Let’s start with the PCs’ more-or-less commitments:
You’re currently 2 days into a 3 day event Mecha Basho, the third day of which is being delayed by your irresponsibly absconding with the Pit Boss of Komtor.
His vizier, OTAN, figures that they won’t start the climactic day without him and besides, those bastards from Ulla-n-Batoor haven’t turned up yet and you guys were unceremoniously chased out of the Dashoguz arena by a nomadic horde of Purples so you probably have a bit of a grace period before people start to moan that you’re late.
You have a secret mech for this 3rd day showdown, and potentially awesome destructive capacity (using energy weapons + Holtzman shield, or possibly orbital bombardment). OTOH, now you’ve seen the size of the Pit Boss’s mech, it’s kind of comically out of scale with your own (like if yours were a 25mm scale figure, his would be a shoebox).
Come to think of it, it’s pretty much a classic hobbit/dragon scale relationship.
So there’s that.
Also somebody told Kyre to kill the Pit Boss via orbital strike because he’s a mere puppet for sinister Nautiloids (and so is the rest of the top rank of mechawrestlers).
OTOH OTAN has offered you guys a job fighting for him. Not clear right now how that’s gonna play into Day 3: is it even allowed in the tournament rules? What rules?
Meanwhile OTAN wants colourful belts like your Yellow Belts of Choison. He has not said why. So that’s why you guys went to the Farishta crash site,
a hundred miles north of Otrar, City of 99 Seers. Apparently the Farishta has been extensively looted already, and its control furniture (likely including the belts) has been taken to Otrar – after a battle between Otrari and Ulla-n-Batoor forces. Wreckage of the battle (burned out Ulla ‘thopters) still litters the area.
So. 1. Farishta wreckage seems to be in high demand – except for the various creepy stuff that’s still left at the crash site (jelly eggs full of dead/dormant humanoids, Mi-go, and other hybrid and exotic body types), which even the ghouls won’t touch, even though it seems mighty meaty.
2. If you want to try to get those belts you’ll have to go to Otrar. Locals can tell you that Otrar is a fortified city with a high blue tower and famous workpits, from which there is a near-constant banging of hammers and occasional flashes of light like they’re welding together continental plates or something. The Seers of Otrar sometimes have jobs for them, which either involve bringing stuff back from toxic wastelands or performing meaningless acts with mysterious metal stuff on mountaintops. It was a junior Seer who started the Carcosa Wacky Race going, the object of which was to recover the Farishta’s Black Box. Local sky men know that Seer (Mienu the Fat) – and Thora has met him, though I don’t think they exchanged words. You don’t know if the Black Box ever made it back to the Seer or not.
3. Whatever valuables the Otraris didn’t take is probably either in the hands of the sky men or of the ghouls.
Incidentally, the Carcosan sorcerer Chixi’lu the Melter used to be highly active in your area. You never figured out what he was up to, but the landscape is littered with his weird scallopy colourful glass towers. Last time Thora was here, there were also lots of dazed/zombified women stumbling about, missing hands or feet. They’ve gone, but the ghoul population has boomed. Why do you care? Well, he was the previous owner of the Yellow Belts. Also he probably had a lair or hideout or something.
Farther afield, and back the way you came…
On the TV: news is still all about your amazing victory at the Basho – unprecedented! Complete unknowns, Cosmic Dancer… could they be another cover identity for The Vengeance of Kokand? Surely he was not so easily bested! Let’s replay that moment when… interspersed with reports of the fighting around Dashoguz: apparently the main Purple infantry have now arrived, it’s not clear exactly what’s going on. News speculates that terrorist attacks (pictures of Kyre, Keisha and Iqbal with a moustache) were really scouts for this invasion force. The Khan of Khiva says the situation is in hand, but the Amir of Urgench says a strong counter-attack is the only way to stop the Purple Menace, and he’s parading his tanks, implying that the Khan can’t handle it. Dashoguz may or may not have loot for the taking, now that you killed its Governor.
