Still Running. From Zombies.

This is not quite a review. Its more of a plug, or even a vague mention for something I like. Hell, with their hundreds of thousands of followers I don’t think they really need the help of my tiny blog and its tiny cohort of imaginary readers.

For those of you looking to get into running, the app is called Zombies, Run! It was developed by a company called Six to Start, and is a fantastic combination of radio theater, fitness encouragement and addictive behaviour exploitation. I believe its on both Google Play and the other one.

Anyway, this program has been working for me really well, and I mean better than any other futile attempt I’ve made at improving my cardio. The first part of that, I think, is that I love radio theater, and I especially love the revival that its undergone with the fairly recent Renaissance of podcasting. This one is really good; not ostentatious by any means, but you get a group of distinctive characters who tell a really intriguing story from beyond the end of civilization. It moves flawlessly between zombie-chase panic to calmer moments of intrigue and paranoia that unfold between Runners, the scavengers and couriers of a post-apocalyptic settlement.

So the story is great. But for me, I think its the acquisition of non-existent resources that gives this little piece of kit its psychological force. Alongside the story it tells, and letting you set your own playlist while you run, the app contains a little mini-game. By having you “collect” odds and ends during your runs, you are able to repair and improve your little hamlet. When imaginary people are relying on you, it can be a strangely effective motivator.

A bit like this blog really.

Anyway, if you get the chance, I recommend you check it out. Well worth the few dollars it’ll cost you.

Though I will admit that there is at least one hill around here that makes my heart want to tear itself out of my ribcage… but that’s fitness…

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.sixtostart.zombiesrun

zombies

Pumpkins, Pagans and Penises in your Faith

I’ve been watching the seasons.

It’s been a bit weird, coming back to inverted seasons, but the Australian Autumn has proven rather warmer and sunnier than even the Scottish Summer. Even then, it’s nearly Samhain, and that means…

Pumpkins!

It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve given y’all, my dear imaginary readers, one of my recipes/snuff pieces, so here’s one that’s kind of about a pumpkin pasta dish, a little bit about religion, with a dash of Renaissance art thrown in for good measure.

Anyway.

Seeds.wpid-20150120_160026.jpg

I know that we’re at the opposite end of the agricultural cycle to be really thinking about planting, but seeds are handy in vegetarian-land because we all need iron and chewing rusty nails gets some funny looks. But once again, Samhain approacheth, and hollowing out pumpkins sort of sits well with that, so we’ve got these little fellas out of that process.

I’m using a Butternut for this. I think the British call them Squash, but they’ve always been pumpkins to me.

I’ve got some mixed seeds too, Just for variety.wpid-20150120_160127.jpg

For my northern hemisphere imaginary readers, it may be weird that I’m talking about Samhain in March, and indeed the calendars do read Easter. Hell, for you guys Halloween isn’t til October. Just gotta remember I’m on the topsy turvy arse end of the globe now, out by the “here be dragons” label. And this is part of the problem I have with gods with dicks.

So you fry the seeds first. Otherwise they’ll be chewy.wpid-20150120_160220.jpg

You see I’ve had two Autumns this year. Two dying seasons, two harvest times. Last Autumn I was lucky enough to see Titian’s Diana and Actaeon series in the Scottish National Gallery, who had secured their loan for a few months. Beautiful pictures, but it kind of shocked me that he’d painted her as blonde. To my mind Diana was pale and raven haired, in line with the moon in the night sky.

Once you’ve chopped the pumpkin, put it in the pan with the seed mix. wpid-20150120_160430.jpgFry it up a bit, gives it more flavour. You can add some chopped onion at this point if you want, I do sometimes. It adds more bulk than taste, so it’s handy if you’re short on pumpkin.

Which we shouldn’t be at this time of year, despite the crazy Catholic Calendar telling us its the Festival of Eoster, telling us its spring time. Not sure whose bright idea that was, but its a damn fine way to foster ill considered farming practices.

Not that it matters so much in a modern context but seriously. Gods and their penises.

So I usually add a bit of water at this point, otherwise you’ll burn the mix.Throw in a touch of nutmeg, cinnamon and cumin at this point, though you probably don’t want more than half a teaspoon of each. Dash of salt and pepper.

