Friday, April 29, 2022

Books I've Done Gone And Read

Being, as is previously stated, a list of books I've done gone and read and my miscellaneous thoughts upon them. 

The Three Musketeers (Alexander Dumas)

I'd attempted to read this several times before and succeeded in finishing this time. There's a perverse tragic hilarity to the story, most of the characters are often fairly awful people but are nonetheless entertaining. The whole thing meanders about, speeding up in places and rushing along before cooling and wandering once more. This varied between enjoyable and annoying for me, depending on how I felt about the particular chapter.

Milady is perhaps the best character, she radiates palpable fury, the first time we actually get a close look at her and hear her speak in the text she dashes a fan to pieces in rage. I'm not sure if any of her portrayals in film really match up to how I now imagine her.

After Milady, the lackeys are my favorite (and their absence in many adaptations is a tragedy of its own). They are often abused. Often comic. Generally oozing with character. You could very easily drop both one of the musketeers and their lackey into the setting and have an instantly working and dynamic set of npcs. 

The bastion picnic scene is fantastic. 

Dumas has a love for melancholic endings if the Count of Monte Cristo is anything to go on for comparison. Or perhaps it is merely the modern eye that turns the endings so melancholic? I am unsure. 

The Dragonmasters (Jack Vance)

A shorter novella that verges on dull at places but wins the day overall with several excellent concepts, a clutch of interesting characters (personally I found Ervis and his retinue to be the most entertaining), and some segments of engaging prose. 

It engages with one of my favorite tropes of humans warped and domesticated into utilitous forms by aliens, and adds a further dimension in classic weird fucked up sci fi fashion by having had the humans do the same right back to the aliens. And then to add to that invents an entire miniature system of warfare utilizing those alien ‘dragons’. 

The ending tantalizingly suggests the thought of writing a sequel charting some descendant Banbeck in their newly formed interstellar empire or some such.

I feel that the story would make for an excellent short comic.

Hawks of Outremer (Robert E. Howard)

I found the prose to be lacking in the requisite detail to have it read as historical fiction, instead coming across as a glossed over ‘vaguely medieval’ fantasy style. Which in turn failed to alleviate the prevailing orientalism. A pity, because I was quite hooked by the opening wherein Cormac recounts his various adventures prior to the story. And I find the way Cormac himself plows through the plot like a murdersome, bloodstained 18-wheeler to be quite entertaining. There are hints of a better story within, one that explores the knavish nature of nearly everyone involved in the late crusades through the lens of an amoral but ragefully loyal mercenary. Not Howard’s best, but not the worst either. 

Invisible Cities (Italo Calvino)

Calvino is evocatively philosophical, and the text is wonderful to engage in on a surface level of simply pillaging ideas or on a deeper, contemplative plane. I quite honestly need to read through it again, to parse some of the deeper meanings behind the matter of cities and their metaphysical natures. It's not hard, given the short length. I’d really love to get my own copy. The dialogue between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo alone is worth the price.

The Stars Are Legion (Kameron Hurley)

DNF 25%

I feel bad about not finishing this book, it was actually beginning to get enjoyable but I fell off it due to outside factors and haven’t picked it up to finish yet. The vagueness and angst early on in the story were frustrating, but once it gets rolling along and more details are revealed it's not as bad. There are of course, decaying meat-moons which already puts it on a high grade.

However, the description could have strove for greater decadence, chewiness, rather than the workmanlike prose it had. Perhaps this was intentional to match the barebones material culture (very little metal, everything's meat). But still some nice juicy descriptions of viscera would be good.

Nomads of the Time Stream (Michel Moorcock)

DNF at 2 stories out of 3

I didn’t finish, not for any particular reason, I simply didn't feel sufficiently inspired to wrap it up though I enjoyed the first two stories I read.

I contend that the best bit was the initial introduction which while steeped in orientalism had wonderfully evocative description as well as solid enough motivation on part of the protagonist to keep the story flowing (later on he just drifts about, rather a non-character and more just a viewing scope).

Besides the opening, I found the Land Leviathan to be more compelling than Warlord of Air. Its display of bigotry and atrocity is more direct and upfront, and its super science flows more believably (amusing given that it features giant city sized fortress ziggurats) thanks to the widespread, global altering nature. However, its examination of race and imperialism is still clumsy. 

