Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Maker of Monsters"

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Remember, "There is nothing so unsettling as stillness" as certain hypervigillant village officials might say. Nevertheless, we are relaxing, and watching the 1939 Universal films classic "Son of Frankenstein".

It is delightful seeing film sets so influenced by German Expressionism.

See for yourself:

The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fresh Off The Boat, Again!

Howard Fielding's Figurative Map - Penom is center-right
On Saturday, I was able to rejoin the Aethervox Gamers for another session of Rob Leduc's Old School Empire of the Petal Throne campaign. Our PC group are the most able-bodied, derring-do members of a clan from near Haida Pakala on the Southern Continent. We arrived in Tsolyanu in the port of Penom, the so-called armpit of the Empire, and almost immediately began our Marine basic training.

While I missed out on the introductory basic training session a couple of weeks ago, I was able to get back into the action this past weekend for the capstone of our Marine basic training. The denouement was rather like the show Survivor. We were "fresh of the boat" again, this time sent for a survival session on the Marine's training island in the Bamesa Bay.

This session we had a small playing group: three players and a GM. (This is actually the standard size of my regular roleplaying group, but fairly small for the Aethervoxes, who often have eight or more players around the table at Jeff Berry's house.) But it was fun. We set up camp and started to explore the island.

In the swamps at the foot of the mountain on the Southern side of the island, we heard something go squick-squick in the swamp muck. My character Tsuralnali is a magic user, and used clairvoyance to see what was making the sounds. She saw one of the Swamp Folk, a friendly race.

Howard Fielding's Miniature of a Swamp Folk
A more traditional "look" than the one above.

Good thing we hadn't reacted to the sound by hurling spears in the direction of the squicky sounds! Having friends who know their way around swamps is useful, especially when you're in one!

Fun session!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monstrous Monday: The Faceless Deck
Not all monsters are creatures; some are things. Outward signs of inward despair.

One of the countless cellae of the Gate House contains a completely blank deck of cards. At least, the other sides are blank as far as we know. The cards have never been turned over, and have never been touched. So we merely surmise that both sides are blank.

One day, centuries ago, this deck materialized inside its arcane prison cell in the Gate House. So it has to be a Monster from Beyond, in spite of the fact that it gives off no Radiance, unlike all the gods and demons in the other cellae. In fact, the cracks and fissures in the exterior walls of its cella all crater inwards. So it is possible that the cards are draining Radiance from other nearby cellae in the Gate House.

The exact nature of this deck of cards has been a subject of great controversy for centuries, but the Copyists and Visiting Scholars of the Gate House have reached some preliminary conclusions: The Faceless Deck must be some kind of Anti-Fortune Deck, a Misfortune ir Calamity Deck.

Each card is believed to be the antithesis of one of the Major Arcana, the Greater Forces that represent and govern the Multiverse, and give the million spheres their shapes and individuation. Yet they are not a true Antithesis, since the cards' energy blocks any Synthesis. There is no change, transition, evolution, growth, or development with these trumps - no Aufhaben - only the silent species named Annihilation.

These trumps have the power to make Arcana never have been.

If these cards were released from their cella - or even simply turned over and viewed  - entire worlds might disappear. The Deep Horizon might advance, consuming Otherway and numerous other worlds near the periphery. Eventually, the multiverse itself might unravel entirely.

And so the Nothing in this cella remains the Gate House's greatest secret - and trouble. Its walls are cracking; eventually they will crumble and fall.

The Copyists and Visiting Scholars who have contemplated The Faceless deck and its failing prison cell speculate that the Fall will come within 10 years - and possibly sooner. From their anonymous study chamber close by the failing cella, they have advanced possible solutions:

  • Build a new, stronger cella, or perhaps a cella within a cella within a cella
  • Build one new cella for each trump
  • Burn the cards, one-by-one, in Dragon's Fire
  • Drop the each of the cards into The Jar of the Ink Absolute
  • Return the cards to their Source, each Copyist and Visiting Scholar who has seen the cards sewing one into their flesh and hurling themselves into the Radiance
Something must be done soon. A bulwark must be build against Annihilation.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Bestiary: The Ba-Birds
The Ba-Birds are the spirit forms of the perfected dead who have returned to reside among us. It is said that after their deaths they flew to the very boundary of the Deep Horizon and gazed into the shining void beyond it. Rather that wing their way through into chaos and oblivion, their reflection in the void stopped them and spoke to them, commanding them to return to the land of the living.

