Thursday, February 22, 2018

Horror Vacui (guest-starring Scrap Princess)

Scrap Princess wrote this monster and these tables for Demon City.
painting by me

The vast dark mass of human history is one where we were hunted.  All those panicked times leading, all leading up to here; a stark concrete peak, rising out of the food-chained ocean. Now lions, tigers, wolves, they barely exist outside cages.  We have plenty left to fear though: War. Strangers. Violence. Inadequacies. Inevitabilities. 

And yet, it's not enough. We first learned to think, back when we were prey, and we still all dream the-can’t-run-fast-enough-dream. All this phantom-pain calls out, and Horror Vacui are what answer. A chimeric, catacryptic ectopredator.

They aren't real though, not yet. They will build themselves up from glances and impressions. Ancestral memories and might-of-beens  .
Then when they are real enough to kill, they do so. 

Its first attack is always followed by a glimpse (Row 2-3), a sighting (Row 4). Then when the attack happens, the last of its details are confirmed (Row 4).

So as Host, don’t treat the Horror Vacui as physically existing until the first attack. After then treat it like a real animal, with unpredictable intelligence, and uncanny speed and stealth, and one “impossible” ability (Row 6).

Its physical capacities are equivalent to a methed up bear. The mental capacity, less consistent.  Mostly a beast, with jags of insight and cruel cunning.

The people attacked might not be the same people who first sighted it. There is a criteria to the selection:

- To be in particular location. Sometimes this one defined by a homogeneity continuity (e.g "woods but not the suburb beside it, "industrial district until it becomes housing", "a desert area in a national park, but the rivers or copse there"), for others it can be heterogenic but geographically defined ("the area contained by state highways 1 and 2 and Packers pass, nicknamed the Corpse Triangle”).

-To be a heightened or focused emotional state. This can be bliss, dread, terror, despair, jubilation, anger, euphoria , ennui etc.

-A seemingly arbitrary criteria (see Row 1) actually informed by some weird quirk of the Horror.

If there's multiple possible prey, the following preferences will determine who sees and/or attacked:

-Isolated, or in a group of 2-3
-Lost or disorientated
-In poor lighting or bad visibility (mist, dust-storm) 

The Horror Vacui will continue this pattern until it’s killed (only possible after it has attacked at least once) or its appearance and attacks are established and known to at least 150 people. At that point it will no longer appear in the terrain, though there's a 2 in 10 chance that this particular Horror Vacui (with that appearance and power) will reappear somewhere else (drop a knife on a map).

However, 3 entirely new Horror Vacui will form somewhere else in the world. Prophetic dreams will be had by those who encountered it (See Row 8.)

If it’s killed, its body will break down rapidly into mundane and conceivable but unlikely things; a mangy bear with barbed wire grown into its snout, a deer with an unprecedentedly large facial teratoma, a wolf carcass surrounded by old farm tools.

It is possible to save and preserve notable and significant parts of Horror Vacui without them degrading into mundanity, but only if they are quickly hidden and protected by occult means. The “occult means” can be those extrapolated from religious or cultural practices, or from an idiosyncratic belief system if it's followed with enough intensity.

Any documentation of it or samples taken will always be vague , damaged or inconclusive. 

Design Notes: (by Zak)

Aside from the adventures design implied in the tables to describe it, the best way to get mileage out of a Vacui is to have players or NPCs who recognize the traces as things left by an actual creature that can be understood (somewhat) ecologically. It has behaviors and tendencies, and can be found using them. What none of the rows on the table tell you is where the thing lairs—that juicy detail is left to the Host—perhaps based on the information the other tables provide. The first row should give the Host a lot of information about how to begin setting up the adventure, what the party hears about first, etc.

Calm: 0
Agility: 5
Toughness: 8
Perception: 6
Appeal: 0

Calm Check: 8
Cards: Wheel of Fortune (10), Strength (8)

Special Abilities:

Bite or “hug” inflicts damage and grapples simultaneously.

Row 1: Connections between all the victims/witnesses:

1 In process of learning and practicing something new to them. (Uncertain, distracted movements. Like a foal trying to walk. It will avoid confidence, certainty or familiarity) 

2 Smelling like several people, either due to close physical contact with others (fucking, prolonged fight, contact sport), wearing someone else's clothing/clothes, using someone else's old towel. (From its far-outside-perceptive, smelling like more than 1 person made the victims seemed like “larger” people, and more significant as prey. It’s trying to maximize the result of a hunt.)

