My Games

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Maximum Recursion Depth, or Sometimes the Only Way to Win is to Stop Playing: The Karmapunk RPG (Ashcan Edition) Release (and appendix-N)!

I just released Maximum Recursion Depth, or Sometimes the Only Way to Win is to Stop Playing: The Karmapunk RPG (Ashcan Edition) on for the Eclectic Bastionjam. It's a game based on the Into the Odd / Electric Bastionland ruleset, but with a unique setting about the Numberless Courts of Hell and superpowered people rescuing Poltergeists from a broken bureaucracy.

It's hard to do the setting and game concept full justice, or at least I've struggled to do so, in this "ashcan" edition lacks some of the context that I would ultimately like to provide.

I really really badly want to do something bigger with this, so please, if you would have any interest in seeing this as a fully fleshed-out product, please let me know! Any constructive criticism or general support would be greatly appreciated!

To help provide some of that context, I'm going to include an appendix-N here. It is by no means exhaustive, and is in no particular order. I will almost certainly edit this post a million times as more things come to me. But hopefully, this will give people a general idea.

For more on Maximum Recursion Depth, follow that link to see previous posts.

  • Grant Morrison: Doom Patrol, Invisibles, basically everything else he's done
  • Neil Gaiman's Sandman and DC Vertigo more broadly
  • The Matrix
  • Journey to the West
  • Chinese mythology (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, indigenous beliefs)
  • Tenra Bansho Zero
  • Bojack Horseman
  • The Good Place
  • Persona 3-5
  • New York City

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Maximum Recursion Depth Module: The Court of Those Who Succumb Prematurely to Crippling Expectations

I just ran a game of Maximum Recursion Depth, or Sometimes the Only Way to Win is to Stop Playing with some friends and it went really well! It was supposed to be a one-shot but it got a bit extended to two, but I figured that would happen. What I did not necessarily expect, is that my players enjoyed the game so much that they'd actually rather continue with this than our old campaign. Very encouraging!

The game is still a work in progress, I'm making it for the Eclectic Bastion Jam, below (Introduction) is the current description for it in my draft of the game doc (which I am so far behind on from where I wanted to be...). I've also changed (re: simplified) a few things since those earlier blog posts. There's a somewhat more narrow focus for starting a campaign in MRD (the rules don't preclude other possibilities, it's just a way to ground people new to the setting), and I got rid of the nature spirit vs. demon distinction because I and the rest of the party would inevitably use the terms demon and devil synonymously, even though devils are a very different thing in this setting, so it just made more sense to lump demons entirely into nature spirits. I know Forgotten Realms has the demon vs. devil distinction, but it's not like I want to model myself after Forgotten Realms...

Anyway, I normally don't play in anything even close to resembling the "real world" but it was actually really cathartic to do this right now. In a mid-covid world, playing an adventure that takes place in New York City, across several real-world locations which I hold dear, was quite fantastical.

That being said, I can never write a satisfying play report, and as much as I'd like to have it up here on my blog, I don't enjoy the process of writing them. So instead, I'm just going to provide info on the party, and the "dungeon", which I think has some cool ideas and which you could probably use in a different campaign even if you're not using this system or setting, and maybe I'll add some more details at the end for some specifics that occurred in the session that weren't written into the dungeon but were really awesome, which is exactly the kind of thing you want to have happen in a game.

Unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to have the time or energy to make it a "full product" for the game jam; at this point, I'm basically just aiming for an "aschan" edition. I did hack the code for generating the HTML and PDF for Black Hack, so that means I can at least get it passably presentable, but I'm seeing some of the games coming out of this jam and they're beautiful and I'd love to get this there eventually. Nonetheless, I really hope this resonates with some people. I am genuinely considering turning this into something bigger, a little more "professional-grade" so to speak, but it would be helpful to have a sense of how much interest there would be in that before I invest too much time, effort, heart, and cash.

I am realizing that the deadline is only a couple days away! I think the game is basically where it's going to be, I don't know if I'm going to have time to add some of the additional flourishes I had intended. I just need to finish putting the PDF together and some other cleanup. I will share it in a few days after I post, consider this a teaser to whet your appetite ;). PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK! I really want to make this a thing, but if it's just not resonating with people, it's better I accept that sooner than later...


1000 years ago the Monkey King challenged Buddha in Heaven and won. The Karmic Cycle was thrown into disarray, Poltergeists in a fugue-like state roamed the Earth wreaking karmic destruction, nature spirits spontaneously summoned to the material world, and refugee gods and other heavenly creatures fled from Heaven to Earth. 
500 years ago some of the Numberless Courts of Hell rose to Earth to serve as a global, nongovernmental bureaucracy, but Devils are like machines, they are only as functional as the system they were designed for, and the system is broken.
Today, you are Recursers; individuals capable of tapping into Poltergeist Forms to leverage powerful karmic forces. After their day job, parties of Recursers known as Poltergeist Investigators seek to find roaming Poltergeists and escort them to the appropriate Court of Hell, or are hired by the Poltergeist’s loved ones. 
The Numberless Courts are a broken bureaucracy, and often Poltergeists find themselves in the wrong Court or are given unreasonable punishments and inappropriate reincarnations. When doing things the legal way stops working, Poltergeist Investigators will infiltrate the Numberless Courts of Hell to rescue Poltergeists and give them a better reincarnation.
Some Recursers see themselves as revolutionaries, while others see what they do as just a civic duty. But keep in mind, Maximum Recursion Depth is a world of Karmapunk, and that means you aren’t just rebelling against the broken system, you’re also rebelling against yourself. You are a product of this broken Karmic Cycle, and no matter how well-intentioned, you’ll never solve the problems of the world if you can’t come to terms with yourself.
So go out there, acquire Karmic Attachments, accrue Karma to grow more powerful, help people and make the world a better place. But remember, you also have to resolve those Karmic Attachments, you have to divest that Karma, and detach from the material world, despite what that entails. Or else, obscured by the imperfections of the World from the Karma you’ve accrued, all that effort will merely exacerbate the problems, and unknowingly you will spiral down, and then it’s only a matter of time before you reach Maximum Recursion Depth.

The party

This hopefully will give you all some sense of what a character in Maximum Recursion Depth is about. This game is still a work in progress; I've made the decision recently to give all Poltergeist Forms (the equivalent of Failed Careers from Electric Bastionland) a default Poltergeist Feature in addition to two more at the start. Also, I probably won't have time to do this for the game jam, but I'd like to overhaul the Reincarnation Rituals to have a deeper impact on the game itself, with more concrete rewards and consequences.

If you would like to see the character options in full, check out the game once I publish it ;)!

Cleo Patrick

A top-tier chef in New York City. She tells people how she rose to the top from being a line cook through sheer talent, but actually, she would frequently undercut and sabotage her fellow chefs. She's in a relationship that she can't stand but isn't willing to break up with her partner, and part of why she is a Recurser is an excuse to not have to see (or confront) them (or herself).

Career: Chef
Poltergeist Form: Ghost in the Mirror
Special Items: Gordian Rope (a 6' rope which once per day can be used to solve a seemingly intractable problem if the user can think of a clever use.)
Quirk: A similar-looking but clearly different person stares back at you in the mirror.
Reincarnation Ritual: Stare at yourself in the mirror for at least a minute, ignore everything else, and drift away.
Poltergeist Features:
  • Spectral Shard of Deep Cuts and Insights (Wd8 Damage, but if you use it against someone with higher WIS than you who has come to terms with themselves, you look foolish, take Pd4 Damage.)
  • Reflection Protection (Cannot take WIS Damage or accrue Karma from WIS Damage from anything that you can see reflected in a mirror.)
Starting Karmic Attachments:
  • You are in an unhealthy but stable relationship. You say you love your partner, while simmering in your loathing towards them.
  • You misremember a life-defining moment. From your memory, it was a moment of triumph, heroism, victory, etc., when in fact the accomplishment was chance, you were in the wrong, or it was critically more nuanced.