A few of these embodied spirits return to the Multitude of Worlds to take-up a home in the City of Otherway. Not a single Ba-Bird was born in this realm, but somehow they make their way to reside in Otherway's avian city-within-a-city, the The Towers of the Wise. There they keep company with other winged creatures such as Jaculus, or javelin serpent which lurks in trees awaiting passers-by, and the Syrens, white winged snakes "whose venom is so fierce that you will die before you feel the pain of their bite."*

Only the bravest of wisdom-seekers and those who crave to learn the mysteries of the Deep Horizon dare to seek an interview with the Ba-Birds. Those few who are fortunate or skilled enough to evade the Towers' winged serpentine guardians will be granted an audience with one of the Ba-Birds.

*T.H. White's The Bestiary: A Book of Beasts, pp.180-181

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Bestiary: The Unicorn-Elephant War

These posts are inspired by bestiaries and creature books. This one was inspired by two facts presented in T.H. White's "The Bestiary."

Art by xPureLayouts
Unicorns are well known as bloodthirsty creatures, but their hatred of Elephants is legendary. This is something of a paradox, since the Elephant is a creature entirely without lust. Nevertheless, when the Purple Traders secretly brought War Elephants over the Ice Mountains against the Republic of the Red Cloaks, the Red Cloaks Virgin Seers detected this ploy and summoned the Unicorn King to array his forces in a great battle against the invaders.

The result was that hundreds of Unicorns were trampled under the Elephants' great feet, while dozens of War Elephants were gored and slain by the Unicorn King's armies. The lowland plains where this battle was fought are known today as the Red Mud Flats.

The Purple Traders' ploy was nevertheless successful. Dozens more War Elephants survived the battle and descended on the Republic of the Red Cloaks. The Elephants tore down the Republic's City Where All Roads Lead, and that state was destroyed in its entirety.

The Purple Traders' sea empire thrives to this day. Because of the Unicorn-Elephant War, the empire's two symbols remain the Red Elephant's Heel and the Broken Unicorn Horn.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Posting This Week

No post today or tomorrow, due to a B-I-G Federal grant.

We resume our normal schedule on Thor's Day.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monstrous Mondays: The Eurypterid Kings
The Eurypterid Kings are close cousins of the giant sea scorpions of the realm of The Shallow Seas. They ride on the backs of their giant cousins, looking for ships, barge-temples, or dry land upon which to crawl and find their true prey.

When they find someone of great discipline and skill - a patient fisherman, a martial nuns, or a deft swimmer - the Eurypterid King will mount that person and sting them. Their venom causes the victim great agony, but only the first time. With the second sting, the victim begins to hear the thoughts of the Eurypterid King. S/he will then be able to reinterpret the pain as great pleasure, as the ecstasy of the focused mind.

Concealment is the key. On an arm, a back, a torso, a thigh. Both the Eurypterid King and the person it rides will stay together and stay hidden, sting after sting. Together, the victim and his/her passenger will do great things - become a Fisherman-King, a Poison Abbot, or a Legendary Dragon-Road Swimmer.

Eventually, though, the poison becomes too much. After a few years, the victim must go into hiding. It's the smell... they retain their discipline, skill, and focus but their body is rotting, covered in suppurating necrotic flesh wounds. Skin finally sloughs off limbs, and the victim collapses into a final fever. The Eurypterid King dies with its victim. But just before their mutual deaths, a thousand small eggs burst open on the victim's body - one from inside each boil made by a scorpion sting.

Dozens of these will escape detection and slip into the sea, so that the Eurpterid King's life cycle can begin again.