3 Strongly allergic to something (bees , cats, gluten etc) (Its presence triggers mild allergy attacks. This attacks are always accompanied by unusually sweating and smell. The Horror can follow this smell through closed and sealed doors.)

4 Significant body part replaced (artificial leg, glass eye, false teeth, organ receiver) (It’s drawn to the mix of flesh and other. Either as an echo of nutrition seeking or weakness. Or people like this seem to occupy more liminal states and appear more vivid to the Horror )

5 Recently travelled overseas. (The different “smell signature” makes the victims stand out to the Horror. The less someone smells like their environment, the more they stand out to the Vacui.)

6 Recent contact with or often exposed to pungent/fragrant chemicals. (This Horror Vacui is too cautious. It will only approach when comforted and slightly drugged by chemical reek.)

7 All wearing a recently dry cleaned item of clothing. (Some chemical in this process causes the clothing to luminize under u.v in a particular tantalizing way. To a lesser degree, anything that glows under U.V, attracts the Horror Vacui )

8 All the victims were well off, but more specifically had large properties. (The Vacui will actually be concealed on their property for a number of days before attacking them elsewhere)

9 Cat owners and/or people with cactus gardens (The Vacui needs to eat something gravel like to grind up the body inside it. It will swallow large amounts of washed gravel or cat litter after consuming someone.)

10 Motorcyclists and a pizza franchise mascot (Actually anyone with their face full obscured. The less it can see of a face the more sure it feels of an attack.)

 
Rows 2 and 3 Glimpse —“Looked like a..
but…”

1-A hunched man, knuckle walker though, an ape? 
1-But too big

2-Stilted walking, head snapping around, a crane? Stork? How big do they get?
2-But jaw was weird, hooked. Too muscular

3-Muscular slunking, a big cat, a jaguar?
3-But a few too many legs, never can count them,  twisting movement 

4-A mass until it stood up like man, a bear?
4-But seemingly no head

5-Even though I was looking right at it, didn’t realize it was there till it moved..a deer..
5-But snout too long, didn’t look it would eat plants with that jaw

6-I haven’t seen that dog before.. 
6-But eyes glowing

7-Seen the bushes shake first, then it slips out in view, eels travel overland, but too big, too cold for pythons right?
7-Hurts to look at, like someone pushing on your eyeball

8-Belly dragging; crocodile, lizard, salamander?
8-Things sticking out of , like a spears or arrows

9-Long necked..like a giraffe did have it have a snake tail? Plodded
9-Musculature swelled and rippled like film blistering in a fire

10-Some kind of shelled, many legged , clicking thing, beetle or scorpion?
10-Moved like it barely touched the ground



Row 4 Sighting “The thing about it that stayed with me..”

1 Limbs narrow to points or hooks

2 Deep bassy breath or bone humming whine.

3 Alternates between bipedal and polypedal movements and/or hops, jumps

4 Smoke or steam begins to rise off it.

5 Is it .. imitating you ?

6 Glistening, wet

7 Weird bursts of speed like speed up footage or being pulled suddenly by string

8 Pressure drop, eyes pop, became hard to breath 

9 Teeth jutting all over it

10 Mouth opened and shut like it was talking or eating the air



Row 5 Attack “Details reported before expiring”

1 Its eyes and mouth are located somewhere else on its body, what you thought was its head is a deceptive mimicry due to colouration or growths.

2 It has such kind eyes.

3 Mouth opens absurdly wide.

4 Eye watering chemical reek.

5 Hair, scales or feathers short and hard like wire, independently undulating like seeking leeches.

6 Asymmetrical; placement and size of its body parts doesn't mirror bilaterally.

7 Human teeth, various , crudely attached in mouth.

8 Obvious state of arousal. Engorged, dripping, etc.

9 Very little fat on it, “Shrink-wrapped” look. Bones look like they could rip through skin at any moment.

10 Eyes and/or nose replaced with twitching distended wart like growth.


Row 6 Impossibility

1 It’s either far away or very close, and can seemingly instantly alternate between these distances.

2 Speed matches any other being (including if travelling in vehicle) it can see, as long they can't see it.

3 Can pour itself like a liquid, but only when it’s too dark or too bright to see.

4 It can appear anywhere out of direct sight but near a previous witness/prey. Very likely to do this if no-one else matches its selection criteria.