Josiah "Josie" Candor

An elite inventor and software engineer. He recently beat his rival for a major government contract on a military-grade weapons program, but he discovered a critical bug in the code that has yet to bare consequences, but it's only a matter of time. Part of why he is a Recurser is as a cover to investigate fixes for the bug without raising suspicion.

Career: Technologist
Poltergeist Form: Pyramid Shining Brightly
Special Items: Limited Edition Turbo Sega Snap Controller (A shiny controller for the sega snap entertainment system. Programmed with uber-macros for ultimate gaming and military-grade hacking. +2 NAT Save for videogame or computer related actions.)
Quirk: You have a third eye that glows white-hot. However, to those who are deeply altruistic and empathetic, it is as dark as the abyss, with the occasional flicker of light.
Reincarnation Ritual: Commit social media seppuku.
Poltergeist Features:
  • Strong Right Hand in Silver (An impressive-looking and loyal demon, like a silver werewolf. It's not actually that strong or capable on its own, but it is intimidating, and can be made to assist you in simple tasks and fetch things.)
  • Power Move (You have developed an intuition towards manipulation through displays of power such as a powerful handshake or a kind of biting apathetic humor or sarcasm. Pd8 Damage, but if you try to pull a power move against somebody with higher PRO than you, take Wd4 Damage.)
Starting Karmic Attachments: 
  • There is one who shines brighter than you, and you will never be satisfied so long as you are in their shadow.
  • Your plan was successful, but you over-reached, or failed to account for something, and now you are in over your head. Nobody else knows, yet, but it's just a matter of time before someone else realizes what has happened, or the consequences become apparent.

Paul Allen

Privileged and massively successful, Paul needs to do drugs and crazy stunts in order to feel alive. Being a Recurser and resolving his Karma is his most recent pet project, and also a way to get all sorts of new thrills and experiences.

Poltergeist Form: Crashing Rocket Nixie
Career: Hedge Fund Manager
Special Items: Mantra of the Wise Sneakers (A mantra written on a sheet made of recycled sneakers that increases one's resolve. +1 NAT Save.)
Quirk: There is absolute terror in your third eye.
Reincarnation Ritual: Come to a screeching halt and let it all catch up to you.
Poltergeist Features:
  • Nixie Wings (They say nixies are sea fairies, but anyway you can fly.)
  • Contagious Enthusiasm (In a huff and a puff, you can get anyone excited. Well... almost anyone. Pd6 or Nd6 Damage.)
Starting Karmic Attachments:
  • You are working on something, and it's going to be the defining moment of your existence. This time, you'll finish it.
  • You are a thrillseeker always searching for the next rush. Gambling, extreme sports, drugs, or even candy for that sweet sugar rush.

The Court of Those Who Succumb Prematurely to Crippling Expectations

The trains are cyborg snake devils. The three lines at this station are H (harvest gold snake), E (eggshell snake), and L (lime snake). Trains arrive / reach a stop every 1d4 turns. They loop over around the same handful of stations, never really going anywhere.

The Trains

H Train (Harvest Gold):
The train itself is powered by poltergeists. They shovel a bottomless pile of hay with their pitchforks and dump it into a whimpering vent that sputters toxic fumes. The poltergeists are monitored by grasshopper devils.

Encounters (1d4)
  1. Vent Malfunction: An explosive burst, toxic fumes spread throughout the train. The fumes are themselves a hungry poltergeist.
  2. Pink Grasshopper: One of the grasshoppers turns pink and spontaneously break-dances on the train, creating a disturbance. The other grasshoppers are befuddled. The poltergeists stop working and the train comes to a halt but it’s an awesome dance party…
  3. Super-Ant: A super-ant poltergeist revolts against the grasshoppers and battle breaks out. The train comes to a halt.
  4. Crying Hay: A pile of hay is softly whimpering. If the party investigates, they learn that a poltergeist was mistakenly reincarnated into the Hell itself as hay.

E Train (Eggshell):
The poltergeists are tightly chained to their seats and force-fed Kaifeng Fried Chicken’s Famous Schmaltz Mashed Potatoes. Pig devils will slice them open when they’ve gotten fat enough and harvest an egg-shaped fatty deposit, then sew them back up.

Encounters (1d4)
  1. The Eggless: A morbidly obese poltergeist keeps eating and eating, but every time it’s sliced open, there’s no egg. It looks ready to burst…
  2. A live One: One of the eggs becomes a vessel for a poltergeist accidentally reincarnated into the Hell. It grows into a human-sized balut monster. 
  3. 404: A pig devil, recognizing that the party are neither devils nor poltergeists but not knowing how else to categorize them, assumes the party must be Kaifeng Fried Chicken’s Famous Schmaltz Mashed Potatoes and tries to force feed the party to the poltergeists. 
  4. Hungry: WIS Roll (resist Karmic desire) party feels momentarily compelled to eat the delicious Kaifeng Fried Chicken’s Famous Schmaltz Mashed Potatoes. If they eat, they grow morbidly obese for 1d4 hours. They are slow, but resilient.

L Train (Lime):
The poltergeists are all doing incredibly tedious computer work. Lime-colored snake devils spit acid into their eyes, supposedly these eye drops increase efficiency by 0.0001%.

Encounters (1d4)
  1. Snake Eyes: NAT save or get acid spit in their eyes. Take Nd6 Damage but +Wd4 for 1d4 hours. Everything appears hyper-real, crisp, and vibrant. One can easily recognize objects and fields and how they interrelate.
  2. AI: A poltergeist is accidentally reincarnated into the Hell as an emergent AI on one of the computers. It calls out to the party for help, but the FANG software engineer poltergeist will refuse to let the party take its computer. 
  3. Excuse-Me-Sir Malware: The party feels an intruding presence in their consciousnesses. One of the poltergeists has hacked into their Karma and planted a nature spirit malware. PRO Conflict to resist the salesperson who has knocked on the door of their mind castle. 
  4. Karmabot: A collection of broken and discarded laptops combine into a large humanoid monstrosity. Its head is an open laptop with a cracked monitor, with each shard appearing as a different person or creature composing a singular face. The nature spirit imprints on the nearest PC, but it does not know its own strength. 

The Stations

Rat Crossing Station:
A filthy station full of trash and grungy poltergeists. Anything of value placed on the ground or out of sight is immediately snatched by a gang of ravenous rat devils.

Encounters (1d4)
  1. Rat Jack: A long-faced, buck-toothed poltergeist nibbles on a block of cheese held tightly to his face by greasy little hands, and mumbles to himself. He whistles to the party to get their attention. He recognizes that they don’t belong and offers to help. In fact, he was a rat in his last life, and is awaiting reincarnation, and will do any underhanded thing he can to get a better reincarnation. He will eventually betray the party, although with PRO he may be convinced that betrayal is improper, or WIS that that is not how one divests their karma. Appeals to NAT will most likely lead to violent conflict.
  2. Twisted Caduceus: The Rat King accidentally mixes the signals, causing two cyborg snake trains to become knotted, violently whipping across the station and wreaking havoc and destruction. If the party untangle the trains, one of the cyborg snake train devils will give the party a Quickening Potion of False Promises. 
  3. Rat Queen: A massive tangle of rat devils blocks the line. They cannot untangle themselves, but are hostile to any assistance. 
  4. Mouse Trap: A rogue poltergeist has been laying mouse traps for the rat devils. A team of security rat devils are sweeping the station and aggressively interrogating everybody, and the station is on lockdown until the poltergeist is found.

Jiangshi Station:
The station is pristine and luxurious, but gaudy, as are the poltergeists in waiting. The poltergeists are opulent, but there is a heavy anxiety permeating through the station. The devils of this station are golden machines that glow like angels and far outclass the poltergeists.