A young cousin of my partner, while we were all temple hopping in Paestum, asked if I had a favourite Greek god, his being Ares, and I answered Artemis (Diana to the Romans and for that reason Titian) because she was crazy. She’s a brilliant character because she has absolutely no space in her heart for mercy or compromise. I suppose if I were to pick an actual role model from the Greek pantheon I’d probably be more inclined towards Athena, and even she did some pretty dark stuff (Gorgons, for example) but what I always liked about the Greek gods was I don’t think they ever felt the need to be role models. I tend to think that they were more like fables, stories about the kind of stuff that people get up to when they have too much power. The kind of gods that lead people’s most common prayer to be “oh great and glorious god, please find it into your benevolence to not kill us today.”

Give the sauce a fistful of spinach. A generous fistful. Remember that spinach is wpid-20150120_162009.jpgalways going to cook right down, add a little more water if you need to cover the leaves, but that will mean it will take longer to simmer. I’ll leave it to your discretion.

An I suppose we come to the crux of my problem with wanger deities. In the upper floor of the Scottish National Gallery, right above the frame of Diana arranging for Actaeon’s hounds to eat him after she had the temerity to show up without knocking, there’s the Medieval section. You run into a lot of pictures of Jaysus in the Medieval section, as well as a number of Madonna and child pictures that show a blatant disregard for how breasts work. I’ve got nothing against Jesus specifically. I mean, I’ve tended to view him and his Ma as fairly piss poor imitations of Attis and Cybele, and it amuses me greatly to think of the Madonna chowing down on a Christ sandwich come Winter. That was all intentional in the attempt to convert pagans, so… well, the ones that cheesed me off were the images of Jesus crowning his mother, as if he could somehow bestow divinity on Mary.

Here’s a fun fact Abrahamic fundy types. God didn’t give you life. Your mother did.

Put the pasta on to boil. You’ll want a little salt in the water.

I’ve been thinking about Cybele, the Mesopotamian fertility goddess who the Greeks called the Magna Mater, lately. Like Eoster, she’s had a rough time with the Christians trying to erase her. I think I like her because she’s understands that there are seasons for all things. She is the birth, life and death of her children, consuming them like the earth so that life can continue. Your dick gods tend to favour a top down, absolutist control structure that leads to things like absurd, impractical calendars, non-existent months named after dead crazy people, and violent fundamentalists murdering those weaker than them in attempt to block out the pathetic futility of their own existence in the face of the infinite.wpid-20150120_162255.jpg

Grate up some cheese, because cheese is great. Strain off the pasta, and your ready to dish up!

I suppose the real problem I have with gods that have penises is that they always seem to assume that they have to be alone. The only one. Maybe they looked down past their gut one day and counted. But having that as a core conceit means there’s not any room for change, for evolution or for variety. All it has is control, and the myriad abuses of that.

So I like the Magna Mater. I admit in my mind she’s a vicious, snapping thing, tough as Diana and twice as crazy, a goddess who doesn’t speak in words because she’s older than language and has never seen a need for them. But she recognizes that things change. That anything can die, because change is a necessity in the face of a changing world, to the seasons or the bigger changes we’re facing today. Because trying to massage your sad little ego in the face of a hostile universe doesn’t fix your problems. The universe is hostile either way.

I like to think she’s still waiting. Watching Jehovah. Watching the state of Abrahamic stagnation, waiting to begin the cycle again. She’ll still be there. Still hungry.

Sure is lucky that we made this delicious pumpkin pasta then isn’t it? Happy early Samhain everybody!

wpid-20150120_164637.jpgAstute readers may have realized that this recipe, or indeed this entire article, is not very Cyberpunk at all. Fr those of you worried by this, fear not! I have something lined up for you that I think you’ll appreciate… and photos supplied by me dangit, so this article’s mine! You can’t have it!

In Which I Teach the Jokers D&D: RPG Actual Play

Hey again everybody.

