Sunday, October 3, 2021

Everybody Hates Lolth

Out of all higher beings, the smartest one is Lolth. Or Leylat, or Lilith, or whatever you want to call her. All the other higher beings are aware of this to some degree. However, this does not mean that she is particularly clever. She's simply, only, intelligent.

Lolth is not conniving or scheming. In fact she is unusually honest as far as higher beings (notorious liars and cheats) go. However, she is extremely meddling. Lolth will not leave anything alone once she knows it exists, because she constantly has ideas about how to improve things and does not see any reason to be "tactful" about making these improvements. Lolth will not make suggestions or teach you anything, she will just Make Your Thing Better, because that's what she likes doing, completely alienating you from it in the process.

Very few of Lolth's improvements actually make sense to anyone. That fact that she never explains what she's doing doesn't help. A lot of her methods vaguely seem correct, but when you look at the result, it just seems wrong and unfamiliar. It's like looking at a cold dead squid. A squid that the universe inexplicably seems to keep rewarding for existing while it callously trods on the things that you're fond of.

This is why everybody hates Lolth.

Art by Jenő Gyárfás, 1881

Cults dedicated to Lolth:
  1. The Mesobarrine Scientivists are the kind of people who think that 'science' has a period to put behind every sentence of life. If you nit-pick and rasterise and shear away nonsense hard enough, they say, there is some kind of perfect existence to be found. An über-life path, completely determined and 'rational' which would immediately substantiate world peace and perfection, if only everyone would follow it.

    So far their methods to achieving this goal are comprised of shrieking at old people in nightly alleys like ghasts, and publishing lengthy 'daring critiques' of century-old religious texts.

  2. The Peregrine Club, an amateur writers' collective, spends its days in a dingy harbour town parlour, members preening themselves as they peer over books from the local store and nitpick like magpies at every piece and phrase. They don't bother to read them through first, or waste time on figuring out where the books actually came from. They just grab their hammers and overturn the box of nails. None of them have finished anything of their own, but it's sure to come soon and when it does it'll be...well it'd have to be perfect, really.

  3. The Circle for Exceptional and Gifted Children is a self-proclaimed "school-adjacent ensemble ensuring children's full use of their intellectual gifts." What they are, actually, is a gaggle of parents whose children aren't quite what they want them to be: too lazy, too slow, too distracted, too opinionated, and the list goes on. After all, they are the parents, so they'll damn well decide what part of their offspring is intelligence (the part that looks like them) and what part is indolence (the part that doesn't look like them).

    Schools regularly hire off-duty factory workers to repel the Circle for Exceptional and Gifted Children from their premises.
Art by René Magritte, 1952

Common Lolthic myth claims that after perfecting the surface, Lolth travelled underground to find more flawed things to correct, and that in her absence the upper regions have slouched back into disarray. However, this myth is often contested by the account that the other higher beings told her something really, really bad was down there that she had to see, to get her out of their hair, and that she has been fruitlessly searching for it in the bowels of the earth ever since.

Curiously both agree that Lolth is situated somewhere deep underground. Whether this is a metaphor for the obscurity of absence, or for death, or whether it is meant more literally is anyone's guess.

There is a theory among worshippers of Lolth that she has created a sanctum of perfection far under the earth, and that the Underdark is an imperfect 'spill' outwards from this legendary "Rose of Lolth": a sequence of imitation and bastardisation of Lolth's work by lesser things. Imagine that you copied the genius kid's homework shoddily, and then someone copied yours, and so on and so on until it became unrecognisable and completely broken. That sequence of horrors would be the Underdark.

Others say that the Underdark is Lolth's work. The thought of this theory being true scares most people, because that means either Lolth has gone off her rocker completely, or the shit that crawls around in there is somehow perfect. Come to think of it, the abominations of the Underdark are all frighteningly long-lived and resistant...

Monday, September 13, 2021

A Monstrous Commedia (Chopwood Opera Bestiary)

It is what it says on the can. A while ago I made the Chopwood Opera (or CHOPOP) combat rules. Now what are combat rules without stuff you can fight? An empty bowl, that's what. So get ready because soup's on, baby.

Art by Stepan Alekseev


A goblin is a kind of big corpse maggot that likes wearing tracksuits and snorting car exhaust. They have chalice- or bottle-shaped heads and big ears. A goblin's brain is only semisolid. Dried goblin heads are the compostable equivalent of plastic beer cups.

Head (L*), Body (L)
Fight Die 1d4


Horrible Crawling: 2 in 6, all parts, 2 hits.


  • When multiple goblins roll Fight Dice, the lowest rolls take the value of the second-lowest (if one goblin rolls 3, one 2, and two roll 1, the two rolling one also get 2)
  • Decapitating a Goblin is lethal only half of the time (flip a coin). A living goblin body can attach a new head of any species. If you have a cool head you are usually the boss goblin.
Random table of goblin armour:
  1. Anti-Spill Cap: 2 in 6, head, 3 hits.
  2. Four-Dimensional Hiccup: 1 in 6, all parts, 4 hits.
  3. Wrapped in Bike Chains: 2 in 6, body, 2 hits.
  4. Seafood Restaurant Internship: 1 in 6, body, 1 hit.
  5. Fake Head and Trenchcoat: 5 in 6, head, 1 hit.
  6. Looks Like It'll Blow Up: 3 in 6, head, 1 hit.


A labyrinth.

Entrance, Exit (L)
Fight Die 1d10


Wait, Where Are We?: 3 in 6, entrance, 4 hits.
Dead Ends: 5 in 6, exit, 4 hits.