Everway Mechanics:

Eurypterid King (Creature)

The Elements:
  • Fire 2 - Skitter to Safety (3)
  • Earth 2 - Exoskeleton (3)
  • Air 6 - Coach for Greatness (7)
  • Water 6 - Sense Greatness (7)
  • Ecstasy of Focus (2 point power) - The scorpion's sting brings its victim intense focus, excellence, and joy in creation
  • Concealed Ride (1 point power) - Scorpion is gifted at concealing its presence on the human person

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Gate House

"The Castle" by Viktor Titov
The Gate House lies in the foothills of the Inland Rise, three day's walk West from the City of Otherway. Also known as the Castle Kingdom, the Gate House has a sovereign of its own, because it preexists Otherway: mthe Gate House was built in ancient times by the Unknown Architects, the first people native to this world.

The Gate House sits on a weak point that connects Otherway's world to the Radiance of the Deep Horizon. The entire Castle Kingdom is a prison. It's walls were purpose-built by the Unknown Architects using sacred geometries. Its very structure creates numerous dimensional sink holes and cellae designed to capture and contain the inimical beings from Beyond. These beings materialize through the weak point and then find that they can go no further into the world.

Of course, the Radiance these beings bring still needs to go somewhere. The walls of the Gate House slowly drain Radiance, channeling it through the Castle Kingdom's miles and miles of stone. This bleed manifests as various new Arcana whose glowing sigils can be seen thoughout the Gate House.

An army of Copyists and Visiting Scholars catalogs these representations of the sublime. The finest are assembled into divinatory decks, each one unique.

Eventually even the most energetic cella grows cold. At that point, the chamber is opened and the bones of a god are harvested to make relics.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Others in Otherway

"Battle Krishna" by Nisachar
There are no "standard fantasy races" (whatever that means) in Otherway. There are of course many, many kinds of humans from cultures and worlds beyond counting. There are also beings from Beyond who resemble monsters, humans, demons, angels, and gods.

Many of these beings have blue skin. Many also have halos of various kinds. Not all are saints or angels. Many are demons or beings that convey unspeakable enlightened glories from Beyond the Deep Horizon.

More than a few are imprisoned in the Gate House.

Spherewalking This Week!

Just a heads-up that we are spherewalking this week, so posts will be a little irregular.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Sultan's Gate

Virginia Frances Sterrett
The Embassy Tower is surrounded by a cast iron fence. It is three men tall. The fence rose from the ground just hours before the Embassy Tower did. The main path to the Tower grounds is ungated.

But directly behind this open path, on the opposite side of the Tower, there is a tall ornate gate of the same design as the fence.

This is The Sultan's Gate.

Touch the gate. Push it. There is no locking mechanism, and yet it remains shut. A closer look reveals two lesser gates on either side of The Sultan's Gate. They are hiding in plain sight. These two are also fixed shut.

One lesser gate leads Below to The Demon Sultan's caverns. The other leads Between, opening on a grave-narrow twisting path between the worlds - a stumbledown path with a thousand branches and dead falls.

The center gate leads to the Beyond. It is the only gate that has never been re-opened. Clever hands and minds have successfully opened the Gate Below and the Gate Between. But no one yet has opened the Gate Beyond.

People do try. An entire clan of assassins waits and watches for them.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monstrous Mondays: The Demon Sultan

Virginia Frances Sterrett
An exiled potentate from Beyond, The Demon Sultan was the first ambassador to take up residence in the city of Otherway. The Demon Sultan dwells deep in the caverns below the city's Embassy Tower, which rose from the ground in a single day and night after his arrival. Within his caverns, The Demon Sultan engages in fine dining with the occasional visitor and sharpens his nails on the roots of Gate Trees.

His name is a nonsense word from one of the multitude of languages in the Beyond. Quite unpronounceable by mortals, The Demon Sultan's name has been said to sounds like a fever blister or the din of a thousand love-smitten wasps spurned by a Ruk. You won't hear these sounds when you approach his caverns though. Your feet will be making too much noise of their own. Crunch, crunch, crunch your feet will go when you approach his caverns: a carpet of insect exoskeletons crushes under your as you approach His Excellency Below.