Khiva clearly has its own secrets – big toroidal underground complexes; odd blue crystals. Extensive mech factories even though the Khan doesn’t fight, and a fondness for electrical powerplants even though the Gas Mining Colony is next door. The Khan
was perfectly happy to let you guys loose after you confessed your plan to “deal with” the Pit Boss, and even to host you at his parties, even though consensus seems to be that the Pit Boss is horribly dangerous. He also fixed you up with grease monkeys and supplies – all unofficially. Weirdest of all, he expressed interest in Cutter and where it came from (everyone seems to be curious about that) and then let you go do your thing, rather than, say, impounding Cutter and making you guys disappear.
Who else is curious about Cutter? Well, there’s the Space Psychics (represented by Birunni, mysterious Black Carcosan woman) who abducted, briefed and returned Kyre. They seemed super-excited about something that could fight the Nautiloids. But they also seemed to be in trouble when Kyre saw them – Birunni’s boss had disappeared and her Gigeresque home/base/ship was beiong taken in tow by 2 enormous Nudibranchs . And there’s the strange detail that, even though your attack on Dashoguz has been all over the news, no footage of Cutter is ever shown. Only those brief moments when members of the party are off the mech.
Oh yeah, and right when you got hold of Cutter – you had to bust it out because the caravanserai was being attacked by a band of desert pirates who were being manipulated by a giant red Mi-go. You didn’t think anything of it at the time but it sure was convenient that this supermech happened to be buried under what’s basically a desert truck stop which just happened also to contain a famous engineer on the run. And then the desert pirates didn’t try to hold the caravanserai after they’d taken it – they marched off with prisoners, in more or less in the direction the Mi-go had fled – are were themselves attacked by someone else. You saw the signs of fighting at night. So maybe the desert is teeming with hostile pirate bands. Or maybe there was some specific thing that brought all these people to this out-of-the-way sand bowl.
Cutter has been patiently sitting inside a statue for the past couple of days, unconsulted, but it stated quite clearly a while ago that it wants to go find the Ground Base of Tjerimai, the Sister to its own Mothership, Smeroe. And you guys think that’s probably inside a giant brass enclosure at Amritsar . Why a brass enclosure? Because that’s what you freed Cutter from, back at that desert caravanserai, SW of Dashoguz.
And that engineer, Wachim, and his grandson Selim (currently somewhere on the streets of Khiva) seem to have an intuitive grasp of what Cutter wants. They built the control panel you use to talk to Cutter without ever having actually seen the machine or opened its brass cucurbit. They knew there was something helpful in that cucurbit.
So I reshared a collection of images from the David Lynch Dune movie and I noted that Lynch’s vision wasn’t what my Dune looked like… and Joshua Blackketter asked what does my Dune look like?
Well. Even though it was probably the book that made me decide to go to art school, I never actually made any pictures of it I was happy with. So I’m going to have to show a bunch of other people’s art that still isn’t my vision but which I think is fantastic. Thus:
First I think Lynch’s Carryall is unimprovable. No apologies, no explanations for how it hangs in the sky: it does so by sheer industrial charisma. The only misstep is that the spice harvester has nothing in common with its superb brutality of form. But that’s because the perfect, complementary sandcrawler had already been used in a bigger scifi epic a few years before:
The stillsuits, the Fremen, even the Bene Gesserit I have no problem with. Lynch’s guild navigator (start at 3:20 or 4:10 if you’re impatient) is straight up the best thing ever seen in any science fiction film, narrowly beating Princess Aura’s costume in Flash Gordon and Chris Tucker’s hair in Fifth Element. But the Mentats and the Harkonnens… I just wasn’t buying them. Fortunately Moebius’s designs for Jodorowsky are freaking amazing:
That’s the Baron, Rabban and Feyd (in heels!). Imma say that again: Feyd in heels. Melnibonean.
Sardaukar guards. And Piter, the Baron’s Mentat-assassin. All from duneinfo.
Thufir, the Atreides’ Mentat… I’m less convinced about, even though I love the Pieter Stuyvesant callout with the wooden leg. Really the only other character I’ve seen who I think would make a great Mentat is that creepy dude from Game of Thrones.
Sandworms are the best thing evar in the book, but every illustration I’ve seen of them has only been ho hum. The consensus Penis Worm is OK I guess once you get over the whole penis thing.