  • You can only leave combat with a labyrinth when you land a hit on its entrance or its exit.
  • A labyrinth attacks all enemies in combat at once, simultaneously.
Random table of labyrinth armour:
  1. Time Fuckery: 3 in 6, entrance and exit, 3 hits.
  2. Sprawling Size: 1 in 6, entrance and exit, 4 hits.
  3. Fata Morgana: 5 in 6, exit, 1 hit.
  4. Quicksand: 2 in 6, entrance and exit, 2 hits.
  5. Plot-Relevant Mural: 4 in 6, exit, 1 hit.
  6. Another, Smaller Labyrinth: 1 in 6, exit, 1 hit.
Art by Jonas de Ro


It seems kind of ridiculous for this thing to exist. If you are familiar with the parasitic wasp talking point about the existence of god then it should be clear why: the Elephant Spider Death Hornet seems born to rattle theists. It's the size of an elephant but is a horrible spider, has long tusks, spits acid, eats its siblings in the womb, eats its partner during sex, has rabies, and doesn't wash hands. If you run into it, that means Mother Nature wants you whacked.

Limbs, Abdomen, Thorax (L), Head (L)
Fight Die 1d12


Spikes and Chitin: 3 in 6, all parts, 4 hits.
Oh God What The Fuck?!: 2 in 6, head, 2 hits.
Thrashing Pincers: 3 in 6, head, 2 hits.

  • The Elephant Spider Death Hornet ignores all armour based on fear.
Random table of Elephant Spider Death Hornet armour:
  1. Shifting Camouflage: 4 in 6, all parts, 2 hits.
  2. A Million Eggs: 2 in 6, abdomen and thorax, 4 hits.
  3. Airborne Paralytic Poison: 1 in 6, all parts, 3 hits.
  4. Mane of Porcupine Spikes: 3 in 6, head, 3 hits.
  5. Web-Filled Lair: 2 in 6, all parts, 4 hits.
  6. Hostage: 6 in 6, head and thorax, 1 hit.
Art by Jeff Easley


Hephaestus' infernal self-driving chariot. Car fossils have been hidden by the church for centuries, as they are proof of motorisation before Christ. With the help of modern science, it has been determined that they evolved when two guys on bicycles joined hands.

Wheels, Body, Engine Hood (L), Driver (L)
Fight Die 1d8


Metal Hide: 4 in 6, engine hood, driver and body, 4 hits.
Blinding Headlights: 2 in 6, engine hood and driver, 2 hits.

  • When a car dies from any other reason than its driver part being destroyed, the driver has a 1 in 2 chance (flip a coin) to escape the wreck and come after you while being pissed about the car you just totalled.
  • If the car is from the '80s or has a flame decal, it has a d10 fight die instead of d8.
Random table of car armour:
  1. Derby Helmet: 4 in 6, driver, 2 hits.
  2. Distracting Airbrushed Babe: 2 in 6, engine hood, 1 hit.
  3. Snow Tires: 3 in 6, wheels, 4 hits.
  4. Rear View Mirror: 1 in 6, driver, 1 hit.
  5. Dude, That's My Dad's Car: 2 in 6, all parts, 1 hit.
  6. NANI?! KANSEI DORIFTO?!: 5 in 6, all parts, 3 hits.


The revenant of a dead soldier, reclaimed by its bloodthirsty technology to continue War. It floats a foot above the ground. Instead of a head it has a long neck, gradually turning carbon-black and synthetic, ending in an assault rifle. It slowly hovers forward, the yellow dot of of its rifle sight glowing like an eye in the dark. It sees in burnt files, speaks in smoke grenade hisses.

Legs, Arms, Torso (L), Head.
Fight Die 1d6.


Military Gear: 3 in 6, all parts except head(s), 3 hits.
Necrotic Cyber-Flesh: 2 in 6, all parts, 4 hits.

  • Every time the Teloform Hydra takes a wound, it produces another head, up to three heads.
  • If a Teloform Hydra head is destroyed, either its legs or arms part transforms into another head.
  • A Teloform Hydra adds 2 to the size of its fight die for every head it possesses.
Random table of Teloform Hydra armour:
  1. Depleted Uranium Plating: 5 in 6, torso, 4 hits.
  2. Absolute Terror: 2 in 6, all parts, 4 hits.
  3. Berserk Nanomachines: 3 in 6, all parts, 3 hits.
  4. The Lights Are Flickering: 1 in 6, all parts except head(s), 4 hits.
  5. Red Flashbang: 5 in 6, all parts, 1 hit.
  6. Tumorous Regeneration: 2 in 6, all parts except head(s), 2 hits.


Lady of riddles. Often found perching on library doors or desert pass pillars. In the city, a young sphinx works her IT job where she sits behind a desk with a big coke zero and an oversized Matrix t-shirt on to cover her riddles. An old sphinx, the size of a mountain and supercooled in shadow compounds, feeds on worms that hunt the glimmering spine of God's nation.

Wings, Lion Half (L), Human Half (L), Riddle
Fight Die 1d8


Conundrum: 4 in 6, riddle, 3 hits.

  • As long as a Sphinx' riddle part is not destroyed, her other parts cannot be wounded.
Random table of Sphinx armour:
  1. Ptolemaean Plate: 4 in 6, human half, 3 hits.
  2. Bait Answers: 3 in 6, riddle, 1 hit.
  3. Being of Mass Encryption: 3 in 6, all parts, 4 hits.
  4. Chaos Mathematics: 5 in 6, riddle, 2 hits.
  5. Too Many Variables: 3 in 6, riddle, 2 hits.
  6. Cute Glasses: 1 in 6, human half, 1 hits.


These guys know their way around the block. They've been in this business for longer than you have and they do what they do best. Perfect clacking. Ineffable rattling. You know they're here because you saw the bones at the entrance posed just so. It's not just a routine, it's a performance. And they'll do it all again tomorrow.

Pesky Archers, Skeleton Mob.
Fight Die 1d8


Overwhelming Numbers: 6 in 6, skeleton mob, 4 hits.
Crypt Regalia: 3 in 6, boss skeleton (see below), 3 hits.

  • When a part of the skeletons is destroyed, reduce their fight die size by 2.
  • The first time the skeleton mob part takes a wound, the skeletons gain a new part called "Boss Skeleton (L)" and increase their fight die size by 4. 
Random table of skeletons armour:
  1. Get Back Here!: 3 in 6, pesky archers, 3 hits.
  2. Treacherous Catacombs: 1 in 6, all parts, 4 hits.
  3. They Reassemble: 2 in 6, skeleton mob, 4 hits.
  4. Power Word Fuck You: 5 in 6, boss skeleton, 2 hits.
  5. More Of These Fuckers, 6 in 6, pesky archers, 1 hit.
  6. Lich Hexes: 2 in 6, boss skeleton, 2 hits.