A few visitors to his caverns have struck strong bargains with The Demon Sultan. Among the great families of Otherway, you can tell these people from the bluish cast of their skin. It is said that the demon's blood runs in these families' veins, and that as a result of this, their diets and appetites have become rather eccentric. During his annual month of fasting, The Demon Sultan will take up residence in one or more of their homes.

Visitors to Otherway are cautioned to buy one of the simple protective amulets sold in Otherway's Gate Market. Without some form of protection, The Demon Sultan can spell you into his caverns and then proceed to feast on your flesh. Many travelers dismissive of the local customs have found themselves lost forever in precisely this way. Most Otherwayans take no chances; they have a midwife tattoo protective charms on their children as soon as they are born.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What is Otherway?
Otherway is a new place on the tree of worlds, a new setting for multiworld, multiversal fantasy adventure. Use it with Everway if you like, or Amber Diceless, Planescape, or something else such as Nexus: the Infinite City.

And Otherway will also be a game system.

Over the next couple of months, I am going to choose a system to use with Otherway. There are several different options I am considering:
  • A retroclone based on a beloved multisphere fantasy RPG
  • The FATE system - either using Legends of Anglerre as a platform or the forthcoming FATE Core
  • Over the Edge's WaRP system
  • An OGL iteration of Basic Role Playing

If you have an idea for a good OGL system, please drop me a line in the comments!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Names in Otherway
The naming traditions of the city of Otherway diverge from those of the first city. While the common Tree Tongue spoken on many worlds is still used by most people here in Otherway, the many worlds that connect to Otherway through the Gate Trees have their own languages and naming traditions. Those traditions, too, have taken root in Otherway.

Within the city, you will hear many different languages spoken. Naming traditions are also different than in the first city. An Otherwayan of first city lineage may have a name derived from the Tree Tongue, or a name that mixes words of the Tree Tongue with those of another language.

Family names in Otherway are also distinct from those in the first city. After the One Hundred Gate Journey, people formed new families and chose new names to signify those new families. These new family names help to anchor the travelers in their new city.

And the diversity of those names raises another question: was there only a single "first city"? Or was there more than one? First cities like islands in a great delta, competing with one another for the memory of Otherwayans.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The City of Otherway

The City of Otherway was founded by scholars, students, and adventurers from the families and visitors to the first city. Otherway was the end of their One Hundred Gate Journey. One hundred worlds out from the first city, far closer to the infinity of the Deep Horizon, the travelers ended their great journey, and built a new city - a city younger, more vital, and more open than the first one.

The travelers intermarried with the people of this new world, and formed new families according to their desires - some matriarchal as in the first city, some patriarchal like those in many of the worlds they traversed.

The  people of Otherway planted one hundred and one Gate Tree seeds in the lands surrounding their new city. They went nowhere else for a century, building their city and tending their seedlings. The Gate Trees grew deep roots between lands near and far, and its branches extended into different worlds.

The Gate Trees were the Seed Lords' last gift to the people of the first city, and their first of many gifts to the people of the new city. For the trees opened a new infinity of worlds for the people of Otherway. Travelers went forward to explore again, and returned home with many new gifts and discoveries for the people of Otherway.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Gate Trees

The Seed Lords planted the first Gate Trees. They sowed them in rain-filled footsteps of a Giant who roamed the worlds at the dawn of time. Gate Trees are still alive today, and are thus extremely old. But very few Gate Trees today produce viable seeds. If you see saplings near the trunk of one of these trees, water them and tend them well.

Photo c. 2012 by John Everett Till
When you first see a Gate Tree, look at its trunk. The bark is like a map. It tells the story of the Earth in which it has grown, and the diversity of lands that the tree's roots reach through the Earth in which it grows. It also tells the story of the skies into which it reaches, and of the worlds beyond its branches.

