Saturday, May 6, 2017

Tales from the Loop: Rules for Monsterparts

Long ago, I wrote a setting (Kingshead) for a creepy-ass game called Monsterparts. Monsterparts rules were extremely vague and limited (though I realize now, looking through again, that D&D rules were meant to apply), but it has a lot in common with the brand-new (and great) Tales from the Loop. That is, they are both about children who can't turn to adults for assistance, and they both use a lot of the same base mechanics (Anchors in TftL, Good Places in Monsterparts, for example, and Iconic Items).

There is absolutely no reason not to cannibalize the TftL rules and adapt them for Monsterparts, allowing one to finally experience the ultimate horror of being a child in a horror-filled world where adults cannot, will not, and do not help you. Whereas TftL attempts to recreate 80s children-adventure movies and their attendant feelings (it's basically Stranger Things, the Roleplaying Game), Monsterparts is decidedly darker.

I hereby vow to use the rules from TftL to run Monsterparts... soon. I will report back.

Friday, May 5, 2017

News of Arunia: Long Live the Empress

In the late afternoon of Quinus, Furrow 9th, a band of assassins entered the throne hall of the Imperial Domus in Miles. They were disguised as priests of Raya and Avauna. By some black magic, they smuggled their weapons in past the many Escurae Varani and under the very noses of the imperial civil servants. There, they waited in the back of the hall as the Emperor dispensed law from the ruby throne.

The Escurae were unable to protect their Emperor

When a knight of the tagmata maior was called forward to report on the doings of the Exalted Master of the Imperial Schola, Hydrophis the Schoolman, he demurred and instead spoke of these priests as knowing more about events in the north than he. Stepping back into the crowd, one of the priests came forward—a man later identified by courtiers who were present as none other than the once-famous hero, Quintis of the family Beauclerc, paladin of the Epistene Order and healer of Avauna.

This medicus launched slanders at the throne, accusing the Emperor of being falsely acclaimed under the sign of Haeron, of being a blasphemer, heretic, and cancer to the heart of the Empire. He ended this barrage with a demand that the Emperor abdicate immediately and pass the throne to his young daughter, the imperial princess Anastasea. The Emperor gave the mad knight a chance to repent, demanding he retract his vile words, but the Beauclerc replied, "If you are such a lauded jewel in Haeron's crown, and Haeron so keen to influence this Empire, he will surely save you," and from a mercenary in the crowd he was passed his sword, once holy with Avauna's light, now grim and dark, like the blade carried by the Emperor's favored servant, Sieur Lucanus the Black Wolf.

But Sieur Lucanus was away in the east with the Knights of Miles, persecuting the long siege of Mermarche that was meant to lead to the capitulation of the rebel dukes. The Emperor ordered Sieur Quintis seized by his praesental guard... but the rebel knight and his mercenary companions drew their weapons and advanced. One of their number called forth a hypnotic spell, so powerful that the three hundred or so courtiers, knights, and attendants in the hall were frozen into inaction. So began a bloody battle that would end with the extinguishment of the six Escurae Varani guarding the Emperor's person, one of the four assassins, and the death of no less a soul than the Emperor himself.

Hydrophis Schoolman ordered the hall surrounded and attempted to break in during the conflict, but found all the doors were sealed from the other side by powerful magic. Unable to come to his Emperor's aid, he summoned a great force of Schoolmen and Escurae to ward all the exits. When the killers emerged, the Schoolman cowed them into surrender.

The assassins are currently being held in the Temple of the Law, under lock and key. They await their trial and their assured execution in the Emperor's last gift to the city—the Aedium, the temple to all the many gods of the North.

In the meantime, letters have been dispatched to the rebel dukes, demanding they lay down their arms and come to Miles under the Schoolman's protection. He rapidly declared himself Regent, securing our beloved princess and having her hailed as Empress throughout the city. A great cry of joy went up by the statue of the Sainted Empress Evelyne, and all believe the civil war to be at an end.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

News of Arunia: The War in Ambar

Lo, the King of Kjellos, Magnus of the Karharts, has brought cruel war to the Bay of Ahrain. He has gathered his Greves and Lendmen into a great army and marched them all into Ambar. In the opening days of the war, several castles fell at once to the King: Yaromav, Tasliv, and Thuromal. However, one fortress along the border resisted the king's army: the castle at Paroslav, a minor town on the route into central Ambar. Resistance at Paroslav was fierce. Members of the Black Compact manned the walls as the King's army approached, and rumors in the countryside spoke of a powerful boyar-necromancer called Uvish syn Malnikov.

