to refer to a Qryth Knight, Commander, Marshall.)
The Qryth have a heavily ritualised, legendary idea of their own history. This extends to the various remaining gadget relics in their possession.
They tend to be ill-informed about magic and religion (both in terms of fine detail and how they fit into a wider picture).


The literary and socio-political inspirations for the Qryth have been covered fairly explicitly elsewhere (though I shall make a dedicated Appendix N post one day), so I shall here post a few bits for the look of the Qryth. Hopefully having read the above, you will have a mental image of your own, but a few reference points seem worthwhile.

Edgar Rice Burrough's Barsoom stories offers the first inspiration for the look of the Qryth. The Green Martians (also Tharks) are the main reference. The Thri-Kreen of Dungeons and Dragons have a slight influence, but little more.  The Qryth are not insects.

#barsoom from Jewel in the Skull
Green Martians, are of course green, four-armed, fifteen-foot barbarians. This image found here.
(The 'Barsoom' tag on Jewel in the Skull is useful, but be warned that you will
see numerous mostly-naked folk in various things that might be considered clothing)

#richard corben from Jewel in the Skull
Some depictions have them more bestial than others.
Image found here; art by Richard Corben.
#barsoom from Jewel in the Skull
Others appear to be 1.5 green bodybuilders.
Image found here; art by Joe Jusko.

My preference is for the Qryth to be on the leaner side - and, of course, without tusks. The 2012 Barsoom adaption John Carter opts for something thinner than the above.  
From the 2012 film John Carter.
I rather like this concept art for the same, by Dermot Power (his website).
This image, and others like it may be found here - do take a look.

[Notes and pictures on the Qryth architecture found here]

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Punth: A Primer Ch. 9 - Conditions

Punth! Square cities by the bending river. Gene-mod oxen pull the ploughs. Goatherds gather their flocks into elevated shelters for fear of carnivorous leaping lizards.  Sentries with khaki fatigues and long spears.  

(Newcomers may wish to seek wider context here and here).

Punth has seasons, weather and varous social and physical conditions to communicate, same as any other land. Now, whilst those in the same community comprehend elements of this implicitly or by non-verbal cues, the incomer may not (be they Punthite or otherwise). Thus, a list of expressions from the Codes may be used to communicate these certain set of notions. 


Cold Chill as the desert night is the people without a code.

Heat The heat of noon is to be preferred to Incorrect Thought

Wet As full of water as the Codes are full of merit.

Thirsty A dry interior is like a man with his bones only.

Hungry Neither trees nor men should be hollow.

Exposed, in want of Shelter To be roofless is to be skinless.

Wounded If the body is broken, who may avail?

Poisoned/Stung  Foreign substances degrade the body.

Ill Sickness is rife where Incorrect Thought dominates. 

Enchanted Just as the body, the mind may be imprisoned and trammelled. 

Short of Supplies Action must persist, whatever the conditions.

Prosperous The wealth of nations is found in a proclaimed code.

Stunned Codeless are those that fall head-first.

Dying The fruits of Correct Thought persist, though its proponents fall. 

Disgraced The Sky Princes cast down only those who offend. 

Praiseworthy Dutiful them that strive, twice so them that succeed. 

Dirty The dust may soil it, but Correct Thought clears all stains. 

Rain The earth is refreshed, thus so are its inhabitants.

Thunder A noise from the heavens, as the knell of the Sky Princes.

Clouds All things but the light of Correct Thought may be hidden.

Sunny Merciless is the gaze of the sorcerer.

Winds The howling of the dunes scours those who do not follow Correct Thought. 

Sandstorm A thousand in directed motion will flay a giant. 

Migratory animals Watch for the turning of the year, as the roaming beast does.

Troop movement Make room on the roads, in the houses, in all other efforts, for the soldiers of the state.

Goods movement Bring the sought commodities to where they are needed; not all work is creation. 

Qryth visit The Sky Princes foot-fall is a wondrous trumpet-blast.

Government bulletin When adjustments to standard policy must be made, envoys will tell it.

A death A useful life is all the epitaph one needs.

A birth Offspring raised in the code are a social good surpassing all others. 

Friday, 4 September 2020

Black City, Wicked City

I read most of the Erast Fandorin novels a while ago. They're Russian mysteries and thrillers by a chap with the nom-de-plume of Boris Akunin, translated by Andrew Bromfield. The titular Erast Fandorin is a detective and some-time secret agent in late nineteenth-early twentieth century Russia.

