Thursday, June 20, 2019

Parasites and Afflictions of the Elf

I initially thought that with my first and second post, I'd have said enough about bizarre aphid-like clonal elves. However, an astute commentor on the red post gave me the brilliant idea of making some plague-taken elf encounters. So, that's what this is about. The curious, tragic and aesthetically entrancing interplay between horrible disease, and beautiful creatures.

There are a few particular parasites and sicknesses that have been ails to the elves for generations, lurking in the shadow of their luminous forms with with mould-cloak and virus-dagger. After all, the gene reshuffle of the red form only ascertains their untouchability for so long, and these cunning parasites are the first to regain entry to the sanctuaries of the elf. When a trace or symptom of any of these is detected, the victim is immediately killed and incinerated, and the whole enclave is maniacally sanitised. There are many mythic depictions of these illnesses in Elven culture despite its fragmented nature (due to "Elven culture" being just a collection of many cases of hyperisolated mini-cultures). 


Wolfsnow is an airborne mould, drifting through the air and growing in beige-white fuzzy spots on the skin resembling snowflakes. For elves, given their stark white skin, this is very hard to spot, only clear when the mould starts secreting its blood-red pearls of bird- and insect-attracting liquid, which it uses to infect birds and flying insects and spread itself through flaking off them, and ending up on carrion that other creatures may feed off of.

Creatures infected by Wolfsnow become covered in the white snow-like mildew, oozing sweet-smelling dark red syrup substance like blood. They cough terribly since the mould is in their lungs, and this sounds like barking. The fungus will continually be flaking off them, leaving a trail of floating snow in the air. When infection is strong, the victim is compelled to climb trees and seek high places- this allows the flakes to spread better with the wind. Wolfsnow is both hard to eradicate, and spreads very easily once one or a few victims of considerable size have been infected. Wolfsnow infects almost any animal, not just elves.

Areas heavily infected by Wolfsnow become eerie fake winter landscapes soiled with dark red "blood", a layer of fungus flakes covering the ground and floating in the air like falling snow. The area is absolutely rife with flying, buzzing insects attracted to the syrup. Corpses of its inhabitants hang in trees and are heaped on top of tall buildings, or are collapsed on stairs and ladders, spreading more fungus on the wind. Barking choughs of the few still living victims echo in between the buzzing. Everything smells of syrup and carrion.

The fresh, minty and clinical air in elven settlements is caused by the powerful fungus-killing detergent they vaporise everywhere. Insects that attempt to enter are turned to ash by magic. This is effective, but not flawlessly foolproof.


For a long time Elves thought Dryaditis is caused by an unbalanced diet and excessive consumption of fiber, which even to this day they pretend to all believe to socially enforce good eating habits. Elves micromanage their diets, as is to be expected from them, and generally don't eat meat, not out of empathy or pity for animals (in fact they tend to find them disgusting), but out of fear for parasites and such. Ironically enough the only kind of meat elves find somewhat acceptable to eat, because they are certain it is free of disease, is, well, Elf meat. There are some grisly stories to tell about that. But another time, another place.

In truth Dryaditis is caused by a beetle, Scolytus incubus, which has a symbiotic and parasitic lifestyle. It comes in many variants, all linked to species of its partner in crime, the Lamiasalix genus of trees. The beetle obtains a seed of the tree, and then carries the seed around until it finds an appropriate host, namely an unsuspecting elf. Once ready, it flies at her with the seed clutched to its thorax, and with its bore-like mandibles, burrows into her skin, inserting both the seed and its eggs into the wound, and secreting a clotting agent to prevent them from being removed with ease. The beetle dies there, as an additional obstruction to clawing fingers.

As you have probably guessed, the tree seed, when it finds itself in sufficiently warm conditions, buds and grows at an abnormal speed, consuming the elf for biomass. Not awfully efficient, but efficient enough to produce some sturdy branches with plenty of leaves that bear spores for the sexual generation of the tree (which looks like a relatively normal tree). Now, the beetle's eggs are in there too, ending up as little galls on the branches, and once they hatch, the larvae have an immediate supply of the leaves they need to eat. They'll metamorphosise, and scuttle away, carrying the spores around as they go. They pick up the seeds of the non-parasitic trees, mate somewhere along the way to produce eggs, and there you have it, the circle is round. The awful, disgusting circle of nature. Charming!

What does this mean in practice? You'd think that one elf turning into a tree isn't exactly a community-wide issue and quickly incinerat- er, cured. Well, unfortunately the buggering beetles, when the trees deposit their seeds, are all looking for an elf nanny to take care of their precious babies. And since elven communities are so sparse, they flock to them in droves when they do. The result is either a beetle genocide if the elves are lucky, or a pristine shining city full of listless emaciated bug-hive tree-zombies if they aren't.