All together a neat little read, not particularly inspiring (except for that opening segment in Teku Benga which was really well put together) but interesting, and certainly displays Moorcock's prose. 

Elric of Melnibone (Michael Moorcock)

When it comes to "antiheroes", particularly the kind prone to philosophizing it is often a coin flip whether they are insufferable or enjoyable. Fortunately Elric is the latter. His brooding, while grandiose, never crosses the threshold of frustration and elicits genuine sympathy. Whilst be contrasted deliciously against the cruelties of his station and people. 

Moorcock's prose is clear whilst being decadent in detail. The plot is a solid pulp fantasy yarn the way through. The aesthetics and environs are refreshing coming out of the current fantasy milieu, delightfully weird and sometimes incoherent as well. 

I'm half way through Sailor On the Seas of Fate as I write this. 

The Carpet People (Terry Pratchett)

A re-read. And well worth it. 

As time passes my love for novellas and shorter stories increases. Not everything (especially in fantasy) needs to be sprawling multi-tome epics. The Carpet People manages to accomplish an entire drama, with big climatic battles and all in a short space (which I am just now realizing is rather delightfully appropriate to the setting of the novel). It's exactly as long as it needs to be. A practice more books should adhere to (though of course it does require some skill on part of the writer).

There is classic Pratchett wit throughout and the characters are simple but endearing, the same going for the environs of The Carpet, which would make an excellent game setting. Miniature worlds in general are underutilized, perhaps a post is in order.  

Friday, April 22, 2022

Unicorn Meat - Review

Dan D (of the venerable blag, Throne Of Salt) has recently released Unicorn Meat an adventure about a rundown unicorn farm in the backwoods taken over by ex-indentured, feral young girls, and other horrible thing. And it is fantastic.  


The safety section <3


There is a very deep sense of….. coziness? Is not the right word, humanity perhaps. Familiarity? Closeness? Despite the horrid situation. The characters in the module carry a large part of this. So does the setting, something about the muggy backwoods crawling with terrible monsters rings a note within. It all feels horrible in a deeply human and sympathetic way as well as alien and terrible.

The vaguely late 19th century setting also interplays quite well with the aforementioned familiarity (I do not think the module would work as well reskinned for a more medieval time period, its really well-knit (you could make it work definitely, just not as well))


Im not really sure why the muggy backwoods with Appalachian folklore mixed with root magic borrowings speaks so deeply to my soul and feels so... familiar, given how removed my childhood is from such contexts. But damn does it have Vibes. 


Layout is clean, simple, and flows like butter. The pdf is nicely hyperlinked. Text is broken up and spaced out, you're never focusing on more than a paragraph's worth of text at a time. Terms and names are bolded. Makes for easy skimming.

Visually, the illustrations really tie up the whole module in a bow. The npc portraits ooze personality (and make for handy little play aids). Theres just enough illustrations in total to nail down the vibes in your head without prescribing or limiting your own portrayal of the farm. 

There's some moments of more flavorful layout (like some <Redacted> black bars) however they don’t interfere with readability or usability at all, which is excellent. 


The tables for character creation are excellent and just beg to be used in rolling up a party of carvergirls 


Hits this blend of folkloric and not-exactly science, but more ‘sciency’, horror. Mutations and witchballs. Old folk magic pulled up from Appalachia and the swamps blended with ‘this is not a place of honor’ monoliths of a long dead culture. 


Oddly strong tonal similarities to Deep Carbon Observatory, would pair excellently with each other.


There's also still a lot of mystery and open-endedness to the module, not everything is fully explained. Like what exactly the beast-below is, or why there's a bunch of seemingly metallic but actually crammed with meat technologies. It's artfully done, enough to keep nagging at the mind, and keep it mysterious, but never a roadblock to play.

There's a segment on legends, nothing immediately relevant to play but which drives home the mood, and fleshes the carvergirl’s culture out for anyone running them.  


Unicorn poop can be smoked to make you high (also all the other skinning unicorns for parts).


Minor point, the beginning of the caves section describes travel as taking 1d4 hours between locations and this makes sense for a portion of it (the tangled caves under the swamp) but not other parts like the pit.


