Sorceress V

Sergei Sergeivich Solomko (1867-1928)

Major Serpent Types of the Sunken Sea and Waste Lakes Region

(1) Leatherback Snorter; (2) Domino Mimp; (3) Reed Mimp;
(4) Longnecked Coronet; (5) Black-whiskered Phook

FREQUENCY:  Uncommon
NO. APPEARING:  1 (2-8)
ARMOR CLASS:  2 (head and flippers) or 0 (leathery shell)
MOVE:  //15"
HIT DICE:  8+3
% IN LAIR:  5%
SPECIAL ATTACKS:  Septic bite (see below)
SIZE:  L (12' long, some slightly larger)

These temperamental herbivores are often mistaken for masses of sargasso floating off the shores of Telango and further out to sea in the vicinity of the Ship Graveyard. The snorter can be particularly aggressive to smaller boats and skiffs but generally avoids large merchant vessels and galleys. It is sometimes heard long before being seen, as it can produce a loud, horn-like snorting which it uses to intimidate creatures (and objects) it finds threatening. Snorters occasionally travel in family units of two to eight members.

Those bitten by a snorter must save vs poison. A failed save indicates that the bite has become septic. Without the proper ministrations the infection will lead to severe fevers in less than twelve hours (1d10+1) that will leave the victim bedridden and exhausted for up to a week or more (1d8 days).

Most fishermen go to great pains to track snorter movements in order to avoid them. They are not hunted for sport. While their meat is edible it is quite pungent and often more difficult to obtain than it is worth.

NO. APPEARING:  1 (2-3)
MOVE:  //35"
HIT DICE:  4+2
% IN LAIR:  0%
SIZE:  L (16' long, some slightly larger)

Swift and aggressive, the domino mimp is the bane of coastal fishermen. Many tales are told in seaside taverns of incautious fisher-folk who strayed too far out to sea in their junks only to be terrorized by a domino hunting party of two to three females. These mimps are most active at night and possess excellent infravision (120'). They are voracious eaters and will attack smaller vessels in search of food. Dominos have been known to use their powerful flippers to climb aboard vessels.

Domino mimps are prized for the oils in their blubbery deposits. Their meat is quite good and typically smoked over pinewood. Like most mimps, their maws have an impressive array of needle-like teeth that have many domestic uses among sea-folk.

FREQUENCY:  Uncommon
NO. APPEARING:  1 (2-12)
MOVE:  5"//20"
% IN LAIR:  0%
SIZE:  L (14' long, some much larger)

The inquisitive reed mimp is the most docile of the mimp family and can be found scavenging for carcasses on the shores of beaches all along the eastern coast of the Sunken Sea. Its four strong flippers make it quite adept on land. Some mimps choose to summer in the Waste Lakes where they can be a nuisance to other amphibious predator/scavengers.  Occasionally reed mimps will travel in large groups for the purpose of mutual protection.

Reed mimps are often seen as tokens of good luck to fisher-folk. They are rarely hunted -- in fact killing a reed mimp is considered something of a taboo in certain localities.

MOVE:  5"//15"
HIT DICE:  9+2
% IN LAIR:  10%
SIZE:  L (20' long, some much larger)

The object of superstitious dread among fisher-folk and the peoples of the Waste Lakes region, the coronet is avoided and rarely even the subject of discussion. Named for the bony ridges along its brow, these creatures are reputed to produce a noxious musk that may cause sensitive (CON of 10 or below) humans within smelling range (30 feet) to vomit (50% chance). Very rarely mated pairs will travel together. They can move overland with some difficulty.

The coronet is associated with disease taboos. It is an unclean animal that is never hunted, both out of fear for supernatural consequences and the fact that its meat is polluted by its weird stench.

MOVE:  //25"
HIT DICE:  3+3
% IN LAIR:  20%
SIZE:  M (7' long, some slightly larger)

Also known as water palfreys, the phook (pronounced 'pook' or 'fook' according to local custom) is the most intelligent of the Sunken Sea serpents and often the most troublesome. These creatures are known to attach themselves to the underside of ships where they will gnaw on the hull for hours at a time. This gnawing is often audible from within the ship and can be an unnerving sound when one is out upon the open sea. Such behaviors are intentionally malicious and occur most often during the winter months when the phooks are said to be irritable. They are most commonly found far from shore, though this is not always the case. Hungry phooks will attack anything, even much larger creatures. Some collect trophies from their kills -- usually worthless bits of bone or clothing -- which they will stash in their subterranean lairs.

Phook-meat is tasty but difficult to obtain. They are hunted for sport by the Sea-Lords of Ungish who showcase their kills through taxidermy. For this reason, the phooks are known to have a strong dislike for nobility in general and the people of Ungish in particular.  

Sorceress IV

Dan Lydersen
"Madonna Tella'Na"
oil on canvas
(More from this amazing art show here.)

Sorceress III

The Etymologia of the Kandoon

The first grimoire. Once a possession of the god Otwan the Kandoon[1]. It is recorded that the Etymologia consists of four lists of nouns (grammaries) transcribed in the Origin language. Such knowledge is very dangerous, for to speak a thing's original name is to bring it into existence. These manifestations are instantaneous and require elemental components from the immediate environment in order to form properly. Included among the lists are the names of things that Were, the names of things that Are, the names of things that Are Not Yet, and the names of those things that Can Never Be. These words are the basis of the second language, the root grammary of incantation[2].

Several primal mythologies describe the passage of the book to the Jale Emperor, most ancient of the lords of Jindelil, who used its words to move the world and change its shape[3]. The current dynasty, the Tsulduines, claims descent from the House of Jale, though this is not verifiable due to gaps in the ancient genealogies. If such is the case, it is theoretically possible that the Kandoon's book is part of their renowned collection of magical antiquities. 

Some philosophies hold that the Etymologia is self-aware, that it writes itself and continues to expand on its grammaries in spontaneous fits of creativity.


[1] Otwan's classic representation is that of a primitive scaled man with the head of a serpent or dragon. He is a patron of imagination, speech, knowledge and inquiry. He inseminated the lands of Cuthiel and fathered a daughter he named Ywenna ("the green maiden") who is credited with the creation of passion, hatred and envy.