What do elves do against this? Well, they always have ungodly amounts of pesticides at the ready. In fact, the soil of elven enclaves is already one of the most poisonous forms of dirt you can find anywhere, since they empty watering cans of bug killer onto it. Drinking water that's been within a mile or so of them is highly ill-advised.

Art by Anja Millen
Chemical Poisoning

That's right. Not another fantastical parasite. I was writing this and thought, well, you can probably come up with some viruses and shit on your own. And this post is already pretty long. So I think I'll devote short paragraph to perhaps the most common affliction among elves. Chemical poisoning. And don't be mistaken, they do it themselves. This post has made clear that their enclaves are swamped with pesticides, fungicides, everything-icides. They purify everything extremely harshly of any infection or bacterium. However, that leads to many elves, especially the very old ones who are the most germaphobic, having irritated and bloodshot eyes, being constantly nervous, having frayed and sickly-looking hair or even going bald. They cover this up with layers and layers of cosmetics and wigs and all such things, because they're awfully fond of their beauty. In fact they're much like victorians in the time where there was still mercury and lead in make-up and such things.

Every once in a while an Elven encale is suddenly completely wiped out, without a trace of disease or violence or any such thing. The unfortunate truth of these cases is that, well, they got so poisoned by their own cleaning chemicals that they became infertile. And if you have to give birth to yourself every week to survive, well...

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Psychedelic and Poisonous Terrors of the Jungle

This post is technically an addition to the pseudo-Caribbean setting of The Lawful Neutral, where the Old world meets the New one.

Because I am gracious, even if you are a thin blooded gaunt and a worm-spined egg stealer and therefore will not explore this setting’s other posts, everything in this one should still be clear enough to use. If you are however of fair heart, look here for the setting’s idea, here for the background generator, here for a guide to Hoodoo.

Here’s a quick thematic summary, for the egg stealers.

In the Old World, there’s no wilderness left. No real wilderness. The King of Woods, the King of Beasts, the whole lot all have nature on schedule, playing neatly to the pan-flute tunes of the monarchs that preside over it. The boars and eagles and fish and bugs may as well be dancers in masks, all choregraphed to the neatly designed dance of how nature ought to behave- for it is only proper. Nature will never be a problem in the Old World, it’s just a scenery. A décor.

In the New World, there are the gods, or perhaps it is more appropriate to call them spirits, or loa, or kami, or something along those lines. Their relation to the land is much less one-directional. Are they the spiritual expression of a nature both physically and metaphysically untamed? Is the wilderness the material vessel of the capriciousness of the spirits? This question remains unanswered, for a large part because it is of little importance to the native population. They are much more concerned with surviving yet another plague of giant wasps whose venom turns your bones and teeth into sugar crystal. Hence, their approach to the matter of theology is very different from that of the Old World. Here, the best people can hope for is to placate the gods, to please them and to coax from them the safety of one’s people and the blessing of the jungle’s bounty. Priests, spirit doctors, mambos and houngans are first and foremost skilled in dialectic between worlds to maintain a relationship with the spirits where the wasps only come if someone deserved it.

That's the idea. Now I can talk about what I want to talk about. The unknown. The terror. The wilderness. THE JUNGLE.

art by Henri Rousseau, 1907
The landscapes, fauna and flora of the New World's continent are fucking bizarre. The jungle is a mishmash of landscapes that squeeze out the minds of dandy Old World explorers into their own eyes like extra sour death lemons. Not only is the nature completely different from anything native to the continent the settlers came from, even the laws of physics have little say over this place.

Here are some places you could find in the jungle:

Shadow forests where there are no animals, but only the shadows of them. The canopy is your best protection against the tiger and snake shadows that are eager to rip you to pieces once you enter the light. The shadow figures you make with your hands become actual animals here. Be careful when making a fire, because where there is light, the predators can exist. If they kill your shadow you're bound to the forest. You have no shadow anymore and can't leave. There's a ritual fire you can make that if you light it in front of you, you'll regain a shadow- but it also works backwards, making real tigers to fit any shadow that enters its light.

Dream-cities, places where old explorers or natives have died, and the plant(?) called Li Ki Bati has taken seed in their brain to form parts of life-sized buildings using their memory by eating their dying soul. Because of this it rains a lot in dream-cities. The buildings are usually not complete and different pieces of architecture interlock to become a ruin that never was anything more than a ruin. Inside the buildings it is incredibly cold, and there grow many flowers that are typically of the colours Cosimand, Vanta-white, or just orange, and they grow fruit that attracts Li Ki Manje, who eats humans and looks like a giant-moth-komodo-dragon-man.