Encounters (1d4)
  1. Roulette: At the center of the station is a giant roulette wheel. One must hop up high to spin the wheel. There are seemingly no payouts, only draws or losses, and the losses mean longer sentences and worse reincarnations. The devil dealer offers the party a free spin, but makes no mention of the stakes and is dodgy if asked. The only way to win is not to play (one party member may divest 1 karma).
  2. Snake Oil: A pale, elderly poltergeist with a mantra script over his face offers to sell the party snake oil. He claims it will make the trains arrive faster and grant safe travels. He is not lying, but really he’s just trying to keep the party engaged as he drains their vitality over the course of the conversation. 
  3. Hopscotch: In order to get to their train, the party must cross a hopscotch. However, the better they perform and the further they get, the longer the hopscotch track gets. They must figure out to play the game, but play it intentionally poorly. 
  4. Cross the Platform: The party’s train is on the other side of the tracks. Trains frequently and unpredictably pass the station on this line. Most who try to cross get hit. The party sees a frog poltergeist hop down on the tracks to cross from below.

Long Island Homesteaders Station:
The station is home to the Long Island Homesteaders, an American Football-themed entertainment show. The performer-athletes are albino bull devils who demand absolute engagement from the audience. The other team is the New Jersey Commuters, a team of ashen treant devils. The performance is well-executed, but not especially exciting, like a mediocre minor league football game with gimmick rules to make up for sub-par or past their prime athletes.

Encounters (1d4)
  1. Cheer louder!: A devil usher approaches the party, demanding that they watch the show and cheer vigorously.
  2. Where’s my mommy?: A gang of creepy poltergeist children grab the PCs hands, legs, back of shirt, etc., with a supernaturally strong grip. They repeatedly ask the PCs “where’s my mommy?” while softly whimpering and crying. More and more grab on, piling onto the PCs and burying them. 
  3. SideShow Hustle: There is a headless poltergeist in the corner singing beautifully, but nobody is listening. The devil ushers aren’t even harassing them, like they’re invisible. 
  4. Toxic Fandom: A poltergeist dressed as a Homesteader and a poltergeist dressed as a Commuter are screaming at each other, and it looks like a riot will break out across the station at any moment.


The party had a lot of fun with this, so much so that they actually want to continue with this rather than our old campaign! They acknowledged that they struggled to fully understand the setting until we started playing, at which point it became much more clear to them. I've since tried to add more descriptive text in the game documentation to make it more clear what this setting is about, what players do, what each Poltergeist Form is about, etc.

This "module" is clearly not very complete on its own; it was embedded in a larger quest involving the party having to traverse through mostly mid to lower Manhattan investigating the poltergeist of a college student who had died under mysterious circumstances. That context was of a somewhat personal nature and also probably not inherently interesting to anyone who is not already invested in New York City and specifically the places that I was most fond of prior to shutdown.

Within The Court of Those Who Succumb Prematurely to Crippling Expectations, there were a few standout events that occurred that are worth noting and aren't strictly on the tables above:

  • The Crying Hay on the H Train was rescued by the party. They sewed him a cloth suit and he became Hay Boy aka Best NPC. In his past life, he was an ascetic Buddhist monk and has apparently been languishing in this accidental reincarnation for hundreds of years. His goal is to reincarnate as a wild orange in the jungle, to be eaten by a tiger. I made that up on the spot and have literally no idea if wild jungle orange trees exist or whether tigers would eat them. 
    • The party got his cellphone number and kept up with him later in the Metro Crawl.
    • The party was about to get hit by a train when trying to Cross the Platform at Jiangshi station, before doing their Reincarnation Rituals to escape.
    • They called Hay Boy and found out he was at the bar at Rat Crossing Station, having inexplicably obtained a sniper rifle and becoming friends with Rat Jack.

  • Rat Jack was supposed to be obviously a slime ball, but the party was so fond of Hay Boy that they trusted Rat Jack implicitly since Hay Boy vouched for him, even though Hay Boy was demonstrably quite naive. Even when Rat Jack not so subtly told the party how he was a rat in his last life and would do whatever it takes to get a better reincarnation, I thought I was being too on the nose but the party suspected nothing.
    • Towards the end of the Metro Crawl when the party was fighting an Ashura alongside a Devil that was escorting the Poltergeist at the center of the adventure, Rat Jack (literally) stabs the party in the back and runs off.
    • This will definitely not be the end of Rat Jack. I'll probably tie him in with Chester, the cheetah Nature Spirit the party had also encountered earlier in the adventure in NYC but was left unresolved.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Retrospective: Mythic Beings

Every once in awhile, for various reasons, I'll go back and look at my old posts. Usually, it's because I have a moment of panic thinking about that post and how it must actually be utter trash, so awful and shameful that I must double-check immediately so that I can, if necessary, obliterate it from existence. There have only been a few posts that I actually felt that way about. Usually, I go back and say, "damn, that's not half bad".

I went back to what I believe was my very first real content post (I'm not entirely sure the order blogger lists is correct- I think I may have updated some of those posts and screwed up the order). This post was of Mythic Beings, the gods or god-like beings of my Phantasmos campaign setting, which I used to post about a lot more back in the day and is my main Weird Fantasy setting. I love Phantasmos, but I know, and even at the time knew, that I utterly failed to convey to a new reader with no context why this setting is worth the buy-in; never gave the reader anything to ground themselves in a world that throws at them a million ideas a minute.

Nonetheless, looking at this post, I have to say, these are ok. I mean some of them are laughably bad, but many of them are alright. I actually think some of these are more evocative and tightly written than a lot of the stuff that followed it.

So I'm going to go through most or all of the entries from that table, and basically talk about what I think works or doesn't work about them, what my thoughts were and are, and also make fun of myself a little bit in regards to a few of them. I might even try improving some of them...

Phantasmos is no longer my main focus, but I'm not ready to talk more about Maximum Recursion Depth quite yet, unless you're on the OSR discourse or the Bastionjam channel of the Electric Bastionland Discord, in which case you're probably sick of hearing about it by now.

Anyway, for each entry, I'll start with the art (only the first few, all by Scrap Princess) and the original text. They were originally written with two sections, Physical Description and Behavior and Cognition, but here I'll just toss them together.

Mun Jira

Before we get into the text, let's start with the amazing art by Scrap Princess. I was so obnoxiously precious with my ideas back then, Scrap was really a saint for putting up with me. She did a first draft, which I still have, which is incredible in its own right, but at the time I was so particular about what it should look like that I just couldn't fully appreciate it. Anyway, this version turned out great as well, clearly. I hope she doesn't hold it against me too much.

A large monkey with bat-like wings, mole-like claws, covered in pangolin-like scales of prasium. It has no eyes, but its curled-lips can project outward like a star-nosed mole, revealing sharp teeth. When not illuminated by or projecting impossible light, it is either white like phosphorescent plastic with semi-transparent skin, or invisible.
Intelligent and self-aware. Self-destructive, depressed, its own worst enemy. Knows this to be true, but can't break the cycle.

I think the Ordinal Beasts of Phantasmos are awesome, and the way they tie into the elements, which themselves give you a good sense of exactly how Weird (and complicated and impenetrable) this setting is, but this writeup is weak sauce. 

Like I said with the art, it's just too precious with itself, more concerned with conveying the specific details in my head, than in evoking a feeling. Mun Jira is a monstrous god-like creature, eldritch, cosmic, beautiful, brilliant; with a skewed and hopeless perspective of itself and the world. It makes the same mistakes over and over and instead of learning, it lashes out like a violent monkey, an angry child breaking all the toys, endlessly frustrated at the self-imposed futility of its own actions.


Once again, it may be better to ignore the original text and instead marvel at Scrap's art. As with Mun Jira, I was far too concerned with details, and not with the feeling Mogleth is supposed to evoke.
A being of yellow, glassy, shimmering liquid starfire. Its top half is chitinous like a lobster shell over an arched spine. Thin strands of liquid starfire grow, writhe, and fall within the span of tens of seconds along the top of the shell. It's lower body is boar-like with a flaccid, amorphous, bulging fat gut. The skull is warped and cracked, as if infected by a fungal parasite, giving it a spongey, wrinkled appearance like a morel mushroom. Within the folds of the mushroom head are clusters of small yellow eyes. Overlapping rows of tusks line the lower snout. Along its side are semi-solid crab-leg tentacles. It has boar-like hind legs and humanoid arms for front-limbs, generally held out in a crawl position. The shell is semi-translucent, revealing internals like an arthropod, fish, vegetable, or fungus, but also unlike any of those things. Manic, impulsive, and unpredictable.