[2] This is the language of thought-symbols often credited to Gwesh the Chanter, a primal magician who dwelled in an ancient forest swallowed by the sea ages ago when the Jale Emperor changed the shape of the world (see below).

[3] Most erudytes agree that the world was originally shaped like an ovoid floating in the aetherial drifts around a sun called Iog, a period generally known as the Ioggian Eon. Iog had dwindled in size very slowly for many millions of years before collapsing suddenly into the form of a radiant red acorn. After several weeks this light caused all creatures on the face of the world to go quite mad. Many, including the domesticated beasts of today, fled beneath the surface of the world to escape the weird radiation and the delirious behavior it evoked. This all ended with the appearance of the Jale Emperor, an uncommonly clever man who could read and speak the Origin language revealed to him by his demonic thralls, Quigyyoth the Convivial and Bog-Shush the Interminable. Reading from the Etymologia, the Emperor effected the cataclysmic change that rendered the world a perfect sphere and sent it hurtling into orbit around its present sun, blue-green Nume, where it began a new phase in its existence.


The Sorceress: Coda

I think that last post may have upset her.

The Sorceress

"As villains tend to be defined by their vices, it's only natural then, that female villains would gravitate towards vanity."  TV TROPES: Vain Sorceress
Last night I dreamed of a woman who possessed magical powers. She was beautiful in the physical sense -- sensual, smooth-skinned and of ideal proportions -- but this beauty was merely a shadow of the deeply attractive quality that was revealed by her every movement. It was impossible to resist her. Men obeyed her implicitly, and not because they were afraid of the penalty for disobedience. It was unthinkable to disobey. They simply wanted to please her, to be near her.

I believe this is the essence of the sorceress. She does not seek men out to do her bidding. They come to her like pilgrims, for she evokes a sort of religious devotion that is not easily denied. She is vain because she is intimately aware of her power over men and revels in it. This is the most finely wrought weapon in her arsenal -- a weapon she uses to achieve her nefarious goals. (Conquest and/or vengeance come to mind as distinct possibilities. Or perhaps the upper hand in rivalries with her sisters.)

Demi Moore: Modern Sorceress
The maintenance of her physical beauty and the cultivation of her personal magnetism are the practicalities every sorceress must keep in mind at all times. Not goals so much as means-to-an-end, without these qualities she is little more than a withered old crone, probably subject to the effects of dementia due to her unnatural lifespan.

It's important to make the distinction that while the sorceress' beauty may be magically fueled it is not illusory. That's trickery and witch-stuff and not the purview of the true sorceress. She's the real deal.

In D&D terms, we're dealing with a specialist magic-user here. One that's probably super-saturated her body with charm person potions and commands a wide variety of fey-like abilities and spells. In fact, I kinda like that fey angle. What if she needs to bathe in the blood of immortal elves periodically to maintain her hotness? That opens up all kinds of hooks for the adventuring party. Do they sympathize with the elves and put an end to the sorceress' homicidal shenanigans? Do they work for her and wander into fey-territory to bag some fresh elf-meat? What happens when the party starts to fall under her spell? Do they start working for her pro bono (much to the players' dismay)?

Has anybody used a sorceress like the one I describe above in their home campaigns? How did it play out?


Tigress Tales

Some inspirational art by Mike Hoffman. (LOVE that robot with the spear.)

The Black Hole of Carcosa

Found this at the local used bookshop yesterday and thought it looked too pulptastic to pass up.

The Strange Exodus of Tlalesh (Part III)

Part III of x. [Part I; Part II]

"You will go now. Fetch the king," said the fungus as it crept past him to peer at the unnatural colors forming within the frame.

"Impossible," replied Forhain. "I am exhausted beyond all calculation. I have played my part in your scheme -- if indeed there is purpose behind your satanic machinations. Leave me be."

The full focus of the diminutive creature now fell upon him. Shadowy pores that ran along its upper appendages and pocked its otherwise featureless countenance began to dilate and contract with mechanical precision. "What are you doing?" asked the wizard.

"Thinking," replied the fungus.

"Your anatomical makeup is an affront to the senses." He turned back toward the cellar stairs. "I must attend to the minstrel -- perhaps deposit him in a nearby tavern? Please feel free to pick through the chamber pots for any bits of solid matter you might find appetizing."

"I am immune to sarcasm," it declared. The fungus raised its left appendage as the wizard mounted the stairwell. "Hold one moment." A cold wave of paralysis seized Forhain's legs. He groaned.

"You must sew closed the rent on the girl's neck after I enter her," the thing instructed. "Her body will be useful."

"If I must," sighed the wizard.


Forhain regretted the decision to follow rather than lead the fungus-inhabited Volessa up the stairs. Its control of her movements was rudimentary at best. He was quick to point this out. The fungus explained -- in halting speech as it accustomed itself to the girl's tongue, teeth and palate -- that full symbiosis would take several hours to complete. To say that she -- or rather it -- lacked all grace would not be incorrect so much as gross understatement. Worse than her awkward movements was the state of her face. Once so beguiling -- now as slack and lifeless as that of a spice-addled crone hawking rat-cakes at the slave-market.

"Wake the musician," it slurred. "He will accompany me back to the palace."

"You will make an attractive pair," said the wizard.



Kenneth Grant excerpt

From Against the Light (1997):
The first time I had opened the Grimoire, a sickly scent clung to its leaves. It evoked memories of events I was unable fully to recall. Frustratingly elusive they were yet persistent; and, as I turned again in memory the faded leaves with their sprawling graphs and cyphers, they seemed to conjure some indefinable madness. Many were inscribed with impressions of distorted, vaguely human figures and what appeared to be aimlessly meandering maps. They were drawn in a dark coloured substance, with signs and place-names (?) picked out in scarlets and greens. There were also semblances of human heads set upon grotesquely arachnoid bodies - all in a warped perspective recalling a Caligari backdrop.


The Strange Exodus of Tlalesh (Part II)

Did I say two parts? Make that three. If you're just arriving to Gorgonmilk, make sure to check out Part I.

The frame was situated in Forhain's cellar in a small, earth-walled room normally reserved for the cultivation of roots. When it was finished, Forhain sat on the floor before it and stared as if he was seeing it clearly for the first time. The frame was a bizarre confabulation of blue spike crystals, southern nockwood, malpha stone and the petrified brains of certain prehistoric sea creatures, all etched with those unfamiliar, delicate symbols so perfectly described by the ghost-voice. It was beautiful and terrible. Like a forest fire viewed from a naked hilltop.

