After I posted a link to Judd Carlson's Make Your Own New Crobuzon post, over on my Discord server Anne of DIY and Dragons suggested that a bunch of us try our hands at using the method outlined. She's calling it the "New New Crobuzon Challenge." Here's my attempt: The City of New Twain The Empire pushes ever West. This is the story of New Twain, an imperial city on the western edge of the Empire's expansion. New Twain is not a new construction; rather, it is a palimpsest of colonial ambitions built atop a prior metropolis whose denizens and former foes have now been forcibly assimilated into subservient roles by the diabolic alchemy of the Lord Doctor who governs the city in the Empire's name.
Dakon. The human colonists of the Empire brought the peaceful dakon with them to New Twain. Dakon serve their human masters as menial labor; dakon sweep the streets, perform construction work, and are employed in domestic service. If the dakons' natural abhorrence of violence could be overcome, they could aid an uprising that would topple New Twain.
Dire Corbies. Before the arrival of the Empire, the dire corbies were golden creatures who basked in the sunlight and soared the skies at liberty on tremendous feathered wings. The city that became New Twain was their glorious home. After their city was annexed by the Empire's forces, they were experimented upon by the Lord Doctor; the dire corbies were stripped of their wings and transformed into base creatures who cannot stand the sun's touch upon their skin. The dire corbies are allowed to shelter in the subterranean depths below New Twain, but in return they must mine precious gold from the undercity to pay the "rent" on their squalid quarters beneath a city that was once their sole dominion.
Flind. In the early days of its colonial occupation, New Twain suffered continual raids from the packs of tribal gnolls who had been the dire corbies' rivals in the west. Gnolls, being creatures of demonic savagery, could not be placated or brought to reasonable treaty. They could, however, be captured and transmuted. The Lord Doctor's cruel alchemy changes gnoll captives into flinds: stronger, but more civilized, creatures still capable of boundless violence. The flinds now act as elite soldiers in service to New Twain and the Empire; they are often used as counters to gnoll attacks, as gnolls regard them with fear and awe. Flinds are not allowed any employment in New Twain save for military service. Three Monstrosities
Dragonfish. The river that runs through New Twain is infested with spiny dragonfish. The presence of dragonfish renders the river difficult to traverse without a stout-hulled boat. Eye of Fear and Flame. The colonists who die in New Train are interred in the ancient burial catacombs beneath New Twain. However, there is a curse upon those vaults that ensures that anyone who is not a dire corby who is buried within them is reanimated as an undead creature. Colonists always return as eyes of fear and flame. These creatures steal forth from the tombs under the cover at night to cause havoc; they use their command abilities to cause stray imperial citizens to engage in acts of sabotage and sedition. Screaming Devilkin. Screaming devilkin are vicious pests who descend from the sky in swarms. Some believe that they are bestial spies acting on behalf of a sorcerous folk living further in the west who have yet to face the Empire's westward expansion.
Fritz Leiber is probably best known to fantasy fans as the creator of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, but he was also an accomplished author across a myriad of pulp formats. In his 1943 novel Conjure Wife, he creates a world that is only modern on its surface, where behind every great academic is an equally great witch. When sociologist Norman Saylor discovers his wife's occult activities, he convinces her to stop her conjuration. Shortly thereafter, a series of terrible coincidences--or is it black magic?--start to turn his world upside down.
What are the risks of being the big bohemian on campus? What are some of the ways authors keep magic magical in their stories and stop if from being just another form of science? What do this book's witches think about astrology? And what is up with the sexy college gown striptease? All these questions and more will be answered in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
Want to make a setting that is a powder keg of competing interests, intrigues, and goals? A potential conflagration into which to thrust your player's characters? The set-up of Frank Herbert's Dune is what you should be stealing from. Although it's got a ton of worldbuilding and detail, the basic set-up of Dune is pretty simple and easy to reskin to suit just about any campaign setting. The conflict in Dune revolves around six competing factions, each of which is easy to scrub of specificity and refashion. Here's what Dune has and here's where you get to play with the ideas therein: Dune Has...
House Atreides & House Harkonnen
The Bene Gesserit
The Padishah Emperor
The Spacing Guild
So You Need...
Two noble houses with a long-standing hatred of each other that will inevitably erupt into violence
A religion that masks its political power in the guise of spiritual guidance
The unaligned tribal military force that exists outside the structure that defines the place of the other factions
A powerful military force that defends traditional power structures and the interests of a distant ruler
A mercantile force that masks its political power in the guise of pure economics
Notice that each of these groupings represents an approach to political power: the power of aristocratic title, the power of religion, the power of the nomad, military power, and economic power. Create factions that represent these groupings of political power, make them compete for a limited resource, and let the sparks fly. Now you've got a powder keg. Hand your players the match and see what happens.
It began with a maelstrom. It ended on a savage red planet, its sun gone sullen and weird, its wind hot and devouring. A world not so much dying as it was already dead. It just refuses to acknowledge the cruel fact of its demise. Away from our world's gravity we grew stronger here. Like Icarus, we could leap for the sun. And fail. Perhaps we too grew sullen and weird.
