Friday, December 31, 2010

Melancholic Wolves

These creatures are large wolves, with fur of pure white except for a lock of black which hangs over one eye.

Their claws and fangs cause little or no physical damage. Instead, a portion of the wolves' spirit infects the victim. Wounds from these creatures can cause an all-pervading melancholia, called emonic posession. The victim might be rendered entirely useless for anything other than sighing and writing poetry.

The stories are divided as to whether wolfsbane will deter Melancholic Wolves, as it does with normal wolves.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


A jar of maggots is an essential item for dangerous journeys. When applied to a wound the creatures will eat the dead flesh, keeping it relatively clean and resisting infection.

They may likewise be applied to food which has become unwholesome, although of course this is only useful if there is some part which remains sound.

They are especially useful in the underworld, where damp, mould and a scarcity of clean water are accompanied by an unnatural tendency for all things to rot and decay.

Some magic will produce a walking corpse, which maggots will begin to consume if they are cast upon it. An entire jars' worth of maggots can cause such an abomination to act as a natural creature would act if set on fire. The products of the boker's craft are immune, being dead inside and alive outside rather than the reverse.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Sacrificing a hyena will defile any altar, even to the most evil god. The single exception is Beautiful Lady Sebastienne, who accepts any sacrifice, and even she will be "made sick" by the offering.

There are no known talking hyenas. However some have suggested that ghouls, despite their human-like appearance, fill this role.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


The Ora-Bora, or Hoop-Snake, is a creature of the Downunderworld. It is a snake which puts its tail in its mouth, and flexes its muscles to form a rigid hoop. It can thus roll like a hoop after its prey, especially if the wind and slope of the land are favourable. The disadvantage of this ability is that, in times of great hunger, the beast may begin to eat itself, getting smaller and smaller until it disappears entirely.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Hollow Mockeries

Hollow Mockeries have the appearance of the corpse of a horse, which has been whipped around the head and neck, so that it is covered in blood and strips of flesh, and much of the skull is revealed. They are usually festooned with bells and bright bows, as if they were to be presented as a gift.

Most scholars agree that they may be created when a person dies in a way which caricatures the purpose of their entire life. The idealist who builds so many prisons in the name of freedom that he is eventually hung as a tyrant; the woman who, desperate for a child to nurture, steals another's baby and then starts a house fire while cooking for it, killing the baby and herself; the hunter who seeks food, freedom, and solitude in the forest, and then starves to death, caught in their own trap and with no one to call for help. The spirit of such a person knows no rest as the morbid irony gnaws at them, and so the corpse releases melancholic vapours which can coalesce into this spiteful creature. That at least is the most commonly-accepted theory of their origin. Refer to the entry on goats for another.

Since their insides are filled only with vapour, they are best slain with an arrow or spear. A wound from these weapons is likely to cause the creature to pop, or to fly away wildly, like a balloon which has been inflated and then released without being tied. In the latter case the spear or arrow will be lost, but this is a small price to pay.

The same effect might be achieved with a stab from a dagger. However the traveller is not recommended to get close to the creature, for fear of its sharp hooves, the wounds from which resist healing. Still less is it advisable to fight the creature with a club. Having no internal organs to damage, it is unlikely to have much to fear from that weapon.

(partly based, with permission, on this post by Phoenix Talion).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

from Opium Tea

The sea lashes the rust-red ramparts, and the shapes of hooded men move past me.

Nick Cave.

Friday, December 24, 2010

from The Babylon Lottery

Like all men in Babylon I have been a proconsul; like all, a slave; I have also known omnipotence, opprobrium, jail. Look: the index finger of my right hand is missing. Look again: through this rent in my cape you can see a ruddy tatoo on my belly. It is the second symbol, Beth. This letter, on nights of full moon, gives me power over men whose mark is Ghimel; but it also subordinates me to those marked Aleph, who on moonless nights owe obedience to those marked Ghimel. In a cellar at dawn, I have severed the jugular vein of sacred bulls against a black rock. During one lunar year, I have been declared invisible: I shrieked and was not heard, I stole my bread and was not decapitated.

Jorge Luis Borges.