"There is one final element," said a voice.

Forhain leapt to his feet and whirled, staring back into the torch-lit main room of the cellar. The voice was not unlike the hollow sound he had heard many weeks before in his son's bedroom. His eyes scanned the room, but there was no one there. Just his workbench and the locked cabinet where he kept his phony elixirs.

"The basket," offered the voice. "Dig me out."

Though all of his rational faculties pleaded with him to ignore the voice's imperative, he found that he simply could not prevent his legs from moving inexorably toward the reed-woven basket. He could see the tube-shaped mushrooms shuddering inside it. Their whiteness was obscene against the cellar's shadowy backdrop. Forhain fell to his knees and began scooping out handfuls of loam. He could see now that the projections which he had mistaken for individual fungi were actually parts of a larger growth beneath the loam's surface. A soft, slick gray body was lodged in the basket by four thick roots. These were unlike any plant material he had seen before. They resembled human limbs in most particulars. Indeed, as the wizard freed these from the loam, the uppermost pair of appendages took hold of his hands. Their touch was repellent, like the caress of a dead octopus rotting on the beach in winter. Forhain permitted it long enough to extract the body from the basket and plop the thing on the cellar floor.

Lolling its featureless head about uncertainly, the fungus-child turned its blind face to the wizard. "Blood is the key that opens the doorway. Virginal blood. Bring us the boy," it commanded. Forhain felt his muscles move involuntarily. He began lurching toward the stairwell.

"Wait!" he screamed. "Not the boy. Not my son. Please." He resembled a man in a fit of epilepsy, so resistive was he to the alien force that gripped him and was now pushing him up the stairs. He looked as if he might fall at any moment.

"It is for the sake of convenience," said the fungus.

"I understand and yet still I beg you to reconsider," spat the wizard through gritted teeth. His arms were currently embroiled in some sort of dispute with one another.

"What alternative do you offer?" Though the thing had no face, Forhain could not help but think that it was smiling at him mockingly.

"The king," hissed Forhain, "has many girl-slaves in his palace. Perhaps..."

"You are past your prime. Your glands produce fumes that young females find noxious," observed the fungus. "How do you propose to lure one of these nubile slaves to this cellar? You have no wealth -- for all was spent in the procurement of the materials the doorway required. What could you offer them?"

"Allow me to handle that," replied the wizard. "Please release me from your domination."

Forhain fell backward at that instant. The force of the fungus' will which had compelled him to the top of the stairs had completely withdrawn. He fell awkwardly, landing prostrate before his weird houseguest. "I will attend to the matter immediately," he groaned.


The gardens that once occupied the western palace grounds were a lavish display of the king's whimsical aesthetics. Only the servants and courtesans of Tlalesh were permitted here, and never at night. For that time was when the king was most wont to wander among the exotic fronds and elegantly manicured trees. During these forays he required absolute privacy.

Even so, some chose to ignore this rule. One such was the court minstrel Hadoon, who had taken to conducting his trysts with the palace girls in the garden's leafy confines. He found that the possibility of discovery did wonders for his libido, and many of the girls were obliged to agree. On the night following Forhain's discussion with the fungal visitor in his basement, the garden was again occupied by Hadoon and the latest object of his desire.

"Volessa," whispered the minstrel. "Why do you spurn me so? Are your loins not as wet with anticipation as my rod is eager to traverse them?"

"Oh, Hadoon," the girl-slave sighed. Her amber eyes glinted frostily in the moonlight. "Have you not used such lines before? Janima and Tefreen have spoken much of your rod. Am I to be just another territory for it to wander? I know lust, just as you, but I fear what the morrow will bring."

"Ahem," said a voice.

The pair swiftly broke their embrace. Hadoon peered into the shadowy bowers around them as his girl-companion retied her silken coverings about her small breasts. "Who is there?" he called quietly, the fear manifest in his tone.

"One who would caution you," replied Forhain as he emerged from behind a bush of jale-colored orchids.

"Forhain!" hissed the minstrel. "What brings you here? Why do you hide behind that bush? Do you pleasure yourself at our love-talk?"  He advanced threateningly toward the wizard.

"If only it were so," mused Forhain. "In fact I am on patrol for the king. He asked me to walk the grounds of his garden these last two nights and report of any trespassers I should find here." He produced a bit of paper from the folds of his robes and began scribbling furiously.

The minstrel and the girl turned to each other aghast. "Please, wizard," whimpered the girl. "If you bring this news to the king he will surely send us to the Tower of Barallu. We will be killed..."

"Worse," sighed the wizard. "It is a shame. Though in light of my affection for you, bold minstrel, and you, fair girl, I think I will not pass this information onto the king. Though if I should find you here again..."

"Never," smiled the minstrel. And he clapped Forhain on the back with a familiarity the wizard found unbecoming.

"It is late, and I am thirsty from my walk," said Forhain. "I wonder if the two of you would like to join me for a drink at my residence. I do so like to bask in the presence of beauty." He nodded to the girl who looked away uncomfortably. "Perhaps some plum wine, friend Hadoon?"

"That would be delightful. Lead the way," said the minstrel, and he motioned for the girl to follow. Though her expression was skeptical she rose and clutched Hadoon's arm. "What interesting circumstances the cosmos fabricates," he smiled.

"Indeed," agreed the wizard.


It was a simple matter to drug the obnoxious music-maker's wine. After his second cup, Hadoon slumped back into Forhain's settee and lapsed into a dark and dreamless sleep. The girl required no such medicines -- the plum wine itself was enough to stupefy her. The wizard congratulated himself in his mind as he cajoled her toward the cellar stairs.

"What have you in store for me, old wizard?" laughed Volessa drunkenly. "Is my form pleasing to your eye?" She shook her arse as they stood near the top of the stairwell.

Forhain had to admit that it was. It was a shame to end such a fine flower of femininity, especially before it had reached full bloom. But it was unavoidable. He steeled himself to the reality of the situation, to the events which would transpire before the night was over. In his pocket he carried an ornamented dagger.

"Place her before the doorway and slit her throat," instructed the fungus from some dark recess.