Instantly infatuated with all the npcs. There's a lot of humanity, both sympathetic and cruel, crammed into them. I'm reminded of the better kinds of post-apocalyptic media, where everyones broken in some way, even the awful one’s, and the humanity of it strikes a cord. Everyone’s fucked up, but its clear that its this polluted place and the evils done there that's done it

Near the start of the module there's a list of “things to remember”, in that these two are the first ‘you know these people, everyone has a name” and “everyone has friends, everyone has enemies”. Which drives home some of the modules underlying tone. Things are fucked up but everyones people.

(This also makes the monsters stand out even more, their proper weird and messed up).

Oh and also very simple, and yet excellently done factionalism.


Art by Rowan A.

Pugs and Birdie are my favorites I think, all the characters are amazing but these two are my favorites. Something about their demeanors makes my heart go out to them. 


Everything about the nightwatch, their tree, and the witching hour. Proper folk-magic (and horror) vibes that meshes fantastically with everything else. I feel like there could be a bit more allusion to the witching hours existence in other parts of the module, but gosh is it good.


The descriptions through the module are extra evocative, and minimalist in just the right way. Tiles described as teeth is one of my favorite bits. 


Random generation of a hunting expedition via drawing from a deck of cards is mwah, very simple, easy to use, and a fun and different way of doing random gen. Kinda makes the generation feel more oracular and less mechanical as it might if you were just rolling on tables. 


A little thing, but a solid chunk of the npc portraits are smiling, it's not necessarily a happy (or well… normal happy) smile, but a goodly lot of them are smiling in some way, something which says a lot about the tone I think.


I'm not sure how I would run this module with adult player characters. It can definitely be done, feels a bit tricksy to navigate, gotta hit the right tone for interact with feral children trying to knife you. Carvergirl games definitely would run more naturally. Im eager to her the play reports eventually roll in. 


“At least it’s not a hippo”


White-Eyes plan is just really good, the kind of thing where players end up torn on weither to stop it, join it, or what. Deeply sympathetic and also clearly about to unleash some chaos. Also just excellent as conceptual weird-ass magic-science (I adore the description comparing the Theocarnequs to the Beast as a god to a leper).


All the other stuff I didn't remember to include or couldn't properly express while writing this.


This hasn't really been a very coherent post, ramblings mostly, cause its just a damn fantastic adventure. I'm defiantly going to spring for a physical copy eventually. 

The time is neigh! You too should go out and get Unicorn Meat. 