King Magnus commanded the army to move on, fearful of losing the advantage of momentum. He left Grandmaster Sieur Severin Kjora, the Order of the Forge Divine, and Greveman Varius Holmgren behind to neutralize the castle and to prevent it from becoming a dangerous thorn in his side. A pitched field battle between the Kjellan army and the assembled forces of the Ambarite king, the Sudyav Korol ensued as the king marched on. Hundreds of hobgoblins and bugbears under the Korol's command were slain, opening the way to the lowland castles surrounding the capital of Dorovstchev.

Now, the king's great army sits upon the plain before Dorovstchev, intent on pushing forward, destroying the Sudyav Korol, and ending the rule of the Black Compact in Ambar.

Back at the critical stronghold of Paroslav, the Order summoned assistance in the form of the airborne paladin, Sieur Einar Skyborne. As the siege dragged on, the men on the Paroslav walls dwindled. Rumors of Boyar syn Malnikov's power spread through the siege camp. The serfs of Paroslav whispered that Uvish was the son and student of the great necromancer Malnikov, dead years past.

The Order, after repeated attacks on the front gate, managed to wrest the portcullis from its socket and throw it down. In an attempt to end the siege and join the king, the Grandmaster of the Forge Divine ordered an attack on the gate. The storm failed; twenty knights in Order colors, twenty-five of Greveman Holmgren's, and five Order paladins rushed the gatehouse. Before they could enter, a wave of dark magic, like a tidal bore, washed over them. They fell in full view of the army, dead within seconds.

Fewer and fewer men were seen on the walls of Paroslav. At last, it became clear that the castle was no longer being manned by the living. On the eve of Sieur Einar's arrival, three men were captured attempting to flee through the siege lines, having issued forth from the postern gate. Sorcerers, apprentices of Uvish syn Malnikov, they were judged by the Order priestess Caelia Divina, and sentenced to death.

Their sentence was commuted on the following morning and two of three were spared at Divina's order, merely suffering the indignity of broken left hands, preventing them from ever practicing spellcraft again. The third, after a tearful confession, was killed in the old way: a silver sledge was used to crush his skull.

With the arrival of Sieur Einar, Sieur Severin demanded that he take a squad of men and women from the Order, assault the keep, and slay the necromancer Uvish syn Malnikov.

Let their names ring out forever in Ambar: Sieur Einar Skyborne, Sieur Rurik of the Torch, who fell, Sieura Aurelia of the Forge, the halfling Cabbott, who died in battle with Malnikov the necromancer, Magister Toban the Arcanist, Chief Scholar of the Order, and Caelia Divina.

The necromancer, Malnikov, dwelt yet within the castle, and was attended by all manner of evil priests, necromantic beasts, and none other than Captain Georg Balshinov, an Oprian member of the Black Compact who, to save his own life from a wasting disease, submitted himself to Malnikov's sorcerous ministrations.

But woe! For Sieur Severin Kjora, Grandmaster of the Order, died as well; the necromancer slew the brave knight, and no longer will his gigantic frame dominate the field. Nor will he wield the great two-handed Valelan sword Heartrender e'er again. His position has passed to his lieutenant, the Knight-Master Timaeus Battleborn—the first grandmaster since the order's foundation to have been born a peasant.

More news out of the siege of Paroslav: the wizard Malnikov, in the moments before his death, informed Sieur Einar of the nature of the evil now dwelling on Sunhome Isle. "The greatest accomplishment of the people of Ambar was to drive your order from it." The truth, then, that Malnikov revealed was this: the Head of the Alchemist, recovered from its gravesite in Golnia, was taken in secret by Ambarite sorcerers to Sunhome during the siege. There, still possessing the power of speech, and of awful magic, it returned Orlandus Sunhome to life; not as a man, but as a paladin fallen, a figure of black magic, wielding Angurvidal, the Stream of Anguish, which in his corrupted hands burns as ice.