The full story is here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


The grot-bush appears to be a normal hedge. However, as well as leaves, it produces pornography.

The life-cycle of the grot-bush is as follows. The bush will produce its pornography. This will soon be found by a small boy, who will wonder how it got there. He will take it home, where he will inseminate it in a fashion which it would be distasteful to relate in detail here, but which may be familiar to some readers. Soon the pornography will be found by his parents, and thrown out. Back in the wild it decays, germinates the seeds placed upon it, and grows another grot-bush.

Some grot-bushes appear to be trimmed, as if they were part of a garden, while others appear wild, and still others are bare of leaves altogether. The condition of the bush is directly related to that of the pubic hair depicted in its unusual fruit.

The exception to this rule is a few grot-bushes who are trimmed into unusual and fashionable shapes - as if they stood in the garden of a designer or artist. These bushes produce, not pornography, but erotica. This is exactly the same thing, but on better-quality paper.

Some sages have wondered whether there is some kind of equivalent, whose life-cycle involves girls instead of boys. These sages are always male. Female sages know that girls have no need of half-decayed pages found in public parks, as girls are allowed to openly purchase pornography (or as they call it, romance novels).

There are equivalents to grot-bushes for gay boys. Rather than bushes, they appear to be long, thick trees, thrusting boldly into the sky.

In the past some sects have tried to drive the grot-bush extinct. However they have been opposed by lovers of nature and/or pornography.

It is said that there is a strain of grot-bush, mutated or some say posessed, which drives the boys who partake of its fruit mad. Some say they start to worship and obey the bush.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"No One Would Have Believed..."

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water...across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

HG Wells.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


'Fairies' usually refers to a number of creatures who look like much smaller versions of humans (though often with wings and/or pointed ears) and have the ability to fly.

However some use the term much more broadly, including for example elves, hemianthropoi, gnomes, or goblins, all of whom are much larger and unable to fly, but who share fairies' pointed ears and affinity with forests. It is unknown whether any of these folk share a real kinship with fairies, humans, or each other. Likewise it is not certain whether fairies themselves have a common origin, since they are defined largely by their ability to fly, and this ability comes from a variety of sources.

Fairies themselves have little interest in the past. They are usually illiterate and keep no records written or oral, and so their opinion on the matter is usually unheard and not to be trusted.

Certain inscriptions tell a story with a strange similarity to the beliefs of my assistant Josef, who held, in keeping with the superstitions of his native Poland, that the fairy folk are descended from angels who rebelled against God, but then escaped to the world rather than following Lucifer into Hell.

But in the end nothing is known, and perhaps the wise surpass the foolish only in the breadth of their ignorance.

Fairies are usually unable to bear the touch of iron, which disrupts their ability to sense magnetic and electrical currents, and thus to know their location provided they are reasonably close to home.

Some fairies fly using their own wings, which most commonly resemble those of moths, dragonflies, or butterflies. Others fly using an apparently magical process.

Yet others have no ability to fly under their own power. They usually fly on the backs of birds or insects, or enchant stems of the flower ragwort, and ride on them as witches ride on broomsticks.

Rasta-Fairy-Uns, who likewise have no power to fly, do so by burning the plant Fairy's Fire and inhaling the smoke, which makes them lighter than air.

There is a group of fairies whose wings resemble those of bats. Their main role is arranging funerals for insects. In the forest the insects are buried in swamps, mud-holes etc. In the city these fairies seek out the nearest equivalent: the chocolate vats of confectioners. This explains why insect parts are frequently found in chocolate.

Fairies are rarely hostile to humans. However one should beware of falling asleep in fairy-inhabited forests, for they will sometimes lay their eggs in a sleeper's ear canal. The birth process is usually not fatal but may cause deafness, or damage to the sense of balance.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Elementals are beings consisting purely of a single element. Such beings can only be formed in other worlds, since absolutely pure elements are never found in Teleleli, as in our world.

Telelelian scholarship recognises six elements - the familiar earth, air, fire, and water, as well as metal and wood. There are also 'elementals' formed from the two pre-elemental substances, light and darkness. A cabal of talking mouse magicians of Teleleli also claim to have met Cheese Elementals.