5 It can choose to overload the senses of all but one person, everyone else being able to only have awareness of nothing but its smell/sound/ or one visual aspect.

6 Can change the weather, from clear skies to raging storm, in about 10 minutes. If weather already bad, it can make it locally extremely bad.

7 Disappears behind things too slight for its size, can compress itself down to a tenth of its size.

8 Can short out electrical devices if its near and discussed openly.

9 Can make anyone nearby unable to read or understand other visual information like maps or interfaces.

10 No sound made within 10 meters can be heard outside that 10 meters.


Row 7 Spoor/ Signs You Are Close

1 Food starts tasting metallic when it becomes aware of you.

2 Domestic animals that appear to be hit by a truck, found no-one where near roads.

3 Stolen clothing, reeking of piss.

4 Single powerpoles pushed off kilter, always about 20 degrees.

5 Vehicle dragged far off road, partially buried or up tree.

6 Teeth and skull fragments embedded in tree or other solid material.

7 Black tarry stool, in long rope like strands. Clumps of hair and teeth.

8 Depictions of human faces on signs or billboards scratched or chewed off.

9 Ripped open and partially eaten biohazard bags, sharps containers or other medical waste.

10 Animal calls, but wrong time for them (day animals at night, etc), or too loud (a cat meow but carrying for kilometres) , or unlikely for area.



Row 8 OH THE DREAMS YOU’LL HAVE

1 A family pet approaches on 2 legs, it suddenly decays and coughs forth 3 ripe maggots . You wrap them in newspaper and they emerge as butterfly. As the fly away the sky bleeds after them.

2 Everyone is reading bleeding newspapers. Someone runs down the street, a screen has bitten off most their hand, no-one reacts, they hold up the remaining 3 fingers to you and scream and scream and scream.

3 The  shitting out teeth, so much teeth.  It hurts so. You go into 3 restaurants, but they are empty, you cannot ask to use the toilet.

4 You trying to tell a story, you try 3 times, but each time every time you speak a bite is taken out of your friends face and you must spit out the meat. They don’t seem to mind.

5 Something is chasing you but you open the doors to 3 houses without going inside, to trick it. The trick works. You are no longer pursued. A radio tuned to a foreign language is heard inside the houses and it gets louder and louder and louder and lo..

6 Something has bitten off your hands, you ask for directions to a hospital, but the person asks doesn’t understand you and keeps trying to get you try and point out where you got bitten on these large maps of the world. When you look up their face is blank except for 3 stump prints

7 You are very hungry and you begin to eat this meat someone was going to cook for you raw. Then they come home and you try and hide the meat inside books. They enter the kitchen and smile at you. When they go to open the fridge the fridge gobbles them up in 3 bites. You open the fridge and the raw meat is there again. (This dream repeats 4-5 times before dreamer forces themselves awake.)

8 You are at your parents house. They are back from vacation. They can’t get the lights to work. You discover the light bulbs are full of blood. You replace one 3 times , but it fills up with blood each time. Frustrated, you set the house on fire and force your parents outside in the cold night. The dream ends with them huddled, naked and afraid while you warm yourself by the house.

9 You are being interviewed on TV! The microphone doesn’t seem to work though, then it's a sausage . The interviewed holds it out to you and you slowly and carefully take it in your mouth. When you talk with your mouth full of sausage , everyone can understand you, and is very interested and pleased, even though blood and meat are falling out of your mouth. You turn at look at the cameras. They have eyes for lens, a snake, a cat and a dog. Sudden it’s raining and you realize everyone is outside.

10 You have had brain surgery and they gave you a pig brain. It works fine but you can’t write. Someone tells you to try writing with a knife on this child. The child has hair like a sheep and is trying to squirm out of your grip  .You keep trying to reassure the child that it’s only 3 chapters, it’s only 3 chapters.