The sick son of a bitch keeps escaping you. Who knows when he'll kill again? Maybe he's right under your nose. He probably also killed your wife. Detectives' wives are notoriously killable. To make matters worse, you're on a train with seven other sleuths who could all be the murderer, one of whom is British and extremely condescending.

Crime Scene, Suspects, True Identity (L).
Fight Die 1d6


It Could Be Anyone: 6 in 6, true identity, 4 hits.

  • In the fight against the Mystery Killer, instead of your normal body parts, your parts are the other key characters in the mystery (which can only suffer one wound before being destroyed) and yourself. You are your lethal part and can suffer 2 wounds. You still die (are dismissed and lost to history) if you suffer more than 3 wounds.
Random table of mystery killer armour:
  1. Planted Evidence: 2 in 6, crime scene, 1 hit.
  2. A Devious Bunch: 1 in 6, suspects, 2 hits.
  3. Frustration: 3 in 6, suspects, 1 hit.
  4. Shadowy Chase: 4 in 6, true identity, 2 hits.
  5. My Own Short-Sightedness!: 1 in 6, all parts, 1 hit.
  6. One Last Trick: 3 in 6, true identity, 1 hit.
Giallo cover of Edgar Wallace's Council of Justice

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Urbs Rex

There were many beings, in the dark, slouching towards our finish line with torches to light the apocalypse. There were the old titans, the Never-Bodies, the hagfish in the spine of men. But first to light the fire was another. By destiny, or chance, by fickle nature of the universe and all the other layers beneath it. Its torch was orange, made of sodium. It cried pigeons and its belly was made of stone gargoyles. It breathed a low tremble of heat across the angles of the world. It was born in the first nest that insects made, and when we saw it there, its cruelty was clouded in a tiny size. When it was ours...theirs...they made it grow. And they sucked us into it. 

With the beacon of the apocalypse lit, the other racers will soon arrive. Their cars will roadkill the world, but for now, the first arrival is manifest alone. Its name is CaiROme, and LondOs ANgeles, and ShangaiabmuM and toKYOto and BdElhIjing DeDeDe Janeiro.

Its moniker:


Art from the game Let It Die

In the cities of the world, wells have appeared. Whole blocks have begun slowly moving to points wherein they disappear as though sliding behind a mirror. As the cities expand, their hearts are pushed into the wells and vanish. People, companies, structures. The things that disappear go to URBS REX.

URBS REX is algo-rythmic. Deep, and fake. A composite image. Whatever it eats is spliced into the whole as an example of what a city is. What people of a city are. What the layers of a city are. Its archaeological strata are both real and next to real: older layers of URBS REX are intertwined with historical ruins of cities and cultures that never existed.  Did something exist here once? Or did URBS REX put its remains there as part of its grand imitation? There is no answer, only deeper and more duplicitous history to question. The catacombs and subterranean ruins of URBS REX are filled with insane archaeologists and historians skittering and laying their eggs in the dark. They're returning to the first dwellers. The insects.

The people who appear in URBS REX, know they have always lived there. They are also new, in the way that the city is new. Some people make it through the algo-rhythm intact, but this is extremely rare. It is possible to drill holes into the world and arrive in URBS REX. That may spare you the cost of algo-rhythmic processing. But you must enter in a sacrificial bathyscaphe. This is dark magic, and it is dark because you will make others pay your price.


Always Election: In URBS REX, the election campaign for the city's mayor is infinite. Nobody ever gets elected, but while political parties have formed and fallen trying to get someone into that unattainable seat. If you were to become the mayor of URBS REX you would probably be the most powerful person in the world. Some people have gotten very close but saw things that destroyed their frame of thinking so badly they quit the race. Others took their place. 

If you're not one of the big candidates, it's just the industry of politics. But when you get into the big leagues, you enter the Game. A hundred femurs in a tuxedo. A dress that wears a human skin, in a black room with nothing but an Art Nouveau table lamp. They kill your allies in their dreams and inhabit their bodies. Your campaign manager is turned to pulp over lunch. These are your enemies now. Only with powerful dark magic can you survive here. Only with inhumanity can you delude yourself into thoughts of triumph when really, this is just a killing floor.

URPOL: like all major cities, URBS REX has a police corps operating on a bizarre, arbitrary matrix of legislation evolutionarily descended from a combine harvester. However, URPOL is fully ritualised. There is no law or crime in this city, only the act, the ritual, of policing. They are ghostly parades of identical floating frozen pseudo-men. Their erratic invasions have to be warded off using charms, phrases and symbols that resemble legislative material and are sold on street markets. It is dangerous to leave home uncharmed.

They form road blockades, made of chainworks of lead cops, smashed together in tangles that cause traffic to constantly rearrange. The powerful will perform unseen rituals of blood and silver to summon them on their enemies. 

They are made in a den deep in the city hidden from most human eyes. They abduct people and take them there, where they are questioned by creatures made of light, kept in dark cubes, and registered. It is referred to as 'The Station.' Survival is unlikely. To have a chance of escape you must deeply know them.

Because they know you.

The Industry Harbour: Where URBS REX connects to the sea that surrounds it, a titanic mass of smog-belching factories, processing plants and container ships has emerged. It's a constantly rolling tectonic layer, new industry rising from the sea and old being pushed inwards to the city to worm its way between everything and fill the deep crevices inside. URBS REX's supply chain is arcane. Not all companies are real or accounted for. They are only partially staffed by humans- just enough to see one once in a while, but few enough that an invisible substance separates them. The substance is like gelatin. It fills jobs that many of URBS REX's crawling humans would kill for. Taken, to be taken. Unavailable, to be unavailable. Inaccessibility is its sheer nature.