Each of Earth, Water, Air and Fire Elementals are made of many tiny 'building blocks' of regular-shaped matter, the pure form of their particular element, as follows:

AirOctahedron (eight triangular sides)
FireTetrahedron (four triangular sides - a triangular pyramid)
WaterIcosahedron (20 triangular sides)

They tend to arrange themselves in the same shape as their constituent parts; for example, a Fire Elemental will usually be in the shape of a triangular pyramid. Fire Elementals can also take on a shape like a giant, winged human, composed of smokeless fire (smoke is an impure substance containing a mix of elements). Both Air and Water Elementals can take on a flowing, liquid form.

The angular and pointed shape of pure fire explains why fire is painful. The almost circular shape of pure water is what makes it flow as a liquid, in contrast to the solid, block shape of earth.

Earth Elementals, having square sides, are somewhat different to Air, Fire and Water Elementals, who have triangular sides. This partly explains their greater sympathy with humans, as does humans' having been formed out of clay, which is mostly earth. Earth Elementals are also the weakest Elementals, having neither the agility of water and air, nor the painful heat of fire.

Fire is naturally hostile to both Water and Wood. Earth, Wood and Water tend towards alliance, as do Air and Fire.

Wood Elementals are twisted, irregular shapes, like the gnarled branches of trees (my grandson informs me that such shapes are called 'fractals').

Metal Elementals are perfect squares of flat metal. As such, they are almost invisible when side-on to an observer. Since the metals of the world are, by comparison, corrupt base alloys, Metal Elementals are sharper than any sword, and he who relies on shield and armour may as well bear a shield of paper and armour of silk. Metal Elementals may also take a mercury-like liquid form. In this form, like Water and Air Elementals, they may flow under doors, through gaps in the walls, and so on. However they are vulnerable in this form, as mercury will flow into many substances, and become contaminated.

Darkness Elementals appear as a vague shape, which melts into the natural shadows around it (naturally these Elementals are most reluctant to appear in brightly-lit places). At one moment it might appear to be a huge man, then an owl, and then a tree.

Light Elementals appear as spherical areas of light, which get less intense the further away from the centre one looks, but with no definite boundary.

Some sages say that Elementals can exercise a hypnotic influence over creatures associated with their element, as follows:

EarthThe cthonic, or underground-dwelling, kindred, such as dwarves, halflings, gnomes, talking moles, and the like.
AirAll flying creatures.
FireDragons, demons, and spirits such as vampires. The last is because they 'reproduce' by turning humans or others into themselves. Thus, like fire, they grow only by destruction.
WaterAll aquatic creatures.
WoodElves, warriors, and craftspeople.
DarknessAll who work by night, especially thieves and assassins.
LightWizards and other scholars.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Centaur Gods

There are said to have been eleven original centaurs. All eleven are children of one human and one quadraped parent. Bitter theological debate rages over whether they came from human fathers and animal mothers, or vice versa. An alternative theory holds that centaurs were created by a twelve year old sorceress, after her friends could not decide whether boys were better than horses.

They were "as strong as the towers of Bel-Narana; as light as those gossamer palaces that the fairy-spider builds 'twixt heaven and sea along the coasts of Zith; as swift as a bird racing up from the morning to sing in some city's spires before daylight comes."

There were five male and female couples, one each for the five types of centaur.

The eleventh, and youngest, was Ianidhini, who was brought forth to keep peace between the other ten. He or she is both male and female, so as to understand both, and at other times of no gender, to be fooled by either. For similar reasons, Ianidhini's hindquarters are a mixture of all the five types of centaurs.

Ianidhini is the only one of the eleven who is much worshipped other than by centaurs. In Teleleli Ianidhini is the god and goddess of worldly wisdom, and of all who dress in the clothes of the opposite gender, whether for reasons of disguise, acting, or inclination.

The nameless God of Unfinished Things is also a centaur, although he is not worshipped by centaurs.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


The Grass-Eaters were, or are, said to be "men with no skin, and bright red hair".