In my game I have hot glass worms as a partial homage to Dune but adapted for my electroradiant hellscape (and riding them presents several novel engineering challenges). In that spirit, these are my faves:
though if I were to draw one it would be blunt-ended, almost completely submerged, and more like a tunnel drill than a star-mouthed lamprey.
And the architecture. Lynch is pretty good. These are also good:
but you know what I would love?
Finally, ornithopters. Lynch et al said that flapping planes look crap, but I think Miyazaki pretty much nailed it – they’re not birds but dragonflies:
Weirdest thing: they actually work.
And there’s no shortage of orthoptera out there, via Jodorowsky among others, from the graceful to the charmingly awkward:
but my favourite by far is this incredibly cheeky one in a set of custom minis:
My own would have cantilevered counterweights flapping opposite the wings and would be a health and safety nightmare.
Finally finally, apparently Frank Herbert himself really favoured Schoenherr’s magnificently moody paintings. I like ‘em too, but I’m a child of the 80s: I like my science fantasy illustration more informative and detailed. Still, you gotta admire his Vladimir Harkonnen: dripping with menace, yet PG:
One day soon (goaded by Michael Moscrip) I’ll post an actual thoughtful gaming article full of usable goodness, but from now until Christmas it’s gonna be lazy photoposting.
I’ve talked before at length about the diorama as an art form and a form of knowledge (and if you want more of that go read Steve Quinn‘s delightful book and hunt through the archives at fuckyeahdioramas). This here, though, is (a) pure pleasure; (b) a handy establishing shot of the Borg Invasion Fleet for Counter-colonial Heistcrawl -
the diorama of the Texel roadstead at the Jutters Museum, on Texel in the North Netherlands:
Texel is an island just off the coast of north Holland, strategically situated where the unfettered North Sea hits the sheltered and shallow “inner” or South Sea (Zuiderzee). The island has abundant water that stays drinkable for an unusually long time in barrels (due to some mineral inclusion I don’t really understand) and livestock. Through the period of the East India Companies the “roadstead” (shallow narrows between the island and the mainland) was the premier staging point for fleets leaving the Netherlands in all directions.
Ships would gather at Texel to wait for a favourable wind and tide to sweep them out into the North Sea and English Channel – sometimes for months at a time. They would be repaired and refitted and emptied of cargo and filled with fresh crew while at anchor in the Roads. If you wanted to gauge Netherlands sea power, your best bet was to hang out at Texel.
The diorama shows it “sometime late in the 17th century” – before the lustre had gone off the Golden Age. And I don’t know how many ships is has, but it’s a lot.
If you plan to play CCHeistcrawl and you really want to be alarmed about the navies that will grow up out of the first half of the 17th century, check out Willem van de Velde’s pictures of them arrayed against each other, fighting over ownership of the Atlantic:
The diorama shows merchant ships, whalers, fighting ships. Ships with battle damage from one of the Anglo-Dutch Wars:
Warships whose decorated spiegel sterns bespeak notable captains.
Little service vessels bustling around the great hulls like birds on a hippopotamus.
And everywhere contrasts: between the big ships and the little houses of the people that serve them:
between those houses and the cannon fort that defends the mouth of the Roads:
and between the costly business of war and the ruthless efficiency of Dutch trade:
that last image – the Baltic fluyt – is what the Dutch want to bring to the East Indies. Minimal crew, narrow deck, hull stretched out for cargo like an old shoe. That’s the ship that feeds the kitchens of Amsterdam with grain. Useless for fighting, optimally adapted for bulk extraction of resources. It only operate in places where you’ve already won the wars. In our own timeline it won’t be a practical instrument of colonialism until after the 1760s, and then it’ll be the English who wield that power, and they’ll adopt the faster Blackwall Frigate, and later the even faster clipper:
In the meantime (1600-1800, more or less) the Dutch will rely on their big East Indiamen, difficult to tell apart from warships:
(the East Indiaman is on the right), heavily armed and crewed – vehicles for soldiers, sailors (European, Chinese and Malay), guns and pepper. They’ll station old, leaky ones on port defense and shuttle routes around the Java Sea, and use them to provide an artillery backbone for the fleets of native canoes and caracoas that will fight all those obscure internecine wars between local princes that will slowly, but surely, grow their influence and colonies and arrogance.
