Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Planes of Prognardia

Rarely does the concept album, hallmark of the intellectually aspirational rock group, actually gel into a realized fantastic world. Even more rarely does it approach the consistency - complete with maps - of the Atlantean prehistories imagined by the symphonic metal band Bal-Sagoth. No, what we mostly get are snippets, ripe for repurposing. But such snippets ... Imagined below are six pocket planes that resound from the halls of prog-rock music.

1. Sunhillow (Chaotic Good)
Source: Yes' Fragile, Jon Anderson's Olias of Sunhillow

This is the micro-planet depicted on the cover of Fragile whose mythos is expanded on the Olias album. The core of neutronium holds this little sphere together and allows the topographic oceans, Deanish peaks, Great Glimmering Road, and eight-mile trees to exist. The dwellers are pristine noble savages who hunt the buoyant Fish of the Plain, although not all is easy street, for the rough passage across the South Side of the Sky still burns in their memories. When the neutronium starts giving out, whole steradians of the planet come unmoored and Olias in his flying boat, with the chieftain's blessing, must take wing to find refuge for his people. More a place for some R&R and healing like 14 hit points a day than anything else.

2. The Court of the Crimson King (Chaotic Evil)
Source: King Crimson, don'tcha know

In a brooding castle saturated by characters of gothic-Dylanesque enigmiasis, in a carnivalesque whirl of masks, puppets, clowns, jesters and other Ligottian signifiers of existential unmooring, there holds his court the Crimson King. "Presente!" cry also The Fire Witch, Yellow Jester, Purple Piper, Patterned Juggler, Grinding Wheel, Keeper of the City Keys, and Black Queen, tormenting and interrogating the 21st Century Schizoids who decide to don the masks of fantasy characters and journey there across the astral. I imagine the King in Yellow looking across the Lake of Hali from his dreary castle and saying "Damn, now that's a party!"

3. The Plains of Tarkus (Chaotic Neutral)
Source: Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Tarkus

RARR a grade school trapper-keeper panoply of kaiju-tastic critters that battle each other across the steppes and seas of a primal arena, kind of like Gamera Vs. Guiron but without the tinfoil dominatrices who eat child brains, sadly. We have the treaded tankadillo Tarkus hatched in a volcano, the pterodactyl-like Iconoclast, the Mass who is a metal horseshoe crab with grasshopper legs and missiles, the Manticore = giant sized manticore, and some crazy turreted fortress, and at the end Tarkus jumps off the cliffs of Dover and turns into .. Aquatarkus, not to be confused with Aquaman or Aqualung, although that would indeed be a teamup supreme. Don't listen to the lyrics, they are some kind of Vietnam war protest with Hammond organ and have nothing to do with the epic of Tarkus, entirely self-contained within the gatefold.

4. The Catacombs Under Broadway (Neutral Evil)
Source: Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

ok, a tribute band, but the slipperman looks great in color
Somewhere under a fictive Manhattan, Peter Gabriel playing a Nuyorican from the pantomime version of West Side Story stumbles and struts his way through a sideshow of instructive and disquieting monsters. There are Carpet Crawlers, a grand parade of lifeless packaging (which somehow has a Challenge Rating), the sinister characters Lilywhite Lilith and the Supernatural Anaesthetist, the seductive and, of course, vampiric pool of Lamias. Dungeon features include the cage, the cocoon, a chamber of 32 doors, and an underground river of rushing rapids and scree. Nasty, pustulent Slippermen await, attended by a Doctor who is happy to remove any and all external genitalia. At the end you find your brother ... or is it ... YOURSELF ... (whoa man)

All right. This panoply of freaks is mighty jolly dealing out disruptive life lessons to solo punk-kids armed with switchblade and spraycan. But how will they fare against a fully armed, name-leveled and fireball-blasting farrago of Dungeonchompers, I ask you?