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making bonus content like the Horror Vacui--go here

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Those Crowned In Bone


Those Crowned In Bone
Demons of the Eighth Order
Art by me, acrylic on paper. Click to enlarge

The Angels of Death, The Samael, The Wailing Ones, The Divine Poison, Handmaids of the Eighth King are summoned to enforce contracts. Their aspect is impersonal, implacable. Once activated, they cannot be recalled. Plants grow strange and curling black shoots in their wake. Their faces are bone.

They may be summoned by impaling eight victims from three directions at right angles with iron rods such that they can be and are then placed at the vertices of a large cube of these rods set within an octagonal ritual perimeter. Their names, such as Destroyerannihilator and Destructorexterminator have eight syllables.

Design Notes:

(from “Demons” in "Kinds of Horrors" section)

Demons always appear attached in some way to some NPC. They are personifications of sin and, as such, are not being fully utilized unless they, in some way, emphasize the sins of ordinary humans. Most demons named here are quite powerful and so should only be sprung on the party once they have thoroughly investigated the more mundane corruption that the demon’s presence invites and cultivates.

The chaos caused by the influence of demons may at first appear to be the work of a serial killer, or a mass delusion—there will be repeated themes and symmetries, and things to look up in occult texts.
The first encounter with the actual demon may go quite poorly for the party (some are essentially invulnerable) and the Host should design the adventure such that there is at least one way s/he can think of that the party could escape (whether they think of it, or a better solution, is up to them). One way or another, however, it should be made clear that these things can be defeated, or at least driven off—and the adventure should also be designed so that its clear a second encounter with a more prepared party might go better. Be generous with occult information from Contacts and other NPCs—even with it, the fight will be a challenge. There are more details on how exorcism rituals can work in the Supernatural Abilities section of the Library.


Calm: 10
Agility: 8
Toughness: 9
Perception: 9
Appeal: 0
Cash: 0
Knowledge: 9

Calm Check: 9
Cards: Death (15), Emperor (4), Justice (11), Eight of Swords, Two of Swords

Special abilities:

Demonic: Demons don’t need to breathe or digest, don’t age, and are immune to poison, etc. and cannot be mentally controlled with psionic abilities. Animals will avoid the demon in any form.

Sixth Sense: All demons are supersensitive to danger, hostile emotions and signs of past trauma or the supernatural.

Flight: These Demons move at running speed in the air.

Sword: Those Crowned in Bone carry swords which do Overwhelming Damage.

Invulnerability: These demons can only be harmed be directly harmed by magic.

Weaknesses:

The holy symbols of any faith causes a demon to make a Calm check or flee until they are out of sight. The intensity of the calm check is equal to the degree of fervor of whoever is wielding it (1-9). In the case of an incidentally encountered symbol (a glimpsed church steeple, for instance) the intensity is 2.

Touching a holy symbol, including holy water, does damage to a demon as an ordinary physical attack.

Speaking the true name of demon causes it great pain, and the creature must make a Calm Check against the speaker’s Calm each round to avoid obeying the attacker.

The Samael cannot see anyone except their prey—those who have failed to fulfill their side of a contract.

These demons come only at night.
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Friday, February 16, 2018

She's a Witch

version of the witch for Demon City

WITCHES (also WITCH-CHILDREN and WITCH-LORDS)

Witches (usually female), Witch-Lords (usually male) and Witch Children are mortals who have given over their bodies and souls to demons in exchange for necromantic power. These contracts gnarl their bodies and distend their minds into scheming caricatures. They also eat infants.

Their lives are tragic and their motives always have some petty element—to ruin a past rival in love, to avenge themselves on the authors of a long-ago mockery or humiliation—but the scope of their retributions is vast: whole cities, bloodlines, professions, might be made to pay for the trespass of a lone constituent. Even the mountains of hate that would drive a witch to bring forth all the legions of all the damned to devastate a continent will inevitably have first clotted around some clouded cataract of distant pain.

These depressing creatures might be found leading cults of ordinary sociopaths, swelling the ranks of small or quite extensive and networked covens with fellow practitioners of necromancy, or operating alone, in places nearly as lonely as they are.