But they won’t be easily dissuaded. See, the Indies trade will supercharge their economy – which they need because they’re already in massive growth of population and a war for independence with Spain. From 1600 t0 1665 Amsterdam, hub of the Indies trade, will grow sharply, from this:
to this (click to make much, much bigger):
It’s the realisation of a plan they come up with in 1610 – the year CCH begins – because right then they can see that they’re going to need a lot more city. For more and bigger houses, to accommodate their wealth. And although not all that growth can be credited to the East India trade (and it’s hard anyway to pick apart the influence of one trade among many in forming a commercial hub and economic powerhouse), some specific centres can be identified directly as indispensible parts of the machine:
Reward for getting this far: a bunch of fun dioramas from fuckyeahdioramas, including some delightful Japanese whaling ones especially for Arnold K:
Guys, I am astonished and humbled by the response to Counter-colonial Heistcrawl, and it hasn’t even started yet.
I’m running this campaign a bit differently from usual: it’s more of a collaborative creation. I know some parts,* but the players are coming up with others. In particular and right off the bat, they’re creating their home islands, shortly to be contacted and eventually colonized (if the players don’t do anything about it) by Perfidious Dutch and English men. And they are, without exception, exceptional. Like, damn.
First, Patrick Stuart’s Pat-Te-Chack-Ha, the island at the centre of the world.”Remember almost everything in the world is poisonous. The only way to avoid the poisons is to get exactly the right foods and mix them in exactly the right way. If you do this, the poisons cancel each other out. If you go ‘out there’ to the edges of the world and you see anyone mixing foods when they eat, always do exactly the same thing. …You can always cancel out a tabu or a sin with a different tabu or sin. But they have to be exactly right. If you can keep your actions even, you will be ok when you die.”
While James Young’s Kuna Kuna is at the end of the world.
“When your baby is born …you must choose the fate of your child. Carve a secret symbol into the walls of a god’s old chamber, do not tell anyone what you chose. This gives your baby the protection of that god’s children. When you are close to death you may tell your child the secret symbol you carved those years ago. If your child is far away you must tell another, but that person must tell your child as quick as he can or bring calamity on both. This is a spell of oath.”
Jason has sneaked some AmTart under the bamboo fence with his Cooly Islands:”In the end a new leader was appointed. The fairest skinned of our people, Los Blanco. His first act was to take control of the waterways and that was a wise thing. He starved out many traitors and those who clung to the Old Ways. He adopted the ways of a new God and killed those who did not follow.”
All I know about Evan of Gamepieces’ character so far is that he distrusts coins and giant floating stone heads.
“Why would a monarch affix his head to a small metal disc? To spy on his subjects, naturally! And when the disk in question is a precious metal, endowed with that metal’s charms, its medicinal properties, etc. the disk may on these accounts readily find its way into the hands of the innocent. (We must grudgingly acknowledge the awful cleverness of these tactics.)”
Undeniably Arnold of Goblinpunch’s islanders have a thing about whales. But probably only because they have a thing about the Leviathan. Here: “When Toa-Makakang gave birth to the Leviathan, the sky was torn asunder and the stars fell to the earth. The earth spat venom, to kill the Leviathan, and from the cloud-mansions there issued lightning to strike the creature dead. Finally, all of the waters of the earth came and piled atop Balalang, to drown the Leviathan. We all drowned then.
“But the Leviathan devoured the poison, and became venomous. Then it grew its ten-thousand triangular scales that rattle in the light, and the lightning slid off. Finally it swallowed all of the water of the oceans, and grew larger than any other thing.
“Finally, it devoured the gods.”
So much good here. Go read it all.
And reproduced in full, because AFAIK it’s only on G+ so far, Scott knows his NOI:
LONGER BOATS ARE COMING TO WIN US
RAIN IS HAPPENING
Shit, on my island of Perseroanterbatastelekomunikasindonesie Terbuka the language we talk is Bahasa Riau Malay and if I wasn’t making a effort to tone it down it would strike you eight parts of nine dead with the bright and vulgar lightning of it. That’s our fucking magic. Where I come from the ocean is endless and dark and cold and there are islands strung across it like singing brass lanterns. We live at the bottom of that sea. Deal with it.
