Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Parakeet Plains

The plains grow cold at dusk. The sullen black cones of volcanoes slouch against the western horizon, flanks scarred by mineworks, waiting to eat the sun.

The only sheltered places to camp at night are the steel-blue glacial lakes that scar the stony dry earth. The russet-red grass is flecked with guano and the delicate rainbow feathers of parakeets, who gather each evening in the canopies of the prickly araucania pines to feast on nuts and night-insects. Their screeching is unbearable, a constant raucous thunder. It becomes impossible to sleep, speak or think. Only the Piquenche, the funniest people in the world, can tolerate it for the length of a journey without going even madder than they already are. They roam the plains on horseback, in war-troupes and nomadic bands, hunting half-deaf glyptodon and macrauchenia with their ludicrously tiny feathered spears. Their short lives are devoted to comedy and war.

The pox-priests of the Doleful God, who eternally mourns the wickedness of His children, have their missions in the mountains. Slaves from the fertile seaward lands quarry copper for their house-sized Inevitable Bells, hoisted high as possible to broadcast doom-laden peals for miles around. Knights, prospectors, gauchos, bandeirantes and inquisitors gather in shanty-towns at the mountains' edge, hoping to play their part in opening the plains up to cattle-grazing and general exploitation. So far they have had little success.

Friday, 18 May 2018

yoon-suin graveyard generator

For Thousand Thousand Islands, or the actual Yoon-Suin game we actually have


Aesthetic Animals Markers TreasureNotable Ghosts
1 Lantern-lit, swept and tidied
A haze of incense smoke
Butterflies
Finches
PagodasA lavish wardrobeMerchant
Knows a secret trade route, a deep road under the earth
Super condescending
2 Dusty, sun-bleached
Offerings, scattered and half-eaten
Monkeys
Lizards
ShrinesAn idol that makes people hornyMidwife
Knows about allll the secret princesses in hiding as swineherds
Will gossip about you
3 Weather-worn, lichen-blotched
Dunes of leaf litter
Geckos
Tapir
Marble slabsA sword cast from ancient metalSwordsman
Knows the weaknesses of every beast that lives
Scared of passing on their bad luck
4 Forested, a gnarled grove
Trunks burst through graves
Deer
Rabbits
HeadstonesA beautiful poem, carved into a headstonePoet
Knows the words to melt anyone's heart
So fucking melodramatic though
5 Overgrown, thorny
Bright sprays of flowers
Bees
Mice
Earthen moundsSnail shell, home to a friendly spiritBomoh
Knows how to perform exorcisms, but would only teach the holy
Demands offerings before they will talk to you
6 Sunken, swamped
Pools of dark water
Tortoises
Snails
Stone headsSilk-wrapped foetuses, hidden in gravesPawang
Knows how to summon a toyol - a goblin-like spirit made from a foetus
Nosy, can tell when you're lying

i feel like the ghost knowledge translates into plot hooks pretty well??
who doesn't have unfinished business i mean c'mon

bonus smol spirit generator
require a pact to use their power
their influence will be recognised by any half-competent bomoh

PlacePricePowerPersonalityPhobia
1Snail shellCandy and sweet fruitsCan corporealise, grow huge. Remains soft, marshallowyBaby/toddlerNeedles
2Cicada skinWritten wordsCan offer fantastic legal advice. Knows every rule ever written downMacawDrums
3Spider-curled leafBloodCan make people sick, from the sniffles to a deathly feverPythonScripture
4ChrysalisMoneyCan steal things that could fit in a dog's mouth, will take a cut of the score as paymentDogBells
5Dried geckoAlcohol and bitter fruitsCan spread rumours, sow false beliefsGrandmaVirtue
6OrchidFlatteryCan make love potions which cause all who drink them to fall in love with each otherTigerFire


this picture is maybe a separate post in its own right..

found this picture *after* i wrote the line with sunken stone heads
feelin pretty good about that one 

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

more periods of ancient time

continued from here

11. Gentrozoic Era.


Nouveau-riche aliens from neighbouring solar system drawn to planet by charming bohemian atmosphere and low real-estate prices. Native lifeforms reprocessed by ruthless tourist industry into harmless mockeries of former selves, exhibited to cooing space rubes as representatives of an authentic working-class ecosystem. Anything actually dangerous or interesting is forced by environmental pressure to move out to the poles, the Moon or nearby asteroids.