I would describe them as slightly pulpy; to illustrate, the titular Fandorin is something of a polymath and dandy, with a Japanese manservant. The tone shifts as well: one novel can deal with state machinations and the wholesale destruction of a Balkan war, another can deal with a genteel mystery on a cruise liner. However, they have value in opening up new fields for me. They make (say) pre-revolutonary Moscow, a well established setting, that much more granular. To speak uncharitably, there would be the temptation for an English-speaking author to weigh pretty heavily in on the shadows of Revolution, and while a full cast of agitators, secret police, reformers and revolutionaries is on display, it's not the only thing going on. Akunin's Sister Pelagia stories (an Orthodox nun, somewhat in the vein of Father Brown) have a rural setting that occasionally verges on the Arcadian (while still being in 1890s Russia). 

Anyway, I recently picked up one of the later Fandorin mysteries, Black City. It is largely set in 1914 Baku (the capital of modern-day Azerbaijan, as football fans discovered for themselves last year). An oil boom is in full swing. There is a whole series of social tensions: Tsarist authorities hunting for terrorists, Nouveau riche millionaires driving up prices, working classes toiling in heavy industry, Islamic customs brushing up against the course of progress, the ethnic tensions of the Caucuses....

Black City (Erast Fandorin 12): Akunin, Boris, Bromfield,  Andrew: 9781474604444: Books
Cover of the English translation
(Andrew Bromfield for Wiedenfeld & Nicholson, 2018)

All of this comes with a riot of set dressing: a winding Medieval quarter straight from the Arabian Nights, modern hotels, casinos and boat clubs, oil fields and the extravagant mansions of their owners. Costume takes in the traditional dress of the mountains, ornate pre-war uniforms, frock coats and sheepskin caps. Technology: speedboats, motor cars, film cameras, automatic pistols - and horses, folk remedies and Damascene knives. 

It's an influence to throw into your list of inspirations, anyway. This post, set between larger projects, also serves as a coincidental tip-of-the-hat to Against the Wicked City, recently resurfaced. Baku is certainly in the milieu of that metropolis. 

Friday, 21 August 2020

The Magician's Nephew's Goose-Gold

 I recently read over the proto-design document for Patrick Stuart’s Goose-Gold and Goblins (see here). There were elements in it that put me in mind of CS Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew (first chronologically, sixth in publication order of the Chronicles of Narnia). I said I would outline how to apply it. More obvious sources of inspiration are Studio Ghibli films (hence the Shintobox elements) and fairy tales, but I think that The Magician’s Nephew specifically would be good to consider. I shall begin with the second paragraph:

(Chances are if you‘re reading this Blog you’ve read The Magician’s Nephew [hereafter TMN] anyway, but if you haven’t, do so).

In those days Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road. In those days, if you were a boy you had to wear a stiff Eton collar every day, and schools were usually nastier than now. But meals were nicer; and as for sweets, I won’t tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make you mouth water in vain. And in those days there lived in London a girl called Polly Plummer.

So: the real world elements of Narnia are here drawn from the past – the late Victorian era – rather than the 1940s and 50s of other Chronicles. This is not idealised (think of the later reaction of the Cabby and his horse to arriving in Narnia), but it is clearly thinking of a Britain (indeed, a London) before two world wars and Rationing. 

Goose-Gold and Goblins (hereafter GG&G) looks to give XP for Food, but there is something more in this. The implication of distant or neutral government (comparative with Wartime Britain or a post-war Welfare State) is fitting. Monsters like cruel teachers are also cited by GG&G.

Polly and Digory are our protagonists, and are both children (GG&G would have your characters either be quite young or quite old). Their families’ London houses are connected by the attic; so they meet and explore together.

It is wonderful how much exploring you can do with a stub of candle in a big house, or row of houses. 

The urban setting (for now!) isn’t quite right for GG&G, but the exploration of your local area (and the implicit decay of exploring a house with empty or unused rooms) is right.

Digory and Polly encounter his Uncle Andrew, who turns out to be an amateur magician. However, he’s not a kindly man (“Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours is a high and lonely destiny.”). He spirits Polly away to unknown parts, and this is shocking – not just in the sense of being magic, but in its suddenness and violence. 

It was so sudden and so terribly unlike anything that had ever happened to Digory even in a nightmare, that he let out a scream.

Uncle Andrew turns out to inherited artefacts of Atlantis (so he believes) from a fairy godmother, who does not appear to have been terribly pleasant. A secluded, conceited, foolish, vain and seemingly rather lazy figure, he sits within two elements of GG&G – the unemployed Uncle of the ‘Pets’ section and the sinister but knowledgeable Well-Dweller of the player’s house. 