You guys probably don’t have the words for “nieuw” and “oud” yet, you can barely wrap your sarongs around “alt” and “altar.” Cool. So better not say I’m from the island of “new” rice. Strike you eight-ninths dead. I come from the island of “unfamiliar” rice, “far” rice, for all you know “better” rice. Once you have had this rice, man, you will not go back, fuck no you will not. Even if you might want to.
My island is beyond all your lost horizons. It is here now. We are forty birds on this boat in search of our king. Each and every one of your souls is a bird.
I had a dream of the coming of longer boats bearing a strange gamelan made of string as well as brass. They are harder than the black robes and plumes in Malacca and their gamelan plays too fast even for me. It sounds like this. Once they come the world is guaranteed to be over but the cargo of that voyage, the “transition,” will follow slower behind the lightning like the bright memory behind your eyes, or like thunder. We can tune that thunder into words like flocks of birds you can number in the hundreds.
I will not be here long and will not talk a lot in order to give your fucking sensitive ears a break. We will not be going to my island because it will kill you eleven ninths dead with the sheer light and noise of it. I like to fight and cook the rice.
– Bobby Suharto
Also check out the Counter-colonial Heistcrawl tag for a heads up on other hazards. Kraken not included.
Picture bonus for getting this far: all from the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam. Which, BTW, also has some better photos of its collection online, if you can navigate the site. Their Papua webspecial is just plain amazing but takes some fiddling to figure out.
Also I just found out about the Virtual Collection of Asian Masterpieces. Wow. I mean, I don’t like the masterpiece agenda much, but still, stuff from 55 museums in one place.
One of the things I love about blogging DIY DnD is it gives me an excuse to be completely irresponsible in museums. I spent years as an art student and middle class British lad with educated pretensions stalking earnestly around museums and galleries trying to understand why Jasper Johns was more famous than Eric Ravilious or why Dutch painting should be interesting in the 17th century but not in the 18th or early 19th. Now, letting my DM flag fly, I can tell you that it’s a lot more fun wandering around the Rijksmuseum just looking at the things I like looking at and sniggering roll for initiative when I see some gold lion eating a man holding up a candlestick.
So for instance I can enjoy this intaglio print of a witch riding a demon carcass around without caring much who it’s by (yeah, right. It’s Agostino Veneziano):
and mutter “pendulous dugs” and “fish slapping dance” to myself as I ogle this Mantegna.
So these, apparently, are mourners on (or rather off) some saint’s tomb. But now they’re a bunch of NPCs for your Alice game:
Boartopus ravishing harpy, flying antler witch,
And predictably there’s treasure. Note to self: add more mysterious gold lions to dungeon:
especially sneezing lions that dispense potions. Also stuff you pick up should tell you about upcoming hazards. Like this medieval mi-go victim:
speaking of which: who says brain-cases have to be so damn functional-looking?
(reliquary for St Thekla, allegedly). Reliquaries are some weird-ass treasure too. Some are like tiny wee treasure chests that anyone who’s gamed with Scrap Princess should be too wary to touch:
and look what they contain! A nice surprise. At least this bone ossuary is kinda doing the medium is the message thing.
Magic shield? I bet you’re picturing something metal. Not, for instance, a chunk of elk headgear:
and speaking of headgear…
Even Throne of Blood didn’t prepare me for this bunny/propellor. Quietly scribbling notes about what world you’d need to make those Playboy extensions at all sensible.
…ever wondered how a medieval lock works?
OK, time for the big guns: Wampus/Tartary artillery for discerning murderhobos
Early 19th century shells. And a shrapnel shell cut in half. Note wooden cone-tip and big ball-bearings just sitting in a dynamite goop.
…and one for Jeremy Duncan.
and three for Paolo Greco. The last of which is the red coral hilt of a rapier given to legendary Dutch murderhobo Michiel de Ruyter.
Magic lantern slides were the 18th century’s Roll For Initiative gifs.
Mecha golem disguised as a figurehead.
When H G Wells read about the Black War, he found himself thinking “Jesus fuck! What if I wrote a book where aliens came and invaded the British Empire right in its stupid fucking face, and were just genocidal assholes just like the British Empire in Tasmania? What then?”