They were a hostile and warlike tribe of the far forests who practiced cannibalism. They lived on a lake in a cave, on rafts made of plants, so they were safe from attack. After a long struggle a coalition of tribes trapped the remaining Grass-Eaters in their cave. When they refused to come out the tribes piled brush before the cave mouth and set it aflame. That was the end of the power of the Grass-Eaters, although some say that a few survive, and yet prey on the unwary.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Knower of Good and Evil

This creature lives in the middle of an icy waste, far from Teleleli. He appears as a grossly overweight, ruddy-faced man, clad all in red. Each year, on a particular mid-winter night, he visits every house in the area, entering by magical means. If he chooses, he will turn the children of the house into coal. He may, however, be placated with offerings of milk and cookies, or with gifts left under a tree.

It is customary for relatives to spend the time of his journeying in the same house. This is based on the theory that he will only kill one or two children in a given house, and that therefore each child's odds of survival are increased the more other children are present.

The day after his arrival, when the dead children are placed in their coffins, is known as Boxing Day.

He is also called The Laugher Amid the Ice, The All-Seer, and He Who Feeds By Night.

Some heretical folk have suggested that the creature is not real, and that the murders are carried out by parents.

(author's note: see also this).

Thursday, December 16, 2010


The goats of this world are mostly like those of our own.

However, there is a custom in some places of performing a ceremony in which the sins and evils of the community are put into a goat, which is then driven into the wilderness.

Some say that these goats will go to The Land of Thin Flowers or The Mountain of the Father of Wine.

But others say that they will stay in the wilderness, seeking to practice their sins. It is said that they do not act thus through any fault of their own, but out of an honest desire to please. The poor, stupid creatures believe that they have been sent forth with a mission.

Sometimes one will see a goat sold as a goat of covetousness. Adventurers may buy them, since they are said to have the ability to seek out treasure, although they must be restrained from eating it once it is found. Likewise purported goats of anger or vanity are sometimes sold as useful in battle, if they are handled carefully. The owner tells the goat that it has been insulted by an enemy, causing the goat to attack.

Some say that those goats who are filled with excesses of lust become fauns. Likewise Hollow Mockeries are sometimes said to be goats of spite and malice.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Finfolk are frog-like creatures (although they have the power of shape-shifting), feared for their practice of kidnapping unsuspecting fisherfolk, or frolicking youth, near the shore and forcing them into life long slavery.

They are most dangerous around sunrise or sunset, since they dislike both bright light and complete darkness.

The Finfolk live in an underwater palace of huge crystal halls, filled inside and out with elaborate gardens of multi-coloured seaweed. Tiny, phosphorescent sea creatures ensure that it is never fully light nor fully dark. Its great halls and vast rooms are decorated with curtains which move with the currents, so that they seem like women in long dresses, doing a slow and courtly dance.

The Shallow Ones are descended from Finfolk who, long ago, abandoned their underwater home to live in Teleleli.

Their captives are given the power to breathe water by the Finfolk's magic. In addition to eternal and sunless toil, the Finfolk may use their slaves for magical experiments. These experiments seem to be aimed at changing the captives' appearance to one more pleasing to the Finfolk. But they are rarely successful, and indeed may make the 'problem' worse, so that in addition to disease, madness, deformity or death, the hapless thrall faces the danger of being exiled to wander and die in the silent sea beds. There is minimal hope of escape, and many captives believe themselves to have died and to be in some afterlife of punishment.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Black Bart and Ursula.

Once upon a time in a campaign far, far away, there were two adventurers named Black Bart and Ursula. Black Bart was a dark-haired fighter from an AD&D game world, with a sneaky grin and a magical sword for every day of the week. Ursula was a good-natured barbarian with flame-red hair from the Gamma World game, an expert with pistols and grenades. The details of how the two met are murky, but the important thing was that they did meet - and unexpectedly fell in love...

Ursula was the NPC of the couple mentioned above, but Black Bart never seemed to notice. They were seen everywhere together, happily bashing monsters and braving every quest that came their way. The peak of their careers came when they piloted their own cargo lifter during the great Damnation Alley coast-to-coast run across the ruins of North America, about which volumes could be said but my editorial isn't long enough. Black Bart and Ursula were a bright spot in every game adventure, right up to the moment when Ursula died.