The container ships that enter through the corpulent mist around the city are unmanned: they're ghost vessels, piloted by the substance. From their underbelly hang long tubes that are like intestines or a giant's hair. They have great floodlight eyes. When they unload their cargo, they regurgitate

Fog horns give the harbour a cyclopean ambience. The few humans it employs may be nothing more than spectators to its alien rhythm. Its algo-rhythm.

  1. Dirty grey hail-snow-rain
  2. Rainstorm
  3. Replicant drizzle
  4. Flood rain
  5. Bleeding sunset
  6. Miami Vice reruns
  7. Copper
  8. Tokyo Night
  9. Sandblast winds
  10. Deep-fried Kebabosphere
  11. Pavement barbecue
  12. Smog
Art from Knights of Sidonia, by Tsutomu Nihei

Wednesday, July 14, 2021


 "Well done, Skeleton!"

In both GLOG and Dark Souls you will spend much of your time getting killed by things that are much bigger and meaner than you. This superficial likeness can mean only one thing, one fact of cosmological convergence:

Dark Souls is emo GLOG.

From the Dark Souls wiki. Unedited. I said, unedited.

(All GLOGgery is based on the  Many Rats on a Stick edition by Skreples)

A: Undead, Souls, Dodge Roll, Messages

B: Unlocks when you have 9 other templates and with your approval. Choose: Link Cycle or Break Cycle.

Starting equipment: sword, old cuirass (as leather), warm clay flask (heal 1d4, refill when resting at fire), torch.

Starting skills: Ruins, Firemaking

Undead: With each level you gain 1 max HP instead of 2. You start with half your Constitution instead of Constitution-4.

When you would normally die, you turn to ash, lose a class template and emerge from the mists around the last fire you personally lit. You lose templates in the reverse order that you gained them.

If you lose template A, you become a mindless undead (your character is lost).

The last template you lost remains at your place of death, hidden in your ashy remains, where you can find it again.

Souls: When you kill a creature that has at least double your max HP, you draw a great soul from its remains. You might also (very rarely) find great souls as loot.

There is a cool magical lady who is helping you on your quest. She speaks in mysterious solemn phrasings but you get the impression she doesn't have a lot to do and just likes you.

She'll follow you around at a safe distance, always staying out of danger. When you kneel and touch her hand, she can use her lady-of-the-lake-ishness to give you templates of other classes in exchange for great souls you've collected.

The template she offers depends on her mood. Every day, the magical lady has a random mood from the magical lady table. If you don't like the template she offers, you can try to hang on to your great soul for a day and see how things change.

The magical lady...

  1. eating baked sweets that a raven has brought her. They look tasty. (Thief)
  2. ...plays with a white fox. She laughs, but you feel cold. (Hunter)
  3. ...has found a grave of old, and is putting flowers on it. (Knight)
  4. listening to a conch shell to see if she hears the sea. You hear nothing. (Drowned Wizard)
  5. ...has found a nice spot to look at the clouds. It's windy. Her hair waves. (White Hand Wizard)
  6. making a pot of soup over a small fire. It's warm, at least. (Fighter)
  7. lighting candles at a dilapidated shrine. So that's who does it. (Pyromancer)
  8. ... contemplates an old skull. She looks at you the same way. (Tomb Ranger)

Dodge Roll: the bread and butter of your survival tactics. Once per round, you can move 5ft immediately, even to avoid an enemy attack. For every template you have above 2nd, you can do this one more time per round. If you are under any fear effect, the direction of this ability is random (1d8).

Messages: At any place, you can search for 10 minutes to find [templates] messages left by other sorry souls. The messages are composed by arranging any of the following parts:

Well done




Keep trying


Vision of




If only I had a



Hurray for







Break Cycle: End your game. Start a new one in a non-GLOG system.

Link Cycle: End your game. Start a new one in a different GLOG hack.

Thursday, June 17, 2021


I have no timeline. Not much I have written comes specifically before, or specifically after, anything else. However, there is something anchored at the start: the Dream Before Time, the Oneirean, where the fairies and the elves lived. A time when there were ideas instead of rules. Fathoms instead of fabric.

I've spoiled you with a beginning. Now in my hands turned to bones, and my bones turned to dust, and my dust turned to dark, I have for you an ending.

This is the Dream After Time, when all rules are destroyed, time is dead, and the world is made of nostalgia alone. This is the time when the trees have turned to earth and the seeds are still sleeping. 

This is the world that comes when the ORKUS has turned the universe to compost, and silvery wildflowers sprout from it in a dark night. This is the Dream Before Time, which is the Dream After Time, which is the Dream Before Time. The world of the lost. The world that cannot be found. A world made of the nostalgia of the dead, humous universe and thre dreams that grow on it.

This is the ORKWORLD []. The Oneirean. Spiritually, it is the last post on my blog. I'll make more, don't worry. But this is the last one. It's just ahead of schedule.

Art by Seb McKinnon

The ORKWORLD is not space. There are no planets or galaxies or anything like that. There is no strict sense of three-dimensional raum. There are things, and sometimes, there are other things. That is the best that can be said. Praying is as likely to get you somewhere as walking.

There is no sun. Sometimes there is light, but there is no sun. If there is light it is limited, local, making the sky a pearly, misty light-grey. It is very rare, and usually occurs when no one wants or needs it. Yet, the ORKWORLD is oddly verdant. Trees, grasses, wildflowers, swamps, algae, lichens, fungi. There is a strange luminescence to many things in the ORKWORLD. It keeps them defined in the dark, while some are completely hidden. There's water too. Dark lakes, frequent rain, rivers, ponds, marsh. It has a silent, mournful natural beauty.

The Fairies wander it, in their true forms, often tall as houses, as mountains. Robes of silver, morning and wind. Jewels of ice and the materials for which the sky cried. They have cities of unfathomable size, shimmering like ignis fatuus in the sky above the dark water moors. What they do there is unknown: even those few who keep fragmented memories of the dream have no clue. However, they bear themselves as though they have places to be. This dream-place is fuller to them than to anyone else. With what, is privy only to them.

The name of their capital is Aurora. This is the only knowledge ever succesfully transferred between faires and non-fairies. The elves are there too, like microscopic needles on the glimmering walls, bustling like ghost ants. They look free, and happy.