It’s notable that the magic Uncle Andrew can employ actually has fairly limited uses (he also doesn’t really know what he’s playing with). The rings he has made shift the wearer between dimensions, but little more. This seems to be in line with how GG&G would have magic appear. 

Digory’s mother is ill; his father is far and away in India. Both illness and absence are key motivations for adventuring in GG&G. Now, the Ketterly household does not appear to be impoverished (they can afford at least one servant and Uncle Andrew doesn’t appear to bring in any money). But the emotional consequences on Digory are present throughout TMN.

Playing on Digory’s young and uncertain courtesy, Uncle Andrew manipulates him into going after Polly. The place between worlds turns out to be a calm wood, rather than some kind of hallucinatory abyss.

From the illustrations to TMN by Pauline Baynes.
Both children are just in their street clothes, rather than festooned with gear and weapons.

They find themselves in the dead world of Charn and awaken the Witch-Queen Jadis. From the start she’s fairly unpleasant (and reveals herself to have gone in for MAD via terrible magic [Queen Jadis, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Deplorable Word]). However, there’s an element of mercy in Digory and Polly’s treatment of her – they aren’t murderhobos and you don’t leave a woman all alone in a dead world or a mystical wood. Ultimately, of course, she forces them to take her across dimension, but they don’t make up their minds to murder her out of hand.

Jadis’s rampage through London has little aesthetic bearing on GG&G, but the disputation of an established system may be thematically apt. Certainly, the confrontation between the amateur magician and the unpredictable evil they produce has some bearing on the potential for pacts with dark forces that GG&G contains. 

Jadis | Chronicles of narnia, The magicians nephew, Narnia
From the illustrations to TMN by Pauline Baynes. 
The only way to travel when in the Metropolis.

(Compare with Nesbit’s Story of the Amulet, in which an Assyrian queen rampages through Victorian London. And in which we visit the future utopia made by The Fabian Society). 

By means of magic rings, they all end up in Narnia at the moment of its creation by Aslan. The vitality of the new world suggests a cure for his mother to Digory. I don’t suppose I need comment on the natural and pastoral elements of Narnia, but I would note that this is a protean Narnia. The multiple terrains and spirits of the Shintobox are not really in evidence. 

This said, what we do have to grapple with are talking animals. Uncle Andrew reacts badly to them. The various logics of the bulldogs, bears, badgers, elephants, &c for dealing with him has something of the spirits about it. They do not quite know how to deal with the old wretch properly and they are quite strong enough to deal with him as they choose. However, we are stepping quite far away from the mute-but-ferocious Geese of GG&G.

Uncle Andrew’s unreasoning panic aside, Digory and Polly are in something of a bind themselves. Apart from intruding uninvited on the birth of a world, they have brought the witch Jadis into Narnia. As noted, they are both courteous youths and jump at Aslan’s offer to make amends. This is to be accomplished by the retrieval of an apple from a tree.

They are dispatched to do this without arms or weapons – no talking leopard is sent to assist them, only the winged horse Fledge (who would not be out of place in the list of Pets). This causes a rapider pace of travel than GG&G I think suggests, but that the main piece of assistance they are given is transport and shelter seems quite suitable for GG&G – see the Useful Things and Magic Things.

Pin by Megan Sawall on FOR NARNIAAA illustrations!! | The ...
From the illustrations to TMN by Pauline Baynes. 
Another use for a winged horse. 

The Garden where Digory must retrieve the Apple is noted as ‘a place which was so obviously private. You could see at a glance that it belonged to someone else.’ I see no immediate parallel in GG&G, but the logic of personal significance and magic strikes me as appropriate. 

Digory’s confrontation with Jadis (who has eaten of the fruit and become somehow of Narnia) has something of the magical spirits in GG&G and would be a direct match with the ‘Scheme Queen’ of the (loosely sketched) religion. Her temptations, half-truths and (temporary) sweetness of manner are right for a manipulative spirit in GG&G. Digory has no chance to defeat her by force of arms, but defies her all the same. 

The conclusion of TMN cannot be compared too closely to an open-ended RPG like GG&G, but the ceremony and opportunity for the exercise of Courtesy are noteworthy. Digory’s mother is (of course) cured; his father is soon given the chance to return (for good) from India. 

I’ve focused on TMN (out of all the Chronicles of Narnia) for its lack of armed violence and brevity of adventure (no untold years spent as Kings and Queens of Narnia). Beyond that, the invocation of a sick parent was an obvious spur to direct me to TMN. I’m not sure that GG&G will take a particularly Lewisian path, but some elements of sylvan Narnia full of satyrs, nymphs and talking beasts seems apt for it.