The end came very suddenly. A chaotic-evil fighter played by another player became irked with the rest of the party one evening and attacked everyone at once. This was particularly bad since everyone in the group, including the attacker, was as heavily armed as liberal DMs and transuniversal-campaign travel will allow. Guns roared, + 5 swords lashed out, and 20-HD fireballs erupted across the campsite in a savage, no-quarter battle.

Ursula caught the chaotic-evil fighter's main attack. She doubled over, nearly dead after the first melee round, and dropped her weapons. The fighter moved to finish her off and cut up the rest of the group, failing until the last moment to notice that Ursula had tugged the pin out of a torc grenade and was clutching it to her chest. The resulting explosion completely disintegrated everything for almost 50' around: the evil fighter, Ursula, their equipment, the dirt and rock under their feet, everything. The party was saved. Of the two combatants, nothing remained.

Black Bart wasn't the same after that. He became moody, which is a nice way of saying that he took out his frustration on every unfortunate monster that came within sighting distance. Something had to be done, so when it came my turn to be the DM, I brought Ursula back to life. But there was a price tag.

It seems that Ursula had been under surveillance by a mad scientist in another universe, and he'd fallen for her even if she was an unsophisticated barbarian. When she was attacked, the mad scientist worked the controls of his time-space machine and popped her out of harm's way in the last fraction of a second before the torc grenade blew up (but he thoughtfully left the grenade behind for the fighter). Ursula became a prisoner in the scientist's citadel, a mile-high needlelike tower in the wastelands of a world known as Barsoom.

Black Bart began to have dreams in which he saw Ursula calling out to him for rescue. Immediately seizing the chance to find his true love, Black Bart learned of Ursula's location during visits with high-level sages and wizards, and he gathered his allies for an assault. Warriors from lands of fantasy and science-fiction rallied to his cause, and the adventurers were soon neck deep in combat with banths, pirates, Green Martians with radium rifles, and worse.

Black Bart was relentless. When his crew reached the deserted city where the mad scientist lived, he ignored all the monsters that attacked the group, marching steadily on for the tower and killing everything that got in his way. In the final battle at the top of the spire, Black Bart fought the scientist in single combat and threw his headless body from the balcony. The subsequent escape from the tower (whose base was triggered to blow up if the scientist was slain) made up the final chapter of the adventure, and Ursula and Black Bart were together again.

I haven't the faintest idea of what happened to those two characters after that. I would hope that they are happily hacking their way through the multiverse even now. The memories of that adventure would last for years, and we remembered too the cause for which it was fought.

Cheers to you, Black Bart and Ursula, wherever you are.

Roger E Moore, in Dragon magazine. Taken from here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010


This creature stands about twelve feet high. It looks like a giant clay bowl, filled with dark liquid, which appears to be its blood. It has two slender but strong tentacle-like arms, and two elephant-like legs. It is found only in regions which have hot springs.

Its normal prey seems to be flightless birds and other small animals. If threatened it will pick up victims and drop them in itself. Its habit of periodically immersing itself in hot springs means that the blood may be anything from boiling to tepid. It is sufficiently intelligent to hold birds under to stop them flying away, and to do the same to any victims who display an ability to swim.

The blood is darker and far more watery than the blood of humans. Although bitter, it is not poisonous. Indeed it gives temporary vigour to any who drink it, although some report slight sickness, and if indulged in as a habit an eventual craving for more.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Some breeds of dogs may be trained for war. However it is believed that dogs will never attack anyone who is poor, wounded, and in good standing with their god (possessing but one or two of these attributes confers no immunity). Instead the dog will lick the wounds, which helps sterilise them and prevent infection.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Companions of the Great Race

These sea creatures are named for their belief that they are descended from the household of the Great Race, who were left behind when the Great Race rose up to heaven long ago.

In the sea they curl up into a ball, about the size of a loaf of bread. They travel in clusters of a few Companions. Each cluster rides within a skin that appears to be that of a dolphin. On land they hide the skin, uncurl, and grow, becoming a creature indistinguishable to a human.

At times they speak of their false dolphin skin as if it was an actual body, rather than a disguise, and of each cluster as a single being. However they seem to regard themselves as separate while on land.