Blood Swamps are filled with insects and flies that eat carrion, and most of the bigger animals that live there are animated skins cut open at the stomach. They fly like kites. The swamp itself is filled with the innards of these creatures, the water is reddened with blood and stray organs and such float in it. They are all connected, like a web of water plants or a mangrove of entrails. Lots of colourful flowers bloom from them and there are human skins that ferry through the swamps with boats made of all the bones of the native animals. Beware the dense muscle dredges: they're like quicksand except, well, undulating muscle. On brain islands, there grows a herb with broad purple leaves that induces a spirit trance when chewed.

Art by Arthur Gurin
Tower mangroves have only a sparse amount of trees, but they all go infinitely high up. That's not a superlative. They keep going. When they're sawed through, they don't fall down but hover in place, and faceless grey apes come up from the water to repair the cut with the mangrove's mud. When it dries and falls off the cut is healed. A mangrove ape's hand makes crops bear plentiful fruit when it is buried in a field, but they come up in gangs, have the terrific strength you would expect of an ape, and their saliva is paralytic. Some of the trees are hollow and filled with water. Fish swim up and down them.

Siga Yo de Grans Bwa are thick hollow pillars the size of skyscrapers, made of dried mud and solidified basalt, and underneath them is an active volcano. Inside, where it is very hot and filled with smoke and ash, live petro spirits who can cause forest fires, and giant termites who drink rum that they brew to appease the spirits so they don't possess them. If you breathe in the ash a spirit can possess you and make you act rash and hot-headed and possibly commit arson. At the base of the pillars everything is petrified by the heat and constant ash clouds, but the Pompeii-ified animals can become possessed by the local petro.

Flat forests are like if you had found yourself in a giant pop-up book. Everything is flat. The trees, the plants, the rocks are all flat, and they seem to turn so that you are always facing their front if you look at them (they appear to do this for everyone at the same time). If you have a head in both worlds (are a sorcerer or a Vodou/Hoodoo priest), or you possess the eyeballs of one, you can avoid this trickery by walking backwards. On the backs of the flat scenery lizards with dragonfly wings sunbathe, and on some the back is a horrific face that will insult you and put a curse on you if you look at it and will try to eat you if you come close.

Starry Lakes are lakes that are mostly shrouded in the canopy of trees with broad thick palm-like leaves that grow out of the water. Where the water is in the shadow it looks like a starry night sky, and you can only paddle through it if your boat has a live bird on it, else it will fall downwards into the upside down sky. There are islands in these that are made of a red rock which is hot like coals to the touch. On them live white crocodiles that turn into constellations when they dive into the lake. Touching the sky-water affects you with radiation (constitution damage) and frostbite.

In dinner gardens there are birds called Koulè San Fen, which have psychedelically colourful patterns on their feathers and eat only the fruit of an pomegranate-like tree and the meat of dead monkeys. What kills the monkeys is unknown, but they always appear boiled or grilled expertly, served with fruit and sauce and a glass of port wine on a set table. If there suddenly appears a seasoned monkey in the garden, leave it to the Koulè San Fen. If you sleep here, there is a chance you wake up cooked and being eaten by pretty birds. The boiled monkeys are called Makak Dine Yo. If you eat one, you will become a cannibal and your children will have the faces of monkeys. The Koulè San Fen will also be royally pissed.

Art by Henri Rousseau, 1910
That should give you an idea. Also, a lot of things in the jungle are poisonous. Flowers or plants, the bite/sting/claw/spikes/eyes/touch/sound of an animal, the water of a lake, the water of the rain, the sunlight, the shadow, the air, all kinds of things could be a terrible venom to outsiders.

Here are some things those venoms might do to you:

Turn your bones and teeth into sugar
Make you delirious and give you a fever
Make you vomit fire
Add vertebrae to your spine until you rip in two
Make you very drunk
Turn your eyes inside out (blindness)
Give you gangrene
Turn your flesh into papery layers like a wasp’s nest
Give you haemorrhage so bad your bloods runs out of every pore
Skin you over the course of a week
Eat away your memories
Make your face less and less pronounced until it is gone
Make a baboon burst from your chest cavity
Turn your nails and fingers into beetles (they grow back and do it again)
Lurch you into another dimension
Slowly cleave your spirit from your body
Make you sweat petrol
Make your teeth grow stuck together
Make you possessed by spirits
Turn your skin hard like an oyster shell

Every poison has a cure, however, the cure tends to be some obscure plant that grows in a dangerous place, or something like aged hippo manure. Spirits could cure a poison for you as well, if you can please them enough.