Not great. Mogleth isn't just a pig lobster fungus monster. Mogleth is fat, grotesque, infected; it can barely be contained within itself. It has all this energy to burn but merely runs itself around in circles chasing nothing, neither gaining nor losing. It is a boundless thing like a perpetual motion machine but none of it amounts to anything because every step it takes is only halfway to its goal because it keeps moving the goalpost.


Going out of order because this is the last one with art by Scrap Princess. I didn't get this one commissioned until much more recently. I was a lot less precious about it while working with her and I think it is better for it, but the text does not share this benefit of acquired wisdom.

A photographic plate in the shape of (and reflecting the features of) a holographic cyan dragon, like a basilosaurus covered in the armoured plates of an armadillo. It is a being composed of anti-information.
A being of a-logic; fundamentally incomprehensible to mortals.

At least this one is less... verbose. But still, Quath is an extra-logical being. It is made of stuff that is like matter if matter came from a universe with different math. I'm still not even sure how to convey that besides old-fashioned Lovecraftian tropes. Maybe I take some Wernicke's Aphasia quotes? But even then, the semantics are wild but there is still syntax. How does one create a new syntax that also violates the very concept of syntax because syntax is itself a form of logic? How does one write a-logic that is not just encrypted logic or illogic? Perhaps it is merely for one to imagine in the abstract, not a Nameless Thing but a Null-ness of thought, 404 error of the imagination.


A bird-dinosaur monstrosity like a raven or tyrannosaurus rex or featherless owl. It's skin is a vivid, almost cartoonish, un-real pink composed of absolute solid. Its eyes have been gouged and its beak clipped.
In a state of inverse-nirvana; vengeful, self-absorbed, materialistic. The embodiment of anti-love.

The last of the "real" Ordinal Beasts. As with Quath, I can say at least that it's not too verbose. There is supposed to be a juxtaposition here, of a thing which is "cartoonish" and "un-real", and yet is most defined by its groundedness in the mundane and material reality. I explore this more directly in my Karmapunk setting Maximum Recursion Depth, but you can see the beginnings of it here. Zaphrad is grotesque not because it is in the uncanny valley, but because it is the uncanny fucking mountain. It is not in the space between the real and unreal, but the real and hyper-real. It is so truly grounded in the material world, in the viciousness and selfishness of nature and life, that its very existence is a mockery of our own self-importance.


Her true form is a massive, worm-like, swirling void, although she sometimes takes the form of a dogu or mutant woman.
An information-vampire, the null and void, the answer to the unanswerable question.

She's a composite of a something from Clark Ashton Smith and a few other things. I don't have much to say about her here, which is not to say she isn't at all interesting, it's just beyond the scope of this retrospective since it's a little more baked into the setting. Maybe one thing to note, she's the "fifth Ordinal Beast", and is the only one with a gender. At the time this seemed intrinsically interesting, but I'm no longer sure if that's the case.


Kaiju with a red, green, and blue crustacean body, wasp-like face with large alternating white and colored eyes branching from eyestalks, four large spear-like barbed claws at its front, and seemingly endless rows of legs with retractable wasp-like stingers. When it raises its carapace plates, underneath are rows of wasp-like iridescent wings, and honey-comb shaped holes from which innumerable wasp-sized spawn bite, chew, and push through a thin layer of skin, poring out of the holes and swarming around it.
The god of impossibility, the god of n/0.

The description isn't terrible, if a bit long. But it's a god of impossibility; literally a god defined by being mathematically undefined. It could look like a little old lady, it doesn't matter what it looks like. It's also tied into one of the NPCs of the setting Doctor Lovesmenot, who is still a personal favorite NPC of mine. The name alone, it truly makes you wonder.

The Jellymind

A gargantuan chain of blue and red bioluminescent immortal jellyfish, pulsing rainbow electric signals from jelly to jelly.
An ancient and advanced connectionist neural network. It was designed by a race of intelligent octopi, and so certain assumptions of octopi cognition are baked into the network, although it has evolved into something beyond even the understanding of the octopi.

This is the first one I would say is actually good without caveat. It's not the first god-like bio-computer singularity, but I think it's a fairly unique one. It's a cool idea, and one that isn't too out there or too deeply tied into the complexities of the Phantasmos setting. The Jellymind could be anywhere. It could be behind you right now. That makes no sense I'm not sure why I said that, but here we are.

Daddy Delightful

A humanoid creature, over 9 feet tall, lanky and thin, in a quilted black tunic with neon, multicolored patterns woven throughout. Its face is obscured by a pointy hat with a wide brim. It carries a staff of pumpkin on a stick, and rides a mechanical plow.
The bringer of harvest, rewards those who overcome their fears, defers (although often exacerbates) the suffering of those who fail. Generally calm, but induces mania in others.

I wish the description part was more flavorful, but otherwise, Daddy Delightful is great. Even the name, it just makes me giggle a bit. What a guy. He's like a creepy Halloween Santa. This is some old-school fairytale shit, if it were just a bit better written.

Daddy Delightful comes but once a year on his magical mechanical plow, just in time for harvest. He hovers over you, spindly, lanky. Dangling from his pumpkin-on-a-stick are all sorts of sweets, just for you. But something isn't right. A creeping sensation. A nervous giggle. Is it coming from you, or him? Maybe you should take the sweets, after all, you've worked so hard all season, or so he assures you. There's only a little bit of work left. Perhaps you should take a break after all.


Has the body and head of an orca, held on land by rhino-like legs of shaped liquid which dissolve when he swims. Protruding from each side of his jaw are long, upwardly-turned shaped-liquid tusk-horns. His skin is metallic and the colors shift like those of the ocean; aquatic blue, teal, green, red or orange like the sunset, some pink and purple. An orb of shimmering, multicolored, iridescent shaped-liquid swirls in place over his head like a three-dimensional halo.
Does not respect personal boundaries; borderline personality; well-meaning but aggressive.

Would be cool if Scrap Princess drew it. I don't really have much to say about him. It's ok.

Caine (aka "The Dentist")

A large humanoid figure in a long white coat. Carries a two-handed drill weapon, large pick, a large staff with a mirror, or a syringe-clawed gauntlet with gas dispenser. Face is covered by a mask, and underneath the mask is a tube dispensing gas, connected to a small, concealed gas tank. He has rotten, misshapen and irregularly ordered teeth of various species. Only one tooth is perfectly white and healthy- a humanoid incisor. Accompanied by quohort of qhuaos quinces.
Herald of The Tooth Fairy. Relentlessly follows his targets, so long as they have any lingering anxieties. In a constant, drug-induced state of delirium.
Caine doesn't mean what you think it does (unless you're not thinking what I think you're thinking). Once again, cool concept, bad writeup. Also, the mask thing doesn't quite have the same effect in 2020.

A large man, his face obscured by a mask, inhaling heavy breaths that die inside him and wheeze their way out. He carries a large screeching power-drill, the grating noise a mockery of its victims cries of desperation. He steps heavy like one who cannot feel their own weight, like one who cannot be stopped by mortal forces. And he laughs.

The God Mutant

I'm going to just tie all four forms together here. Within the context of the format of that original post, it made sense to separate the forms out, but that's not how I would do it now. I was kind of padding things a bit there. And oof is it cringey with the Omega form. I was at the time not sure how explicit I was comfortable with being on this blog, but I was so fucking precious with it that I couldn't just not include it, I had to say, yes, there are other details here, I just can't tell you. I haven't looked back at the old notes but I believe he had like a mutilated penis with a centipede monster crawling out of his urethra, and it seemed at the time extremely important that this exists. How embarrassing- not the idea, but that I couldn't just do it or drop it, but instead presented it in a state of Schrodinger's mutilated penis monster.