The things we met there were alien and beautiful. The Red Martian warriors, their voluptuous princesses, and their devious menton mind-wizards. The brutal, multi-limbed Thark!!!, whose tribes evidence the nobility of a warrior caste doomed by its own traditions. Fast friends, some, and implacable foes otherwise.
Beyond those things we might call people we found only monstrosity. Death made flesh, death awoken from its long desert sleep, death so cunning that its weirding ways are scarcely comprehensible to our racing Terran minds. Thirsty death, hungry death, death that comes on night-black wings.
And yet, despite its strangeness, this is a world that could be mapped, traced, and understood. The world of Mars wages its own peculiar war, but it is a war we can win. What else is there? Spilling one's blood on the burning sands, like so many others have done since time immemorial. The sullen sun, gone weird in its death throes, looks on and laughs. * * * What I am saying is that you should seriously consider buying Michael Gibbon's recently released B/X Mars. You may need to log into your account and allow DriveThru to take you to the unheralded garden of NSFW Martian delights, but the naughty thrill you feel by doing so will soon be eclipsed by the greater pleasure of beholding Mars for yourself.
The Dirge of Urazya 'zine (last print copy available here, pdfs here) features twenty worldbuilding prompts to help you create your version of the setting before you begin play. I've been posting the answers to the prompts that we used in our games using Urazya as a setting. I'd love to see other people post their creations as well; this could be a rich vein to mine, with lots of sharing, borrowing, and remixing. If you do post some of your stuff, link me to it, please! Maybe we could even get a public wiki going. Let a thousand Urazyas bloom and all that.
Last time I did a religion in my Urazya campaign; this week I'm doing a warlock patron inspired by the picture above: Two fiends from the netherworld prepare to make bloody war against each other. Who are they? What is the cause of their enmity?
The Burning Throne
On a night five years ago, the sleep of many residents of Urazya was interrupted by a dream of the Burning Throne, an emblem of law and order that took the form of a baroque ceremonial chair wrapped in coils of raging flame.
The Burning Throne did not speak, but those who dreamed of it understood its message without the need for words. The Throne christened all who dreamed of it as light-bringers who will help usher in a new age of order, stability, and law in Urazya.
As word of the Dream of the Throne spread throughout the land, it became a symbol of hope for those who crave stability, unity, and progress.
The ideas that the Throne represents are seductive in a world so often shaped by the chaos and destruction left by the Global War. Many of the adherents of the Throne’s ideology are more than willing to trade a measure of liberty to achieve its ideals.
The Burning Throne is not considered a god and is not worshiped in any conventional sense. It is regarded as an idea possessing cosmic power or as an underlying principle that gives shape to the universe.
However, devotees who pledge themselves to the Burning Throne sometimes find themselves gifted with supernatural power to exercise on the Throne’s behalf. Those who have made a pact with the Burning Throne feel that they serve a force of law and order that exists outside of fickle divinity and human frailty.
In reality, the Burning Throne is a guise adopted by an archdevil to encourage the violence of fascism and imperialism in Urazya. Posing as a principle allows the devil to move Urazya toward political and military conflict.
Some of the original dreamers who first beheld the Burning Throne view themselves as righteous conquerors who are permitted to use warfare, brutality, and oppression as necessary tools to achieve law and order in the disconnected Borderlands, the savage Devastation Zones, and the oft-fractious Capital.
These would-be conquerors style themselves the Scions of the Throne. Each sees themselves as the chosen one who will unite sundered Urazya into a grand empire. Each believes it is their destiny to be crowned emperor or empress of a glorious, continent-spanning nation.
Of course, this means that the Scions of the Throne--and the fanatical warbands they are assembling--will inevitably clash in open war against each other as their competing visions for Urazya’s future come into conflict.
The Dirge of Urazya 'zine (last few print copies available here, pdfs here) features twenty world-building prompts to help you create your version of the setting before you begin play. I'm going to start posting the answers to the prompts that we used in our games using Urazya as a setting. I'd love to see other people post their creations as well; this could be a rich vein to mine, with lots of sharing, borrowing, and remixing. If you do post some of your stuff, link me to it, please! Maybe we could even get a public wiki going. Let a thousand Urazyas bloom and all that. First up: 17. Name and describe three religious faiths vying for spiritual supremacy in Urazya. Our Lady of the Drowned
Our Lady of the Drowned is a goddess worshiped by fishermen, whalers, sailors, and those who live near the sea.
She is depicted as a woman dressed in a flowing gown, her face obscured by a veil, who carries a bouquet of oleander flowers.
She is prayed to for protection at sea, for the safe return of those who make their living off of the sea’s bounty, and in hopes that she will save the souls of those who die at sea.
Petitioners ask Our Lady of the Drowned to provide calm weather and to spare them from a watery grave.
Creatures such as sharks, whales, squid, and krakens are thought to be sacred to Our Lady of the Drowned.
The churches dedicated to Our Lady of the Drowned are built from the remains of ships that have capsized, foundered on rocky shores, sunk, or otherwise become less than seaworthy.