And so it is this twin deathless watch of Orlandus the Corrupt and the Alchemist who have kept Sunhome these two centuries past; and their ceaseless evil which has held Sunhome against the bold knights of the order.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

News of Arunia: Pacification of the Iceflow

Rumor speaks of a combined force of adventuring parties in the northern marches of Craftsman's Reach taking back the vast wilderness little by little. Between the forces of the Raven's Banner, Aldorius the Silver Hand, the Moonstar Coster, and Fenrus' Very Best (also known as the Swords of Stock to the elves of Tailmisia), the grave dangers that once faced this wild region have mostly been quelled. All that remains are threats of giants beyond the Iceflow River, the rumors of trolls in the west, and the ogre tribes that plague the southern borders of the elvish kingdom.

A great battle was fought fifteen rods west of Tyreth Castle, upon the fields of the Low Plain, between Prince Aegus' knights, led by the Raven's Banner, and the gnollish chief who had caused so much pain to folk tall and small alike. Victory was accomplished with much pain, and even now the Raven's Banner has pressed north to make forays against the giant called Psíchros, who commands a clutch of mannish cultists and a hide-away dedicated to Dinismayl, the Winter Queen.

Fenrus' Very Best, after flushing the ruin of Sariesh of its occupants, ventured eastward into the mysterious forest of the Greatwood to deal with the elves. Rumor speaks of skinchangers and lycanthropy, all of which was cured by the Gwyderion Caelatulia, hierophant of Noronia and King of the Greatwood.

With the cure properly administered, Fenrus' Very Best has become involved with the politicking of the elves; driving one of the wyrmish children of the Deep Dragon from the capital city of Aita Valmindene, they have now agreed to delve the depths of the Tomb of Serenavalla, the last Golden Age Mage-Queen of Ylvasmetsa, in order to petition her spirit to determine whether an election should be held.

For this is the question of the day for the elves. Will the Gwyderion Caelatulia Elimia step down and abandon his position as the King of Ylvasmetsa and permit an election to be held, as was the elvish custom of old, or will the Temple of Noronia hold both the Temple of the Daystar and the Crown of State in perpetuity? Even as the wyrms of Eldispell have withdrawn their armies from the field, retreated their goblin thralls from the Daleadau, and begun a period of fierce civil strife in the ruins of Sylvasil, the elves have recognized the danger to their kingdom has passed—and thus the question of elective rule is once again current.

Rumors are confused from the Third Empire of Miles. Some say that the Emperor has died, and others that he has survived, but all voices agree that he was assaulted in the throne room of the Imperial Domus at Miles by a mad knight and his entourage. There are those who say it was a plot of the Young Serpent, head of the Imperial Civil Service, Hydrophis Schoolman. If it is true, the war in Miles has ended and a new peace is likely to descend. If the Emperor still lives, the fate of the Empire itself may be in danger.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Semiotic Apocalypse, or: Everything is Salad