This is a little story from when I was still living in Scotland. Now, to clarify: first, the Jokers of the title are a group of Australians, one of whom is a former comedy colleague of mine from back in the old country. Now, they’d been jetting around Europe on a binge of new experiences, and realised at some point that they had never played Dungeons and Dragons. For privacy, lets call these guys Jerry, George and Kramer. So, in their ignorance, they approached me in the hope that I could DM for them. Now, those who know me know that I don’t really get along with D&D, so for the nitpickers what I gave them wasn’t actually D&D. What I gave them was a lazily reskinned version of the Hollow Earth Expedition’s Ubiquity rules with enough Lord of the Rings and Adventure Time references to make it seem authentic.

So that did away with things like feats, classes, levels, and firm ideas of good and evil that would normally annoy me. What it produced was a sort of deranged psychadelia that was somewhere between Looking for Group and In Bruges. This was not aided by Jerry, my former comedy comrade, having bought litres of Sainsburies budget cider, scotch and Irn Bru.

So, I brewed up these characters over a lunch break at work, and then did a half arsed series of “how do you know each other” questions. So, given the circumstances, this is what the guys came up with.

Jerry chose the thief option, and came to the conclusion that he was a depraved drug dealing Hobbit named (I think…) Lenny. He is deeply dissapointed in his son, Aragorn, for the boy’s lack of adventuring spirit.
George went with the ranger, going with the ever popular name Aragorn, and named his wolf companion Pongo. As it turned out, he was a half elf half hobbit, Lenny being his father. Despite his father’s wishes, Aragorn really just wanted to dance and introduce rhinestone body jewelry to the Dwarf diaspora.
Kramer went with the barbarian option, an Uruk Hai of ambiguous gender who was Lemmy’s current lover, named (perhaps…?) Rok. Ze did not got along with Aragorn, disliking the smell of his soap. Ze had a bear spirit totem, because I was drinking and playing Shadowrun Dragonfall a lot at that point.

So, that was the party we started out with. Not traditional, by any means, but you replace D&D morality with something a bit more relativistic and you can work cider soaked wonders.

Wonders and horrors, as it turns out.

Our story begins with our strange group being summoned by Cerwyn Kneesmasher, Godfather of the local Hobbit mafia, who wanted a group of professional murderers to look into something for him. They were to travel two towns over, to Brookmeadow, and find out why an associate of his hadn’t sent a package. In exchange for this they would each receive a “fuckoff pouch of gold”. Aragorn attempted to negotiate for more, and received the response that Cerwyn would break their legs if they failed in the assignment. So they agreed. Lenny picked Cerwyn’s pocket, finding a ring labelled “totally not cursed” (every hobbit should have one), and threw himself out the window. Rok and Aragorn left by the stairs, stopping to pull Lenny out of the hedge.

Cerwyn had recommended that they stay at the town of Happyhat halfway along their journey, so the gang started hitch hiking. When an old peasant on a cart rolled up,  they promptly killed and butchered the horse. The peasant continued to chew his piece of grass, fairly unsurprised. The party debated what to do now that their only transport was crippled, and Rok ended up pulling the cart. They camped for the night, Rok climbed a tree to go on lookout, and promptly fell down again when Aragorn shot zir in the buttock. Lenny chewed him out while applying ointment to Rok’s wound, until Pongo ate his stash of hallucinogens and ran off screaming into the woods.

In the morning, the adventurers realised that Rok could no longer pull the cart with zir wounded leg. Thus the gang started walking. Aragorn stopped to put an arrow through the old peasant’s head as he sat by his cart. The arrow went through, but the old man kept chewing his blade of grass.

A week later the characters arrived at Happyhat, lost and on the edge of starvation. Lenny decided to sneak in, and when he did not return by morning the others went into the town and find him sharing a chicken with the town’s morbidly obese mayor. Lenny found the mayor’s chatter irksome, and seduced him, Aragorn filming the resulting orgy with the help of a local wizard. As the shoot proceeded, the mayor explained that all was not well in Happyhat, with Heckroaster the dragon returning tonight to collect on demands they could not meet.

After the shoot was over, Aragorn went looking for some repair work. He found Granite, a dwarven smith who was currently working on a dragon restraint collar. Granite was cagey, but Aragorn broached the subject of whether she would be interested in some intimate rhinestone apparel.