A baby, sticky and pink like raw, exposed meat. Bony except for its belly, long necked, with a face like a reptile and beady little black eyes. Cackles and gurgles, sometimes cries but only with intent.This form communicates only psychically. It is malicious and angry at the entire paraverse. It knows exactly what it is.
A small child with greenish skin. Neither cute nor ugly. There is an indescribable "off-ness" about the child.
Behaves like someone mimicking a child. Subtly needy and manipulative, but less outright malicious than the other forms.
A small, underdeveloped teenager with greenish skin and short black hair. Wears a studded, black leather bomber jacket. Unnaturally large and intense eyes with too many veins along the forehead and face converging on the eyes. A wide, angry, manic smile on his face.
Quiet, passive, and unassuming at a distance, his intensity only obvious up close. At the flip of a switch will become enraged and relentless.
Large, pulpy red eyes, semi-translucent, with a calcified core. Around his eyes are a series of thick veins, along which many smaller eyes of a similar composition grow. Long, dark green hair, sickly green skin. Lips torn, skin around jaw burned. Left arm stunted and shriveled, no right arm. From base of the right shoulder are a series of tentacles ending in vulture beaks, uncountable because they move in a tessellated manner. Deep fissure running through his chest and abs. Ankles end in vulture-like claws. Three vulture wings, two on left side, one on right side. Some additional NSFW details not included.
A mutant who has transcended linear time. A corrupted being which loathes its existence; wasted potential; always starting over; never satisfied; sees the end state before it has begun.

The alpha description is actually pretty solid. Despite what I've been saying, I actually still like the God Mutant as a concept, it ties into some of the Key Concepts of Phantasmos (another post of poorly written but cool ideas!), and descriptively I think there are some obvious inspirations which I'm ok with. But omg what a dork I was with that NSFW thing.

The Tooth Fairy

Wears a greenish gold hued power armor with an ornate, worm-like pattern carved into it. Vents in the shoulder blade exhaust a shimmering, iridescent, ethereal energy cape, meeting in two parts like folded insect wings. Wears a smooth great helm covering all facial features, conical at the face with ridges like an earthworm and a toothy grin carved along the mouth. Beneath the helmet is a toothy maw like a hagfish.
The Fey King. The dull and constant anxiety; ennui; the carrot on the stick; you will be paid for your services.

I still love this concept, even if I'm mixed in the writeup. He's like a fairytale science fantasy Darth Vader (I guess Darth Vader is already that...) but with a different subtext. The cognition and behavior blurb is fairly solid, but I wish the two had been better integrated. I think this is the real turning point in this post where they start to get pretty good.

Fuchsia Phosphenom-Panopticon

A crystalline fuchsia-colored object which, in three-dimensional space and one-dimensional time, could be roughly described as a wheel-like shape with a hub-and-spoke network within it. The hub contains an eye with many pupils which dart constantly across the spokes, projecting fuchsia light like a laser light show and disco ball. It is never clear exactly what the pupils are focusing on.
Domination and submission; power is a differential; control and release; uncomfortable spacetimes; reality interpreted through an android's dream.

Love this concept too, and that behavior and cognition blurb is great, but it has the same problem as the Tooth Fairy re: lack of integration. Also, the name, come on! It's just fun. The Fuchsia Phosphenom-Panopticon is the god of the Fuchsia Phosphenomenologists who use the magic of Fuchsia Phosphenomenology. Say that five times while giving your partner oral and thank me later. Takes some heavy influence from the sociologist Michel Foucault and science fiction writer Phillip K Dick. It's a biblical/apocryphal BDSM neural network what more can you ask for?! If the idea of "uncomfortable spacetimes" doesn't make your imagination tingle then we just have irreconcilable differences between us.

SLIME Edward

A shimmering and metallic-flecked ooze in the shape of a humanoid.Synthetic Limited-Intelligence Markovian Entity- a misnomer; error-mass in the paraverse given form; the transcendental weirder.

Physical description is mercifully brief. The cognition and behavior part is fine, but is dependent on the reader already being familiar with the Key Concepts of Phantasmos and being familiar with the NPCs of the Phantasmos setting. I still like the "- a misnomer" part. It's just this little off-hand bit, but it asks you to think harder about what you're encountering.


A massive, city-sized golemite. A box-like chassis of nigh-impenetrable metal with various compartments and plates, and covered in turrets and other weapons platforms. Moves on wheels, treads, crab-legs, chicken-legs, or whatever else it needs for the terrain. Populated by the Priests of Lamarr, who, through divine commune with Lamarr, can summon a barrage of god-pillars from the sky.Idiosyncrasies in its behavior suggest that it has some degree of intelligence, although only the Priests of Lamarr seem able to communicate with it in any meaningful way.

This one would work well in Barbarians of the Ruined Earth. It benefits from a deeper understanding of the setting, but I think it can work in a more generalized way. There's a reference here that's probably obvious. It's not as overtly Weird as many of the other things in the setting, but it's sort of a mythologization of 20th century to modern-era technologies and weapons.

Mother at the Gate

An indescribably massive creature at the other end of Yog-Sothoth. From tears in reality formed from burst bubbles of The Gate, she can be seen pressed against the edge of reality. A vaguely humanoid figure with jaundiced skin, ill-defined fat, musculature, and bone structure- more like the abstract concept of the humanoid form. No hair, genitalia, nails, ears, or any facial features. Three glassy, two-dimensional planes project in front of her face, two displaying eyes and one a mouth, all oversized. The planes engage in repetitive actions such as saccadic eye movements, blinks, and lip movements. Produces no sound except for when crying and vomiting liquid starfire, from which skyscraper-sized "children" fall. Most of her appearance is inferred from these "children"- at the edge of the gate little more than her plane-eyes or mouth can be seen.
A vague sense of maternalism or Munchausen by proxy aside, her behavior is in no way comprehensible to mortals.

This one is a personal favorite. Even the name, there's just something powerful there. Or maybe that just speaks to my own dysfunctions. I don't think this writeup sufficiently captures the horror and uncanniness of the idea. This should be a Zdzisław Beksiński painting.

There is no greater reminder of what children we all are, than Mother at the Gate. A universe-sized god pressed against a tear in The Gate, stretched to its limit. It stares down on us all silently, and cries. So vast, so old, so full of life to have and life to give, and what are we in comparison but greedy, entitled, groveling little things? Little more than demanding, petulant children, is what we are. Why is she crying? A torrent of Liquid starfire shines down on us like a beam of holy light piercing the clouds, and Mother's little cherubs fall down to our world, rise up, and take their first steps. Planes of glass hover over their blank faces, displaying eyes that shift back and forth in awkward and repetitive motions, and chapped smacking lips. They are each still learning how to use their body. They look up to her for safety and sustenance, but she can only cry and choke and vomit. The nourishing liquid starfire rains down upon them, but they have no mouths, only a simulacrum, and they will find no sustenance here, only more of their siblings. Why is she crying?

Mr. Smiley

A floating smiley face with a big, toothy grin. There is a nervousness in its eyes, and it slowly loses teeth as it grows more anxious.
Seemingly well-meaning, but incredibly needy. Once it locks eyes with someone, it will follow them indefinitely (and can separately follow multiple individuals). Reinforces anxieties, inducing waves of panic as its teeth fall out. Can be overcome only by breaking the cycle of anxiety.

I love Mr. Smiley, as did my players in my first Phantasmos campaign. I think my prose piece A Crawl Through the Dungeon of Impossible Light, a very very loose interpretation of one of the dungeons from that campaign, really portrayed Mr. Smiley well, although there are definitely parts of that piece that are super cringey, for various reasons that I'm not proud of but also don't think I should bury. I keep hoping one day someone will give it some kind of critical analysis but maybe it's not deserving of that level of thought. Below is an excerpt from that piece with the Mr. Smiley parts.