Friday, 14 August 2020

Twenty-Four Pieces of a Failed Schema

These were intended for use with Terrae Vertebrae as Zodiac-cum-Tarot-cum-Pseudo-Jungian-archetypes - nominally the remnants of a defanged Paganism, kept alive by fortune-tellers, occultists, artists and (here and there) the odd fairy, sprite or demon (allowing for latter-day pagan clerics).

[Having written that, I quite like the idea that some of said clerics would effectively be play-acting - and then Oberon or Robin Goodfellow pops up and grants them a few powers, then as they commit to the role a few more....]  

In hindsight, I'm not sure these would have worked. The descriptions below, however vivid they may be, don't really communicate the simple, immediate impression of an archetype or a Pagan deity. I wrote up very dressy, colourful descriptions that work for those who can in fact afford luxury playing cards or illuminated manuscripts. Even if these are meant to be the most complete, up-market depictions there should be a way to make a simpler description - cheap, three-colour illustrations or scratched, angular, constellation-like symbols.  

It's the sort of thing I would return to with improvised playing cards - to better effect, I think. A folk-saint variant of the Heavenly Jury or Half-Giant Ancestor Spirits might have worked. Either way, presented for you below are twenty-four pieces of a failed schema. 

The Face

A Blank, mask-like face stares out of a black background. One corner of the mouth turns up; the other down. There is only a suggestion of hairline or neck. The eyes are both open and nothing shines through them.

The Casement

A window looks out onto the world. The frame of the window is old stone, pale with a slight green tinge to it. Through the window we see towns, farmland, a river, perhaps in the distance the sea. One the right edge of the window, we see a small, pale, right hand stretching out from the outside of the picture.

The Lion

A great lion, in his prime. A magnificent golden mane, sleek and smooth. The lion stands atop a rock and looks down upon a valley, detailed with many woods and plains.

The Wolf

A grey wolf, thin and lean, goes through the pine covered hills. Above is a crescent moon and a smattering of stars. The wolf is surrounded by darkness. He moves not as if he owns all that he surrounds, but he is not timid or cowed either.

The Fox

From behind a hedge, we see the brush of a fox, burnt-orange against the brown and green of the country. In the background, a sunset. 

The Collar

A narrow collar made of some black, relatively inflexible substance. It rests on a sheet of blue velvet. It makes noticeable furrows in the soft fabric that run to the edge of the picture.

The Hood

A man wearing a cloak and hood rides through a gate. We cannot see the man’s face, nor the faces of the guards. Outside the gate is the dark countryside; inside the lights and shadows of the city at night.

The Throne

An empty throne stands on a dais. Around it fall motes of dust. The throne is of dark wood, gilded and trimmed with precious metals and stone. Above the throne, matching its high, pointed back is a vaulted ceiling.

The Bridge

 A stone bridge, with ornate balustrades rests over a deep sided, fast flowing river. There is no traffic on the bridge and a cold sky rises above it.

The Marriage

In the foreground, a book and a hand raised in benediction. At the centre, a man and women, one in black, one in white, soon to be husband and wife hold hands. Behind them, a hall full of people, one half in black, the other in white stand under a high-vaulted gothic ceiling.

The Labourer

A man, dressed only in a loin cloth and sweating freely stands bent over between two classical columns on a stone base. Above him, his straining back helps bear the weight of a heavy white marble ceiling.

The King

A man on a great horse. He wears finely made clothing, but it is not ostentatious. He bears a sword at his hip and on his head, a crown. Behind him, we see a distant castle in the midst of many woods.

The Queen

A women in a glittering ballroom, surrounded by people. Each of her hands is taken in dance. She wears a richly embroidered medieval dress, with long flowing sleeves and has a crown on her head. Her black hair is braided into a thick, whirling plait with a gold ring in the end. The floor beneath her is a chequerboard of black and white flags.

The Mouth

A great bronze trumpet, its wide end in the shape of a snarling lion, blares its voice at a bright blue sky. A crimson pennant drifts from one end.

The Tree

A tall, broad oak lifts its green head to the sun in a meadow. We can see the shadow streaking off into the foreground and the gnarled roots reaching into the earth. Birds and cattle wonder lazily in the sky and meadow.

The Dragon

A great scaled beast soars between the bare peaks of a mountain. We see red light in its nose and nostrils. Beneath it, a coiling, writhing tail swishes. The sun sets in the background, great and sanguine.

The Serpent

In the cold earth, a green, pale serpent crawls like a great worm. Its head pokes out into the world and coils round the heel of a man.