He woke up later that night with a hammer wound to the head, hanging naked from the town gate with his genitals covered in rhinestones. Rok and Lenny came to rescue him as Heckroaster approached, Rok chopping down the gate and trapping Aragorn beneath it.

Then, Heckroaster burst through the treeline, fiery breath lighting up the night. Lenny fled in terror, and Aragorn screamed for Pongo. Rok was the only one who realised that the dragon was made of papier mache, and piloted by five gnomes.

After a brief battle in which Rok used zir own flaming, oiled body to destroy the dragon and Lenny returned only to be knifed to death by gnomes. Rok managed to kill the remaining gnomes with zir fuckoff big axe, and prayed that Bear would revive zir fallen lover. Bear, being a fairly forgiving character, returned the depraved Hobbit to life.
Meanwhile, after a still tripping Pongo chewed through Aragorn’s bonds, the eflhobbit began hunting naked through the streets, looking for revenge on the dwarves. He was confronted by Allejandro Montoya, the notorious dwarf ninja, and held at nunchaku point briefly before shooting him through the eye, killing him instantly.
It was around this point that the question was asked what they were meant to be doing here. I responded that Happyhat was meant to be their rest stop.

Having defeated the “dragon”, Rok made it’s head into a cape, and the gang continued to Brookmeadow. Where they found their contact murdered, and descended into a self destructive cycle of drug use and uncertainty. That’s where the session ended.

So yeah, heroic fantasy at its best.

It was interesting to play with newbies, especially with the express idea of making the session as madcap as possible. I inevitably improvise most of what goes into an rp session, and the Jokers latched onto making this fictional world as strange as possible. Veterans of improv games, I knew they would have a good time with the collaborative storytelling element of the game, but I was surprised at how exciting they found rolling the dice. Which was interesting. I suppose I always phrased it like a wager, and it got really good results.

So. That was weird.  Have a good one folks.

Scenes from the City Part 2: The Scavenger

Here’s the second installment for my Scenes from the City. Different narrator this time, fleshing out the world a bit.

The Scavenger

There’s a saying in the City that a night alone in the forest will turn a brave man’s hair white overnight, if he lives at all.

This isn’t what happened to me. I am not truly sure if I should be exempted, for my hair was white from the day of my birth, as milky white as my ruined left eye, and the spattered white of my beard when I’ve been away from the walls for days. My white hair may exempt me from being a brave man.

I suppose the other untruth I see in the saying is that I have never known a man, or a woman, or a beast from the City who spent a night alone out here and was able to return.

I thrust my hands into the icy water of the stream, and the clear water carries the blood away. The entrails of the thing hang from a tree uphill and downwind of us. Some of the boys had wished to keep them, to carry them back with us. This is why I have lived long enough that my half-blind gaze can cow them. They do not think me brave in the squares and alleys behind the walls. When we drag our findings through the Waiting Gate. They whisper that I am some cursed silver wolf wearing a man’s skin, as bad as the Woodfolk and the beasts they revel with.

I could tell them it was my father gave me this white hair, struck out the light in my bad eye with the sickness he forced on my mother before my birth. I could bring them before the apothecary whose words those were. They would still take my spoils, hurl me their coins, and ward against my evil eye until I was gone.

I went back to the camp, where the boys were enshrouding the carcass. With luck the forest would be drawn to the bloody mess we left on the ridge, but the deep green has never been easy to judge in my mind. It’s… chaos. You have to adapt constantly to the new things it creates.

It had been that we were going to stay at the Old Fort, but on reaching it we had found the masonry overgrown. The woods have been overrunning things more quickly… perhaps it has been the last two years, though for all the tallies on the wall of the Sanctuary I don’t believe anyone truly knows. The old stones had been clear on my last visit, mere weeks before. We found it with its arch toppled, and the flags swamped beneath thorns and creepers, new plants springing from the earth beneath and around. I had considered taking the day to have the boys clear it. Then we found the first body.