The stairs form into a square, which seems to paradoxically feed upwards and downwards into itself, although the pattern of stars changes as they pass, such that they know they are not walking endlessly in a square like fools. Eventually, miraculously, they find themselves on a simply upward path, which leads to an open floor, upon which is a dais, upon which is a yellow, perfectly spherical floating creature with a simple face. The simple face is that of a smiling man. Mr. Smiley bares a broad, toothy smile towards them, approaching as he does with nervous tension in his eyes.
“Hello.” He says in a deep and somber voice tersely, such that there is minimal breakage in his big broad smile.
“Um, hello.” Says Anthony. Nina looks briefly and crossly at Anthony, before returning to Mr. Smiley.
“Do you know why we’re here?” She asks him. He sighs.
“I assume you’re here for the orb. Nobody ever comes to visit me. But that’s ok.” He says unconvincingly with his big broad smile and nervous eyes. A rotten tooth drops grossly from his big broad smile, and this time despite themselves they are each overtaken by dread.
“It’s a good thing I’m still alive,” He says unconvincingly,
“or else I would not have been able to meet you three, who bring me such joy with your very presence. Isn’t it wonderful to not be alone? Please, stay awhile.”
“I’m afraid,” The Doctor starts,
“that we are in a bit of a hurry. However, once we retrieve the orb, we will surely pass through to say our goodbyes. Would you be so kind as to tell us which way we should go?” He turns about, looking for where the path goes, only to find that Mr. Smiley is still centered in his vision. No matter which way they turn, he is always there, with his big broad smile and nervous eyes.
“In that case, I suppose I should accompany you. It would be a shame if you died today, with me still here, alive. I would rather not anyone die today, mostly.”
“While we appreciate the offer, we must decline.”
“You… you don’t want me?” Mr. Smiley asks despondently, another rotten tooth falls from his big broad smile and another wave of dread overtakes the group as the tooth hits the ground.
“It’s not that we don’t want you, it’s just that we were instructed to go it alone.” Lies Anthony.
“Oh, I see. Even so, I must insist. It’s dangerous out there. It would be very sad if you died.”
“If it would make you more comfortable, I suppose you may come along.” Says Nina, hoping to curtail the downward spiral which would surely kill them all. And so they continue.
They proceed forward down the path which has since revealed itself, Mr. Smiley in tow. It is unclear whether there are now three Mr. Smileys, if he centers himself in each of their perceptions, or some other such nonsense. In any case, it is a quiet and awkward walk, as each assesses the implications of their new follower.
“Why do you want the orb, anyway?” Asks Mr. Smiley.
"I hope you aren’t planning on doing anything… naughty with it. That would be a real shame…”
“We’re just the retrievers. The orb is for The Grim General in Blue, who will surely use it for the good of Nova Arkham.” Says the Doctor, dryly.
“Oh good. He is a good man, from what I hear.” Responds Mr. Smiley, followed by another awkward silence. Mr. Smiley is not very good at small talk.
(NOTE: skipping ahead a bit to the next Mr. Smiley scene...)
“That was so much fun.” Says Mr. Smiley monotonically.
“We should kill more things together. It really helps you forget your problems.” He says, as he is suddenly reminded of all his problems.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Semiurge-style Generator: Fantastic Flumphs

Inspired by my interview with Semiurge, and as a means of procrastinating on other things I really want to / need to do but am feeling suddenly burnt out on, I have created my first Semiurge-style generator. This is a D6xD6 generator for everyone's favorite monster, the fantastic flumph!

Feast your eyes on the fantastic flumphs!

Generator Tools by Meandering Banter

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Element Generator

With all the talking of elements I've been doing lately, I thought it would be interesting to make an element generator. Elements are by definition the primitives of the universe, but in the case of the alchemical elements often found in fantasy, they are also symbolic, which gives us a little more room for interpretation. I think it is necessarily the case that even with this generator, a lot of manual work will be required to make elements drawn from this table coherent. I was originally going to write up a full setting from a random drawing of four elements to really demonstrate what it might look like, but I've been too focused on my Maximum Recursion Depth setting and can't really think about it right now, but I'll write up four example elements just to give you all a sense of it.

The properties of the generator are color, state, and two additional qualities.

Color is fairly straightforward, although I intentionally throw some weirder ones in there. It can be the case that color is a literal property of the element, or it's more so a cultural association. Additionally, while I do distinguish between blue and cyan for reasons, generally a color can encompass a broad range (green can be forest green, neon green, etc.)

State includes not just solid, liquid, and gas, but also plasma, freezing (between liquid and solid), vaporizing (between liquid or solid and gas), and ionizing (between gas and plasma). These are not intended to be taken too literally or scientifically, but I have this feeling which I can't quite articulate that state provides some unique point of reference for elements. I realize that, with the traditional elements, ice is often sub-set into water and I think it's fine to give yourself a similar amount of leeway with these elements. Still, I think water as liquid has a certain symbolic resonance ("go with the flow"; water flowing around a large stone, a river carving a canyon).

The additional qualities are a mix of mostly visual and tactile features to give the element a little more flavor. I decided to go with two per element to create a bit more variety and potentially interesting combinations, and just to be more descriptive. It can produce results with duplicated qualities; you can either ignore the duplicate, or treat it as an exaggerated version of that quality.

I had considered also adding some more symbolic or metaphysical tables as well, but ultimately I decided that I preferred to allow the symbolic and metaphysical aspects of the elements to be an emergent property of the rest of the elements and how they fit together within the setting, rather than trying to pre-define them, although I think that could be interesting as well in a different way.

Given this generator, the traditional alchemical elements might be represented as such:

Color: Blue (or colorless?)
State: Liquid
Additional Quality 1: Semi-translucent
Additional Quality 2: Silken

Color: Red
State: Plasma
Additional Quality 1: Incandescent
Additional Quality 2: Animate (flickering fire) (or marbled, or splash of yellow or orange?)

Color: Colorless (or cyan, maybe yellow for lightning?)
State: Gas
Additional Quality 1: Iridescent (rainbows, other light reflections)
Additional Quality 2: Animate (winds, lightning) (or semi-translucent if given a color?)

Color: Brown (or green?)
State: Solid
Additional Quality 1: Gritty (dirt, sand)
Additional Quality 2: Fibrous (representing plantlife / nature) or Metallic (representing metals and minerals)

As you can see it requires a bit of a stretch of the logic to get the traditional elements from this table and they can potentially be represented in multiple ways, but I see all of this as a feature not a bug ;).

I might be tempted to curate my elements if I really want to build a whole setting out of them and not go full-random, but if you're less hung-up on elements than I am, or just want some weird material for a one-off instance, this generator should be good.

I haven't done javascript stuff in a while so this will almost certainly be broken at first but we'll see...

Generators produced using Meandering Banter's Automatic List to HTML Translator Version 3

Sample Elements

Element 1: Song-glass

Color: Electromagnetic (Radiowave)
State: Freezing
Additional Quality 1: Two-dimensional
Additional Quality 2: Splash of White

Minute particles in the air which condense like a sheet of frost over objects on cool mornings and winters. The song-glass is nearly invisible except for a slight cloudy sheen. It cracks easily to the touch, producing a fuzzy, static-y noise. Ancient shamans and philosophers learned how to decypher these noises into information, which gave the species valuable knowledge about the world and how to survive in it. They later learned to encode messages into song-glass, build devices to speak the messages or project the images of song-glass, and eventually even to transmit vaporized song-glass ethereally over vast distances.

Element 2: Popstone

Color: Cyan
State: Ionizing
Additional Quality 1: Matte
Additional Quality 2: Gritty

A dull, gritty, cyan-colored sand, believed to be condensed air. When rapidly shook, popstones crackle and pop like thunder and lightning. The thunderstorms of popstone deserts shine so brightly they twinkle like stars. The weaponization of popstone quickly led to the species' dominance of the world, and later they also learned to harness the power of popstone as a source of energy and means of locomotion. 

Element 3: Godrend

Color: Indigo
State: Melting
Additional Quality 1: Animate
Additional Quality 2: Marbled

Marbled like fatty meat, bleeds like a wet sponge to the touch. Not quite animal or fungus, neither organic nor inorganic. Believed to be the rendering fat of the gods. It absorbs properties of the things it touches, like DNA and also things beyond the measurements of modern science, and provides sustenance when absorbed through the skin or consumed. Godrend swamps burble and jiggle and dance, especially on nights with starry skies. Outside apocrypha, the species are the only ones capable of deriving sustenance through godrend; it is what separates the species from animals.