They never forget the location of their skin and, if it is moved, will have a dim sense where it is. If the skin be destroyed, they seek out another 'family' and ask to cluster with them. It is unknown what happens if a cluster gets too big, or indeed how they reproduce.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


It is said that, centuries ago, humans had tamed almost all the horses in the world. There was only one herd of horses that remained wild. Seeing that their cause was hopeless, the gods gave them wings.

Of course there are herds of wild, normal horses. Those who believe this story say they descend from horses who escaped from captivity after these events.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Some adventurers carry a canary in a cage, the cage being suspended on a long pole, and the pole being held by one who travels at the head of the group. The canary dies from such hazards as poisonous gases, its sacrifice warning of danger. For this reason canaries are fanatical in their hatred of cages, and thus difficult to catch.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

World vs Hero

John from World Vs Hero has done a review of my entries on Teleleli. You can read his review here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

from Empire's Destiny

Oh Babylon, lost Babylon! Where now
The opal altar and the golden spire,
The tower and the legend and the lyre?
Oh, withered fruit upon a broken bough!
The sobbing desert winds still whisper how
The sapphire city of the gods' desire
Fell in the smoke and crumbled in the fire;
And lizards bask upon her columns now.

Now poets sing her golden glory gone;
And Babylon has faded with the dawn.

Robert E. Howard.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Centaurs define kinship by their lower, animal-like parts. There are five branches, as follows:

HorseTend to be bigger and more intimidating than other centaurs.
DonkeyTend to be braver than other centaurs.
ZebraTend to be more attractive, but worse at hiding, than other centaurs.
CamelTend to be able to endure heat and go without water for longer than most centaurs.
Mountain GoatTend to be sure-footed, and better at climbing than most centaurs (although centaurs in general are terrible climbers).

Hippohemianthropoi (singular hippohemianthropos) are to hemianthropoi, or halflings, as horse-bodied centaurs are to humans. That is, they have the upper bodies of halflings and the lower parts of ponies. They regard themselves, and are regarded by centaurs (though not by most humans), as a completely separate species.

Centaurs regard having someone ride on their back as extremely intimate. They generally will not allow anyone other than a lover to do so, and even then not where anyone can see, as the sight is considered indecent.

Almost all centaurs tend strongly towards an extreme of personality: either extremely scholarly and refined, or extremely wild and fierce.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


In the same way that fish and other sea creatures move through a medium of water, we humans and other land creatures move through a medium of air. We derive our life mainly from the opposite element, earth: we grow crops, and live off those crops or animals who eat those crops.

So too do sea creatures derive their life ultimately from the opposite element of water, fire - by spontaneously generating due to the action of the sun, or by living off creatures who do.

Thus it is only logical that in a medium of earth, life should derive mainly from the opposite element, air. In other words, the creatures of the world under the surface are creatures of air - what we call caverns, caves, and so on.

Dungeons are rare and massive creatures of air - the equivalent of whales or elephants. Just as there may be hundreds of times more dogs than elephants, and hundreds of times more ants than dogs, so too we find air pockets and fissures more common than caves, and dungeons the rarest of all. Like all massive creatures dungeons are predators, taking the earth they require to live in the form of humans and other creatures.

However, they move far more slowly than ourselves, since they are a weak element (air) moving in a resistant one (earth), where we are the opposite. They are far too slow to catch creatures of earth, and can't pursue us into their natural element any more than a fisherman can dive into the deepest sea to catch a fish.

Thus, like a fisherman, they present lures to attract creatures of earth - the treasure and magic items which are to be found there.

Once we get there they may catch us by their own action: cave-ins for example. But, again, they find it as difficult to move the earth as we find it easy to move the air.

Ingeniously, they have developed an understanding with other creatures of earth. Much like a hunter who may tame a dog, and use it to catch wolves, keeping the loyalty of the dog by sharing the meat, so too dungeons have an understanding with the creatures who live there: help me kill the creatures who come, and you may take enough of them to live. And, like a dog kept safe in the house from those same wolves, so too monsters are safe in their dungeons from the humans who would otherwise hunt and destroy them.