5. The World of By-Tor (Neutral with Lawful Evil bad guys because Rush are libertarians)
Source: Rush, Caress of Steel and Fly By Night

this is canada, let's take "snow dog" literally
There are three locations in this cramped and unimpressive sub-world: a Generic Fantasy Burgh called Willowdale, down a river from there, a tower surrounded by a forest and dispiriting swamp; and a cave. In the tower dwells the Necromancer, who shoots wannabe Sabbath riffs from prisms to sap minds from afar. In the cave dwells the demonic Prince By-Tor, destined to be overcome by the Snow Dog unless you guys get to him first. The only interesting thing about this place is the face-heel turn; By-Tor starts out as the guy who banishes the Necromancer, while "Sweet Jane" inexplicably plays. Mostly, though, this is an embarrassing backwater of the multiverse, only good for telling yourself "I can read boxed text better than that guy," but at least adventurable as a cosm, unlike Cygnus X-1, the Temples of Syrinx, or the Red Barchetta Motorverse.

6. Blood Mountain (True Neutral)
Source: Mastodon's 2006, prog metal classic

THEIR MOST GAMEABLE ALBUM it should say on the sticker, but a gameability based on you all tripping balls both IRL and in character and you and your characters also multiclassing shamans for the duration. This gives you access to a taiga plane dominated by the skypole thrust of Blood Mountain, and whose ascent is complicated by colonies of birchmen, the thumping Cysquatch whose eye sees the future, and a Sleeping Giant it were not good to wake (stats as: a Richter 6.4 earthquake). Wolf form and trepanation may be of aid in evading the sharklike flying Hunters of the Sky and assessing the promise and omen of the Hand of Stone. At the summit awaits the mighty artifact, the Crystal Skull, which sloughs away the reptilian brain, allowing a new realm of emotional frankness and objectivity without the cringing need of self-preservation drumming at the back of the cranium. Or so it is whispered.


  1. The Center of the Eye: Nektar's "Journey to the Centre of the Eye"
    The Land of Grey and Pink: Caravan's "The Land of Grey and Pink"
    The Moon: Camel's "Moonmadness"
    The Home Planet of Zero the Hero: Gong's "Flying Teapot" trilogy
    Spelljammer: Hawkwind's works

    1. I'll have to check the others out, I only know the Caravan and Hawkwind (and me living in Canterbury at that). One thing, though, it is easy to make a concept album that is atmospheric and about a place - harder to make one that is about compelling, over-the-top characters and creatures.

    2. (Eyes bug out.) Wow, yeah, that's pretty amazing for Canterbury not to have Gong, and Camel shares members with Caravan.

      The Centre of the Eye: a robot announces the arrival. There are nine lifeless daughters of the sun there to greet. Lots of introspective navel gazing happens. AL: Neutral. (A Tab in the Ocean might make a better plane. It's a better record as well.)

      The Land of Grey and Pink: latex-clad women bring tea, jigsaw puzzles grow from trees, four young girls dance topless, and, of course, you have to fight off the grumbly grimbleys to get to the punkweed, which you smoke until you bleed. AL: Neutral Good.

      The Moon: is on a wheel. Everyone on it has the power of flight, including the will-o'-the-wisps that hang above the water. AL: Neutral.

      Zero the Hero's Planet: It's hard to sum up the whole Gong mythology, but Zero is a gnome who knows about love and flies a teapot. AL: Chaotic Good with Neutral Good tendencies.

      Spelljammer: Mostly as TSR wrote it, maybe a little darker to account for Moorcock's influence on Hawkwind. AL: Chaotic Neutral with Evil tendencies.

  2. Maybe a Prog World genre table?

    1. Yes, yes, yes - I have the final few tables planned out but there is one idea that just does not grab me. I will replace it with prog forthwith! Thanks!

  3. Oh, I came up with GURPS stats for Tarkus earlier this year: http://gurpswiki.wikidot.com/m:tarkus

  4. Funny you should mention this... in February of last year I put together a pitch for the world of the Crimson King.


    1. Nice work ... it does suggest itself does it not?

  5. "Multiclassing shamans for the duration". Nice. Stats for Cysquatch forthwith, if you please!

  6. Here is a link to an entire Crimson King army, complete with Fire Witches called by cracked brass bells, the Purple Piper's Freak Show, Moon Children cavalry, The Keeper of the City Gates, and a siege tower that must be seen to be believed. All with the Crimson King's round visage.