So he did. And he made the
British Martian invaders as disgusting and evil and alien and just wrong as he could. And late one night, hopped up on cheap Turkish tobacco, he had an epiphany: “nothing in nature has three legs, does it? These fuckers gonna be three-legged. Then you’ll know how bad they are.”
The next morning he realised why nothing in nature has three legs: because as soon as it tried to move, it would fall over. So he wrote that instead of walking his three-legged monsters rolled like “a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground.”
The reading, drawing and movie-making public totally agreed with him about the awesomeness of alien invasions and the awesome alienosity of three legged fighting machines. “Fuck yeah, tripods!” they said, all around the world. Even, curiously, in Woking, which he wrote about being flattened and destroyed first and most thoroughly.
But there was less enthusiasm for the “bowling along” rationalization and even less for remembering the whole Tasmanian genocide thing. Which just goes to show that gonzo-imaginative beats sensible, meaningful, and important every time, when it comes to grabbing the public’s excitement glands.
I reckon the next really important moment in Tripod development was Mike Trim’s iconic 1978 painting:
which you probably know from Jeff Wayne’s Progopera. By the time Trim did this, there had already been 80+ years of tripod drawing:
but these hapless tin-men weren’t exactly going to (ahem) set the world on fire. Aside from a tendency toward big heads and spindly legs there wasn’t much consensus about what a Martian tripod should look like – people knew they wanted tripods but they didn’t agree on exactly what that meant.
(amazing gallery of book covers – from which extracts below;)
until two versions pretty much killed all the others. Trim’s, which was really a polished up take on this 1950s effort:
that probably derives ultimately from a comic book (the original of which I haven’t tracked down):
So what’s so great about Trim’s painting?
1: it’s a spider. A daddy long legs like you find in the shower.
2: it has two glowing eyes. Other pictures make it clear that those are supposed to be compound bug-type eyes but here they make a recognisable, almost-human face.
And 3: that face is pure scorn. Trim’s tripod threatens without having to move because it melts the Thunderchild’s valiant heart with pure contempt. That’s not just the haughty angle of the head, it’s also the not bothering to dodge pose of the legs and most of all the I shot you right where I wanted to angle of the heat ray. Compare this Spanish hatchet job, where they messed with the painting to fit a narrow format:
Here the face is looking down its murderous nose at nobody. The ship isn’t going to hit it anyway so there’s no question of dodging. In fact maybe it just did dodge, like a bullfighter, and is dropping the rejón de muerte as the Torpedo Ram blunders past. It’s contemptuous, but not idly so.
And so just how iconic is Trim’s painting? How much does it dominate the imaginative landscape? Ahem:
OK. But the real reason I went off down this rabbit-hole is that I saw a godawful bit of lazy 3D and I had to share it in the right context.
See, the confrontation of the Thunderchild and the tripod is one of the big scenes in the book. It’s the definitive moment when the reader understands that the British Empire – and therefore humanity – is completely screwed. The Thunderchild is not the Empire’s biggest ship, but it is its most spitefully violent. It is an outstandingly stupid idea realized as expensively as possible – a ship made to destroy things utterly, no matter how Pyrrhic the victory. It’s a fucking giant steam engine made to ram things with torpedos. And it gets one good strike on a spindly leg before the Martians wise up and melt it. So you’d want that scene to be pretty dramatic, right? Something like this:
only there the drama rather gets in the way of the clarity of what exactly is going on.
Trim’s painting gives you drama, futility, scorn, tragedy and clarity in one neatly pointed triangular composition.
And then we come to this flabby bit of 3D rendering, which gives you absolutely none of that, plus a boring alien cannon doohickey:
Yes, it’s sticking a tentacle up in the air creating tension with the edge of the frame. The horizon line is off communicating a loss of control. And like Trim’s picture we see the point of the Thunderchild’s sacrifice – the steamer full of civilians escaping to France.
But Ugh. Zero character, zero tension. It could be a picture about air pollution. In spite of the fact that the Thunderchild is clearly just about to run that sucker down on pure momentum. It’s… just…
Here, have some alterna-tripods as a palette cleanser:
Still here? This Goliath thing looks like it could be fun. And look, tripod minis! The old Tin Man rides again! Roger Dean’s version as a model. And finally Fimm McCool’s Orkshop has an actually fairly original design!
I could use that.