Photo c. 2012 John Everett Till

Next, read the fault lines in the bark. The tree will show you a way to get inside of it. Put your hands inside the gap and push your way inside and through to the roots and branches. Its roots drink deep from the waters of the lands far and wide within the world where it was planted. The Gate Tree's leaves sway with the breezes of the worlds that the Giant never reached.

Photo c. 2012 John Everett Till
A Gate Tree's branches fork into numerous worldpaths, reaching up toward the stars. The broader the branch, the safer and more well-traveled the worldpath. The narrower the branch, the less frequently traveled and the more perilous the journey will be for you. Be brave. Climbing the Tree Gates is never an easy path, but it is a sure way to find adventure.

Find the heart of the tree, and you can create a path to Otherway.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monstrous Mondays: The Tikbalang

Art by Kajo Baldismo
"Trese" komiks series
The Tikbalang are tall, long-armed, red-eyed, cigar smoking creatures with the heads of horses. They are notorious for sneaking up on people in jungle forests. They live on islands throughout the Sitting Dog Archipelago on the sphere of Wingspan.

Their favorite sport is waylaying lonely nighttime travelers as they make their way though the forest from one village to another. The Tikbalang hide in the trees until they spot someone passing by their perch. When they hear a victim approaching, the Tikbalang will quietly light a cigar, and begin puffing out a thick miasma of smoke. Soon, the traveler will no longer be able to see moon and stars through the trees. They will become lost and confused. And dizzy.

At that moment, the Tikbalang will use his very long arms to swing down from the trees and quietly drop just behind the unsuspecting traveler. Using their powers of illusion to confuse and bewilder their prey, they will impersonate a long-lost relative of the now-confused traveler. They will offer to help guide the traveler to their destination. After a short while, the Tikbalan will turn and reveal its true appearance, and the family member's face will dissolve into a leering horse's head. The last thing the victim will see is the Tikbalang's long fingers closing around his or her neck.

In the days to come, a relative of the victim may come across their loved one during a nighttime walk between two villages...

The Tikbalang are increasingly found on many other spheres. This has led some scholars to speculate that the Tikbalang can Spherewalk. Look carefully the next time you enter the smoke-filled back room of a merchant house. Today the Tikbalang frequently use their gifts of illusion, impersonation, and deception for financial gain.


  • Fire 5 
  • Earth 5  
  • Air 4 
  • Water 3 
  • Image of Kin (3 point power): The Tikbalang may impersonate one of a person's kinfolk until making an attack.
  • Blow Smoke (2 point power): The Tikbalang may confuse, bewilder, and dizzy someone by blowing  a nauseating miasma of cigar smoke into their vicinity.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Index of Everwayan Family Houses

This series of posts was inspired by the random tables for African urban palaces in the forthcoming Spears of the Dawn RPG. 

We created these posts by first rolling a D30 on The Families of Everway Table, and then using the tables for Spears of the Dawn.

The Crookstaff Family Library - did this family invent the Anti-Library?

The Gold Menagerie - gold isn't the only idol in this home

The Green Kitchen - herbs and poisons right down this alley

Host Home Troubles - nobody's happy with a host when things go missing

The Mask Family Library - some families collect books, others book secrets

The Morningsong Family Shrine - this family collects and worships filth

The Plume Family House - this family guards the King, and its own dead

The Slake Family Storeroom - something's brewing with this family

Weaver Audience Room - be careful where you sit in this room of splendid carpets and hangings

The Whiteoar House - someone's keeping an eye on the victors of Everway's ancient civil war

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Realm of Ovo

Haeckel's Embryos

The Realm of Ovo:
  • Virtue: Fertility - Growth
  • Fault: The Creator, Reversed - Abandonment
  • Fate: Nature - Life Energy vs. Energy Sapped
In Ovo, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. But unlike most realms and spheres, in the realm of Ovo, every being born into the world can in fact step off the evolutionary ladder at an earlier stage and be born as an earlier - or even divergent - life form. So a bird can lay a dinosaur egg. Or lay the egg of a dinosaur-man. And a human mother can do the same. This is a natural propensity of all organisms.