Friday, June 14, 2019

...But the Blade was Poisoned! D20 Duel Twists

I’m making this small post because I remembered a book I read as a child. It was a Dutch book, so even if I could recall the title it would be of little use to most of you. It had two princes in it: Iridian, the good prince, and Viridian, the evil prince. I remember that at one point, they met, and curiously enough, they were both dressed in shiny white armour, and telling which was which was difficult for both the protagonist and the reader. At the end of the first book, they proceeded to have a duel. For the crown, assumedly, though my memory is hazy on their motivations. Suffice it to say that since they were the good and evil prince, it had to come of it eventually. (Assumedly) Iridian kills (assumedly) Viridian during the fight, but not before suffering a wound himself. And after the fight, Iridian falls gravely ill- it should come as no surprise, that Viridian had poisoned his sword, if anything to spite his brother.

From The Princess Bride (1987)
This was my first encounter with the classic intrigue that tends to arise from duels with a less than honourable opponent. “The sword was poisoned!” is one of the many tricks a villain can pull in such a situation, showcasing how deplorable they are by using underhanded and cowardly tricks like poison or witchcraft. I also happen to love this kind of thing. It’s very operatic, very Shakespearian.

It’s a good way to get players to dislike a villain- nobody likes a cheater.

So here’s 20 nasty tricks to turn the tide in duels. Mind, I’ve written it in such a way that most of them are applicable to any kind of duel. Swordfight in harness, Victorian pistol duel, and so on.

The villain’s weapon is poisoned with a rare and difficult to detect venom, the cure to which is equally hard to find.
The villain uses dark magic or poison to make the hero hallucinate their worst fears during the fight!
The villain has a secret crossbow assassin positioned in a nearby hiding spot to shoot the hero if the villain’s defeat is imminent!
The duel is meant to stall the hero and draw everyone’s attention while the villain’s forces carry out their much more important plan!
The hero’s weapon has been sabotaged! In the middle of the fight, it will suddenly fail to function properly leaving them exposed!
As above, but it’s a double bluff! The villain will tell the hero of the above mid-fight, hoping they will hastily forfeit to go stop this ongoing plan, while the villain’s goal is to have the hero forfeit the duel! Whether the other plan is real or not is of little importance.
The villain has kidnapped someone dear to the hero and reveals this to them at the start of the duel! If the hero doesn’t lose, their loved one will be killed!
The hero’s blade is secretly poisoned, and it will react spectacularly when the villain is hit, making it clear the hero has ‘cheated’! The villain or his accomplices of course carry an antidote in advance.
The villain arrives in obscuring armour or clothing- because they aren’t the villain at all, but a much more competent fighter in disguise!
The villain expertly fakes their death, and strikes at the hero when they’ve lowered their guard!
The hero’s armour or clothes have been laced with poison! They’re progressively weakened as the fight draws on!
The villain uses smoke or kicked up sand to blind the hero or at least impair their vision while the judge is distracted, in order to deal a vicious blow!
The villain has poisoned a nearby loved one of the hero, and hands the hero the antidote at the start of or during the fight- to save them, the hero will have to leave the ring and forfeit the match!
The villain fully intends to be killed during this duel- it’s part of their greater plan to put the hero in the position they need them in! The villain could be revived later through dark magic, or could have already masterminded the variables that will bring their plan to fruition, despite them giving their own life!
The villain has organised for innocent spectators of the duel to be killed by assassins if the hero doesn’t forfeit!
The villain has a cheat-y hidden blade they’ll use to wound the hero when they don’t expect it!
The villain is in fact either a doppelganger or a well disguised accomplice, and they are meant to die in this duel so the villain can go about their plan under the guise of being dead!
The villain has won the love or sympathy of one of the hero’s accomplices in secret, and they will try to intervene in the duel! This could all be a manipulation by the villain to catch the hero off guard, but it could also be genuine!
The villain makes up a lie (or tells a truth) that puts the hero in a bad light, causing the crowd to take their side and demand the hero forfeits the match!
The villain wants to die in this duel, but there’s no plan, no scheme. They’re here to finally let go of their life- and perhaps they’re glad it’s by the hero’s hand.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Fairies of the Oneirean

Before there was the earth, before there was reality and before the concept of reality was even a twitch in the sleeping face of Azatho- er, metaphysics, before there were elements and molecules and matter and tissue, there was dream.