I was told today by a very smart friend that she and another friend had developed a theory (really more of a belief, but that’s neither here nor there) that everything in the world can be divided into one of three categories: salad, sandwich, or omelet. When I asked what gave birth to this theory, I was gleefully regaled with a tale of semantic openness—that the word salad was so expansive as to contain within it the definition of almost any foodstuff. Surely this could not be so! The definitions of words have boundaries precisely in order to stop this runaway semiosis. Edge-cases may be hard to categorize, but we can surely construct a central finite curve of meaning. I went at once to that trusty resource we all know and love, Google.
            A cold dish of various mixtures of raw or cooked vegetables, usually seasoned with oil, vinegar, or other dressing, and sometimes accompanied by meat, fish, or other ingredients.” There, then, was your salad. The limiting words were “cold,” “dish,” and “vegetables.” While that definition is vast in its scope, it certainly has hard edges. She pushed at it. “Caprese salad is a salad.” And so is tuna salad, and chicken salad. And these things aren’t just salads by metaphor, like word salad. They have salad in their very names.
            What are we to do then? This kind of endless semiosis threatens to devour the language. Yet no one is alarmed at the presence of this semantic serpent lurking just around the corner. Why? Human beings don’t seem particularly prone to this kind of bug. In most cases, if you were to tell most people about something like this, they would likely dismiss it as not worthy of their time. Like pornography, you know a salad when you see one. No need to address the logical underpinnings of salads.
            But when you do, things start to unravel. The primary reason for this, of course, is that the universe is a simple continuous undifferentiated mass of vomitous chaos. The world has no inherent definitions, because definitions don’t exist. Plato’s universe of forms is sadly missing in our everyday experience. Universal categories are abstracted from non-universal types. The forms of table, of person, of cat, are made up of the common experience of a multitude of real, instantiated, individual tables, people, and cats.
            This flies in the face of most modern Western theology. Attributes can’t be an abstract human invention, they must be grounded in some moral absolute: the godhead. But the Mind of God doesn’t hold absolutes, moral or otherwise. The ultimate nihilistic apopheosis, Eco’s reversal of the ontological argument, deprives the universe of all absolute standing. That is, unlike poor Anselm, Eco said that all existing things are imperfect. Therefore, in order to be perfect, a thing must actually enter existence at all; the only perfect things are those which are ensconced in non-existence. God, as the most perfect being, as a necessary corollary of this ontology, cannot exist. Without the Platonic world of forms or its neo-Platonic interpretations through the vessels of the early Church, there can be no ontological argument for the existence of Divinty.
            Because we exist in this world where we are feebly attempting to map universal definitions onto a constantly shifting and amorphous khaos, our definitions are fuzzy around the edges. Push on some of them enough, and you’ll find the chaos lurking beneath. It’s easy to deny the semiotic abyss by simply erecting arbitrary barriers and clinging to them. And that’s not to say that some of our definitions haven’t taken on a new, secondary life of their own. Indeed, because we operate on the very top level of the semiological pyramid we’ve constructed, the base semiosis actually disguises the material world of chaos most of the time, and the concepts we’ve built over generations to deal with that material world can take on an actuality all their own.
            Take the concept of race, for example. It’s a useless, non-scientific, imperialist, western construct. It serves no purpose in describing the state of the world in an objective, scientific, manner. Race is not real. But the existence of the concept of race is very real, and the resulting baggage that comes with it is unfortunately something that we have to deal with. This is because we do not have access to the material chaos underlying the semantic grid; the only portion we have access to is the language itself. Our ability to experience the world is mediated by linguistics.
            Being denied access to this more basic material world means that we tend to treat our semantic constructs as actual existential objects. We manipulate them mentally, and use them as proxies and stand-ins for real, existing, objects. All of our mental processes must be performed on semantic and phantasmic objects, rather than the real things. I cannot take a table, or a cat, from the physical world and somehow place it in my mind; I must craft a system of related signs, an imprint, a phantasm, of that cat inside of myself. Nothing passes this impermeable mind/world barrier. All experience is experience of phantasmic information.
            This is what my friend meant when she said everything in the world could be divided into one of those categories. The categories themselves are ciphers, devoid of actual meaning, because they are layered on top of a meaningless substrate. We don’t have to fear the semiotic apocalypse because we have been living in it for our entire lives. Our own ability to comprehend is far inferior to the complexity of the world around us. This is something neuroscientists have been agreeing on for a long time. Cognitive biases exist as shortcuts to comprehending the complexity of the world. Why re-learn everything when you can simply use a shortcut each time?
            Why build a definition when everything is already salad?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Hotsky Totsky Secret Trotsky

After an all-nighter working in Illustrator, I have modded Secret Hitler into Secret Trotsky.

As more Trotskyist articles are passed, the unplayable General Secretary of the Party pulls the state deeper into War Communism, from which he may never recover. The goal is to enact full socialism before the Comintern eats itself alive, or else to kill Trotsky before he becomes Chairperson (after three Trotskyite Articles are passed).

Here are dem PDFs.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Aedeion, a history of Kholos

Long ago, the reign of Moros Aklaustros, the Unmourned, inaugurated the use of necromancy in Arunia. His kingdom, located in the region we now call the Dragonback Range, was a strange and occulted one. It is said that Moros the Giant-King crafted the first necromantic magics, and that much of modern necromancy stems from his ancient and occulted court. In truth, it was the nearness to this awful place that helped foster the Twin Empires, as well as the Art studied by none other than Tharos the Necromancer, who rumor says spent time in Moros' court.