Monday, April 11, 2022

130 Weird Treasures From Across The Spheres

  1. An emperor's tea set that transforms into porcelain swans
  2. Arachnid woven tapestry, bulky, but eye-wateringly sublime
  3. Stack of golden arm rings forged from the war trophies of conquering lord
  4. Elegant carriage dubbed the silver phantom, it once propelled itself but no longer
  5. A river spirit trapped within a jeweled goblet, water cannot touch you
  6. Twin rings of beetle-esq design, whisper a message to it and it will fly away to find its partner
  7. Powdered quadracorn horn from the farthest burning savannas, cures impotency
  8. Immaculate suit of bone armour, parasitically fuels itself off the weavers lifeblood
  9. Packages of excellent, smooth, fine smelling soap
  10. Gem studded broad-belt of office stolen from some petty prince
  11. Skeleton warrior seeds, in neat little pouch
  12. Cultiver of a rare singing orchid, its melodies open the hearts of all present
  13. Careful forgeries of the Somnambulist Padishah’s official seals
  14. Egg sacks of the Century-Worm, a delicacy, a cure-all, a poison
  15. Panacea potion, healing, heartening, ever so addictive, red stained lips and little vials
  16. Gilded sub-machine guns, masterworks of Van Ranj the genius gunsmith
  17. Coins sewn together into an armoured shirt, proof of the owners mercantile prowess
  18. Fossilized trilobites made potent good luck charms
  19. Glowing greenish radioactive glassware, it's all the rage right now
  20. Powdered god-corpse brain matter to fuel sorcerous magics
  21. Seven salts distilled from the soul’s base chemicals to invigour 
  22. Cheaply bound pamphlets detailing obscure and somewhat useless martial arts
  23. Lifetime membership pass for the League of Fisticuffs, the name is someone else's
  24. Coat of dogs-wool that grants sure friendship with any canine beast 
  25. Gold & silver plate bound in enchanted twine
  26. Treatise on astral fauna, rare, damaged by the gut of the creature it was pulled from 
  27. Key to a door you never knew needed unlocking
  28. Portrait of a long lost duke, handsome, oddly melancholic
  29. Apotropaic lamp made in the grand necropolis to ward off unruly spirits
  30. Helm wired with cables and tubes, it grants extension of the mind and will
  31. Pocket watch set to tell the time on a dozen different spheres
  32. Simple pieces of chalk, anything drawn comes alive in chalk form
  33. Blade of the pontiff-executioner, it will only bite the neck of a rightfully condemned priest 
  34. Letters of free passage writ all githyanki held dominions
  35. Antique furnitures, thirteenth solar empire, polished mahogany, delicate joinery
  36. Cask of mulled devil’s liquor, it eats at the seals, smelling of motor oil and cinnamon
  37. Charts of the Astral inscribed on decaying papyrus, speaks in terms of dreams and allegory
  38. A crop of wizard lettuce, growing improbably in mouldering crate
  39. Iron sarcophagus bound in chains, a captured devil with an enormous bounty upon its head
  40. Bezoar extracted from a kamadan, compressed dreams and nightmares 
  41. Writhing baby astral eel trapped inside a glass and bone containment jar
  42. Exotic dyes, colors like none you’ve seen, in carefully labeled bottles
  43. Contraband souls hidden inside amphora, packed tightly, miserably, and diluted
  44. A godly fetus hovering in an metaphysical womb, minor miracles flow off it like mist
  45. Ice packed, insulated box of rare thalassic trench-squid, succulent beyond belief
  46. The precise measurements of all a sphere neatly jotted down in a little notebook
  47. Fashionable nudibranchs meant to be worn upon your clothes or doted upon as a pet
  48. Yards long necklace-shawl of lustrous pearls, each one representing the owners virtuous deeds
  49. Driftwood mask carved into a shark’s snarl that fills the viewer with instinctual unease
  50. Crown of delicately smithed gold shaped into flowers, thorns, and leaves
  51. An angle-knife which can cut passage between the reality’s corners 
  52. A tube of door-paste, half used up, smear it upon a wall to create temporary passage 
  53. Chirurgeon’s lacquered wood box, filled with delicate steel and silver instruments
  54. Serpentine golden torcs that seem to writhe when worn
  55. Manticore balm, rub to cure aches and pains of the joints and to relieve cursed hungers 
  56. Humorous engravings of a political nature likely to see imprisonment if caught with
  57. Cones of incense tailored to make spirits sluggish and sleepy
  58. Magnificently feathered and decorated hat that stuns onlookers and collides with door frames
  59. Sheaf of forger’s trick-paper that can be written upon twice, to show two differing things
  60. Midnight ink, made of pooled shadow, only harsh light can erase it
  61. Indecipherable twisted knot of letters peeled from the page, explodes if agitated 
  62. Clockwork toy, a little landship that marches on twirling legs
  63. Smoky blue glass spectacles that shows the immaterial world of spirits 
  64. Improbably deep wicker baskets made by hand
  65. Impudent machine-spirit locked inside a pyramidal prism, answers questions at a price
  66. Trunk of sekem, ducats, marks, and a thousand other coinage, heavy to lift, a small fortune