12. Age of Exchange.

Ants learn to mine diamonds, use them to buy delicious grubs from treasure-hungry magpies. Pretty soon everything has evolved the ability to use money. Monkeys pay trees to grow extra fruit, trees pay bees to pollinate their flowers, bees hoard gold in hives to carefully invest in other species’ business schemes. Camels sell their hump water to thirsty birds, beavers make spawning pools for salmon, crocodiles charge wildebeest river-crossing tolls. This period’s only surviving species is the dragon, which even today retains its capitalist instincts.

13. Commucene Epoch.

Almost all species abandon conflict and learn to work together for the collective good of the entire ecosystem. The only holdouts are the dragons, who pay a huge meteor to wipe out 99% of life on the planet in order to teach everyone the value of a little hard work.

14. The Age When Plants Were Quick And Animals Were Slow.

Also self-explanatory.

15. Olympian Bombardment.

Celestial city of the gods is sacked by demons, reduced to rubble and cast down into the mortal realm. Planet’s surface pulverised by thousand-year rain of comet-sized chunks of marble, pieces of pillar and fragments of colossal bearded statue, as well as vast entrails and shredded bits of flesh from the gods themselves. Dust from the craters formed by this event still contains sparks of divine puissance.

16. The Great Cancellation.

After several hundred million years of diminishing viewership figures, planetary history is finally brought to an end by mid-level marketing executives who argue that it’s no longer in tune with current trends. Evolution is placed on hiatus and its slot filled by an unremarkable sitcom about a suburban single dad with too many kids. Time travellers to this period complain about the hackneyed storylines and the omnipresence of canned laughter.

17. EVLTN 2000: DARK GENESIS.

“It’s life, kids, but not as you know it!”. This reboot of the beloved natural phenomenon, painstakingly retooled by an executive cabal for maximum appeal to an audience of hip young trillenials, failed to connect with anyone at all and was taken off the air after only a couple of epochs. Fossils from this period tend to be anatomically implausible, covered by spikes and with exaggerated sexual characteristics. The return of classical evolution, with most of the original cast and crew, was greeted with relief by almost everyone.

18. Hour of the Watchmaker.

God intervenes to intelligently design exactly one small species of trilobite, then goes back to watching and muttering.

19. Heroic Age.

A time of radioactive spider bites, murdered parents and orphans from beyond the stars who conveniently happen to look like members of whatever species first discovers them. The interests of each species are defended by its own league of superpowered guardians whose clashes somehow never cause any permanent environmental damage, no matter how many verdant woodlands their eye lasers blast apart. Punctuated by moments of ultimate crisis when every extant hero must band together to save the planet from existential threats.

20. Mendacious Period.

Rocks learn how to imitate fossils, and stage an elaborate practical joke on future paleontologists by competing to see who can come up with the most implausible morphology. Some scholars suspect this period lasted much longer than anyone realises, and that the entire fossil record is actually a single huge geological prank.

Monday, 16 April 2018

periods of ancient time

Arnold wrote a G+ post about fantastic prehistories and Throne of Salt replied to it here with a list of forgotten epochs to be dug up by your deep-time spelunkers and wizard paleontologists. There's some of this in Deep Carbon Observatory as well. Most fantasy worlds don't concern themselves with stuff like evolution and geology - either they have some Tolkienesque divine creation myth or it just never comes up. The idea that your setting could have a semi-plausible prehistory is, as far as I can tell, an OSR innovation.

Anyway here's some more periods of ancient time.