Somewhere in a cave, a large black bird with fur instead of feathers protects an egg. Death, and Life or the Red Queen, in their most diminuitive forms. They are powerless here, but will be carried like spores to the next world.

The souls stranded in the ORKWORLD are few and far between. They flock together in little groups, keeping each other warm. Or they walk alone through the everywhere, see the dream change, see the seeds of all things bud into pale flowers from the dark peat of billions of years of existence.

They will not remember this, even if they are born or die. They will swiftly be washed blank when a new everything is born. But as they are now, they are privy to see outside of existence. This is the dark between acts. The cosmic airfield bench at 4 AM, if there were grass growing from the concrete, and sleeping titans are hunchedly kneeling in the coffee bars.

Art by Erin Vest

The Orkus is here too, but it's not what it was and will be. It's no longer the Ur-Ghast, or the Urkhast, or the Orkus, or the Orghs, or the RhhgshIts black substance has no meaning in the Dream, so it's embodied by dark lakes, on which lily pads grow and under the surface of which white corpses in fine clothing stare up with Ophelian wist.

Unbound by its usual endless chore of eating the world, it has nothing to do but sit and think, so it has a consciousness too. It can talk, here. In the real world, such a thing is impossible. It has a personality: slow and melancholic, distrusting but wise in a way. It will rise up out of itself in a human form to speak with lost souls that take the time to converse. It means no destruction on the souls that inhabit the dream, only to ponder itself while it cannot know its nature. It appears as...
  1. An androgynous princeling in lilypad robes
  2. A long-haired lady in slender armour
  3. An old man with a beard as long as he, in rags
  4. A figure hidden under a white or black shroud entirely
  5. A crowned skeleton in jewelery and flowing robes
  6. A helmeted knight wearing overgrown plate
When the world is born, it will be named again, calling it from its own depths. The world will bear a fossil deep in its crust and from its calcareous mouth will drip the Ur-Ghast, into the veins that span the world, to kill it. Slowly.

Art by Isaak Levitan, 1889

Only when all is dead, in that pristine quiet, can the sleep be deep enough to dream. However, it's hard to say what, then, makes the dream end and reality return. Perhaps...

...Time and Matter and Energy are plotting among the reeds somewhere, polishing a stone that will break and unleash the world. 

...the vegetation of the ORKWORLD eventually grows so tall that it weaves the world from its canopy. 

...the fairies are doomed to repeat some fatal mistake each cycle, creating reality by accident, erasing their world and birthing ours.

...there is something that wakes it with a gentle whisper. Something that cannot be known at all, with a voice that reality cannot sleep through.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Little Stephie Earwick's Terrible No-Good Thoughts

"I am an ophtalmologist, precisely speaking. Which is to say, by day I oph, and by night I talm. Ophing I can do with my eyes closed, in fact I prefer it. But it's to talm that I need all the light that I can get."

- Earl T. Earwick, ophtalmologist, to his daughter Stephanie.

Stephanie Earwick, or Stephie if you're friendly, is a girl of ten-and-a-little. The youngest of three, she came after tall Violet and grouchy Evelyn. Her father is an eye surgeon and her mother is buried in the garden because the town cemetery is full.

Stephanie is also, as mister Earwick's contemporaries describe it so hamfistedly, 'sick with thought.' That is to say, Stephanie Erwick worries a lot. About everything. All the time. In fact, thanks to all these anxieties, Stephanie Earwick has built up so much pressure in her head that when she went to sleep one night, her thoughts blew out of her ears, slipped under her bedroom door and spread through the house like poison gas, creeping into the ears and noses and mouths of her sisters, her father, their maid, her mother. 

And so, the Earwick family was cursed.

Cursed so that ever since little Stephie went to sleep that night, her family was not to be her family. Instead they became the waking thoughts Stephie has about them, and Stephie Earwick is scared, terrified, of everything.

Art by Vasily Polenov, 1886

Whenever you (the players) arrive in town, this unfairness has already come to pass. It won't be any more fair to you. The best you can hope to do, perhaps, is to be fair to it. To them. However, they will try to kill you horribly, and you must survive.

You could always run and never return. You could.


Nerves. That's a strange remark but this is what's most remarkable about the town. It's full of nerves. White, wet, stringy and thin. Stepping on one makes your skin crawl, out of second-hand pain and discomfort. They cover the town like plant roots or a fungus. They smell of fish oil, preservative, and blood. They have labels on them too. Doctor's cursive has put names on the paper strips, and dates, and lengths and some markers you're not quite sure how to interpret. Conditions, maybe? Treatments? Every label has an 'O' or a 'T' on it too.

Sometimes, a long nerve will slither away suddenly. If you follow it, you'll find the slit under the door of the Earwick house slurping it up like a spaghetti string.

The town has an overfull graveyard, even from before the curse. There's an old factory. It made jars of mayonnaise sauce. The building has a flaky skin of posters about strike, about pay, about mayonnaise. Some of them suggest using the mayonnaise in recipes or substitutions that are downright awful. The inside is quite derelict. Stinks of rotting mayonnaise. You know how it gets all yellow? Acidic? Maybe a little tangy and brown? Like pus in a jar.

It looks like a place you could die in, that factory. Why the hell do you need a whole factory just to make mayonnaise anyway?

Chicken farms around the downtown area. They're quite large, muddy. They need the eggs, you'd guess. For the mayonnaise. They're still there alright, clucking away. You can hear them downtown, faintly.

There are no bodies, but many dragging marks. Abandoned newspapers, canes, shoes. Blood.


Once luxurious, perhaps. Although, no. There is a certain wealth there, but it's lean and thinly spread. It may have been more luxurious if the town had had more to give. If some had taken less. It's a large terraced house, with a simple garden surrounded by an iron fence. The garden hardly has any grass. It's long and it winds between skinny bushes and down some stone steps. There's a dead chicken in the front, and a gravestone. Open earth. It looks like someone was about to bury the chicken. Which is wrong, of course.