  67. Mobile throne carved with golden lion imagery, it walks about on its own plodding legs
  68. Ever-glowing argon lamps from the ancient paleotechnic dynasties
  69. Ceremonial copper-breaking club carved in the shape of a whale, symbol of authority 
  70. Levitating prayer rug, threadbare, floats up and down at the sitter’s command
  71. Void crystal decanter and matching cups, rings perfect notes when struck
  72. Jade figurine of a curled up vampire bat, fits in palm, heals injury by leaching from another
  73. Set of bronze armour, bull motifs, fills wearer with bovine strength but also rage
  74. The dice of a notoriously lucky gambler, always rolls your way, but are not loaded in any way
  75. Bag of catnip-laced kibble, hot item on the black market for the cat-kings 
  76. Flowering wooden phallus charm that imbibes great fertility into the owner
  77. Beautifully wrought iron sculpture of a twisting woman part-wolf 
  78. Colossal sturgeon, packed in ice, fit for a king’s feast 
  79. Bits of caddisfly made jewelry, encrusted tubes and shells of precious gems and gold flakes
  80. Jar of devilspawn stock, worth good money to a biomancer, little imps writhe vestigially
  81. Mottled protective suit of tardigrade-skin, incredibly resistant to the elements 
  82. Metal turtle brazier, remove the shell to add more fuel, always burns for twice as long
  83. Delicate beetle shell earrings, quite dashing
  84. Newfangled ink-pen, easy to write with, the quill-maker guilds will flay you for having it
  85. A crested carnyx, relic of some ancient campaign, still stirs with the moods of battle
  86. Leashed baku, secretly one of the Somnambulist Padishah’s many spies
  87. A slumbering paleodemon locked in thrice warded stone
  88. Spool of soul-tether snipped off some poor astral traveller, great for sewing immaterial things
  89. Miniature model of a temple complete with tiny praying priests, extravagantly detailed
  90. Vials of anti-sun matter, shine un-radiantly with darkness 
  91. Token of the guild of unseeming corners & assassins, good for one free assassination
  92. Occlusion needles, block the soul’s flow rendering limbs inert and severing spirit connections
  93. Paper parasol patterned with intertwined peacocks that seem to dance displaying feathers
  94. Portable cabinet filled with a chirurgeon’s expensive and rare medicines
  95. A claviger’s personal doorspace map, written in coded doubletalk within a little journal
  96. Sidesword of an astral pirate-queen, lucky red tassels hang from the pommel 
  97. Shard of archaic pottery, infested with dream-plague, draws to the dreamlands of dead world
  98. Velvet gloves so silky soft it almost doesn’t register that your touching them
  99. Fulgurous powder, thrice as volatile as black, carefully corked casks, anti-spark measures 
  100. Ghostly peppercorn, phantom cinnamon, a whole variety of spirit spices 
  101. Drinking cup in the shape of a curling fish with gaping mouth, blue-green and gold trim
  102. Box of hand rolled cigars, rare out-world tobacco enjoyed by the haughtiest of connoisseurs
  103. Fermentation demon trapped inside a clay jar of pickles, barters to be freed
  104. Silver wrought fox clasp, each hair on the fur lovingly detailed 
  105. A dram of crystallized luck, potent, warps reality round it
  106. Primordial sourdough starter, stolen from the vinegar knights
  107. Fur-coat of the rarest svelte seal, impossibly warm and soft, highly fashionable
  108. Cup carved from a solid emerald, decorated with elegant poetry, an emperor's prize
  109. Gold bars stamped with the seals of the 57th merchant house, will need to be removed
  110. Unguent box, paneled in ivory inlaid with precious gems, stinking ointments within
  111. Crooning phoenix in a brass cage, the fiery feathers it sheds fetch high prices
  112. Tapestry sewn from the tunics and coats of dead soldiers, a testament to battle
  113. Delicate lace, gloves, trim, collars, cuffs, tears all too easily
  114. Matching signet rings done up in gold and cinnabar, shaped like miniature knights
  115. Saint’s tears, bottled, wards off sin and protects from evil, reputedly
  116. Necromantic auto-chair, climbs about on mismatched boney legs, macabre in style
  117. Three ceremonial daggers in a crocodile foot sheathe, jade inlays 
  118. Casket ringed with golden llamas and studded with rubies
  119. Fireproof aluminum caftan, worn in the Hells to protect from cinderstorms
  120. Ghost-Leopard fur mantle, intangible, half-alive, spirits shudder in its presence 
  121. Golden ring, blossoming carnelian carved rose 
  122. Clay figure with a disproportionate apotropaic phallus, black ink decoration
  123. Side-sword, the hilt carved from ivory with a conglomerate of screaming skulls
  124. Spiraling gold arm band in the shape of a lusty, serpentine merman
  125. Juvenile hate-star in a lead lined casket, souls are pulled inward by its horrid gravity
  126. Crate of smuggled boltlocks, the maker's marks scratched off
  127. Flask for capturing spirits, etched with runes, lead stopper
  128. A writ for dreaming within an onierocrat’s kingdom
  129. Polish for the nails that traps a whispered secret when painted on
  130. Boxed set for an obscure pen & paper game, little dice and everything