1. Kleptocene Epoch. 

Also known as the Ten Million Years of Crime. Began when a previously harmless species of cyanobacteria figured out how to run a protection racket, demanding a greater slice of the ecosystem in exchange for not evolving to massively overproduce oxygen and devastate the global climate. Competition swiftly lead to the domination of the biosphere by brutal interspecies cartels that survived by shaking each other down - like, nice reproductive strategy you got there. Be a shame if some more efficient species started competing with you for nesting sites. Hey, are you using this migration route, because my wife has one just like it at home. The execution of a prominent genus of arboreal herbivore by a species of flowering plant that spent four hundred thousand years insinuating itself into an enemy cartel before suddenly and deliberately losing all its nutritional value sparked a gang war that wiped out 90% of all species on the globe, leaving behind only a few random strands of criminal DNA.

2. Carnocene Epoch.

Triggered by a sudden, unexplained mass extinction among the bacteria responsible for decomposition. Unrotting corpses piled up in mountains, fresh as the day they were killed except for a few bite marks. Scavengers and obligate carnivores grew fat and gigantic on the endless, risk-free food supply, wading knee-high through fields of jagged bone and clotted blood. Jungles became sunless fortresses of fallen trees, wastelands where nothing could reach the soil or the sky. Sea levels  rose as leviathan corpses piled up on the ocean floor, home to civilizations of crawling pale crabs. Theologians argue that God brought this age about as punishment for the first murder, so that the body of the first victim could never be hidden. It's not clear if humans had evolved yet but that doesn't stop them.

3. Turbozoic Era.

Characterised by a massive acceleration in tectonic activity, with mountain ranges throwing themselves up overnight and continents chasing each other around the equator like Benny Hill. Ease of intercontinental contact led to the development of a thriving heterogeneous global economy among the insect people of the time, though the difficulty of stable farming kept technology primitive and populations low. First sapient volcanoes.

4. The Age When Bacteria Were Big And Animals Were Small.

Self-explanatory.

5. Svabhavan Glaciation.

Continents seeded with organic superconductors, rearranged into a single vast circuit and cooled to near-absolute zero by a hyperevolved race of yeti seeking to transform the planet into a huge computer and use its superior brain power to achieve absolute enlightenment. The computer either sublimated them into a higher dimension or killed them all and committed suicide, depending on who you ask. The planet was left to warm back up over a period of hundreds of millions of years. Multicellular life basically had to start from scratch, and the oldest sapient volcanoes are said to still be angry about it. Samples of life from before that time are preserved in hidden yeti cryovaults, guarded by terrible electronic sentinels, possibly.

6. Groovy Age.

Dominated by a phylum of fungi that released psychoactive chemicals into the atmosphere as part of their respiratory cycle, making everything very chill and relaxed. The pressure of evolutionary competition weakened as major species of carnivore began to wonder why everyone needed to be so aggressive all the time, leading to the development of herbivores goofy enough to fall backward into their open mouths. A mass extinction event was averted by the advent of fungus-eating "cop beetles", which is still gleefully cited as an example by conservatives everywhere.

7. Bird Age.

Everything was birds. Trees? Tall birds. Viruses? Small birds. Rocks? Heavy birds. People were pretty happy to see the end of this one.

8. Tartarocene Epoch.

Herd animals began to evolve hells as punishment for antisocial behaviour, leading to a population boom as they became increasingly co-operative and disinclined to masturbate. Pack hunters copied the practice, piggy-backing on equine and bovine hells instead of developing their own. A couple of species flirted with heavens but found them ineffective as a motivator. Over time the hells became more painful and horrible as species sought to outdo each other, and whole ecosystems sprung up around it - parasites without afterlives who could physically drain the sin from your body, inquisitor alphas who exiled sinners from the flock before they could corrupt the youth, temptresses who guided rival species into depravity in exchange for a kickback from the demons. Fossils from this epoch have a tendency to look very frightened.

9. Second Bird Age.

God damn it.