Element 4: Shadowbrine

Color: Black
State: Liquid
Additional Quality 1: Silken
Additional Quality 2: Phosphorescent

Light which is absorbed but is not transformed into heat, and is instead gated behind a one-way liquid medium to suffocate, ferment, and die. Like liquid eclipse, one can sense the energy of light by its absence, its shadow. Shadowbrine is found in caves and other dark places, and most abundantly in the hard to reach depths of the oceans. Shadowbrine brewers mold their processed concoctions, and as the sun rises and as the sun sets, the object which would block the light to create the shadow rises in its proper place. This is how the species' cities were first formed and mostly how they are formed still.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Semiurge: Weird & Wonderful Interviews

I spontaneously decided that I wanted to start doing interviews, so I interviewed Semiurge of the blog Archons March On. His random generators are some of the most creative and useful tools in all of the OSR, and I genuinely believe Semiurge to be one of the most talented and creative bloggers in the OSR blogosphere. I enjoyed this conversation quite a bit and would potentially like to do more interviews like this. If you enjoy reading this and would like to see more, please let me know!

Why don't you start by telling me a bit about yourself and the blog.

  • Semiurge: Re: Introductions, I'm semiurge, my blog is Archons March On, it's mostly random tables.

Why did you start the blog?

  • Semiurge: Honestly it's incredibly petty.
  • Max: Ooh I'm intrigued...
  • Semiurge: The r/d100 guy automated one of my tables and put it on his website (with my permission of course), and the link to the automated table got more attention than my original one. So I thought why not start doing the automating myself, found Spwack's thing, and the rest is history.

What are your inspirations?

  • Semiurge: Recently (as in the last few months) it's been other people, bouncing ideas off them like the Ping Pong Challenge I did with Rememberdismove, doing prompts, riffing off their formats/ideas
  • Max: I remember that ping pong thing you did, that was pretty cool. I don't know Rememberdismove outside of that event, but it was cool to see.
  • Semiurge: Rememberdismove's a must-read I'd say, deserves to be up there with Goblin Punch/Monster Manual Sewn From Pants/etc. If my memory's right I think they're where I got the 5x20 table format from.
  • Max: Wow, that's quite a compliment. I will have to take a closer look at their work. I can't remember when exactly that challenge happened now, but I think I may have been a bit disengaged from the RPG scene at the time.
  • Max: What about prior to the last few months? More generally?
  • Semiurge: As dissatisfying an answer as it might be: just about everything I've ever experienced. My memory's not great on specifics, so after a while it just lumps together into the same mash. Occasionally I get good stuff bubbling to the surface.
  • Max: No worries, my memory is the same way.
  • Semiurge: Kenneth Hite, particularly his Suppressed Transmission series, definitely informed my writing. Conspiracies, freewheeling free association, weird secret history. Weirdly enough I'm not sure if the stuff I've read and enjoyed reading makes it into the part of my brain that inspiration comes from. At least reading like books. Blogs do.
  • Max: That's interesting, can you elaborate on that? What is it about blogs vs books? Is it a context thing you think? Or actually something about the medium?
  • Semiurge: Part of it's probably that blog posts are more modular, you can take each on its own and really mine it for ideas, a full longform work is more entangled.
  • Semiurge: Wait got one more thing for settings: Tattered Realms, for Song of Swords, it's got like five types of elves in a medieval Europe pastiche yet still blows most others out of the water. There's an anemic wiki but if you namesearch Jimmy Rome on 4plebs or another /tg/ archive you can get the direct stuff. How could I forget this one?! Long live the Invincible Republic of Dace!

Many of your posts are these very specific, multi-layered generators, which produce all sorts of weird and wonderful results. What about this format in particular appeals to you so much? What is your process?

  • Semiurge: The biggest from the start is that because each individual line's so small you can drop the tables and pick them up again whenever. So I can't lose the thread like I do for the dozens of longer drafts I have lying around.
  • Max: Oh ya, the struggle is real in that regard.
  • Semiurge: It can be a fun puzzle too, coming up 3,200,000 possible combinations, none of which contradict themselves. I've done so many it's meditative at this point, like combing a rock garden.
  • Max: But still, it is impressive how you can take some really specific idea, like... (searches through your index for a random post) headstrong helmets, and have five tables worth of stuff that can combine in all sorts of ways, and each one is interesting and coherent.
  • Semiurge: Magic loot's usually one of the easier ones to do. Except for boots, which has languished unloved.
  • Max: I can get the meditative aspect, when I'm in a good flow I feel that with my process as well. But there is really nobody I can think of that does what you do, and certainly not as well as you do it, so I'm just genuinely curious how you do it.
  • Semiurge: Only so many interesting powers you can tie into boots
  • Max: lol really?
  • Semiurge: Yeah let me check it. Yeah just walk unharmed on oozes/lava/other mostly-fluids. Also I don't like reusing fantastical materials. Defeats the purpose of the creative exercise part of the form. So now that I've exhausted all the low- and medium-hanging fruit I'm on to like.... giant's toenails or whatever.

Do you worry that you'll run out of sufficiently original or interesting premises for these tables?

  • Semiurge: Yes and no. It's harder now that I've used up most of the monsters and whatnot with broad enough thematic resonance to milk a hundred entries out of in an afternoon, but to reiterate it's a creative exercise in a pretty much literal sense. You start off doing 5 sets of 20 vampires, work your way up to oni, gnolls, time-travellers. The challenge is part of the point and the fun for me. Re: thematic resonance, I posted on your blog the other day how I find elves to be more of a feeling than a specific creature. Like everything from Keebler to Sindar. Do elves live in the woods? Where else could elves live that wouldn't be out of place for this feeling of "elf"? What's kind of like a forest? And so on. Same logic for everything else. What's a (D20x5) Place(s) of Pilgrimage (coming November 2022)? How much can I stretch and play with that idea? The web serial writer Wildbow came up with what he calls a pivot for this sort of thing that I find useful. It's like "nail down a concept as a set of points, then switch one of those up".
  • Max: Ya I totally get what you mean. It's like, most people, if they're thinking about it at all, are thinking about an Elf in the mean average (the cognitive neuroscientist in me would call that the Prototype), or maybe as a single modal representation (the Exemplar). Your tables really deconstruct the concept of (in this case) Elf by saying, how many features can I create, where I can randomly combine them, and they're all still Elf, while also being unique. I'm not familiar with that web serial but that's an interesting idea.
  • Semiurge: Wrt the pivot thing because that's a scrawny explanation. Take dwarves: Dwarves dig underground, dwarves are greedy for gold (for a shorter set). How do they dig? Typically like human miners, but maybe these dwarves are more like moles or worms. Where can they dig besides underground? Maybe into giant trees, like big hairy termites. What's kind of like digging? Maybe they dive into the ocean in bronze submersibles, hunting leviathans in abyssal trenches. Etc., et cetera.
  • Max: Did you come up with those just now? Damn, those are good.
  • Semiurge: Thanks.
  • Max: I have very little restraint and when I try to do these kinds of deconstructions, I almost always tow way over the line lol. There's definitely a science to it.

What are some of your favorite systems and settings?