All doors and windows were barricaded. A black paint cross, like a headless man with raised arms, is splayed out across the front door. Wooden boards are torn, on the in- and outside. Windows smashed.

They came out.

Inside, it's like an intestine. A long corridor folded up in a cavity, that sometimes widens into a stomach or a kitchen. No house should be built like this. Probably wasn't. There are two empty mayonnaise jars in the kitchen. A third has a whole chicken crammed inside it.

There's so little light, even with all the broken windows. You quickly feel as though you're far, far away from the open air. There is more corridor, more intestine, than the house could possibly fit.

Thick bundles of the nerves you saw outside are laid out through the corridors. They're going somewhere.


The thing that sets the monsters of children apart from the monsters of adults, is not that they are less real, wicked, or terrible. They're plenty terrible. Some adults like to conceive that a childish imagination is, or should be, an innocent and harmless thing, because they themselves have lived blissful childhoods. This is false of course. In fact this assumption is a thought kissed by evil. After all, how can such a person treat the horrors of a young mind except with dismissal or revulsion?

The monsters of children are different from those of adults because they are less restrained. Most adults are excellent self-censors. Children, however, less so. Thus, their monsters do not need to make sense, or be decent, or explainable, or orthodox, or any such limitation that life experience may impose when the years come.

Bad Violet is ten feet tall and covered in spikes. She wears a dead dog wrung like a towel around her neck, her head is stuck in a bottle with her long black hair spilling out, and her hands are iron vises. She's accompanied by the Sod, a hulking muscular corpse of a man, whose head has been peeled halfway like an apple. He oozes mayonnaise, grease, oil and sweat in thick droplets. His skull is cracked open and instead of brains there is a stained life insurance form.

Bad Evelyn has long simian arms with bloodied knuckles. She's full of porcelain shards, and she's wrung out of shape by large swellings that ooze blood. Her bottom half is the head and front legs of a giant spider. She doesn't speak, only screams like a monkey. She has about the same behaviours.

Bad Mum is a skinless corpse that flies around the house, banging against the walls, like a high speed baseball that never slows down. Splat! Splat! Splat!

Bad Margery is soaked with water as if drowned, bloated, and smells strongly of grimy soap and urine. Her face is made entirely of long teeth making something that is a smile only in name. She can open like an iron maiden, and when someone is inside, boil them into paste while blowing steam like a kettle.

Then there's the last one...

The Bad Doctor, which was once Dr. Earl T. Earwick, is like a spider weaving its web with nerves. It is half-mechanical, made of amalgamations of surgery tools and other medical equipment, innervated by long strands of webbed branched-out spinal chord and spindly bundles of sinew. At its middle the flesh of Dr. Earwick is split along its limbs to reveal the nerves that weave across its mechanical body. It still wears its glasses, but also a fixated, strained grin that Dr. Earwick never wore a day in his life.

It lives in the heart of the house, an enormous cavity into which all hallways and nerves that ran through them emerge. This dark space is filled with the pale sinewous webbing and sporadic bodies, half-alive and hanging by their face which is opened to allow the nerves to exit and spread out. A great cluster of the bodies hangs suspended in the middle like a corpulent fly in a way. On it sits, disembodied, Stephie Earwick's bedroom. She has locked herself inside.

At any point while in the town, the Bad Doctor may attempt to abduct players, kill them and take them to its lair to add to its nauseating web cathedral. It will, however, retreat quickly if at all in danger or outnumbered. It is an ambush predator. Only in its lair will it fight to the death, at massive terrain advantage.

The Bad Doctor performs terrible experiments on the townspeople in his lair. They have no goal, no purpose. He simply practices aimless surgery, as seen through the eyes of a child who cannot rhyme its horrific appearance with its alleged purpose.

That is the dungeon of fear that traps a single terrified soul.

Will you brave it all, to save one child whose mind may have given out already?

Art by Jon Klassen

Monday, March 8, 2021

The Troll Eater Act 1: Forestia

"I live where the drum beats in the belly of God, Lipula. I live in the house of wood with the floor of skulls, I hold my banquets there, Lipula. I fear my shadow wants to live in me, Lipula. My shadow speaks in growls and sends two legions of flies drink of my chalice, Lipula.  Lipula tell me will I live for long? Lipula tell me will I stay for long? Lipula will you not come to the hall, Lipula? Lipula will you not eat with me, Lipula?"

Song echoing from the mountains, only heard when alone. 

It's a powerful call. Many fear it. If your game takes place somehwere like this, in a place of great mountains and trees larger than they ought to be, in a place where the earth growls, then the players might heed it.

Reasons to answer the call:

  • There are so many questions. Dangerous questions. You can't resist the allure of this morbid, visceral mystery.
  • The call makes children scared and animals violent. The sheep are being eaten, not by wolves, but by deer. Someone must protect the village. The call must be silenced.
  • The call is making burial earth churn and old bones reemerge, carried by processions of insects. It's disturbing the souls of the dead. Peace must be restored.
  • The call is deep. It speaks to your guts. It beckons something deep inside you that feels powerful. Untamed. You want to indulge that feeling.
  • The song is like the smell of honey and grease to you. You are lean, hungry, and it will feed you.
  • You are destroyed. Bereft and broken. It is all that speaks to you now.
  • ...

If you want to answer this call, you'll have to travel into the forest that grows against the mountains. Dark and musty beings await you there. Skins of men that travel across the treetops. The Nillijders, five forest kings old and young dwelling in their cave with the court of fairies. Women who sweat blood. Bones between human and animal, and the roots that cradle them like eggs. The smell of lavender, which does not grow here. Your goal is to find the house with the floor of skulls, where the call comes from. 

At any point you can isolate yourself to listen to the call, and see whether it has grown louder or softer. This is your compass.

The Troll Eater is an adventure presented in three parts, or acts. This first act describes the forest you have to go through to find the eponymous Troll Eater. The next will describe the Troll Eater's lair and what it has in store for you. The third and final part will make itself apparent as it comes.

