Monday, 2 July 2018



The knife-edge of cosmic horror is that single moment of realization wherein an inky black vista yawns wide before you, utterly engulfing the entire world you knew and rendering it insignificant whilst being utterly unknowable by it's very nature - not only have your illusions been shattered, you're not getting a new one - this being the cut, severing you utterly, leaving you floating, alone. And that's pretty neat.

In the abstract our insignificance is relatively easy to grasp, but the illustration, or demonstration, the rendering literal of such a fact, is the cutting moment that severs us utterly. Survivors are wounded and left detached with nothing to cling to.

The unknowablity of the outside directly correlates to it's cutting ability - the less comprehensible, systemisable, the fewer links and logical consistencies it produces, the further enhanced it's wounding capacity.

That's why we need to stop focusing on the surface level aesthetics of cosmic horror, the recognisable characters and entities and forces - we're way past that point now. These surface trappings are graspable by anyone with an internet connection and some time to kill - both their fictive biographies and their genesis in the waking world. They are stripped and bereft of their edge, blunted for easy consumption.
comparable to how punks had sharp studs and now fashion loves blunt square studs. atrophied and nonthreatening, fucking pointless. PUN UNINTENTIONAL

Stop leaning on the old names and techniques - players/readers will guess Hastur! Cthulhu! Yog-Sothoth!, a flight from the actual simmering mindless pointlessness that cosmic horror attacks you with. What's more, they'll shit themselves twice as hard when you cut the guide ropes and push them away from the shores of knowledge and into the black ocean of the unknown.

Fuck 'em, let them drown.

I love day drinking.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Forgetting Bears

The mist coils endless, wrapped about trees tighter than snakes, ghost breath obscura. All sound dies in it's embrace. And so the woods are silent, animal cries localised, shrunk, extinguished. It solidifies to a wall when subjected to light, drawing into itself in defiance of sight or understanding. Bats slice effortlessly through the sea of fog, snatching small lizards midair as they leap from branch to branch. Figures cavort at the edge of comprehension, taunting.

From the mist emerge bears with bone masks, human fingers, fur russet, teeth needles and eyes bleeding*. There are always four - kill one and the rest seemingly dissipate into the fog of unknowing, leaving nothing but their slain companion. They meat causes Forgetting, a dangerous state wherein navigation through, into, and out of the Wooded Mist is possible. There is a standing bounty of £100 on a breeding pair of Forgetting Bears - their unmasked cubs would be slaughtered for meat, allowing the colonisation and harvest of the Wooded Mist to begin.

To capture a bear, a true Idiot is needed, unfettered by knowing or thought. They can grapple them by the mask, and hold them there.

HD - 7
ATTK - BITE +2 -  1D12+3 + AMNESIA OR 2x CLAW +1 1D8

*this said pleading on when handwritten but I typed bleeding so bleeding it is

Monday, 21 May 2018

Parasite Architecture Quivering Stone

The designs are innumerable, hidden in the tombs of infamous architects - sealed in lead, cast to the bottom of seas now deserts - the ugly centre of star-metal deposits - the dead basins of volcanoes.

They speak of a tower.

Mind-breakingly gigantic, both in scope and physically immensity. Koan made stone.To gaze upon it, even the ruined stubs of hundreds of failed attempts, is to be rendered as nothing before sheer mass and determination.

It demands to be built, the idea of it too large to die, but also too large to force its way into being - perhaps a cousin of the spell, lurking on the edge of reality, waiting for a opening. The portal is the structure is the idea is the behemoth, craving a physical permanence complete and resplendent, the gravestone of a world.

Entire empires would collapse under the construction project - a hundred thousand slaves could perish in the foundations, a mere speck, the very beginning. Hope a mad, royal architect does not first find the plans, and then discover a previous generations work - a solid foundation to build upon.

Incremental with the fall of empires, nestled in the rhythm of collapse, it will grow and break minds and enslave relentlessly until complete.

Somewhere in your world, the foundations were always ready, if only you had eyes to see before.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018


The sun shone. The greens, yellows and purples intensified, warped by the greenhouse glass. The plants inside coiled thick, although the cunning order of it was plain to him – a complex weaving of species from across the globe, flowers blooming from the wrong plant to the untrained eye. A riot of plant life, exotic species flourishing in the controlled environment. He moved amongst them, pruning and binding where needed, at peace. This finished, he set about watering, carefully controlling his distribution, ensuring all received what they required. This done, he slid open the door, closing it behind him, shutting away his precious flowers. The warmth outside was drier, more comfortable. He set about caring for to his outdoor plants, tending to them with a practiced hand. Finally finished, he turned to survey his work.

There was an intruder in paradise. He approached, no small amount of discomfort present. Crouched, he examined the outsider. A thorned, sickly-green plant in the middle of the empty bed. Dead centre. A small, tight bud resided at the top of the squat growth. He was sure he had weeded, and this was nothing he grew. Nothing he'd seen. Cruel thorns twisting together into fractals repeating into impossible spirals, too fine for his eye to follow. His frown intensified. There'd been nothing there the day before, he tended the patch daily for such weeds. He swallowed his misgivings and elected to leave it until he'd researched it - a new species could be interesting. He levered himself up, and breathed, filling his lungs with the morning air. His serenity returned as the sun washed over him, over the garden. After a few more minutes enjoying his craft, he wandered back inside to dig up his botanical guides.