Judging by the scraps of plate still clinging to the bug-picked bones, they were some of Vulture’s crew, and Twin confirmed it for me. Everyone looked away while he examined the corpses, getting far too close for comfort, close enough to kiss. He licked the eye socket of the smallest. He screamed for a while, yammering about the things Vulture had felt under her skin before death took her. I clutched him to my shoulder as he seized, trying to muffle his messages, the others chewing their lips and watching the woods around us. Grifter was praying quietly. Twin calmed down eventually, and whispered to me that there was death in the grey mushrooms around us, death watching. I’d have to remind the others not to come this way. After living the way he has had to, the witch boy doesn’t scare easily.

We set our tents in a bend in the river that we came to shortly after dark. There was a small ridge that would keep us out of sight, and I set a couple of the lads to climb trees and keep a watch for us, for all the good it would do. Better to have the forest think we weren’t here, so our rice was cold that night. The thing stumbled right into the camp on its spindly legs, and I took that as a sign that we smelled enough like the forest for now. We killed it before it could scream. It was a sick and limping animal, its hide patchy and stinking, but its good enough to sell.

If we can reach the Temple by nightfall, our outward journey is done.

I dry my hands, and I look across the stream to the figure on the ridge. The shy little thing had found us again, alone this time. All skin it would seem, or else the birds wouldn’t have stopped calling. I’d thought we’d given her the slip, but she just kept on, always watching.

There’s a saying the City folk would never understand.

You know a man is trouble when the birds won’t leave him.

6511512805_624ea46c69_oPhoto, “Lights through the trees in the Dark Forest”, courtesy of joansorolla on Flickr.

Kookaburra

I saw a Kookaburra mere minutes ago.

Given I’m in the Blue Mountains this should not be a strange thing. But it felt like it had been a long time since I had seen one, and then I realised that was because it was.

So the bird was, happily perched up on a power line, before flitting away into the foggy trees, and this returnee is watching something perfectly normal.

There was no time for me to take a photograph, and I find that the lens usually fails to capture what the eye sees in moments like these.

So instead, here is a much better picture from a much sunnier day, courtesy of Tatters (or tgerus) over on Flickr, and I hope you all have a good weekend.

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Also, I’ve realised that I’ve been slacking off, relying on a bit of a backlog of work I’d built up. You shall receive said work soon, as if I’m just resting on my laurels then the motivational element of this isn’t working.

Once again, having used Tatter’s photograph from Flickr, you are free to use any part of this article in your own work as long as the relevant folks are credited (and in the picture’s case if is isn’t for commercial use), so take that and run as far as you like with it.

Changelings of the Outer West Part 2

Part 2: The Trouble They Landed In: Setting

This is part of an ongoing series of memoirs about a Changeling: The Lost chronicle I ran before leaving for Europe. Part 1 is here https://nextbestplan.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/changelings-of-the-outer-west-part-1/

As mentioned, the Talking to a Stranger Changeling arc was set in an entirely fictional version of 1972 Cootamundra. I strongly suspect it has very little in common with that town at the time, and is mostly formed of my childhood memories of Bathurst, Dubbo, and a degree of frenzied improvisation.

For those unfamiliar with Changeling, you have a fractured reality; the world is divided between the “real” world that normal humans experience, a the Hedge, a surreal and labyrinthine place that is both a wall and a bridge between the real world and Arcadia, the realm of the True Fae. Our heroes also spend quite a bit of time in worlds created from their own (often traumatised) dreams, and the collective dreamscape of sleeping humanity.

So for the 1970s escapees of Arcadia, Cootamundra is a pretty complicated place.

The “Real” World

Cootamundra in 1972 is divided between the mostly Gold Rush era Uptown from the mostly residential and light industrial Downtown by the river, which due to several years of serious drought has become a mostly dry ditch.

In Uptown, the Town Square is dominated by the Memorial Clocktower, a monument to the fallen of the two World Wars, which casts it’s shadow over the Colonial era Library and Town Hall, a number of old fashioned shops with apartments above them and the lantern-bedecked frontage of Mama Park’s Chinese Takeaway. The proximity of Solomon’s hideout in the Library and Mama Park’s place of business has naturally led to some tension between the two.