"Who spoke?" asked the girl, wide-eyed. The mirth drained from her face. She looked to the wizard. A new fear, as yet unshaped, accumulated behind her lovely amber eyes.

"Keep moving," ordered the wizard. She turned toward the cellar, then quickly twirled in an effort to get around Forhain. They began to struggle and he grabbed her wrists. Like an animal trapped she began to thrash wildly. Unable to free her arms, she sunk her teeth into the wizard's left hand. He shouted as the blood began to well up. From somewhere above he heard Ghon's voice.

"Is everything alright, father?" called the boy.

"Everything is just fine. Return to bed, my son. And may your dreams be happy ones," cooed Forhain, and he cuffed the girl until she released her bite.

Now he dragged her by her hair with his right hand while his bloody left cupped her mouth. She continued to struggle, but sobs shook her lithe body and sapped her strength. Slowly he made his way to the small room where the frame loomed like a troubling hallucination. With a hard jerk he pulled her from the main room and dropped her to the floor. She looked up at him in perfect, unclouded terror. Tears muddied the decorative grease beneath her eyes. Her mouth was smeared with blood.

From his pocket he withdrew the dagger and, with a single motion, let it dance across her neck. Blood began to flow in thick rivulets. Her eyes rolled wildly in their sockets for a minute, perhaps longer. And then they were still, regarding him with all the unspeakable wisdom of the dead.

"Smear the blood across the threshold," said the fungus. He was nearer now. Somewhere just behind the wizard, standing on his knobby legs. Forhain did as it instructed.

"It is done," he muttered. A numbness had taken hold of him. It was as if the world had become a distant light at the mouth of a cavern, and he looked back on it from some uncertain, subterranean depth.

"You will go now. Fetch the king," said the fungus as it crept past him to peer at the unnatural colors forming within the frame.


The Strange Exodus of Tlalesh (Part I)

Here's the first part of a two-part serial by yours truly. The idea came to me today as I was listening to Terence McKenna on my way back from Syracuse.

The ruins of Tlalesh are not far from the shining towers of Jindelil. If one heads north following the cracked riverbed of the Nenuru -- a waterway that was winding and senescent when Man first crawled forth from his primordial Forest Cradle -- one will eventually come to a sandy area littered with cracked marble flagstones and scattered bits of fallen masonry. This is the site of old Tlalesh, and it is best not to linger there. Or so say the wild men who wander the region in search of game and tidbits to sell at market. They describe strange lights in the sky over fallen Tlalesh. They speak of chittering shadows and the touch of cold, unseen hands. Most townsfolk dismiss these tales as the colorful inventions of goat-wiving crackpots, but the learned erudytes of Jindelil know better.

It is said that when Melhusk the Stunted appeared before Tanai-Suboch, King of Tlalesh, he came bearing an unusual gift. Melhusk was the monarch of the Seventh Decrepitude, an ancient ally of the river-kingdom that had grown too prosperous for the jealous lord of Tlalesh to tolerate. And so the king and his diplomat-cohorts in the Seventh staged a successful coup that enriched Tlalesh's coffers and harems alike. Several of Melhusk's most loyal supporters and family members were killed out of necessity, but by-and-large the conflict was bloodless and the conversion to Tlaleshian rule an uncommonly peaceful process. And so Melhusk, a dwarf now dwarfed twice over by his defeat, was brought before the smiling King of Tlalesh to pronounce words of love and affection for his new master.

"Greetings, Melhusk. We hope all is well with you and that our men-at-arms have not treated you over-rough," said Tanai-Suboch with mock-concern. "We see that you come carrying a basket. Is this a gift for your master? Not an adder, we hope." He motioned to Melhusk's escort and the crude, reed-woven basket was snatched from the dwarf's hands and brought to the foot of the king's dais so that he might view its contents from a safe distance. To his surprise it was filled with little more than river-loam. A few sickly looking white mushrooms sprouted here and there like half-buried finger-bones.

"Good day to you, my lord," said Melhusk in the slow, deliberate tone that was his custom. "As a sign that there is no ill-will between us, I bring you the fruits of my labors in the Seventh. It is common knowledge that mine is a family of potioners and apothecaries first and monarchs second. These fungi you see before you were procured by my own hand from a marsh that lies many days travel to the south. I can use them to make a brew that will allow the drinker passage to the Transubstantial Plane, where it is said many strange things may be seen and known."

Tanai-Suboch shifted uncomfortably in his throne. The audience had quickly taken an unforeseen turn, with no groveling or begging on the horizon -- at least not of the spontaneous variety. This, in stark defiance of his reasoned expectations. "That is most interesting. We will have our magickers examine these weird fruits. In the meantime, we have arranged accommodations for you in the Tower of Barallu." He motioned impatiently for the escort to take Melhusk away. Several courtiers noticed the odd smile on the dwarf's lips as he was ushered out of the throne room.

In reality Tanai-Suboch was absolutely uninterested in Melhusk's gift. The matter fell into the hands of an incompetent court wizard named Forhain, the least of such specialists currently under the king's employ. Forhain was nearing his fortieth year. He lived alone with his son not far from the palace walls, his wife having six years before succumbed to an unknown affliction which took her mind and later her life in the Sanctuary at Yartha. By all accounts Forhain was a fraud. His knowledge of the magical arts was superficial, and his installment at the palace a testament to his pleasant-sounding voice and convincing nature. The other magickers were well aware of Forhain's shortcomings. Behind his back they whispered and sniggered, but none mocked him openly. Such was the power of Forhain's personality that his superiors were somewhat intimidated by him and his ability to capture the ear and mind of the king.

The mushrooms presented something of a predicament to Forhain. Despite his king's lack of interest in the matter, the wizard would still be required to make an official report following his investigation of the deposed monarch's fungi. The question was whether he dare fabricate such a report and risk the chance that the matter might progress in some unknown direction. Perhaps the king might wish him to brew up some of Melhusk's potion and have Forhain himself drink it! The alternative would be to seek the counsel of one of his fellow wizards -- a prospect that irked him considerably. For weeks he mulled over the problem, but no clear solution presented itself. In the meantime the mushrooms sat under his workbench in the cellar, nurtured by the shadows and the damp, cool air.