But there is another figure of import here, one who entered the broken ruins of Moros' kingdom some in the 6th Age and only emerged in the 7th; that is, Lakryss of Essadurea, a powerful magician who sought enlightenment through dark and unwholesome channels. Rumors persisted that he was a sorcerous general of Rho'anir, or that he had served Galos in the War of the Chains; whether they are true, we cannot say. He left the regions recently conquered by Haxrim the Conqueror, and fled west, away from the conquests of his Essadi kin. Lakryss emerged from the realm of Moros Aklaustros, ruined though it was, with the gift of vampirism—he had transformed into a vampiric spirit of the north.

Thus did Lakryss set about building his kingdom in the Aedeion. In this time, the cult of Tharos the Necromancer was first gaining strength. The seeds of that cult which would later sprout in Teral, in the 10th Age, were planted when Lakryss invited a quarter of Poison-Tongues to the shores of the Red Lake and made them his servants. Shortly after arriving at the Red Lake, Lakryss proclaimed himself king of the misty forest in that region of the world. He slaughtered the skin-changer hideaways and the peaceable giants of the region, collecting men from the wild regions of Vithania and the Dragonbacks, his ranks swelling with those fleeing Haxrim the Conqueror and his successor Tarkus the Indomitable.

This new kingdom grew up around a city bearing Lakryss' name: Lakra, on the Red Lake. Lakryss himself, having undergone a vile transformation in the hidden halls of Moros Aklaustros, grew to be known as the Weeping King; his eyes ran with thick phlegmy tears, streak with blood, which he never bothered to wipe away. This fearsome visage buckled the warring men and three nations of wood elves together under one banner—his. They resisted the onslaught of Soloth and later Caruel, remaining independent under the Weeping King's sign. This new kingdom was called Kholos.

To help him rule it, the Weeping King ennobled a number of men. He further drafted some into his service as vampiric children, heirs of his vile curse, making a brood of some fifty powerful vampires. He fought off others from the north, and was known as the mightiest king in west of the Twin Empires. But Soloth and Caruel fell, and Kholos did not.

Not until the coming of Roland of Sunhome, who's story is best told in other places. Suffice to say, this paladin who founded the Order of the Forge Divine slew Lakryss the Weeping King, and he slew many members of his vampiric children. In the aftermath of that violent conflict of the 8th Age, the kingdom of Kholos fell into five duchies, each ruled by one of the strongest of Lakryss' children. Lakra herself remained a free city, governed by a council of Poison-Tongues in the service of the Necromancer.

Wars and the advent of the Bleeding Plague reduced the rulership of these lands, and their people. The vampires fought one another until most of Lakryss' line was extinguished and only lesser beasts roamed the land. Amongst the remaining Heirs of Lakryss was the Duke of Dakrya, a region west of the river Dakesis. This vampire, Glev Redcloak, also called Glev Lakryos, was hunted for many years by mendicant members of the Order of the Forge Divine, dispatched by their Grandmaster to finish the work that Roland had begun.

Eventually, the Duke of Dakrya went into hiding, leaving the governance of his province to men. The Cult of Tharos spread, and after the fall of Teral, it found its seat in the ancient and now-abandoned city of Lakra. With great aplomb, they drove out the Forge Divine and re-established order through the eastern portions of Kholos, calling their newly forged land the Duchy of Aklaustria. In the west, beyond the River Dakesis, the Stewards of Dakrya continued to resist them. It was only with the emergence of Duke Glev and the foundation of the Order of the Black Hand that the power of the necromancers was checked.

Now, Duke Glev and the Poisontongues stand at each other's throats, neither side willing to commit to war, but neither willing to back down. The lands of Aklaustria lie blasted and ruined by necromantic magic. Towns have vanished back into the wild, and cities have been drained of their people. For two generations, Aklaustria has suffered under its necromantic masters. As the necromancers have no need of living subjects, they callously kill those who break even the most minor of laws. Their corpses are used to farm the meager lands required to sustain the cult at Lakra.