Design Notes:

Like demons, witches generally appear to punish victims for something. Unlike demons, this is often something with no meaning to anyone else. The victims are too curious, too naive, too confident, too pretty, too lustful. The witch sees an underlying order to things and gleefully informs the trespassers they have broken it, and will suffer. Witches are also associated with homes—unless the transgression they come to punish is something very specific, the witch is usually content to occupy some dark place (a hovel, a corner suite, a tent by the methadone clinic) and wait for parties to come to her (which is, itself, often considered a crime to be punished).
Moreso than the necromancer (who relies on books) or the deathless (who conjures with ancient gestures) the necromancy of the witch is characterized by ingredients. The witch needs to collect things: tears from a spurned lover, hairs from the family cat, etc. This can create a mystery with no corpse: why are all the left shoes missing from the closet? 


Typical Witch, Witch-Child or Witch-Lord

Calm: 0
Agility: 1
Toughness: 1
Perception: 6 (Can range up to 9)
Appeal: 0
Cash: 4
Knowledge: 6 (Can range up to 9)

Calm Check: 4 (Can range up to 9)
Cards: Queen of Wands (10), Queen of Cups (10), The Devil (15), The Moon (18) Possibly: The High Priestess (2)

Special Abilities:

Necromancy: Any caster/psychic of witchcraft will have at least 7 necromantic spells prepared to cast at any given moment, at least one of which will be a Curse and one of which will be Dim and Darken. These will generally have an intensity equal to their Knowledge stat.

Sixth Sense: All users of witchcraft are supersensitive to danger, hostile emotions and signs of past trauma or the supernatural.

Cyclical Regeneration: Witches regenerate all damage when they Throw any of their special cards.

Haywire Hex: Electronic detection devices and gunpowder firearms simply do not work on witches. They jam or break.

(possibly) Familiar: Familiars are animals bound by witchcraft. The master can control the creature completely (or it controls them? Either way: their will is unified) and see through its eyes—it may be any creature dog-sized or smaller, usually an ordinary animal, but occasionally something stranger.

Marks of Witchcraft: 
In addition to any obvious deformities, there will be at least one other mark—throw or pick one
1 Forked tongue
2 Warts
3 Facial features transposed or missing
4 No neck—head simply floats
5 Looks preternaturally attractive—appeal 6—until touched
6 Jagged teeth—bite inflicts damage as a standard attack
7 One withered hand
8 Followed by rats, spiders, other vermin (this is not a proper swarm, just a subtle cosmetic effect)
9 Appears to be an animal when asleep
10 Two left feet

Witch Gifts :
Constant traffic with witchcraft alters cause and effect around the damned creature. Throw or pick one
( “Presence” means for these purposes within 100’ and the Witch/Lord/Child can see or be seen by the character.)

1 Immune to metal
2 Transmits a curse via sexual intercourse
3 Food spoils in the witch/lord/child’s presence
4 Disorienting presence causes blurred vision and minor hallucinations—everyone must Check Calm vs 3 or act intoxicated
5 Married people forget their spouse’s names in Witch/Lord/Child’s presence.
6 Animals obey witch/lord/child 
7 Emerge from the Darkness: If unwitnessed, witches (etc) may step into any shadow in the city where they are summoned and reappear through any other in the same city.
8 Burning touch (Gains a bonus Throw to hit with a physical attack since witch/lord/child doesn’t have to hit very hard)
9 Kiss causes target to sleep (Calm Check each round to avoid or wake)
10 Induces panic in nuns on sight


Weaknesses:

No practitioner of witchcraft can move through a door with a pointed arch.

A virgin’s touch will reveal a disguised witch or lord for what they truly are.
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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Demon City Preview With Sexy Sexy Layouts

Click a layout to enlarge it
Click this tag to find out more
Go here to help out
Haven't copy-edited the text yet so there's clear spelling and punc fuck-ups, but you get an idea what it'll look like.


And of course there's a typo right there on page one


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Biggest Scandal In The History of RPGs

Let's talk about exploitation

Some Basic Math

I write a column for an art magazine.

It's like 700 words. Functionally speaking (including talking to my editor and looking stuff up and rewriting) it takes me about one work day (8 hours) to write.

So, like, let's say most writers could do 500-1000 words per day of decent, usable prose if they were writing something requiring some original thought, like an RPG. Especially if they were doing it every day. That's where I ballpark myself when I do game gigs for people.