One evening, as they sat at a dinner of roasted fowl and beets, Forhain noted that his son -- a boy of seven years named Ghon with an appetite nearly on par with his father's gluttony -- was staring absently at his bowl. In fact he had eaten and drank nothing at all, Forhain realized, as he polished off his third bird-leg and considered the crispy scales along the creature's spine.

"Ghon, my darling boy, you look positively pale," cooed Forhain.

"It is nothing father," said the boy, his eyes yet fixed on his bowl.

"Is your stomach not well? Perhaps a disagreement among the acid-sacs? Tell me. If you are ill we must call upon the physic." A note of anxiety touched the wizard's voice. Few thoughts troubled him more than the possibility of losing his son and finding himself alone and with nothing to love in the world but himself.

"I will tell you what ails me, father, but you must not be angry with me after I have told," mumbled Ghon.

"Tell it. You have my word as a wizard," said Forhain, and he brandished a bird-leg for emphasis.

A spasm danced across the boy's face as he explained that while snooping around the cellar he had discovered a basket under his father's workbench. The large, tube-shaped mushrooms growing inside it looked too enticing for him to resist, and it had been nearly an hour since lunch, so what was he to do but take one for a snack to quell the grumbling in his belly? It had tasted off, but only slightly. But now since eating the thing a pain had announced itself in his innards. At first just a pin-prick, the feeling had blossomed into a churning pot of indigestion. "May I be excused, father?" the boy asked finally, not comprehending his father's slack-jawed expression.

The physic was summoned in short order. Despite the man's ample supply of purgatives, he could not entice Ghon to vomit up the masticated mushroom. After an hour of observation, he left the home of Forhain with an expression of defeat. The wizard paced outside his son's bedroom, unable to contain his anxiety. "This will not do. This will not do," he repeated over and over on into the night. By moonrise Ghon had fallen into a shallow-breathed slumber. Several times Forhain held his hand to the boy's mouth to check for breath, so death-like was his sleep. Finally, exhausted, the wizard collapsed at the end of his son's bed and gave himself to phantom-haunted dreams.

He could not be certain of the hour when he awoke. Little light filtered through the bedroom's window. He rubbed his eyes, uncertain for a moment just where he was.

"You will do this thing," said a hollow voice.

The wizard started. A shiver ran up his back. His hands groped for a lamp.

"Who is there? Answer me," quailed Forhain. The hollow sound of the voice, like wind passing over leaves in late autumn, had shaken him considerably.

"You will do this thing," the ghostly voice stated again.

Forhain's seeking hands finally met with the lamp that sat next to him on the floor. He quickly spoke the charm to ignite it. This was one among a dearth of magical oddments actually known to him. The wick sizzled into flame at an unnatural rate, swiftly revealing the room and its contents. To Forhain's surprise, none but he and his son occupied it.

"You will do this thing," said the voice a third time, and Forhain could see that the sound emerged from the boy, though it was so unlike the fine voice he normally possessed. Now other words began to creep their way out from between Ghon's teeth. The voice exhorted the wizard to accomplish a certain task. He would need to construct something, something that required a whole litany of bizarre materials. Forhain reached for paper as the voice droned on, scribbling the instructions in shorthand. This went on for nearly an hour, and then just as suddenly stopped. Ghon's breaths became deeper, and he lapsed back into a sleep that resembled healthy slumber.

Though later he was uncertain as to why he felt so compelled to carry out the ghost-voice's bidding, Forhain spent the next six weeks completely absorbed in the task. He was heartened to see that his son suffered no more weird fits and that his appetite resumed its regular voracity. The project consumed most of his attentions, however. He would have completed it without hesitation, but, as it happened, one afternoon he found himself interrupted by a messenger from the king. It came at a most inconvenient time, for he was in negotiations with a vendor from Kthoa who claimed he could obtain a certain crystal type considered sacred by the cult of Chuugu of the Seventeen Faces. Reluctantly Forhain followed the messenger back to the palace and awaited audience with Tanai-Suboch.

"What of those mushrooms we gave you?" purred the king as one of his virginal servants washed his feet in an ivory bowl. "We have grown curious. A strange dream visited us last night, and it concerned both you and Melhusk's unsavory gift." A shadow creased Tanai-Suboch's brow. He kicked the girl in the face, and she fell to the foot of the dais where she gathered herself up without so much as a whimper.

"The matter has taken some unusual turns, my lord," stated Forhain. "I find myself enlabyrinthed in its complexities at present."

"Oh? And what form do these 'complexities' assume, wizard? We are intrigued," said the king.

"A frame -- or perhaps a doorway -- made of uncommon materials," said the wizard reluctantly, though he was not certain why he felt so.

"We would very much like to see this frame. When the thing is complete, notify my messenger. Carry on, Forhain. We grow bored with the sight of you." Tanai-Suboch waved the wizard on, who went gladly, being all too ready to leave the king's presence.


Part II


OSR Blog Sifter?

Correct me if I'm mistaken, but didn't Robertson Games have a site up that collected posts from a huge number of OSR blogs? The Underdark Gazette does a great job of digging for gems, but that other site was useful as well. I need all the tentacles out there, ready to coil round the next new shiny and/or tempest-in-a-teapot. New York is really boring in the winter.

Xothique: Continental Maps

Map by Tim Kirk
Map by G. R. Hager
Map by Porter
Map by Lin Carter
One of the first things I'd like to offer you is a standardized continental map of Xothique. Unlike Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age, Clark Ashton Smith left us no sketches of the Zothiquean landmass for future cartographers to base their own works on. Each of the maps above attempts to piece out the landscape of the Last Continent based on hints in Smith's story cycle -- and each proclaims something a little different. Right away you'll notice that the overall shape of Zothique is a matter of some debate. This is perhaps less significant than how the regions, kingdoms and city-states are organized in relationship to each other.

Lin Carter's map is the least detailed and exhaustive in terms of labeled locales. For this reason it's going in the mental dustbin. The real head-scratchers come when we start comparing the other three. In Kirk's map, the desert of Cincor is entirely land-locked and surrounded by mountains. In Hager it's part of a south-western peninsula. And in Porter Cincor occupies much of the mid-western coastline. All three seem to be in relative agreement over the placement of Calyz on the eastern coast. The Isle of the Torturers, Uccastrog, wanders across the southern seas of all three maps. Interestingly, Kirk offers us a large territory labeled the Northern Wastes, but this does not appear on the others.