Cross the bridges over the river and the town begins to gravitate more towards 1950’s suburbs. On the outside of this towards the highway there are a number of autoshops and light industrial areas, including the abattoir that the Cold Hill Crew lairs near. Though once thronging with life, with the local mines having run dry nearly ten years prior there are more and more abandoned buildings in both the suburbs and industrial area.

Nearby, the former copper moving town of Black Hill (also fictional) is in an even more advanced state of decay, most of the town having fallen to dereliction. The remaining residents cling on in under the life sapping curse of a fallen Vampire Star.

The Hedge

The Hedge by default tends towards thick and claustrophobic forests, which doesn’t really mesh well with the arid surrounds of Cootmundra. You step through a gate in town – the main ones are under the main bridge over the river and in the door of John Callahan’s church – and you emerge onto a dry outback path bordered by immense termite mounds, leafless trees whose charcoal black bark saps blood and memories, and an omnipresent heat haze that obscures the distant mountains. It is a place of dusty plateaus, huddled oases, shadowed gorges and scorching sun.

The River in the Hedge, unlike its earthly counterpart, runs wide and slow, and forms the main Trod of the region. You follow it downriver and you’ll eventually come to the Sins of the Nameless down by the coast. You follow it upriver… and if you’re driven, resourceful and crazy, you’ll hit Arcadia.

Heading away from the center of town one way, if you leave the dry bushland and cross the treacherous outcrops there comes and immense plain of long, biting grasses, dotted with tight clustered groves and small earthen altars watched by the little clay people who built them and the clattering wooden beast that circles in the sky above. In the other direction and the hills give way to cliffs over a river of crawling human hair.

Dotted throughout the Hedge there are both disintegrating stone ruins and the odd clay-white Watcher Stones. These little half egg shaped stones with their two bored eyeholes make no sound or motion, but if you sleep near them or ask nicely enough you’ll find yourself elsewhere. A mostly empty, forgotten place, with islands of Hedge dotted far apart and disconnected, a place from before the imagination of the current crop of human beings.

The other major feature is the Roped Lake, an immense nest of rigging and suspended tents and platforms strung between immense tree trunks that forms the local goblin market. The unusually high number of escapees in the region allows the goblins a tidy trade.

Hedge Denizens

Here is a probably incomplete list of Hedge creatures that our motley has run across.

Charity Hogface, Goblin Merchant: Charity is a three foot tall bipedal hog who wears a tuxedo and pilots a steamboat up and down the River. As one of the prominent merchants of the hedge, he employs a gaggle of Smokeys and is prone to ramble on about the “invisible hand of capitalism” in his mincing South African accent. It is also noted that his chopper riding gunslinging cousin Wrath Pigface is a local menace though he has not received any screen time.

Coffincello, Goblin Merchant: a skull pokes between the strings of this casket turned stringed instrument. His skeleton arms strum the heavy strings that make his voice, deep and old. He deals in strange gadget cobbled together from junk, and made Snake’s new eyes from brass and lost memories.

The Mirrorbirds: a flock of raven like birds made from broken glass who live in a grove near the motley’s Hedge gate. They were convinced to guard the grove’s stash of goblin fruit by the motley’s promise to take one of their eggs to the real world and let it eat dreams.

The Bushmen: a gang of scurrying, semi-intelligent plants who use their sharp fronds as spears. They seem to worship a flabby tentacle-like creature in a small lake.

The Buried Giant: when Callahan attempted to dig termites from one of the huge mounds near their hedge gate, the mound flexed and was answered with a low rumble from beneath the ground. The giant was large enough to deter further investigation.

Simian Security: An alliance of monkeys and apes, dressed like English Redcoats, who operate as private security forces in the Hedge. Anias employs one of their operators, Kensington, to secure her Hollow.

The Yowie: an immense hairy humanoid with a taste for raw meat, the Yowie keeps a large clearing as its territory, and will generally attempt to eat interlopers.

The Quinkins: these stick thin creatures wander the Hedge in eery silence. They are inquisitive, often rummaging through stash of goods left within arms reach, but they tend to scatter info the shadows once observed.