The many tomes lay open around him, like fat alchemical treatises, cut-away diagrams and illustrations staring upwards. Nothing. His searches online had been fruitless. He sipped his drink, considering the ugly invader. The idea of something new, something novel was uncharacteristically appealing to him. Something unique - something for the show next year. He grinned, took up his camera, and snapped several pictures of the intriguing growth before measuring it with his ruler. The stem was leafless, only bearing those still-unnerving fractal thorns and a single, unopened bud. Perhaps an import? Most of his guides, whilst comprehensive, focused on the more popular exotics or the local flora. That could explain the lack of search results online, his normal avenues of information similarly inclined. He examined the pictures over his simple dinner, chewing without tasting.

There were more now. Four of them, creeping above ground almost reluctantly. The term 'Invasive Species' burned across his mind. He spied on them from inside the greenhouse, almost afraid to go outside. His garden was being tainted. Defiled. He shook his head, attempting to clear the mounting panic. He'd dig them up, burn them. Just like any weed. Why they worried him so much was beyond him. Mindful of the thorns, he retrieved the thick gardening gloves and trowel from their place of pride in the greenhouse. Equipped for battle, he strode out to face the invader. The trowel bit, shifting the well-tended earth away from the outermost stalk. Worry grew to confusion to dread as he kept digging, no end in sight. Two feet down, he stopped. The stem continued downwards, beyond the extent of his excavation. The bed scarred by the hole. He resolved to pull out the plant, and grabbed the stem, frustration seeing the course. Pain ripped up his arm, and he fought to swallow a scream. What remained of the inside of the glove was stained red, the rest of it still stuck to the stem, pierced a thousand times over. His hand was a mess of thorns and torn skin. He whimpered and beat a retreat from the plants, abandoning his trowel. Rivulets of blood slid down the stem, gripping the thorns as they went.

Removing the thorns was no less painful, and he fought the urge to vomit several times. Irrespective of his twistings and manoeuvres, they tore indiscriminately at the flesh upon attempted removal. Several excruciating hours were spent whimpering, thumping the desk and gritting his teeth, the time stretching far beyond its hours. Seconds crawled like crippled ants. By the time he had cleaned and bandaged the ruined hand he was exhausted, and slept. The painkillers guided sleep to him swiftly, and he dreamt of beaked rabbits with the voices of old women. They spoke Spanish fluently, and it meant nothing to him.

He awoke with the throbbing still present, although receding. His hand had bled in the night, seeping through the bandages and staining the sheets. He acknowledged this blearily, his usual morning-clarity missing. Something to deal with later. He stumbled across the house, made himself his morning coffee. Only luck saved him from grabbing the mug with his wounded hand. He sipped it clumsily with his off-hand as he moved to the greenhouse, operating on auto-pilot, planning his normal routine, forgetful of or unwilling to address yesterday. He glanced through the glass to check the sun, and was near-floored by the ruin. The garden was over-run with the plant. Those thorn instilled a new fear within him, and the sunflower sized stems were impossible. Nothing grew that quickly. They pressed eagerly against the glass, seeking an entrance. He shook. The fear blossomed into true terror. The rug was pulled from underneath him and he was left floating over a void. Dazed, he stumbled around the greenhouse, clumsily sloshing water over his beloved exotics. He over-watered the succulents. He did not see. Routine complete, he floated back across the house, and slept atop his bloodstained sheets.

The greenhouse was dark, and smelt of rot. The glass was entirely covered in endless waves of the loathsome plant. He stumbled unseeingly through the tangle of shelves and beds, throwing water over himself as much as the dead plants. The bandages were a blend of dark, crusted red and pus-yellow stains, unchanged since the injury. His face was unshaven, eyes wild. The animal stink of fear rose from him. The greenhouse was a grave, a mausoleum, a testament to organic rot. He hummed a broken tune.

A pane had broken, and the monstrous fractals hung in hideous tangles. This he did not see. He knelt before the only living thing in that dark glass cage, plant matter pressing in from every direction. A thorned, sickly-green plant in the middle of the only upright bed. The bud was large, heavy with sap, angled towards him. He stared, his face slack. The flower bloomed.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Prince of the Woods

They brood in the dappled twilight of the old forests, beyond the twisted secret warrens of thicket and undergrowth. The wolves and deer, the owls and badgers bend their knees in fealty, unbreakable til the pitted iron crown is destroyed. Insects and reptiles lend their ear, and do not take his counsel lightly, but owe no loyalty to the prince - they are apart, and have their own agendas.