The altars of her churches are made from carved figureheads recovered from sunken ships; it is not unusual for the altars to feature buxom maidens, helmed warriors, mermaids, and unicorns as dominant motifs.
The priesthood of Our Lady of the Drowned consider it a sacred duty to collect any bodies that wash up on the shore and give them a proper burial in their goddess’s name.
The priesthood is almost exclusively drawn from the ranks of retired sailors who had a brush with death at sea. They are frequently marked with both nautical and religious tattoos.
The scripture of Our Lady of the Drowned is called the Brine Book. It’s authorship is a disputed mystery.
Before the anime, before the manga, there was the Hideyuki Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D light novel series. Don't be fooled by that nomenclature, though: these books are chock full of wackiness. Part sci-fi, part weird western, part dark fantasy, and part teen romance, the Vampire Hunter D books take a kitchen sink approach to their stories. Buckle in for a thrill-a-minute adventure set in the post-apocalyptic wastelands.
Just how romantically irresistible is our titular protagonist? Is there a secret occult pee vampire story arc happening over the course of the series? What would happen if a whole bunch of Halloween costumes came to life and started kicking ass? Who exactly is the Sacred Ancestor and what is his deal? You'll have to listen and find out, since some of these questions will be answered in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
Things that brought me delight in September, 2019:
3 From Hell
Although it's probably not destined to become anyone's favorite Rob Zombie film, I'm glad that I got to see the conclusion of the "Firefly trilogy" in the theater in its limited run.
This cleaver right here
The generosity of Tenebrous Kate allowed me to purchase this item, which I am affectionately referring to as "future Exhibit A."
1991 AD&D Trading Cards
Speaking of generosity, Carisa of Goblinfruit Studio sent me this box of AD&D trading cards that inspired an insane trip down memory lane.
Ulver, Trolsk Sortmetall 1993-1997
I know we're supposed to appreciate all the weird, diverse places that Ulver has gone musically over the years, but if I'm honest, the records I really like from them are the early, raw ones.
Not a perfect show by any means (my god, those flying sex scenes), but the overall aesthetics were right up my fog-choked Victorian alley, I loved the world-building, and the plot points snatched from the Jack the Ripper killings and Frankenstein pulled me in. Did you know there is a free rpg supplement about it?
Delectus Books catalogs
Bad Books for Bad People doesn't get a ton of fanmail, but when we do it's high quality smut like this. Thanks, Scott and Ridgely!
Chelsea Wolfe, Birth of Violence
Birth of Violence is the album I've been most eager for, and it did not disappoint in the slightest. Chelsea Wolfe's more acoustic sound is the autumnal mood. (Bankcamp link.)
Rampant If you liked the Kingdom series, you will either like this or have a sharp sense of deja vu: in medieval Korea, an outbreak of zombie plague threatens the nation's political stability.
Imperium Dekadenz, When We Are Forgotten Monumental atmospheric black metal. If you want a recommended track to start with, try "Owl of the Black Forest." (Bandcamp link.)
Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus The good news: this is a cool campaign with fun rules for diabolic, Mad Max-esque vehicles. The bad news: Jandar Sunstar is back.
Electric Wizard, We Live I avoided We Live for a long time because I stupidly assumed it was a live album. But, no, this is a quality slab of Electric Wizard-style doom metal.
Through the Breach: Above the Law This is the Guild (basically, cops employed by capitalist interests) sourcebook for the Malifaux rpg Through the Breach. Good mix of character options, world-building, and bestiary.
White Ward, Love Exchange Failure Previously known as "the black metal band with a saxophone," White Ward are back, delving even further into the black metal-meets-noir vortex they alone seem to have access to. Love Exchange Failure sounds like nothing else I've heard, but after repeated listening it still sounds like a mystery to be unveiled. (Bandcamp link.)
Rammstein, self-titled Rammstein, as solid and dependable as ever. "Zeig dich" is godlike. And if you haven't been watching the videos that accompany this album, what are you even doing with your spare time? Check out the videos for "Deutschland" and "Radio."
Hideyuki Kikuchi and Yoshitaka Amano, Vampire Hunter D: Mysterious Journey to the North Sea Part Two Not the strongest Vampire Hunter D novel by any stretch, but at least it doesn't skimp on the weirdness: no less than nine villains are after D, Left Hand drinks a golden shower like it's an energy drink, and there is a love affair worthy of being scored by Soft Cell's "Tainted Love."
Julia Gfrorer, Vision vol. 2 "A Victorian spinster escapes the demands of her invalid sister-in-law through a sexual relationship with a haunted mirror. In this issue, Eleanor and Robert discuss Cora’s putative insomnia, the mirror ghost makes a gruesome complaint, and Eleanor has eye surgery." (Etsy link.)
Malifaux 3e: Neverborn and Arcanists Factions Books The new Malifaux books have proven pretty hard to come by (tragic shipping set-backs or botched edition launch, you be the judge!), which is a shame because these two books make the game's newest version look really promising! The cruft has been stripped back, the rules are more straightforward, and the great lore and art remain. Hopefully in the coming months these things will be easier to get a hold of.
Slipknot, We Are Not Your Kind It's a Slipknot album; you already know whether you want to hear it or not.