Chopwood Opera, my previous post, was born from the combat mechanics of a dead game. This adventure is born from the lore and setting of it. Credit to Vulnavia from the Lovely Dark for making stuff so good I felt I had no choice but to write this. If you want a game system crucible to pour this post into, Charlie F-A's Into the Wyrd and Wild is perfect.

Content warning: Annihilation meets A Field in England.

Art by Sergey Averkin

The forest adheres to a few principles. That is to say, the druids and hermits of the forest have gathered from its savage phenomena a set of through-lines that appear to underpin their observations and rites. They Incorrect, perhaps. Or rather, drawn crudely on copying paper laid over an alien web. They are the product of druid mythology surrounding the forest, which is just that: a mythology. The forest does not obey them. It isn't dictated by them. At best it is described by them.

They are:

“All things are in a cycle above and below. Below, the earth: slow, dead, the object, the substrate. It exists in more shapes than the red, and more colours. It has a million mouths that the flesh cannot see. It breathes so deeply that it does not breathe. It moves so slowly that it does not move. The Nillijders live in its skull.” 

Death, Decay, Soil, Subduing, Rest, Plants, Silence

"A forest is the feeding organ of the dead. It is a site of fundamental bereavement and consumption. The woodland animals lick the leftovers off the lips of the earth. It is also like a brain. The thoughts of the dead are the cries in the forest at night, racing like banshees across the treetops. You will not know when it is digests you on its spiral tongue."

Confusion, Obfuscation, Maze, Forlorn, Tragedy, Loss, Secrets Kept

"All things are in a cycle below and above. Above, the flesh: rapid and alive, the subject, the savage self-instrument. The giantess Ividraud has borne the red from her blood and her seed. Flesh is a substance that the kings would not accept, so they chase it on its heels until it is exhausted, and dies.

Life, Body, Blood, Animals, Fear, Ecstasy, Fever

"There are warriors who eat the fallen antlers of stags, ground into powder that they pour into their gullet like sand and then spit at each other. The older ones do not grind them but swallow them whole, which destroys their innards. This turns them into creatures that can kill with a finger, but starve in a week."

Decision, Violence, Dominance, Contest, Weapon, Battle, Hate

"Inside an inside, there is another inside. In a wound you will find thin tubes of white meat that are like ways through the unknown. Robbers crawl in them, thieves. The birds have sharp beaks, thin like wires and long as an arm, to stick into the tubes and eat the things that travel from corpse to corpse. As they tear them apart, more tubes spill from their body."

Entry, Key, Invasion, Theft, Defence Pierced, Uninvited Guest, Travel

"When a body dies its spirit leaves it, crawls out of its mouth and flies away as a white-pink moth. Bugs are the bastard children of the spirits and the souls of other things. A corpse that swallows enough insects will stand and its eyes will turn scaled, and the eyes will grow bushels of long antennae and the words of this apparition will be the language of the soul."

Lure, Spirit, Ghost, Poison, Transformation, Congregation, Infection

“This Principle is wrong. It has never been agreed upon by druids, but over time, it has been found in every list, every diagram, every calendar. It has been called Cave, Mouth, Pit, and many other names. Where does it come from? Why is it always here?”

Mistake, Transgression, Abnormality, Fault, Fluke, Vestige

Art by Akeussel

As you travel through the forest, following the sound of the call, you will encounter many manifestations of the forest. Here are a few:

D10 Phenomena
  1. Roots of a tree lie exposed. They twist among each other like the knots in a brain. When you leave and come back, the pattern has changed. The third time you return, the tree is dead and mushrooms grow from its rotting bark. The fourth, it is expelling a human skeleton. The fifth, the tree is gone.
  2. A fleshy hole hovers in the air. It expands and contracts rhythmically like slow breathing. Anything you throw in disappears. If you crawl into it, you see a vision, and then flip a coin. If you roll heads, you die and the next four animals the rest of the party encounter have part of your body merged with them. If you land tails, you are born to an animal the party encounters the next day, both you and animal unharmed.
  3. When you find an animal carcass or make a wound on something, the wound spills out stringy white worms, thin like hairs. Anyone who touches them, contracts Heronway. If left alone they exit the wound they protrude from, and move across the forest floor in unison like a white rustling doormat.
  4. A cobblestone hut that's devoid of people. Inside is an anvil, a hammer resting on it, and a mountain of bones. They have been smashed between the hammer and the anvil. Some are broken, but some are bent like metal bars.
  5. Five standing stones, resembling tall and lean naked male human figures, each well over 8 feet tall, each one embracing itself giving it a pillar-like appearance. They all have flower crowns set on their heads, in various states of decay. When it is full moon they all clatter their teeth for a full hour in the middle of the night, then stop.
  6. You see a creature, seemingly humanoid but appearing made of densely knotted organ meat or carapace. A troll. It quickly removes itself from your vicinity. If you pursue it you will get lost in the forest, and there will be obstacles to overcome if you want to find your way back to your previous route.
  7. A group of pale white-pink moths sit on trees in the area you are in. If you kill one, the next human you meet will be empty: they will be a stark skin, full of nothing. If you eat one, you are not alone in your head anymore. There is another thing, a horrible thing. You get a vision every time you sleep until someone drills a hole into your skull to let out a white-pink moth. If they let out two, all your flesh and bones inside your skin are compressed into a ball (you die).
  8. A 6 foot high wheel of tree roots rolls through the forest, crushing undergrowth and animals getting in its way. If you chase it, it will stop at twilight, open like a flower, and release the smell of lavender. Inside is a dead wolf whose head is twisted into a knot. Touching the wolf gives you a vision and then peels the limb you touch it with like a fruit. The wolf carcass then moves horizontally sideways, unmoving and hovering, until it hits an obstacle which presses it flat.
  9.  ♫ Song bird song bird where have you been, I've been waiting foooor bird song bird songgnos drgnbibngrd where haah erehw foooor youuu... ♪ 
  10. A thin brook. It clatters over rocks smoothened by its running. At one point it drops down into a hole into the ground. Anything you drop down this hole disappears. If you force your head down this hole, your skin and then muscle begin to run like water, down the hole. Bones drop in too. Party members will see insects the next day carrying your teeth and building a tiny house with them. Drinking from it, it is just normal water.
Art by me!

