Thursday 25 September 2014

Back and Forth and Sideways in Time

Last time I offered a breakdown of all the different ways a fantasy world could be tied to our own. Commenters offered a couple of extra ways, which I'll incorporate into this next phase: further describing the plot moves available to the creative world-rigger with each arrangement. This post covers the first three of (now) 14 arrangements.

1. You are in Earth's far or mythic past. 


  • prehistoric animals are everywhere 
  • important names, maybe distorted, are recognizable as legendary heroes and places (Tolkien pulled this off with the lost continent called by some "Atalante" and reverse-engineered his language so that worked and also Artur means "noble lord")
  • euhemerism is in effect so the local king may be called Lord Horus and his shield is a hawk and his chief advisor is the one-eyed Wizard Odin and in the throne room hangs the Golden Fleece 
  • the maps have familiar if somewhat skewed shapes
  • early-civ signifiers like ziggurats, human sacrifice, eyeliner and chariots are mixed in with the magitech and rustless pillars
  • sense of boundless possibilities and newness. 

  •  "The magic is drying up" as in Larry Niven's stories
  • a cataclysm is impending that little of the weird stuff will survive past, paving the way for the world as we know it
  • you are trapped in a stasis cell destined to disgorge you sometime in Earth's timeline. Perhaps some deep-earth miners will find you. Have fun! 
2. You are in the present world's future.


  • the creatures and peoples that you meet show signs of fanciful mutation, alien origin, genetic engineering
  • your legends are of modern-day celebrities, your place names worn-down distortions, look hard enough and you can find the Statue of Liberty, beware the Belieber Cult 
  • the familiar maps are all marked up by global warming and nuclear megacraters and deserts and unspecified cataclysmic events 
  • artifacts of the old world are everywhere or incredibly rare, depending on how much time has passed, sometimes tended by engineers of St. Leibowitz indistinguishable from a priesthood 
  • sense of late-days malaise like in Dying Earth or Riddley Walker: the minerals are all mined, every tale has been told, there are no new genres of music just unfashionable ones, the sun could go out at any moment 


  • stasis works both ways, and some 21st century people who have just unwarped/ unfrozen/ unmirrored expecting utopia are having their expectations cruelly, cruelly broken 
  • they're trying to bring back the Technology of the Ancients but of course they're about to do it horribly wrong 
  • those deep-space near-lightspeed astronauts from the old order's final days are baaack 
3. You are in a parallel dimension, communicable with Earth.


  • strange wanderers who talk funny, dress funny, carry weird objects and drop completely baffling pop culture references 
  • doctrine and teaching of the Multiverse, every schoolchild knows 
  • someone in the distant past came, saw, conquered based on superior native technology, gravity, or disbelief of magic - and disappeared conveniently when things got hot 
  • ethereal creatures and travelers sing strangely familiar and catchy songs 

  • fair enough, you find the gateway in the basement of Castle Greyhawk 
  • one of those strange wanderers rolls up on you and is trying to convince you to make all these mixtures and build all these weird devices and is telling you when the next eclipse is going to be and you don't have the heart to tell him about 9th level spells 
  •  oh psych that other universe isn't exactly our Earth it's a parallel universe Earth where ..

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Bridges to Reality

Let's define "autonomous fantasy": a work about a world not our own, without attempting within the text to place the created world in relation to our own world (henceforth known as "Earth").

But if you look at literature, autonomous fantasy is actually pretty rare. George R. R. Martin's wildly popular world is one such world. But most of the D&D inspiration list "Appendix N" is not. Most of the works there have some kind of link between the fantasy world and the real Earth.

Below is a list of the ways in fantasy world-building to link the created world ("you") to our own Earth. The list is, of course, exhaustive (this claim is meant to stir the blood to objection, so object away!)

It is also only coincidence that there are twelve is the number of entries in the list and twelve is the number of sides of that funny-looking die you have lying on your table there. Please do not leave such momentous decisions as the very nature of reality to the whim of the roll.