Spiderbies: crawling creatures like wallabies with arachnid legs, these little guys travel in packs on the lookout for any Glamour they can find, be it the loose or walking kind.

Vultures: these immense, wind-voiced birds appear to be made of bones, old leather and tattered cloth. They live in the high places of the Hedge.

Meatbag, Goblin Merchant: Meatbag is a writhing pile of worms in a vaguely person shaped leather sack. But having made the bag themselves, they are naturally one of the best tailors in the Hedge.

Fox Brigade: these pig riding vulpine mercenaries roam the Hedge, trying to capture any changeling they can find fot sale. The motley managed to bait them into the Yowie’s clearing with predictable results.

Mushrooms: there are a lot of these guys dotting the dark places of the hedge. Nobody is sure if they’re sentient, but they seem to move around when people aren’t looking.

Owl: The undisputed star of the show, the best comic relief we get, Owl is Blaize’s hedge-beast companion. He is, for the most part, a gluttonous little kleptomaniac. But he’s pretty good at Owl stuff. Mostly. It’s not that Owl isn’t loyal. Its just that he’s easily… distracted by the promise of carcass.

Down the Skein

The final element of the world is a collection of dreamscapes, a world made of impossible numbers of human dreams tied together by the strange Gates of Horn and Ivory. These dreams are as varied as the dreamers, but Cootamundra is a town on a down swing, and has a number of troubled minds returning from the hellish warzones of Korea and Indochina. Coupled with strange, parasitic creatures like Judy, those who would wander in their dreams are walking a dangerous path.

Not that something like that has ever stopped this motley…

Once again, I’ve probably missed stuff. This is in part a memory jog for my players, as we’ll be commencing our 1984 arc fairly soon (a prize to the first imaginary reader who can guess its name!) but also cause its nice to share. Feel free to butcher and cannibalize any ideas for your own games folks, just don’t go quoting me in Cootamundra guidebooks.

Scenes from the City Part 1: The Young Thief

Well, I promised y’all some fiction, so here you are. The first in a series of writing exercises I’ve been subjecting myself to, set in a city nearing the end of its life. Enjoy.

The Young Thief

I remember the slippery roof tiles under my feet, but not my descent of them, or having reached the roof in the first place. I was in a crouch, my hands on the verdigris encrusted drain, my head leaning into the empty space that ended in the sky above and the street below. Four stories of tenement stretched like a field of coffins before me, all but two dark in the face of tonight’s biting chill.

I rose to my feet, breathing in deeply, and let the cold slide into my lungs and my fingers, and let it crawl into my bones.

The city is a thousand thousand stars beneath me.

I jumped.

I jumped, and the earth’s immortal pull dragged me down towards the ground, into the dark between the glittering gaslights. I felt for a moment the surge of fear, and remembered that I had no right to be doing this.

Caught by the nearly inevitable, I called my Sin to me, and mid-air felt it clamber and slide over my skin like the fungal blooms of the forest. I felt it wrap around me like an embrace, like wet hessian, like twists of wire and blood and choices yet to be made.

Three blocks away, a man in a tenement slips inexplicably on his staircase and breaks both ankles at the end of the fall.

Closer, a young woman, feeding her pigs. She collapses against the wall, feeling like she has been beaten, gasping for air.

One block away, an old woman dies of fright in her bed.

A drop of blood fall’s from a youth’s nose, and lands half on her hand and half in the grout between cobbles.

My blood. I pull myself back to my body, and find it mercifully unbroken, feel the tendrils of my Sin sliding back into the world around me, wickering in their soundless voices that this was how things had always been, and that there was no other way that the world could be right at this moment. I cannot accept the lie, but by then I am already running.

The gaslights in this part of town were disconnected before I can remember, the roads blocked, and the dark of night hugs streets that I’ve been told were once well traveled and prosperous. I jump to grip a decrepit garden wall, pull myself to to top, and spring off, catching a gutter that should creak. A hint of Sin. In a side alley, a stray cat yowls noisily.  I pull myself onto the partition, and can see the tower silhouetted against the softly illuminated night clouds. The blood balloons from my nose and over my chin.