Now let's pay our imaginary writer the rates that popular indie RPG publishers Evil Hat (which has the popular Dresden Files game) and Green Ronin (which has its DC Adventures game on the shelves of every local game store I've ever seen) pay their authors:

5 cents a word.

$0.05 a word x 500-1000 words a day. That's 25-50$ a day. Quite a bit south of minimum wage.

261 work days in a year x 50 = 13,050$ a year.

The US poverty line for a single person with no kids is $13,860.

And that's our best case scenario, with the writer writing at the bleeding edge of what they could reasonably write per day, as if they had a project for one of these companies every day, with no spouse or kid to feed.

And yet somehow the people at the top of these companies (Fred Hicks and Chris Pramas respectively) live full-time off publishing games and support kids.

Meanwhile...


James Edward Raggi, one of my publishers, aka Lamentations of the Flame Princess--who:

1. Does not have any licensed media like Dresden Files or DC Comics

2. Whose books are most definitely not on the shelves in every local game store

3. Yet also lives exclusively off RPG publishing

...has run the math on the various deals he offers his creators. These vary. One deal he offers is an upfront payment plus, if a book earns out this upfront payment, royalties on top of that.

The math turns out to be (advance plus royalties)--LotFP's 21st best selling book (that is 20 books sell better than this one) is still making its creator 26 cents a word (which is 21 in eurocents).

If you're wondering: he also pays quarterly and scrupulously on time.


So, A Question

Let's say you do not think that the blood, gore, fancy prose, player-challengey mechanics, high death toll and weird art of LotFP is better than what Evil Hat and Green Ronin are putting out.

Let's say it does not bother you that Evil Hat has had major business ties to rape-scandal-riddled RPG forum RPGnet (and the sexist "For Men Only" ads that run on it).

Let's say it does not bother you that Green Ronin is similarly linked to sexual improprieties 1.

Let's say it does not bother you that Evil Hat's head Fred Hicks has a record of harassing other creators2 and then, when questioned, claiming he can't discuss the accusations he makes for mental health reasons.

Let's say it does not bother you that Green Ronin cheats the LGBT creators 3 it is using to try to market itself as woke.

Let's say it does not bother you that they do these things while continuously and aggressively paying lipservice to supposedly progressive ideals and using supposed devotion to equality and diversity to market their products.

Let's say it does not bother you that these publishers run the other way as soon as anyone even seeks to engage them critically about any of this.

Let's say you hate me and have some conspiracy theory take where all these well-documented things didn't actually happen.

Let's say these companies make your favorite games ever.

Let's assume all that is true:

Why, though, even with all that, are freelancers ok with these dudes exploiting every creator they work with on this level for the sake of their straight white cis profits?

Why don't you leave and go make your own stuff--or hook up with a company that will give you the kind of profit-split deal that LotFP and the companies that follow its model have been able to give their creators?


1 Green Ronin's sex pestery here
2 Fred's Harassment rap sheet
3 Bad business here


Monday, February 12, 2018

The Dream-Space of Abstract Threat

"Something real and tangible, yet fraught with infinite suggestions of nighted mystery, now confronted me."

Reading Lovecraft's Shadow Out Of Time again--it's great.

The usual sort of nervous academic narrates a story of experiencing a strange split consciousness, being not wholly himself, strange visions and dreams of massive landscapes, compulsions to consult obscure texts. All this is wonderfully done--better than usual, I'd say, Lovecraft in top form: shadowy but crisp, obscured but never vague, never embedded more in the mundane than necessary to feel grounded.

The narrator does eventually get around to describing why all this is happening to him. Spoilers:

Specifically goofy-shaped psychic aliens that take over peoples' brains and zoom around in space ships, rovers and boats and zap each other with "cameralike" weapons.

These guys:
Fun, definitely, but ironically lacking all the emotional and aesthetic qualities that seemed to horror enthusiasts to be distinctive enough that someone decided to coin the adjective "Lovecraftian".

This is one of the paradoxes of Lovecraft: his actual inventions were, if not banal, at least, technically, almost wholly typical of the kinds of pulpy sci-fi of the era. It was how he described them and--moreover--their effect on people, that was magically creepy.