10. Oneirocene Epoch.

The "dreamtime period" when animals took on, and retroactively had always possessed, human form, and went around doing fairytale stuff like stealing each other's tails and accidentally creating the world from a grain of sand. Setting of all mythological origin stories. Brought all other epochs into existence and also was brought into existence by them. A fringe group of researchers argue that this epoch never happened, and was invented by fuzzy-minded fabulists as a way to reconcile the gulf between hard science and the foolish obsolete superstitions of a less rational age, but those guys are wrong.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

dinosaur mountain

Gonna need to reiterate that I can do these fucking things until time runs backwards and a scaled tyrant crawls from the stone to tear me to pieces


People Paths Cities Quests Encounters
1 Llama-herd. Trades gossip, meat, cold-weather clothes Foot-wide arch over hundred meter drop, far too fragile for anything heavier than a llama and two saddlebagsTemples, markets and farms all seem to float serenely on the surface of a mountain lakeSacrifice these fifty llamas to the storm god (a mosasaur) by throwing them off that far-away cliffSwarm of tiny vampire bats. Anaesthetic saliva means you might not notice them until the weight bears you down
2 Raptor-catcher. Trained hoatzin assists in catching colourful raptors for the sale of their feathers Ancient rope bridge, knowledge of its construction lost, now maintained by weaver pterosaursSuspended in centre of ravine by living web of vines. Population accordingly obsessed with horticultureKidnap a willing husband from the swamp people. Comprehensive demands for new husband's manly attributesVenomous pterosaurs. Their bite inflicts tremors; they'll eat you once you shake yourself off a cliff
3 Soldiers. 'border patrol' a transparent excuse to raid the neighbours Ridiculously difficult free climb, last ten meters carried out inverted. Someone at the top could just throw down a rope thoughClinging to the side of a cliff, nestled beneath an overhang. Compete for space with a gigantic colony of burrowing pterasaursSteal egg from sufficiently large dinosaur, replace with this gold egg. It's a status thingPachycephalosaurs grazing grumpily, one eye on the skies
4 Stone mason. Pragmatic and full of good, if condescending, adviceDaring leap into a cenote, said to carry the faithful to safety and dash the wicked to piecesFills underground cavern. Huge, gold sun allegory on ceiling pours a stream of flaming oil, provides somewhat underwhelming amount of lightSlay epoch beast (quetzalcoatlus) to bring about new millenniumChupacabra, clambering about on backwards monkey paws, stealing llamas and children in the night
5 Astronomer desperately trying to keep up with the ever-changing minor heavensZig-zag path up the face of a cliff. Takes hours and hours to ascend, about 10 minutes to get down on shitty wooden bikeBuilt on the second-highest peak in the range. Streets and buildings form a map of the major heavens; the position of your house affects your destinyUndo recent prophecy to spite rival. You're going to have to figure out how to fake a rainstormGiant cricket, bounding about with flailing insect idiocy. Will try to eat you, may just bear you off a cliff by mistake
6 Silversmith, always looking for new designs, inspirations and muses. Very competitiveTrudge up scree slope. Canyon walls amplify and distort all sound - speech makes the rocks quiver, shouting would bring down the whole slopeSharp tip of mountain carved into a gargantuan ziggurat, stepped farms on the slopes belowRescue noble's eldest from an ill-advised hunting trip, long since overdue to returnQuetzalcoatlus. It is thought to be the god of this cycle. Its death is considered the apocalypse, ushering in a new world

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Outlaw Generator

Generates Wild West outlaws. I will probably use this in the SUBLIGHT hexcrawl I'm now running. Pairs well with this or this or maybe even this. The gang member list also has a lot of possible uses.


Monday, 5 March 2018

dinosaur thoughts

We rewatched all the Jurassic Park movies in the last couple of days and I have a lot of half-formed thoughts about dinosaurs and monster design that need to go somewhere.

The basic unit of Jurassic Park is the theropod. From smallest to largest we have:

Compsognathus. Cute little piranha boys. You only see one at first - it looks innocent until you spot the next one, and the next one. Once there's a critical mass they jump all over you biting, then back away and wait for you to tire out from loss of blood. They stay just out of your reach like a hungry seagull will. Any "swarm" monster lets you escalate tension by slowly increasing the number of component bodies - compies are good because they combine that with the intelligent birdlike playfulness of theropods. Only in the second movie.

Dilophosaurus. Kills the fat guy in the first one. Again we see the movement from "this thing seems cute and harmless" to "wait, could it actually hurt me?" to "oh shit, I didn't know it could do that" to "I am dead". Has the frill and the poison to distinguish it from raptors - a little overdesigned, and therefore less versatile, which is probably why they never brought it back. Only so many scenes you can do with this guy.