The question is whether or not it's worth sifting through the stories again to see if I can "get it right." Given the ambiguities of Smith's directions, I might just be better off devising my standardized Xothique map as an average of these three maps. Another consideration: What is the scale? None of our cartographers even offer a hint. We could be dealing with a landmass as large as Eurasia (which Smith himself may have suggested somewhere) or as small as Australia. If we go with the former, it implies that in the spaces in between the locales Smith describes there may be unmentioned lands -- perhaps even cities. If we operate under the latter assumption -- that Zothique is essentially the size of Australia -- then there is less room for non-canonical regions and we can look at Smith's cycle as (pretty much) a complete gazetteer of the (sub-)continent.

Tactical Play Koncepts: Mission Statement and Xothique Info

Tactical Play Koncepts [TPK] is Gorgonmilk's official "house brand" and imprint. TPK's aim is to produce a variety of campaign settings and rules supplements that build on the foundations of the original fantasy rpg. These products will be adaptable and easy to use with your favorite rules simulators, retro-clones, and five-handled family credenzas. 

I will be responsible for the bulk of the writing for these products, but I will be looking for artists to contribute illustrations and maps. A typical project will flow like this: (1) I produce an unillustrated PDF draft which will be released for free here on Gorgonmilk. (2) Artists can then read the document, and if they are interested in contributing they can contact me via e-mail. (3) We can discuss the "look" of the project. I'm less interested in telling you what to draw than finding out what you want to draw and running with that. (4) The final, arted-up version will be offered for sale. All proceeds will go back to the artists (and cover printing costs, if applicable). Does this seem like a reasonable model? Ideally I would like to charge $4 to $6 for a given PDF product.

At the top of my to-do list -- and this is, I admit, a list prone to certain metamorphoses -- is Xothique. About two years ago I had planned to do a campaign setting based on Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique story cycle. After a few weeks I got cold feet and the material was shelved. I want to un-shelve that stuff and put together something I can share with you. Perhaps not as grand in scope as I originally intended, but something that might be a seed. As I'm compiling this material for PDF publication, I will be playtesting it here at Gorgonmilk Ranch. Bits will be posted here on the blog, but don't be surprised if you see them altered/edited in the first draft.

Other projects include:
  • 8th Planet (Far-flung space fantasy)
  • Jindelil (Vancian/Lovecraftian oddball stuff in the vein of Quantique)
  • TSR Middle-Earth

A TSR Middle-Earth: Some Preparatory Notes

What if TSR, instead of Iron Crown Enterprises, obtained the rights to do a Middle-Earth RPG in 1984? Perhaps they would have simply treated it as another campaign setting for AD&D. After all, there are more than a few Tolkienian artifacts scattered throughout the D&D rules and attendant products already, right? But for the sake of argument let's say instead that they took parts of the AD&D engine as a basis and produced a stand-alone RPG that would appeal to die-hard fans of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and dice-chucking newbs alike. Perhaps keeping Middle-Earth mechanically distinct from the AD&D line was a condition of the TSR/Tolkien estate contract.

I bought this in an alternate reality.

System Overview
(1) Character Classes (& Races): Ranger, Warrior, Dwarf, Elf, Hobbit, Wose, Wizard*
(2) Experience system patterned after D&D. Dwarves and Elves gain additional benefits and abilities through aging.
(3) Monster Catalog: Orcs and orc sub-types, winged and wingless dragons, ents, barrow-wights, wraiths, balrogs, necromancers, Beornings, elf types, petty-dwarves, hobbit types, Haradrim, Istari, nazgul, trolls, vampires, spiders, etc., etc.
(4) Combat: Attack roll + Weapon Finesse versus Parry roll. Armor ablates damage.
(5) Magic-casting is non-Vancian and focused on willpower (physical exertion). Spells --> Runes. Many minor artifacts with distinct histories. Sentient magical items.

Third Age, many years prior to War of the Ring.
Key Modules: Moria; Necromancer's Keep in Mirkwood; Ruins of Angband; Plunder of Mordor
Supplements: Adventures in Khand; Elf-Magic; Servants of Morgoth
*Wizards would normally be a powerful NPC class with the option to run as PCs in particular campaigns.

V 2 with Jamesway bargain bin fauxthenticity.


Abyssia: The Earth's Lands and Seas Inverted

Check this not-so-little world-building project out. (Thanks to In Places Deep for the linkage.)

An Exceptional New OSR PDF

If you haven't already, take a gander at Gabor Lux's Sword and Magic: Adventures on Fomalhaut. It's a free download. Free -- and yet totally invaluable for the insights and tweaks that this GM brings to the table.

Some quick, awesome tidbits that I want to highlight:
  •  "Characters may elect to sell their soul to a chosen evil deity in exchange for +2 to any ability score." From Lux's character creation rules. In the design notes he explains that "Selling souls is provided as an option to realise short-term gains for long-term risk (no possibility of being raised; other consequences that may haunt the character through the campaign)." This is a highly portable bit of genius.
  • "Stargazing (Wis, spellcasters only): with a successful check at night, the character may determine hex-specific position on the world map or read the stars for an omen (vague hint from the GM)."
  • "After a short consultation with the GM, Charnan becomes the low-ranking, but doctrinally impeccable follower of Kang the Thousand-Eyed. Since Kang’s cult is most of all remarkable for its boundless avarice, Charnan now has a basic motivation to become involved in hazardous but lucrative adventures. The GM tells the player what kind of sacrifices he is expected to contribute in a short while: a black bull within a month, three hundredweights of gold (300 gp) and 150 gp worth of scented oils and balms in another, also stating that in exchange, he can also hope for the favourable attention of Kang."
 I. Love. This.

Thanks, Mr Lux!


"Coming Next Month" (A Robert E. Howard teaser)

Another story about the exploration of Venus by C. A. Smith? Right after this month's? Farnsworth Wright's editorial practices were truly esoteric.


Smith's "A Voyage to Sfanomoë" (Scans)

Here's the complete first (only?) appearance of this classic Clark Ashton Smith interplanetary short from the August 1931 issue of Weird Tales.