The quality of any given Lovecraft story tends to depend a lot on how he manages the transition from the dream-space of abstract threat (his forte) to actually telling us what the monster is (a big roll of the dice).

My restrictions as a prisoner gradually disappeared, so that some of the visions included vivid travels over the mighty jungle roads, sojourns in strange cities, and explorations of some of the vast dark windowless ruins from which the Great Race shrank in curious fear (Beautiful, awesome) There were also long sea-voyages in enormous, many-decked boats of incredible swiftness, and trips over wild regions in closed, projectile-like airships lifted and moved by electrical repulsion (Wait, you were in a blimp?)

It's not exactly the old cliche that "what you imagine is scarier than anything you could see" I think it's more that the dreamstate of only half-imagining is a more powerful evocative state than the fully described thing. That juxtaposition of that half of it that is nailed down with a few specificities with that other half that could still be anything and you haven't thought too hard about it is essential.

This is one reason why the actual Call of Cthulhu book and its laying out of the "mythos creatures" always seems a little disappointing--although these squidbeasts and tentacled pyramidheads are the lynchpin, justification and most identifiable characteristic of the Lovecraft stories, they aren't the actual heart of the magic.

The magic (as in most horror) is in the delirious prose evocation of the emotion of guessing at and anticipating them. The simple word "Azathoth" contains much more of it than the image or stats in the book. (Lovecraft's first mention of it was in a note to himself that just read "Azathoth--hideous name".)

I think a lot of weird fiction after Lovecraft (and influenced by him) recognized this--and tried to find ways to suspend that moment of not-knowing-what-the-fuck as long as possible. When Ligotti describes language and life itself as the horror he's trying to do this, when Grant Morrison describes a demon as made of the collective despair over like Hiroshima he's trying to do this: the story can't be let down by the final boss' banality because the final boss still has a gap of effective indescribability.

Lovecraft knew the trick, even if he didn't ultimately rely on it: the "non-euclidean angles" and the "concepts beyond our understanding"--these were word-constructs, not descriptions of mere things you could picture and get bored of.

To describe the indescribable space of dream, (by which I mean the consciousness characteristic of real dreams which films and books and games can sometime approximate) I'd say:

There is an unquestioned assumption that something is there and real, without the sobriety, distance and clarity that the mind constantly unconsciously uses to understand the thing's full shape and limits. The important questions that would establish how a thing is in the world are not answered but also never asked.

Games have one disadvantage in getting you into the dreamspace of abstract threat in that in even the spookiest situation you generally know the thing does have stats and is embedded in a world where foes are basically challenges that can be addressed. The possibility of uncontested annihilation is off the table. It always boils down to a bag of procedures or numbers.

On the other hand, games have one tremendous advantage: unlike a short story or film, the game does contain something that is there and is authentically of unknown and unknowable shape--the future of the campaign.

It is undeniable that the campaign will keep going and it is undeniable that no-one can describe in full detail where it will go. The campaign need not simulate the ecstasy of potential dangers and evolutions, metastasizing meanings, it is that. You are in the midst of a genuinely half-shaped and half-shapeless thing. With a book, you could skip to the end and the unknown turns into a package, a product, a mere evocation of infinity, not the actually infinite. In game, as long as the campaign is still on, you are still watching form solidify from a shadow that is not yet used up: continuously and in real-time.

The demon of RPGs means Tiamat is far more statted, described and knowable than she is in any story where she might appear, but it also means what will happen when I meet her is far less knowable. When I pick up the ring it might mean something and it might not.

And that--feeling being in the middle of that--is kind of great.
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Friday, February 2, 2018

Frostbitten & Mutilated preview+More Matt Finch Conversation

Oh, check it--here's the 3rd part of me talking to Matt (Frog God Games, Tome of Adventure Design, Swords & Wzardry, etc) Finch. We start by brainstorming a Northern Islamic setting and move on to the Brazilian favelas, D&D tattoos, the process of consulting on 5th edition D&D, and the design of D&D as a whole, the Warhammer 40k games, killing a space pirate, D&D fans appearing everywhere, how porn stars react to games and how games bring people together.

Now:

Ladies and gentlemen and everyone who is neither, the work variously known as Viking Amazons of the Devoured Land, Black Metal Amazons of the Frozen North, etc, is at the printer...