The Hearth

A fire burns in the grate and suffuses the room with a ruddy hue. The room is full of the things of home; a great chest, a wooden table, a wine barrel and a pipe that still smoulders.

The Helm

A helmet of silver-white, which covers the entire face. It glistens and shines strongly on a background of pure sable.

The Blossom

A small tree, in a copse. It is spring and the air is fresh. The tree has brought forth creamy blossoms that litter the green earth around it. Small flowers cover the wold. The sun shines gently on the whole scene. 

The Outsider

A man, in a smoky-hued purple cloak with a stiff, pointed beard walks through a drab stone gate. The crowd around him leave him and his horse, which has an embroidered blanket over the back rather than a saddle, a wide berth.

The Threshold

A stone doorway frames the picture. It is divided down the middle. On the left we see a warm, fire lit room with ceramic tiles. On the right we see a sprawling countryside in the twilight, lit all in blues and greys. The double doors of the Threshold are open.

The Bull

A ruddy maroon beast, with terrible sweeping horns of ivory. It lowers.  It is tangibly muscled. The hooves of the great beast have scrapped the ground into great ruts. The sky above is a stark, masculine blue.

The Skein

A great cloth of rolling white fills the image. Around it, the faces of five different beautiful women with their right arms tangled in it. Their left hands are seen, holding a gold chain, a ring, a mirror, a distaff and a knife.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Tumanbey: Genre & Media

On Monday (Monday 13th July, 2020, for posterity) the last episode of Series Four of the BBC Radio serial Tumanbey was broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

This may not matter much to you; firstly, in that Radio serials are not an art form much in vogue*; secondly, in that according to blog statistics, quite a few of those reading this are from the United States of America. You can download it as a podcast here, if interested. Here is the BBC web page. I hadn't heard of it, but there is a book.

*Fine, yes, Podcasts are popular and Aunty Beeb has been rebranding in that direction - the BBC Radio listen again page became BBC Sounds in a move that denies their former status. I find this irritating. Radio, even listen-again-online radio is a subtly different medium from podcasts, for social reasons as much as any other. 

So, there are two things that I would bring up about this. Firstly, that Tumanbey sits in that low-fantasy pseudo-medieval niche that Game of Thrones made for itself. I'm not the only one to think so. The BBC does have a recent habit of following trends from across the Pond; a television adaptation of Bernard Cornwall's The Last Kingdom came in the wake of Game of Thrones and an adaptation of SS-GB followed The Man in the High Castle. Well, Mike Walker (whose historical dramas I'm quite fond of) had a hand in Tumanbey, so I started listening and found it worth my time.

It's an interesting prospect for Thrones-esque genre fiction. The radio format means that the expense is kept low (Cost of putting a dragon on radio = five sound effects. Cost of putting a dragon on screen = High.) The cast of characters is relatively small. Further, it is a brand new story, without the baggage of an adaptation. Fights and battles have to be kept to the personal - there is no spectacle creep, no Cult of the Badass. Nobody looks cool on the Radio; everyone could be dressed in unflattering period dress and strange haircuts (I long for the Vikings in Clown trousers - and, as in my Mistress of Mistresses review, civil wars with people who dress like they are from the same society). The pictures are better on radio. Or indeed, as it were, worse. Finally, Tumanbey, by the end of the fourth series seems to have come to an obvious endpoint fairly gracefully. Given the response to the conclusion of Game of Thrones, we may be grateful for this.

(Also, Tumanbey has Anton "Marcus Didius Falco" "Marcus Tullius Cicero" "Xavier March" "The Duke of Exeter" "The Earl of Strafford" "Tsar Peter III" "Thomas More but not Paul Schofield" Lesser in it as a blind Grand Marshal of mock-Templars**. Which is no bad thing.)

Secondly, I mention all this as a paean to the radio and the full-cast drama as an art form.  The semi-regualr reminder at this point that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy started life as a radio serial; that Peter Sellers and Orson Welles started their careers on the radio; that The Shadow became popular through the radio. It is something that appears to have died out in large parts of the English-speaking world (particularly in the US, though apparently the NPR Star Wars radio drama is fascinatingly pulpy). As is by now no doubt clear, I appreciate the connection to an older milieu and would like to see radio stations for things other than music and political commentary maintained.

**Mock-Templar is, of course, the Mock-Tudor of the 41st Millenium.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

An Experiment with Covers

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Alternate Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Punth: A Primer Ch. 8 - Names

Names in Punth are of three sorts.

(Seek wider context here and here).

Those of Punthites

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

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

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

Roll 2d20 for the coloured badges:

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

Those of the Qryth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those of the Ka-Punth

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

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