New Acquisitions: Weird Tales July/August 1931

Scored a couple suitably mouldering issues of Weird Tales today at the local flea market. I didn't pay much ($3 a piece) and they're on the way out in terms of decay, but it's still awesome to own a couple original story appearances by Clark Ashton Smith ("The Venus of Azombeii" and "A Voyage to Sfanomoë") as well as Lovecraft's Plutonian nightmare, "The Whisperer in Darkness."

July 1931
August 1931
The covers are devoted to O. A. Klein's "Tam Son of the Tiger" serial which ran for six issues in 1931. I haven't read it but it looks rather ERB-esque -- not unlike a lot of OAK's work. These copies are literally moldy, a circumstance which may lead me to dissecting them and scanning the pages in order to digitally preserve them. Of course I'll post any interesting bits (including the Smith and Lovecraft stories) here for your enjoyment.

Minecraft: Outdoor Survival and Doom just dropped acid together

Minecraft is a PC game that has completely blown what little was left of my mind. Generally speaking, I rarely play video/computer games because they bore the shit out of me. The story games are the very nadir of Railroadism for the most part, with stuff like Planescape: Torment being a notable exception. And anything that requires me to have excellent hand-eye coordination is so frustrating that I wonder why I even bothered. As far as DEX goes, I'm a solid 6.

But Minecraft is an altogether different animal. The gist of the game is this: You're stranded on a massive (potentially endless) landmass. You can use the various materials you find around you to build tools, shelters, clothing, weapons, etc. Everything is hunky-dory during the day -- you can explore, kill a few cows and pigs, build stuff or whatever. But when night comes the bad things creep out of their hiding places and, man, they want to kill you dead.

When you start a new game, Minecraft generates a new world using a complex potpourri of algorithms that I don't pretend to understand. And as you explore that new world, the algorithms keep on pumping to add more terrain. Ad infinitum. I've heard some people estimate that the biggest possible Minecraft world would be eight times the surface of the Earth. But you'd have to be running a supercomputer to store it all and chances are you'd spend years upon years exploring for something that size to be generated.

The setting is intense in scope. Not only can you crack your way through mountains using your trusty pickaxe (make some spares because all your tools have a life-bar that drops as you use them), but you can dig deep into the bowels of the world. There's good stuff down there like diamonds and obsidian which you can use to make very durable tools and armor and some kick-ass teleportational gates. There's also vast cavern systems, lava, monsters that never sleep, underground rivers and lakes and gods know what else.

The graphics are not fancy. The style is strictly representational versus the hyper-realism of most modern games, so Minecraft will not put much strain on your graphics card. It's got a decidedly Old School look. Here are some snaps from my game:

Exterior view of my fastness at night. The farm animals love
it here.
The heart of the fastness. Where I build stuff and keep my shiny
The portal I keep in my cellar.
A river of lava in the Nether. All portals lead to this place.
You can build  portals there too that lead back to the Overworld.
I've got a little network of 'em.
A cove not far from my fastness.
A cavern system. Remember to pack a crapload of torches. It's
easy to get lost down there.
If you're into immersive games that you can still pick up/put down at a moment's notice, Minecraft has a lot to offer. At the moment it's still in the Beta phase and can be purchased for $20 and some change. The game is being polished and expanded all the time, and by purchasing Minecraft you basically subscribe to the updates. As it is, Minecraft feels complete and runs great on my Compaq. Highly recommended.


Somewhere REH is loving this

I couldn't help but root for the jaguar here. From a tactical perspective, stepping into the water seemed like a really baaaaad idea.


The Winter Moonlight

by Clark Ashton Smith

The silence of the silver night
Lies visibly upon the pines;
In marble tame the moon declines
Where spectral mountains dream in light.

And pale as with eternal sleep
The enchanted valleys, far and strange,
Extend for ever without change
Beneath the veiling splendors deep.

Carven of steel or fretted stone,
One stark and leafless autumn tree
With shadows made of ebony
Leans on the moon-ward field alone.

Transparent Dice...

I hate them.

Chaos doesn't need to be shiny.

It is beautiful all on its own.


Jindelil Regional Map

My prelim map of the Jindelil area. (Sadly this is about the limit of my drawing ability. Hoping I can twist the arm of one of the other players in our group and have him do up a polished version.)

Scale: 1 square = 1 square mile

The Landscape of Jindelil

Partially inspired by Zardoz (1973)
Some sites and features in the vicinity of the city of Jindelil and its demesne.

  • Basilisk's Garden. A shadowy pinewoods not far from a hillside grotto where a female basilisk is known to lair. Scattered throughout the area's thick-rooted undergrowth are the statue-like forms of those who wandered too close to the creature's granite nesting-place. Only the foolhardy -- possibly those looking to get at the basilisk's egg-clutch -- would dare venture out into the region during the warm months of summer when the beast and its mates roam freely. Basilisks sleep through the winter, after their eggs have hatched and that year's brood have wandered off in the direction of the Steaming Cleft*.  Certain trade-hands will occasionally hire drifters and local toughs to trek out to the Basilisk's Garden during the bleak winter months and fetch as many petrified heads as they are willing to cut and carry back to Jindelil. Such heads fetch tidy sums on the Wizard's Market as they are a primary ingredient in eidetic melanges**. Mages with a keen interest in history will occasionally reanimate petrified heads and extract  raw memories for their psychic records.
  • Decrepitudes of Nembrin. A dry and windy region riddled with shallow crevasses that sometimes house ponds and lakes fed by warm subterranean wells. Though the distance between these green dells is considerable they are connected by a community of psionic trees called the Qoiquonk*.
  • Fallen Idol. A monument to a forgotten deity that fell during the last of the Nine Tumults*. The wandering duke of Banaloor once estimated that the original construction must have stood nearly a half-mile tall, its bearded head casting a watchful shadow across the green Hills of Barth. The figure's shattered remains are now peppered across an area roughly three miles square. A tribe of pooks** have lived in the Idol's excavated skull for centuries. They are ruled by a demented king named Pellango the Dreamless.  
  • Ley Lines. Intersecting pathways of geomantic energy. There are three nodes in the vicinity of Jindelil: (1) The Hangman's Cross-Road; (2) The Jale Stone; (3) Summoner's Hill. Each node is a seething vortex* that connects reality to an adjacent dimension. A particular spell is needed to awaken/open these doorways.
*In the jungle-like environment of the Steaming Cleft the nestling basilisks will mature into adulthood.
**Psychoactive blends that expand the mage's memory. Principle ingredients include powder of petrified brain and fractured yggoa crystals.