It was dream, which was the prelude for existence, which may seem paradoxical but that's simply how things go. The bones of physics were still embryonic cartilage fibers floating towards each other. Chemistry was a protoplasmic blubber that had maybe decided on an element or two. Time was a diffuse and undifferentiated mass of stem-hours. However, no matter how protean, it could do that one thing that remains to us when we die, and thus is privy to us before we are born as well. In that sleep, these Dreams may come. No premonitions, but rather irrational, romantic and rather absurd musings on soon-to-be existence. Imagine that you read excerpts from history books and fables alike to a child, whilst you fed it paintings by Spanish surrealists and played The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult through Pink Floyd's Ummagumma album in reverse. While it's true that you have probably ruined a perfectly edible child, if you were to make highly skillful paintings of whatever the child says when you ask it to recount those histories you've told it, you'd have a good impression of the Oneirean, the Dream Before Time.

As may be expected, in this curious time there were dream-humans as well. Those were elves, who got a lot less interesting once they had the Red Queen to answer to. However, there were also dream-more-than-humans. Whether they were kings, (demi)gods, wizards, wasn't very clear because those are the same kind of thing. Powerful creatures. Fantastical, eccentric and larger-than-life things.


Art by Akiya Kageichi

Faries are still around, now, after the world was born, along with other relicts of the Oneirean, and while they're not strictly speaking the most powerful beings to exist in the higher and lower spheres, they are certainly the oldest, and they are the ones that make the least sense. That's a sort of power, since it could be argued that the fewer rules apply to you, the more powerful you are. They don't tend to cater to the world's logic, in the same away that the memories of a bizarre dream may confuse the mind when it is awake. They don't have clear goals or wants most of the time either, and when they do the logic behind them is nihil. It's obvious that fairies see something else than the world as it is when they look around. This leads some to think that they are pre- or omniscient, and other to think they are absolutely fucking insane. In truth they are a little of both.

Their appearance is surreal. They'll always have a humanoid face, but more often than not it is a painted one or otherwise merely for display purposes. Anything they touch vibrates to produce a tinkling song. The more emotive, romantic and mysterious the airs, the more coherently they'll form. They borrow shapes. Fabrics, auroras, ocean waves, but also less abstract things like shoes, hands, clothing. Whatever they are, they always have an acute sense of aesthetics. They are known to mimic this in each other too, and they are known to never take the forms of humans that they have not taken as payment. But they can look very, very human. Looks are, as always, deceiving.

Art by Remedios Varo
A fairie will never address you by your actual name. It will not address you by any name that makes or will make sense either. When remarking something about you it will never describe qualities you actually have. It will sometimes ignore you entirely at random intervals, but sometimes to will pay attention to you so closely the feeling of its eyes lingers on you for days. It may speak to someone you cannot see. It will not recognise any status, it will not be impressed by any display of power.

It will however, listen to drama. Theatrics and high emotion seem to be the only language that can bridge the gap between everything mortal and everything fairie. In fact, such things catch the attention of fairies whether the participants seek it or not. Troubadours and travelling players are often accompanied by fairies, and they have learned to somewhat coexist with them by mostly ignoring them and never, ever asking them for anything.

Art by Remedios Varo
Fairies will never respond to bargains, or strike deals, or negotiate. If you ask for something or state a demand to them, they will start acting a scene or a play with you, one that isn't written down or in any way communicated with you. Or they'll mimic you, but things will change in their mimicry. Or they'll monologue about something you don't see the relevance of. In the process of this they may give you something you want, something you find strange, or something awfully outlandish. They'll do something. At some point, the fairie's gift will make a change. For better or worse. 

What they want will only ever become clear in the very instance that you are able to give it to them, and before that happens they'll simply show up in your vicinity, your dreams, or not at all. There is one human gesture that they understand, they they seem to have divined from centuries of existing tangentially to the history of man: the open, imploring hand. "Gimmie." Fairies never ask for material riches, they seem to have a knack for demanding things that have emotional value. Your memory. Your love. Your sadness. Your hope. Your despair. Your daughter or your son, be they only just born, eight, or eightteen. Your childhood friend. Your one true love. Your awful ex. They might want the traumatic scar on your heart, or the one thing that keeps you going, the fear you ran from all your life, or the thing you worked all your life to achieve. When they ask, they'll overthrow your life. They'll change you. They'll make you or they'll break you when you see that open hand.

The things they'll take, they'll take to the few remaining fragments of the Dream, scattered throughout spacetime. They have their own rituals to do, to reminisce of the old times, trapped in an ever deepening sad nostaligia. They'll hold tea parties with humans - many of them children - that were given up to them, or have them fight wars against each other, or do whatever else they used to do in the Dream.

The people given to them will never die. Even when they return.

Art by Leonora Carrington