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Our archipelago (Counter-colonial heistcrawl could be the new Sea of Osr)

November 22, 2013 3 comments

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.”

His Centerra setting kinda explores the same colonial themes. I have to mine it for What We Know About the Farangs.

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

* I said I knew some things, right? Here:
a first set of character classes (though we might not use a class system),
Jeff’s 20 questions, from local and interloper perspectives

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.

IMG_4778 IMG_4780 IMG_4632 IMG_4642 IMG_4656 IMG_4684 IMG_4688 IMG_4694 IMG_4700 IMG_4718

Irresponsible in the Rijksmuseum

November 9, 2013 1 comment

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):

IMG_4383 IMG_4384

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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:

alice-figs1 alice-figs2

boartopus antler_witch

Boartopus ravishing harpy, flying antler witch,

carcosa-painting

Carcosa.

And predictably there’s treasure. Note to self: add more mysterious gold lions to dungeon:

lion2 sneezing-lionlion1

especially sneezing lions that dispense potions. Also stuff you pick up should tell you about upcoming hazards. Like this medieval mi-go victim:

migo-victim

speaking of which: who says brain-cases have to be so damn functional-looking?

st-thekla-1 st-thekla-2

(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:

reliquary-chestbone-ossuary

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:

antler-shield

and speaking of headgear…

helmet

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.

locks lock-open

…ever wondered how a medieval lock works?

OK, time for the big guns: Wampus/Tartary artillery for discerning murderhobos

guns1 pistols musketoongrape-shot

navy-shell shrapnel

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.

muskets

…and one for Jeremy Duncan.

kris2kris3de-ruyters-rapier

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-lantern1magic-lantern-2

Magic lantern slides were the 18th century’s Roll For Initiative gifs.

giant-armour-figurehead

Mecha golem disguised as a figurehead.

A brief history of tripods

October 25, 2013 10 comments

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.

450px-Woking_tripod

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.

So why am I blogging this, when you can get perfectly good histories of Wellsian Tripods from Wikipedia or the War of the Worlds Wiki? I’ll get to that.

I reckon the next really important moment in Tripod development was Mike Trim’s iconic 1978 painting:

thunder_child

which you probably know from Jeff Wayne’s Progopera. By the time Trim did this, there had already been 80+ years of tripod drawing:

Correa-Martians_vs._Thunder_ChildWar-of-the-worlds-tripodL.45/3317, p.75

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;)

00030009 0012034200150018

until two versions pretty much killed all the others. Trim’s, which was really a polished up take on this 1950s effort:

class_x

and a beetle-shell, overhanging eaves look that Spielberg would adopt mostly just to avoid agreeing that Trim totally nailed it (lots more views here and here)

100_5766

that probably derives ultimately from a comic book (the original of which I haven’t tracked down):

0234

 

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:

guerramundos2

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:

WOTW%2009charge_of_the_thunder_child_by_thebigemp3-d4ke6j8thunderchild_battle_by_nikedorchain-d5rkjvdScreen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.52.22 AMScreen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.51.55 AMTHUNDER_CHILD__s_sacrifice_by_gazzatrekScreen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.49.42 AMtchild2-2thunderchildwar_of_the_worlds___thunder_child_vs__martian_2_by_wootinator-d66wexbcollectorcome_on__thunderchild_by_metamarc-d3fr5gh Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.51.45 AM

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:

thunderchild_tribute_by_GeneralVyse

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:

science_fiction_16-1

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:

TripodsontheThames league_of_extraordinary_gentlemen_tripod_x triPod deanmartian02

lynch6 Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.51.02 AM

?????????????????

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!

tripods2

heat+ray

I could use that.

What I learned today on Google+

February 15, 2013 2 comments

1. fighting the Kraken should be like fighting a pack of wild dogs. A couple of tentacles keep you attention, and then when you’re occupied with them, another one will dart in from the back and pick off a straggler. If you all go back to back and hold fast it’ll step up to an overwhelming 4 tentacles on one person, so at least part of your group has to turn to face the massive threat, and then it’s back to seizing people from behind.

8 attacks a round will piss off even quite patient Old Schoolers. Also the DnD books are insane when it comes to animal combat and this just might be the way in to understanding the deep veins of insanity elsewhere. But it’s still a fun game.

2. to keep Scrap Princess happy, allow longer weapons to get initiative until the opponent gets a successful attack in. Actually I’m thinking of allowing a contested roll system for someone with a polearm or similar to hold of a daggeriste – you both roll, if the polearmer gets the higher result (modded) then they hold the other off, and maybe they get +2 or summat for using the scenery (narrow corridor, sofas, flames, lava).

3. don’t have one player’s failure nobble another. Or, rather, if you’re going to have collective success/failure, let everyone at least try to influence the result. And point out to them that they can do so if they’re being quiet.

4. “don’t put any treasure in you don’t want the party to be able to get.” Roger Giner-Sorolla. This is so true. I accidentally put a bunch of enormous bombs in my players’ path and now they have enormous bombs to use on any obstacle. Well, not quite bombs. Luckily I’m OK with any part of the setting getting blown up. Except for that total Mary Sue pit boss ruling over the Dangerous Gas Mine. D’oh! Bombs and gas mine!