*The Qoiquonk are massive, squat deciduous growths that house ancient intellects. All of the Qoiquonk are connected to a common telepathic environment called the Well where their identities roam and mingle freely. 

*The Tumults: When the Titan Cryscrythandiax awoke from his torpor and ventured to the surface of the world where he wrought destruction on a scale hitherto unseen by Mankind. He was lulled back to sleep by Preen the Piper and is now sealed in the lowermost vault of the Hidden Ossuary.
**The pooks are a race of donkey-headed demons with the uncanny ability to mimic any voice they hear. They are allergic to copper (and by extension bronze and brass).

*Only wizards, ghosts, fey creatures and peculiar children can see the radiance of a nodal vortex.

Adventure Time

Scene from "The Other Tarts" (Episode 18a)
Adventure Time is an ongoing Cartoon Network series created by Pendleton Ward about the adventures of the boy Finn and his magical dog Jake. Set in the D&D-esque Land of Ooo, it plays like an old Dragon Mirth serial brough to vivid life on the TV screen. I'm serious. This is dice-chucker crack.

Ward obviously has a deep and abiding love for the cliches and conventions of tabletop RPGs. There's a certain Seussian strangeness to the creatures and environments of Ooo. A sort of whimsical genius that oscillates somewhere between the deep-bizarre stuff and the excited chatter of a D&D summer camp game-room.

The show is now in its second season and up to about 18 installments, with each episode split into two 11-minute stories. Here are some more screen caps:

"It Came from the Nightosphere" (E. 14a)
"Dungeon" (E. 10b)
"City of Thieves" (E. 7a)
"Blood Under the Skin" (E. 15b)
"Story Telling" (E. 16a)


Iä! Gorville Redenbacher!

Gorville Redenbacher
Lesser Deity of Snacks, Games and Madness

Avert thine gaze, fool.
Patron god of popping corn, hobby games and acute mental psychoses. Also known as the Filler of the Bowl, the Tabletop Lord and the Timesinker. Possibly an aspect of Nyarlathotep (though some scholars dispute this, countering that Nyarlathotep itself may be but an aspect of the Gorville). He is among those gods who are recognized at social gatherings and games where caffeinated drinks are often toasted in his honor. The Gorville's presence evokes obsessive tinkering and hunger for salty, high-carb snacks. While the Tabletop Lord exerts his influence on all dice-chuckers, certain men and women are of especial interest to him and bear the full weight of his malign attentions. Such poor souls often find themselves obsessing over projects that have no clear end or goal, spending hours upon hours in paradoxical, self-manufactured mental labyrinths, all the while snacking away at the Gorville's eldritch corn. The end result is always the same. The god's chosen become gibbering wrecks, haunting snack-food aisles in supermarkets and proclaiming the virtues of esoteric encounter resolution systems. Such is the doom that Gorville Redenbacher bestows. 


Paramalpheus' Apparatus

The Apparatus of Paramalpheus is a device comprised of two components: The psionic helm (a silver skull-cap meant to fit over the head of an average-sized man or woman) and the actualizing case (a casket-like, unadorned, lead lock-box about 8 feet long, 6 feet wide and 4 feet deep). These are connected by a delicate tubing (about 4 inches in diameter and 10 feet long) that is composed of a semi-solid substance which bears a passing resemblance to the veined flesh of certain deep-sea mollusks. There is also a set of two crystalline keys -- both are black and exceedingly convoluted in design.

Paramalpheus -- considered the eccentric's eccentric among metamagicians of the Second Aeon -- devoted much of his career to dream research and transubstantiation. He produced many odd, almost indecipherable texts that grappled with the subject. The most successful of these is unquestionably his Polyfixtures of Non-Being, a labyrinthine catalog describing the fruits of the old master's life-long obsessions. Described therein are no less than twenty-seven devices, the most notorious being the Non-linear Actualizer -- or simply the Apparatus, as it came to be known during the era of the Phantasmal Kingdoms*.

In order to make use of the device, one dons the psionic helm described above. The thing is quite comfortable despite a tight fit due to its moist, jelly-like interior -- entirely composed of the soft, pulpy material that, umbilical-like, connects the head gear to the lead actualizing case. Then to activate the device, the enhelmed user must enter a hypnogogic state. Any objects within the dream-vision of the user can then be transferred over to the lead case, which will create a dream-double of itself within the user's subconscious field. The number and size of such objects is limited by the dimensions of the case's real-world counterpart.

Objects created -- or, as Paramalpheus would have it, actualized -- in this way are completely substantial. In other words, they can be hefted, transferred and/or modified as though they originated in the real world. While some dream-objects show no signs of age, a certain number (35%) will spontaneously begin to dematerialize after 2d6 months, a process which can take up to a year (1d12 months). Dematerializing objects visually fade and become increasingly intangible, eventually seeking the lowest level of any building in which they are contained. Lead flooring or containers will prevent dematerializing objects from sinking in this manner.

Certain dangers are inherent to the actualizing process. There is a 1-in-6 chance that a wandering atavism -- a personal boogeyman native to the user's subconscious -- will secretly slip into the actualizing case. Naturally it would be highly undesirable for such manifestations to escape the case and venture out into the real world. For this reason the casket features a pair of heavy-duty, magically engineered locks which even the most skilled of thieves would find maddening. Even so, only scrying can reveal the contents of a loaded case. Without such magics there is no means for the user to be certain if anything unwanted has managed to smuggle itself out of his or her subconscious mind. Further complicating the issue -- the user must wait until the atavism has dematerialized before he can open the case without the possibility of it leaping, slithering, perhaps leaking out into the real world. Atavisms that prove to be resistant to dematerialization may remain in the case indefinitely, quietly biding their time until the user -- or perhaps his scion, or his scion's scion -- releases it.
*Phantasmal Kingdoms: Haunted Jindelil and the Decrepitudes of Nembrin. Third Aeon kingdoms peopled by phantom immigrants from beyond the material plane.