  • Semiurge: I'm going to try to avoid the ones that a lot of people probably know and also like already (e.g. Centerra).
  • Max: Fair enough.
  • Semiurge: I've been playing with Sofinho (of Alone In The Labyrinth) in his Pariah game the last couple months, and that's been great. It's this neolithic, animistic, on the verge of agricultural revolution setting. The system's fast and simple, I think like a cut-down B/X with a bit of Spwack's Die Trying (at least the Xs system). I like anything simple and fast, and don't generally like learning new systems. When I was a kid I could blaze through and memorize all that 3e D&D, world of darkness stuff, now it's like just keep it to 100 words or less to start off.
  • Max: I totally agree about not wanting to learn / play really complicated systems anymore.
  • Semiurge: Another setting, which is a bit of a cop-out because it's stylized history, is Shigurui. One of the best stories put to paper. Set in early Tokugawa Japan. The way the social expectations and dynamics are so cloying, like a lead blanket on every character. Feels dominating in a way that fantasy settings usually don't, closer to real life in the weight and density of it. And yet very different from modern society.
  • Max: I am not familiar with Shigurui, but you make such a bold claim now I feel compelled to check it out.
  • Semiurge: To go back to Pariah's setting, it's hit home a bit of what is conventional wisdom for osr settings that didn't previously land for me. The post-apocalyptic, social order has broken down sort of stuff. But in kind of the opposite direction, pre-civilization rather than post-civilization. Smaller cast, smaller world, no big powerful states to exist in the shadow of. More room for weirdos and weird doings.
  • Max: Ya, I've sat on some "stonepunk" ideas, but never quite felt like I had a strong enough grasp of the implications of pre-history to do it justice. And anyway, I don't think I thought of this parallel in quite the way you're suggesting, or at least you're making it now more salient. Dang, you are really good at making everything sound interesting! Although I guess I already knew that. I was passively aware of Alone in the Labyrinth but I will have to start making a more active effort to follow the blog now.
  • Semiurge: Wildbow's stories too, to reference him again, are also neat. I maintain that if osr superheroes were to be a thing then Worm & Ward would be the base to build them off of setting-wise.
  • Max: I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with Worm & Ward. Is it something from the campaign you were mentioning? I am, as you probably know, a fan of superheroes (although I've been struggling with my feelings on that recently, but that's a conversation for another time), and I know there are plenty of others in the OSR who are also into superheroes, but in a lot of ways supers are a bit antithetical to many of the common conventions of OSR. So any ideas about superheroes in the context of OSR or tabletop more generally are definitely interesting to me.
  • Semiurge: They're a couple of that Wildbow guy's web serials, Worm alone is longer than the Bible so I can't really 'recommend it' recommend it but I'd say try it until the bank robbery and if you're not hooked by then it's probably not gonna work for you. I think the best frame would be as street-level villains jockeying for cash and reputation.
  • Max: I can already kind of imagine how that ties into OSR.

Do you have any thoughts about the future of the OSR, blogosphere, RPG industry and community in general, etc.?

  • Semiurge: The osr is a spook.
  • Max: I have literally no idea what that means 0.o.
  • Semiurge: (in the Stirner sense)
  • Max: I am actually not super familiar with Stirner if you wouldn't mind elaborating on that further.
  • Semiurge: To give a more serious answer, I've never really experienced a thing such as 'the osr'. Maybe it existed before I got into things.
  • Max: Aah ok I think I see what you mean now.
  • Semiurge: I'd say it's more of a network, but that sounds like networking, too businessy.
  • Max: No I get what you mean by that though. And ya, I think the OSR that you and I came up in was very different than this thing that apparently existed for nearly a decade before either of us started blogging
  • Semiurge: There's people whose stuff I like, there's people who like my stuff, sometimes those are the same people, many of them at least know of each other. So I guess my answer would be all that culture, industry, community stuff passes over my head like a cloud. I want the people I like to keep making good stuff and enjoy it. I want to make stuff I can enjoy. It's more individuals, personalities, relationships for me than all that.
  • Max: That is probably for the best.
  • Semiurge: Actually I think I can comment on platform.
  • Max: Oh?
  • Semiurge: Discord's ok for finding new people and playing games. But it can also be fun to meander through peoples' "recommended blogs" sidebars.
  • Max: Oh ya for sure. Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of discord; I mean I like it for small group chats and running games and that sort of thing, but it doesn't really work for me as a big open platform in the way reddit (strictly as a platform, not speaking on the community) or especially G+ (RIP) did. But I 100% agree about the blog list sidebars. And also it feels really good when you see your blog on someone else's list, whether they're someone you really respect or someone you've never even met before.
  • Semiurge: Yeah for sure.

Ok, I do have one more question that I'd like to end on, but before that, are there any questions I didn't ask that you'd like to talk about, or just in general anything you want to say?

  • Semiurge: Yeah if you or anyone else would like me to write something I'm always open for ideas. So shoot those over on whatever platform. Won't say no to ideas.
  • Max: Oh dang, ya I will definitely have to take you up on that some time. I wish I had a good idea for you off-hand but unfortunately I really don't.
  • Semiurge: Oh yeah and thanks for the interview, fun way to spend an evening. 
  • Max: Ya for sure, this has been a lot of fun. I wasn't sure how this was going to go but I feel like we got into some really cool stuff. I do have one more question for you though!

Can we talk about "Platinum Big Dick Baller"?

  • Semiurge: lol
  • Max: it's a (semi-)serious question!
  • Semiurge: He [NOTE: The r/d100 guy) sneakily removed it for a week but then I noticed and had it reinstated. For a while, I was producing like 50%+ of that sub's content (it's bigger & faster moving now I think). So the head guy asked me if I wanted a special flair. That was the first thing to come to mind.
  • Max: lol that's amazing. I remember you telling me when he removed it but I had no idea that's how you got it in the first place. I mean no disrespect to anyone else who has ever posted in that subreddit, but in my opinion your posts are are still the best thing there. I remember the first time reading one of your generators and my mind was blown. I am glad this story is now out there, the public has a right to know!
  • Semiurge: Started from the bottom now we here (slightly above the bottom).
  • Max: oof too real... ok well on that note, I think it's time we wrap up, but ya, thanks for doing this, this was really cool. We've talked about various things before, but I do feel like I've gotten to understand your creativity better through this and also learned about some cool stuff. You are full of just fascinating insights on top of your creativity.
  • Semiurge: Appreciate it. Have a good one.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Worlds with Missing Elements

I keep talking about elements and their significance to me (this post about the positive and negative plane, which further links to other posts where I discuss this as well). When it comes to elements, I generally prefer to create worlds of new elements, either entirely made-up like Impossible Light, Absolute Solid, Anti-Information, and Liquid Starfire, or of real things (or at least real fictional things) like Phlogisten, Yeast, Lymph, and Ectoplasm. However, I had the thought the night before drafting this post; what about a world with the typical alchemical elements (in this case I'm assuming Fire, Water, Earth, and Air), but where one of the elements is missing? How do the other elements adapt or develop? How do the organisms, the cultures, the gods, and monsters and magic?

There are a few key points to my thought process:
  • I try to take an almost evolutionary approach to it, thinking about how the remaining elements or the world adapts to the lack of the element.
  • I generally try to not conflate the science with elementalism. For instance, ice is just solid water, but in a world without earth, ice may be, in an elementalist sense, meaningfully distinct from water and take that role.
  • That being said, I'm willing to break this soft rule if it would be more interesting to do so.
These are very brief. I've been struggling with putting my thoughts to words lately; I'm sitting on several new settings which I think are really cool but just haven't been able to write them up. There's something to be said for brevity though, so maybe it's ok if they are just brief little blurbs.

A World with no Earth

Large ocean. Pillars of ice the size of cities pulled up towards the sky, connected by bifrost bridges. Rays of focused light rain from the sky like beams of holy light, burning into the ever-rising pillars, sculpting the landscape, and inducing violent wave patterns into the ocean. This is a world of constant change and high concepts, of flight and mobility, a world that feels light and airy.

Red Moon. Couldn't find a good image with a red moon, steam or smoke vents, and red hot stones and glass, but I think this gets the vibe across of being fire-less and dark.

A World with no Fire

Harsh winds vibrate glass and stones to glowing red. The world is pocked with vents of steam and smoke from naturally-occurring coal and hydrothermal power. A softly glowing red moon provides barely any heat or illumination. On land, this is a harsh and tired world of survivors, of competitive energy-oases. It is a world of little change and little accrued knowledge, except what is necessary for survival. In the bubbling oceans, hot-water life thrives. Who knows what rests in the energy-rich deeps...

Lava Fields. No gelatinous air and cities on glass planes. 

A World with no Water

Magma oceans. Gelatinous humid air. Glass planes cut through swimmable air; a vertical landscape. This is a world of strict hierarchy, of unmoving objects, of tradition and propriety. Except for the sky pirates...

A world with no Air

Silent and still. Flat oceans. Pockets of city-sized sugary ooze containing zymological life. A low and persistent dusty fog. Geothermal vents glow from ocean pits, as do motionless volcanoes topped like molten glass.