5. How to succeed in my games: STOP, LOOK, LISTEN rather than rushing in – observe what’s going on. TRY TALKING RATHER THAN STARTING WITH VIOLENCE combat is always a good way to get killed: if you must approach with violence, do it from cover, with mines and/or sniping – but if you’re going to talk, starting from cover/a distance isn’t a bad idea because you don’t know if they’re friendly. IMAGINE THE SITUATION IS HAPPENING IN REAL LIFE not in a game. I am imagining that your PC is a fairly ordinary person trying to climb that wall, not a badass leaping climbing machine or a Lost Vikings type game piece with the maneuver climb anything. If the situation seems dangerous, that’s not a signal that we’ve entered the exciting music scene and it’s time to start with the whirling kung fu moves. It’s a signal that you’re in danger and you’ll have to think to minimize your chance of dying.

6. LIFE IMITATES ART: Meteors strike Chelyabinsk, on the Russia/Kazakhstan border. Captured (partly) on video. Ahem: Carcosa Wacky Races opening, April 2012 –
A small figure in baggy robes stands atop it all. He gestures and great sails unfurl, showing the form of a luminescent bird with the figure at its head. He touches his throat and his voice booms out across the desert:

“…erm, yes. Hello. Um, you have been summoned! From… afar! because I – that is, the Seers of Otrar – have seen a Fall! A farishta of the Overworld will fall tonight, probably in the mountains just to the north over there. Your task is to collect its Black Casket. Your reward – the Prize! The Grand Prize! Is the rest of the farishta – its body, its, um, raiment! Never before has such a Prize been offered!”

He looks up at the sky, then at his hand. “And-”
Abruptly the sky is split by a brilliant streak of light and a deafening crack. In eerie silence a bright orange flash blooms on the northern horizon, followed by a dull red mushroom cloud. Then the bone-shaking boom of a shockwave knocks you all flat and hurls the scaffold away across the desert to the south. When the dust settles the little man is standing among the vehicles, jumping up and down, shouting “I was right! I was right!”

“Well what are you all waiting for? Go! Before those bastards up in Ulaanbatur get it!”

…so what’s so special about Chelyabinsk? Well, it’s about the most Tartary location imaginable – secret nuclear research facility, site of the worst nuclear powerplant accident before Chernobyl, on the Kazakh border, decidedly Cold War sounding official response from Russia Times:

Police in the Chelyabinsk region are reportedly on high alert, and have begun ‘Operation Fortress’ in order to protect vital infrastructure…
“Do not panic, this is an ordinary situation we can manage in a couple of days,” the governor said in and address to city residents.
Background radiation levels in Chelyabinsk remain unchanged, the Emergency Ministry reported.

superman arrivalScreen+shot+2012-07-24+at+10.09.40+AM

Reward for getting this far, and via Jez Gordon of Giblet Blizzard: the amazing, varied, mysterious art of Kay Nielsen – an artist whose work I have seen from time to time and I’ve been tormented that I didn’t know who it was and therefore couldn’t find more. Now fixed.
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kay_rapunzel

Kay_nielsen_chernabog

monster, encounter or treasure? Via the David Collection

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

a while back (like weeks ago) Scrap Princess G+’d a series of MONSTER, MARVEL or MYSTERY posts. In the same spirit, and because I chanced across the remarkable David collection this morning:

The vizier of Walatuf concealed much behind his imposing beard.

of course I’m not out here on my own – you should check out my posse on the next page.

A Sepoy Revolt? What are you blathering about, Smithers?

No no no! Kill the dragon, catch Ho-oh, venerate the Simurgh! Is it really so complicated?

Did you see that? She totally just turned Hakim into a pillow! That’s going to complicate rescuing the Lilliputians and no mistake.

Sorry, we’re all out of Wands of Wonder. But we do have this Wand of Fabulous.

Toward a Tartary one-shot

October 17, 2012 3 comments

These guys:

send you to

to find this guy

but when you get there it’s all

and there’s this guy

who gives you some

which turns everything

and then your ride home is all

unless you can figure out the

to reactivate the

and then

before the

get to the

and achieve

best thing I’ve read this week

August 27, 2012 Leave a comment

What is the point of me linking Zak’s blog, since you all read it anyway (right?)?

Because hidden away in a review of weird fiction is the best advice I’ve read since “don’t bother with art that’s trying to look like art”:

I just have to put the best of what I have to offer and nothing else out there by itself and see what kind of story it is. And if the story needs more that more will have to be written with the same energy of invention as the new idea was.

ie have confidence in the ideas that excite you and don’t bother writing anything that doesn’t excite you. Don’t think you have to depend on tired old formulas for structure, just present the ideas you think are new and exciting and nothing else, because that’s what I’m looking for as a reader anyway. I don’t want your fantasy heartbreaker, just the bit that breaks your heart.

It’s so easy to fall into this: thinking you have to dress your ideas up in conventional forms.Thank you, Zak.

I need to remember it with my history work as well as any fiction or RPG stuff I write.

You know who’s really good at this? Cory Doctorow. I think he makes his short stories short enough that they don’t feel incomplete. And Borges, natch.

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