Like a fungal bloom in the forest.

I have never been there.

8310127549_27e6753b78_oPhoto courtesy of Miguel Soll, aka 1nsomniac on Flickr. Creative Commons again, so you can use it yourself, and feel free to butcher my prose for your own dark purposes, as long as nobody is making money out of it. Cheers folks.

Home Again, Home Again

Well, we did make it back to Australia alive. The heat is refreshing after the relentless cold of the Scottish winter and the plague pit that is 22 hours in economy class. So we’ve come to the end of our big adventure, for now at least. Back to what passes for reality here.

Anyway, we had some friends come in from out of town, so we took them around the cliffs of the Jamison Valley to see the Three Sisters. Figured I’d share the piccies with you.

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And finally… well, I told my buddies in the UK that this stuff didn’t exist in Australia. Guess fate showed me…

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Idea Jam: Marla Stone, Lizard Detective

Alright, this one’s a little odd, so bear with me.

I’ve really gotta find a way to stop saying that.

Anyway, this idea came to me a little while back. The exact line of thought has faded, but it grew out of an observation that as the Jurassic Park movies progressed, the Velociraptors became increasingly intelligent, so it was a natural assumption that by the time the upcoming sequel was released they would all be using firearms, wearing clothes, smoking cigars and speaking French.

So the image of dinosaurs in coats and hats began to ferment in my head.

After having this one turning over in my head for a bit, I’m beginning to form a story that would probably sit best as a comic book. A noirish setting, with both lizard and human characters trying to survive in an alternative 1930’s New York. Marla, our leading lady, works as a private investigator, and has to negotiate the complex world of corruption, economic stagnation and tense interspecies relations.

So I did some drawing.

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Not particularly good drawing, as you can see, and littered as ever with my scrabbled thoughts. But as I was drawing, I came up with a few interesting ideas.

Marla runs a private detective agency. It’s an odd choice of career, but she’s never been one to favour politeness over honesty. The truth is there, and she’ll scrounge it out of the filth that covers it with cold patience, willpower and a refined palate for the subtle scents of fear in interviewees. Its not a popular or pleasant job. It doesn’t make you friends. But she’s extremely good at it.

New York’s lizard coroner spends most of his time out of the sun, and has become addicted to “lamping”; a practice in which lizards use heat lamps to overclock their metabolism and stay awake. He’s not made any mistakes yet, but he can no longer sleep at all without dousing himself in ice…

You thought the NYC winter was bad? Try being partially exothermic. Loss of heating in lizard communities can kill, and it wouldn’t be the first time that someone had caused it on purpose…

So we basically have ’30s hardboiled with the added complications of a multi-species society.

A voice sample for you, my possibly imaginary readers.

Marla Soliloquy: Dame walks into an office. Isn’t that how these always start? It’s different when it’s her office though. She’s bought you a cup of coffee, and you’re right where she left you, still looking as shaken up as before. It’s a cold night. For a moment she kids herself like that’s the reason.
Marla: You’re looking tired hon.
Lawrence: I know… just needed to talk in person.
Marla: About what?
Lawrence: I… I can’t keep doing this. My parents- my mother, she’s going to disown me if I keep seeing you. I love you, I truly do…
Marla Soliloquy: Poor, beautiful Lawrence. I’d loved you too, with all my cold little heart could muster.
Lawrence: I just wish I was braver… I’m so sorry.
Marla Soliloquy: I was sorry too, but the ending was unstoppable. You walked out of that Dame’s office, and all she wants to do is eat your God damned liver.

I wish I could cry. But the night is just too damn cold.

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So yeah… be kind of into writing this, I’d just need somebody better with a pencil than I am. Feel free to chime in on the comments if that seems like something you imaginary artistic types might enjoy.

A Scene in Verona

I see this fierce looking lady in the town square in central Verona.

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She’s crowned, standing on a fountain there, and from behind it looks as if she’s staring down the clocktower with a pair of broken shackles hanging impotently from her wrists.

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She looks a little different from this side. They’re not shackles in truth, but the ends of a scroll running between her hands. Maybe this changes the meaning.

I like to think it doesn’t.