Velociraptor. Actually a utahraptor, as we know. Smart, playful, always faintly smiling - basically a dolphin that can kill you. These films deserve immense credit for inventing a genuinely new horror monster - that's hard as hell to do. The core dynamic is "clever girl" - they can actually out-think you, which is always surprising in an animal. Immensely versatile but the writer has to work a bit harder - they should be more than wolves but it's easy to make them too human.

Tyrannosaurus rex. So big you can escape its notice - you're too small to be its natural prey. Scenes with this guy don't have as much moving around as raptor scenes. Either you're lying still and hoping it doesn't notice you or you're running away from it in a straight line. Can only see quick things - forces you to move slowly, which builds tension. The puppet they use for its head is great. The distant stomping that makes water ripple doesn't make sense - is it only taking one step every five seconds? - but still works wonders, obviously. An omen of the monster's approach, like seeing only one compsognathus. Not as sadistic as the other theropods - doesn't play with its food like the rest do. Would rather be eating a stegosaur really. A doting parent, feeds people to its babies but can you really begrudge it? The friendliest of the theropods.

Spinosaurus. The T-rex replacement in the third one. Long crocodile snout that it uses to probe into narrow spaces where people are hiding - seems designed to eat smaller prey than the T-rex mouth. Gives the sense that it actively hates you. You could make these amphibious - it could lurk like a crocodile with its sail jutting from the water like a shark fin.

Indominus rex. The genetically-engineered dinosaur from the fourth movie. This thing sucks and I hate it. It's supposed to be like a smarter crueller T-rex and also a metaphor for consumerism, but the design sucks and allegory by itself is always boring. They just glued a bunch of spikes onto a T-rex and gave it a random assortment of superpowers. It's lazy and you can't give dinosaurs superpowers, the basic idea is already complex enough that you can't overload it like that. Fuck this whole movie honestly. The name is okay though.


The movies only use a couple of other carnivores:

Pteranodon. Pointy-headed beaky boy. Clumsy and ungainly. Always on the verge of falling out of the sky. Picks people up and carries them off. When it’s on the ground it kind of hops toward you in this awkward way, stabbing at you with its beak. Interesting combination of heavy and fragile - you could break its wings with something heavy if you were lucky. Can probe into small spaces with its beak the way the spinosaur can. Wants to be fought in a three-dimensional space - there’s a good scene in the third one in a ruined aviary with ravines and catwalks and the great dome overheard. Doesn’t have the faint theropod smile and therefore does not code as playful or intelligent - it’s a mindless shrieking death monster that kills automatically. In the fourth one they dive like cormorants, which is good.

Dimorphodon. Smaller pterosaur with T-rex-esque head. Pins people down and snaps at them. A pteranodon couldn’t do this - its beak is designed for eating things smaller than itself, so they have to be bigger to be scary. Only in the fourth one, which is allergic to doing anything clever with its monsters. Have potential though. Basically another swarm monster like the compies. Could accompany a larger monster as groomers, picking parasites off its scales.

Mosasaur. Has only one move, which is to jump out of the water and grab something. Impressive by virtue of size but hard to see how you would use it. Effectively bigger-fishes the Indominus. Could maybe sink a ship - I could see one coming up through the floor of a glass-bottomed boat. They needed to let this thing get out into the ocean where it can actually move around.

The herbivores don’t really do anything and I’m not going to go through them one by one. Most of them are used as just big dumb herd animals that get captured and eaten. Julianne Moore almost gets spiked by a stegosaurus and there’s a good bit in the second one with a pachycephalosaurus attacking a jeep - its head moves almost mechanically, like a piston. Sauropods and hadrosaurs are mostly set dressing. You could do something with a triceratops - maybe it goes into musth like a male elephant, goes insane with rage and starts weeping ichor from its neck glands. Works with an ankylosaur as well.