Ovo is therefore incredibly diverse. There are innumerable species of every kind.  In every generation, there are new clades of intelligent creatures, and numerous variations on all types of animal and plant species. For this reason, many singleton creatures - intelligent or otherwise - will never find a mate that looks exactly (or sometimes even closely) like them. Pairings and matings across species are the norm, blurring the lines between natural and unnatural, one species and another, animals and plants.

Because of the nature of birth and transspeciation in this world, mothers are often unable to nurture their children, and children and parents are often separated early. This separation produces a profound sense of abandonment that breeds monsters. It also leaves progeny vulnerable to capture by unscrupulous Spherewalkers hunting for curiosities to populate menageries on other spheres.

The intelligent creatures of Ovo - particularly the small bands of humans in this realm - hide themselves from Outsiders. No one wants to be captured and used in a breeding program.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Strangerside Scholar: Creation And The Spheres

Gustav Klimt's Tree of Life (1909)
Life arises and develops in numerous ways among the million spheres. In some realms, the gods do everything by Committee. First they develop a Process, and then they split into different Sub-Committees to flesh out a comprehensive Work Plan with all the individual Details on different species.

Once everyone is in agreement, and no one stands in the way of the Project or opposes specific Details, then the gods then issue Contracts with individual gods and godlings, farming out creation at the local level. This approach can take years - even centuries - but of course, the gods are immortal. They have all the time in the world.

There are also the Spheres where creation happens when one pantheon of gods overthrows and slays another. These realms often resemble one or more divine corpses on a certain level of scale.

In other spheres, one god does all the work. Often such creations are the work of one blind, idiot god (creation-as-piecework can be boring to the point of inducing madness) or the work of a single obsessive divine being. Who else would create thousands of different species of beetles? Only a Watchmaker.

Still other spheres have always been and always will be. Worlds without beginning or end. These are often called Fortune's Spheres because they are the most stable, fecund, and abundant of all the known worlds. They are the purest expression of the eternal Fortune Deck. If you look carefully, you will see all of Fortune's trumps hiding in plain sight in the land and living things. Often there is also a Tree of Life at the center of such worlds. Its leaves are the glistening trumps of the Fortune Deck itself.

Pluck these leaves at your own risk. But find one pressed between the pages of a book, and you could use it to change an entire world.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Monstrous Monday: Shadow People

"Shadow People" image by Robert & Mihaela Vicol

Sometimes you can feel them behind you. Just don't look. If you look, they may grab hold of you and eat your shadow. The Shadow People congregate near Gates. When you pass through a Gate, close your eyes. Just before crossing the threshold, ignore anything you might see in your peripheral vision. And whatever you do, don't look back! If you see one of the Shadow People, they will be able to touch and hitch a ride on you.

No one is entirely sure where the Shadow People come from or what they are. The Keeper family, as Gate guardians see them the most, and believe they are the ghosts of Spherewalkers who have died far from their homes - or worse yet, have died while walking between the worlds.

Shadow People release their victims once they have passed through into another Realm. But the Spherewalkers they ride are forever changed by the experience: they no longer cast a shadow. Sometimes they also have new memories... of terrible past deeds.

Everway Mechanics:

Shadow People (Creature)

The Elements:
  • Fire 1 
  • Earth 1  
  • Air 3 
  • Water 6  
  • Consume Spherewalker's Shadow - 2 point power.  This power can only be used if the Shadow Person a touches a Spherewalker; effect is permanent, and reduces Spherewalker's Water Score by 3 to a minimum of 1.
  • Ride Spherewalker - 2 point power. If a Spherewalker directly looks at a Shadow Person, the Shadow Person will be able to touch and thereby ride the Spherewalker through one Gate and out another Gate into a different Realm.
  • Gatestalk - 2 point power. A Shadow Person can move silently and invisibly beside or behind a Spherewalker, but may never cross directly in front of one. Once approached, the Spherewalker is likely to feel the Shadow Person's presence and begin looking for a nearby spirit. If the Spherewalker's Water score is higher than the Shadow Person's Water score, the Spherewalker may close or avert their eyes to avoid seeing the Shadow Person.