D10 Monsters
  1. A raw and skinless creature, hopping around, four feet tall, and shaped like a big human heart on two legs, with thin arms dangling from the middle. It may look ridiculous, but it beats as it jumps around, which is an eardrum-rending and rib-cracking sound if you are too close. Comes in groups.
  2. Appears as a lithe young woman with translucent-pale skin and (body) hair, concealed by a mantle of skinless bleeding arms that sprout from its collarbone, by which it does not seem weighed down by in its prancing and laughing. Potent, nauseating musk. Eight feet tall. Wears entrails as scarves and clothing, otherwise naked.
  3. A long centipede made of frontal wolf halves, each back half being swallowed by the maw of the next wolf. Total length unknown. Possibly circular.
  4. Person in warrior's garb ravaged by stag antler jammed into their body via the mouth. Head hidden by copious horn and bone spike growth. Blind. Its fingers, with bear claws, pass through armour and clothing. Kills everything it encounters. Dies after a few days from starvation.
  5. A human skin, rubbery and outstretched in the length, and a face that has no features except for a maze of gyres. Lives among the trees, where it stretches itself out between branches and trunks. When travellers appear it whips them with the branches and twigs or pulls them by the neck into the treetops, and strangles them.
  6. Something like a large flatworm, its back earth-like and camouflaged to look like a dirt path, concealing many bear trap-like jaws that are ready to spring open once an unwitting animal or traveller walks on it. Its underside looks like an outstretched human skin, face and all.
  7. You see the moon among the trees. It shouldn't be there. But it is. When you get close enough the dark around it becomes an enormous black wolf/bear-like creature's head and swallows you together with the moon. The next night will have no moon in the sky and your head, gnawed, will show up floating in a pond during the next full moon.
  8. Naked humans with membranes between their arms and legs. Hover in the sky just above the treetops, slowly moving, limbs outstretched but not flapping them. Do not attack and seem in a coma state.
  9. A chalice made of fungus-like material that runs across the forest floor on four small legs. Filled with black thick liquid. Will flee from you. When you drink the liquid, you can fly for an hour. Humans who fly become obsessed with it. If you haven't gone back to the ground after an hour you become the above listed creature (entry 8).
  10. Skinny white three feet tall human with a black boulder the size of a beach ball as a head. If you crack open the rock, you will find a skinless head of roughly the same size. Wants to steal your food, to feed birds with it.
Art by Calder Moore

D6 Infections:
  1. Many thin white worms, hair-like in size, fester in a wound. Those able can travel through the worms between two different creatures infected by Heronway. Cured by eating poison to drive out the worms, then taking an antidote.
  2. Quickly spreading skin mould that looks like mangy pelt. Craving for raw meat. Cured by cauterising the infected skin.
  3. Blood becomes filled with small fish, crustaceans, river insects. Matter of time until one grows big enough to clog an artery and give you a stroke. Cured by bloodletting.
  4. Hallucinations, invasive manic thoughts, and fever for a day. Then you lay an egg. The egg is white, slightly larger than a chicken's. Roll d6: if 1-5 it contains black, viscous fluid that stinks immensely. If 6 the egg seems unbreakable, keeps growing until barrel-sized, then hatches into a child version of you. The child does not speak any language you know or can understand, but otherwise behaves normally. Cured by laying the egg.
  5. Swelling of the chest cavity until twice its normal size. Chest heats up progressively until boiling, which blisters the skin. Cured by swallowing a spoon.
  6. Extreme paranoia about the reason why and how you are alive. Your notion of individuals erodes. Everything is made up of more life: fungi, bacteria, and so on. It's a recursive fractal, and also one single thing. Visions of a giantess walking around the forest, the trees reaching to her knees. Cured by a near-death experience.
D20 Visions:
  1. Vision of a long dark hallway full of fungal aggregates of tiny red humanoid shapes. Inhaling sound.
  2. Feeling of warm breath in face, overpowering odour of iron, salt, decay. Sound of wind rushing through tunnel.
  3. Memory that isn’t yours, lingering in your head, then it suddenly disappears.
  4. Feeling of warm soup or broth filling your mouth, when opened only releases strong smell of lavender
  5. Silent but sharp vision of bearded bald man screaming as bright white light hatches from his splitting head.
  6. Others suddenly all smell like blood. Who are they? What are they, really?
  7. Deafening scream of deep-voiced woman. Smell of blood. Sky, if visible, briefly turns red.
  8. Vision of white-cloaked figure, viscera and blood spilling from underneath cloak. Feeling of grass brushing against legs. 
  9. Overwhelming stench of carrion. Loud sounds of hammer striking anvil.
  10. Brief notion of unreality, urge to escape without knowing the prison.
  11. Deep feeling of fever and heat, short amnesia episode. 
  12. Sound between human and horselike scream. Smell of salt and potash.
  13. Everything silenced. Smell of wet leaves and blood. Voice says: “Oh, it’s you again.”
  14. Feeling of warm, wet hands on body. More than two. Sound of clacking teeth. 
  15. Sudden impression that there is one more person with you than there is. 
  16. Vision of small squat pale gremlin sitting on white rock, chewing on skinless head. Overwhelming smell of lavender.
  17. Everything feels wet, even stone, and it pulses. Touch becomes taste, taste of iron. 
  18. Vision of feral woman writing in book with own blood tears. Sound of many insect wings flapping.
  19. Feeling of embrace, so tight it presses the air from your lungs. Smell of body odour and blood.
  20. Singing voice: “Song bird song bird where have you gone, I’ve been waiting for youuu
Art by Ivan Shishkin
D6 Conditions for finding the house with the skull floor:
  1. All but one member of the original party have died, disappeared, or been replaced with new characters.
  2. An in-game month has passed.
  3. Three recurring monsters have been defeated
  4. All characters have accepted that they will not leave the forest, dead or alive.
  5. All characters die at exactly the same time. They then wake up, alive, in front of the house.
  6. The players have gotten used to the forest and it is time for new things to keep them invested.