1. You are in Earth's far or mythic past.
Examples: Tolkien's Middle Earth, Howard's barbarians, Moorcock's Melnibone

2. You are in the real world's future
Examples: Wolfe's New Sun, Lanier's Hiero, Gerber's Thundarr the Barbarian, Okorafor's Who Fears Death, Boulle's Planet of the Apes

3. You are in a parallel dimension, communicable to Earth
Examples: D&D's default cosmos, Pratt & De Camp's Incomplete Enchanter, Moorcock's multiverse

4. You are on a distant planet where fantasy/magic holds sway
Examples: Farmer's World of Tiers, Barker's Tekumel, McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern

5. Your world and Earth are both the dream/simulation/shadow of a higher world
Example; Zelazny's Amber series

6. You are in the dream of someone on Earth
Examples: Lovecraft's Dreamlands, McCay's Little Nemo

The rest have less of a fictional pedigree to my knowledge, but are no less fascinating.

7. You are in a simulation run by someone on Earth
8. Earth is the dream of someone on your world
9. Your world is the afterlife of Earth
10. Earth is the afterlife of your world
11. You are in a fiction maintained by someone on Earth (the literal truth, and the doctrine of Narrativism, no, not that kind of Narrativism)
12. The wall is absolute (Westeros and all other self-contained worlds such as Earthsea)

At any rate, each idea suggests itself strongly as a Big Reveal that is hinted at in the middle of a fantasy gaming campaign, and that outright drives events in the later stages of such a campaign. And in the next post: what implications each of these ideas carry.

Sunday 21 September 2014

52 Baroque Encounter Starts

Go on then, have another.

This one is not quite so teeming as the previous, more practical, but such is the nature of the rules page it was spawned from. It's divided up into a number of smaller dice tables that still add up to 52 options. I think these eight categories pretty much cover anything you might throw at your players.

Click to enlarge.

Saturday 13 September 2014

52 Baroque Treasures

Continuing the slow and artesanal release of the 52 Baroque Pages, the next production is 52 exotic treasures sorted more or less by value. Click to enlarge. Here's the generator link for instant pop-up results!

Wednesday 3 September 2014

The Chain Roach

Tell your comforting tales of mad wizards if you like. Human perversity, after all, is small, but unnatural selection is the chain roaches' mother and perhaps yours too.

The small form is a blattid centipede of seven to twelve roaches, joined ass-to-mouth in descending order of size, moving and digesting as one.  The chitin is as strong as human skin but give it four points of defense for small size and skittery inclinations, and it moves half as fast as you can trot. It does not have hit points, rather individual roaches, d6+6 of them. When you hit, one roach is squashed, plus one for every 4 damage you do, and roll d8-1 for how close to the head you hit, maximum = number of remaining roaches; all but that number of roaches scatter from the chain.

The main weapon of a small chain roach is disgust. On a successful hit ignoring armor it climbs on you. The next round and subsequent it has a 10% chance each of finding the mouth, nose, ear or nether orifices. Throwing off a roach chain requires a successful bare-hand hit, -2 if it is on your back parts. Invasion by roaches is completely attention-consuming and requires a saving throw to expel the roach chain. Each round you have a 5% chance of contracting disease from each roach chain on you and 15% from each roach chain in you.

On occasion multiple chain roaches will knit together to create a wide scarf roach of 5d6+6 individuals. Its statistics are similar, but more roaches. The front roaches will often acquire a couple of stabbing or slicing implements: broken knife blades, iron spikes, knitting needles, and soon. Thus, when crawling on you a scarf roach does not seek to invade, but instead stabs for d3 damage each time. The chance of infection per round is 10% if a scarf roach is just crawling on you and 20% if it has opened some wounds.

If ten or more roaches are scuttling around the area - either naturally or because some chain roaches have taken damage - any chain or scarf roach in the area will regenerate 1 roach per round from this pool.