Here are some dinosaurs they could use but don’t:

Allosaurus. Occupies the size category between the raptor and the T-rex, which is probably why they don’t use it. Could fit into human-sized spaces - I imagine this following you through caves and tunnels, cramped, its head scraping against the roof. It actively wants to kill you, specifically, but it’s not playful about it like the raptors - it just comes for you until you’re dead. Maybe an endurance hunter - could pursue you across miles of jungle terrain, scenting and tracking you. Packs of two or three. There’s a similar dinosaur called the carnotaurus, which has two immense advantages - it has horns, making it visibly distinct, and it is called “the carnotaurus”.

Elasmosaur. Would be at home in a mangrove swamp, grabbing people from beneath the water, or picking off the passengers on a sinking ship. The long serpentine neck was not actually that flexible - it wouldn’t bend like a swan or strike like a cobra, but you could make it work. Can climb out of the water, although it’s hard to imagine them going very fast. There’s one called a styxosaurus, which is good.

Ichthyosaur. The huge eyes make these guys. They’re mostly just sharks but they do look super creepy. Since they look like dolphins, and raptors are dolphins, they could be the raptors of the sea - smart, playful pack hunters. They don’t smile though. There’s something very goblinlike about them - they always look frightened and appalled. Maybe an escaped pack that strikes fishing boats on moonless nights, giving rise to ghost stories.

Quetzalcoatlus. King of the skies bb. Bigger than the T-rex - the pteranodons they use are pretty big but this would dwarf them. Same basic body structure as a giraffe. Could fill the T-rex role as an ultimate boss monster, though not as friendly or loveable. Would attack you like a heron attacks a frog, striking downward with its toothless beak. Demands some kind of megastructure - an aviary, a skyscraper like the Burj Khalifa.

Titanosaur. Largest genus of land animals ever to live. Big enough to be terrain in its own right - you could put a howdah on its backs and rappel off its sides. Have an entire fight scene that takes place physically on the dinosaur while it rampages through the park, stomping through rollercoasters, before stumbling into the mosasaur tank. Give it its own ecosystem - moss grows on its sides, crab-sized parasites live in folds in its skin, pterosaurs eat the parasites. Best names are aegyptosaurus and patagotitan.


Conclusions we can draw from all this:

Dinosaurs work because they’re animals with clearly-defined physical characteristics. It’s not a Lovecraft thing like Alien where the more you find out about the monster, the less scary it is. They’re not metaphors for anything - they have their own existence independent of yours, and are native to an environment that you are trespassing in. The Indominus sucks because it breaks these rules.

Theropods have a very simple basic design that can be used for a huge range of different things. What compares to this? You can only do about two or three things with cats and dogs. The only comparison I can think of is primates - you get monkeys, apes, humans, neanderthals, goblins, etc. But we are primates so that’s not really fair. Maybe some morphologies lend themselves better to size variation than others - you can’t imagine a house-sized cat but you can imagine a house-sized gorilla.

Horror franchises don’t lend themselves to plot variation. Every Jurassic Park film is about humans trying to get off an island that’s overrun by dinosaurs, and always will be - it’s hard to imagine what else you could even do. The filmmakers think in scenes - this is the pterodactyl scene, this is the scene with the T-rex in suburbia and a bunch of classic sight gags. Since each film has the same premise, you could move any scene from one film to another without losing much. As long as you can come up with more scenes - which involves either finding new dinosaurs or coming up with new things to do with existing dinosaurs - you could keep reusing the same plot basically forever.

It doesn’t have to be Isla Nublar every time though. Jurassic World was a great opportunity to move the park to, like, Patagonia. Or it’s somewhere in Mexico and there’s actual Mayan ruins on site. Or it’s an artificial island in the Persian Gulf, funded by a Saudi billionaire. The environment controls the kind of scenes you can do - raptors can’t hide in the jungle if there is no jungle. I can kind of see what they were going for with the fourth one but they dropped the ball in about a million different ways.

The only thing I'm not talking about here is the different types of character in the films - the capitalist, the mercenary, the scientist whose warnings get ignored. That's kind of its own post though.

Okay it’s Logan Lucky but with the Jurassic Park payroll office and the name of the film is Jurassic Heist.