Locals know Him as…
Green George
Arthur of the Oak
Goblin King
Lord of Teeth

The rumour goes…
The crown he wears is the first crown ever forged, and it put humans on top - in charge of nature, and that’s why the animals do his bidding.
The forest? Used to be a kingdom, and the edge marks the boundry. The king were reduced to a mere prince, or was it a prince robbed of being a king? Regardless, he now rules the animals and holds court with them. He’ll sleep at last once his throne is returned.
He doesn’t rule the animals, he is the animals, get me?
If it weren’t for him the forest’d die.
He’s held in thrall by a tree what seduced him - and still is, waiting for her to marry - why else is he a prince and not a king, eh?
He’s actually a witch with a glamour, and so is the court of his animals - they can’t pretend to be lizards and bugs, because they’re not warm like people or witches.
Conflict Arises…
The Prince is at war with the insects and lizards - you can hear them fightin’ in the woods.
A wolf is leading a coup, and both sides are trying to drag the humans into the conflict.
The Prince would see his domain expanded - the forest goes rapidly, cutting off the local village from (something essential, or entirely)
The Prince demands oath of fealty from domesticated animals, thinning the herd, causing a potential food crisis.
The Prince has killed the charcoal burners - not that the villagers care about them, but who’s next?
The Prince has stolen a child to take his place - but isn’t he supposed to be immortal?
Folkloric monsters and shit. Stat is however you please, you can change the ending of the story through the stats I guess. My players would probably just burn the fucking forest down. Also he could just be an Arboreal Vampire to mess with people/

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Hunters & Killers

A dungeon contains two main things, as I see it - monsters and treasure. One stops (easy) access to the other, and so you trick, maim and murder the monsters to get the treasure - especially when you're using gold-as-xp (as you should). Whilst this is obviously pretty simplistic, ignoring all subtlety and additional functionality, I'm looking more at the relationship between the players and the monsters here. Removing or negating them is a means to an end, which might mean you basically don't need to worry as much about who/what/why - although I still do this, as do most DMs worth their salt - their weaknesses and pressure-points are often entwined with their history, relationships etc, enriching the game-play.

Which is just a complicated way of saying you kill them because they're in the way.

I'm currently thinking about a game wherein you are (primarily) monster hunters, rather than slayers. This entirely changes how the players relate to the monsters - they are the driving purpose, they are the main event. Consequently, how we as DMs work with the monsters has to change to reflect this, thematically, in presentation and mechanically.

(It'll also change the XP calculations - though I'd still probably link it to "treasure", but the treasure being the reward money for claiming the bounty)

There's a couple of schools of thought to be applied here - what does the monster mean, or represent*. Integrating monsters into the (super)natural fauna of the land gives them context, a place, relationships with the rest of the system but simultaneously runs the risk of making them a bear or wolf with magic powers, which is a bit shit. This links heavily into presentation, discussed in that section. However, you could argue that animals are not monsters, that animals are an expected element, a known quantity. Monsters are (in my view) essentially aberrations of the natural order.

Taking on this concept of the monster as an aberration, we can play with some pretty fun ideas - they represent a wrongness in the area, whether that be social or environmental - the spirit of your murdered brother, or woodland furies emerging to slaughter woodsmen. With this, you introduce the concept of having two immediate routes to solve the issue - hunt and kill the monster (treat the symptom) or attempting to solve the issue causing the aberration in the first place (cure what ails). This concept is used in The Witcher 3, which is a really good game you should try out - although you do sometimes end up fighting the beastie after solving the problem, albeit in some modified way, such as a weakened state, with greater foreknowledge, or with some form of specialized preparation informed by the root cause - put the spirit to rest with their original murder weapon, or prepare an oil with the weeds atop their unhallowed resting place.

The monsters themselves must be presented according to their themes - the must fall into place with their respective systems, whether this is naturalistic "monsters" having nesting and food, or the aberrant monsters presented in such a manner to reflect their nature, and the ill they represent. Either approach can give the campaign a more "folky" feel, relying on the local population, their legends and rumours, a lot of spent in the rural areas rather than the cities and towns. 

Divorced from this, the monsters must be capable of being hunted. This can mean innate stealth, necessitating tracking, great speed or flight, requiring some manner of trapping them or attacking them at rest, or just being them so tough and terrifying that a cunning plan is needed to take them down.

The above points should generally somehow be reflected mechanically - with a lot of these, as with most OSR & OSR adjacent stuff, is in rulings and presentation rather than encoded into rules specifically.

A principal challenge with a hunted monster is ensuring the actual confrontation is interesting - I'm sure we've all experienced the players blitzing a single powerful opponent to death in a single round. HP Bloat is not enough to give this feeling of a genuinely dangerous monster worthy of hunting - elements such as speed and stealth, as with presentation, are key. Tapping into the folky nature of the game, having very specific weakness (which, of course, can be discovered by characters investigating sufficiently) are a both a classic element of such legends, as well significantly toughening up the monster itself.

Of course, an infestation of monsters, rather than a single, powerful creature, entirely side-steps this issue, but changes the entire relationship of the hunt - an extermination rather than a hunt. However, many of the other points above still apply, such as infestation-as-aberration, especially in the case that the infesting creature is otherwise normal in many respects.

*Not that I generally ascribe meaning to anything in my games in terms of real-world stuff, but more a sense of history or integration, or going the other way, a negation or lack of history/integration, and indeed, meaning.