However the partnership between dungeons and their monsters is even more intimate, more akin to that between bees and flowers. Monsters are the means by which dungeons reproduce. When a dungeon contains too many monsters for it to support, it disgorges some of them into the surface world, where they travel briefly (as briefly as they can, since they are vulnerable on the surface) until they can find a place to grow another dungeon.

It has been frequently noted that dungeons appear to make no sense.

On the surface world anyone can labour, but only a few can use magic. Dungeons, being creatures of air rather than earth, are in the opposite situation. It would be a remarkable feat for a gust of air to move a boulder - but all dungeons are magical.

This explains many otherwise inexplicable features of dungeons. For example, that mutually hostile creatures can live next door to each other without one exterminating the other; that there can be a shop in the middle of a dungeon; that creatures with no need for treasure can still carry it - indeed that creatures without any means of carrying treasure can have it on them.

It finally explains the apparently illogical layout of dungeons. In fact, dungeons are generally laid out as magical runes, which spell out a series of relevant phrases in a magical language: 'let wolves have treasure on them', 'let the traps re-set themselves' and so on.

Adventurers are, to the dungeon, like microbes to the human body - either too little or too many can be unhealthy. Thus many dungeons have evolved means to regulate the numbers. For example some dungeons will have a bouncer out the front - a large goblin, rock golem, or similar creature who, if the dungeon is 'full', will allow new adventurers in only when some already in the dungeon die. Sometimes the bouncers will apply arbitrary rules as to who to let in (saying, for example, "sorry mate, ladies only tonight. Oi - not in that armour. You're a halfling are you? Got any ID?").

Other dungeons will employ a turnstile, or a ticketing system. Yet others will have magic entrances, which can only be crossed at particular times.

Dungeons will also generally have means to achieve the opposite end, of attracting adventurers when there aren't enough. For example they may send out hostile creatures to attract heroes to deal with them. Others will pile up small amounts of treasure by their entrance, hoping to advertise that greater treasure lies within.

Of course, not everywhere in the underworld is a dungeon - not even every arbitrary collection of traps, monsters and treasure. Some such appear to have been set up as psychological experiments by beings unknown, with adventurers as the 'rats' and treasure as 'cheese'.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Moving Finger Writes...

The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Omar Khayyam. Translated by Edward FitzGerald.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

With This Device

My very short story With This Device has been published. It's 22 words long, and you can read it here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Brass Monkeys

These metal creatures, about the size of natural monkeys, appear to be robots but reproduce in the usual fashion.

The females, sometimes called Brazen Hussies, are known for their forthright and assertive approach to the arts of love. In this they rather resemble the Amazons; but these creatures tend towards an interest in sensual indulgence, whereas the Amazons tend towards a grimmer and more stoic approach to life.

The males are sometimes called Bronze Surfers, for going into the water is a common act of courage by which they hope to attract a mate. They are somewhat waterproof, but like all robots the water is not healthy for them.

Both sexes are terribly cold to the touch, and they thrive best in cold climates. Some have speculated that their ancestors were built as an arctic replacement for natural monkeys, who are averse to the cold; though none claim to know the reason.

Alas, unscrupulous humans have killed them for their metal bodies, which are very valuable in this metal-poor world.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Burrowing Conquerers

The Burrowing Conquerers, or Helleautaurides as they call themselves, are creatures of the underworld.

A fully-grown Helleautauride looks like a human child on the left side of its body, a zebra on the right (children of this species look like a human fetus on the left side and a zebra fetus on the right).

They walk on all fours, but sit human-style, allowing them to manipulate objects using their left hand (and to a lesser extent their left foot).

Their nickname comes from their habit of digging a hole in the ground and then burying themselves in order to sleep. They are most comfortable doing so in areas shaded by trees, implying that they may have originated on the surface.

The 'conquerer' in their name may be a sarcastic reference to their small size and awkward frame. The name may refer to their mercantile skill, which has meant that they are spread throughout the underworld (they are particularly fond of trading clocks). It may also refer to their domination of the Bright Peacocks. They are most reluctant to risk their lives, but may be dangerous if cornered - especially since a blow from their fists may cause a wizard to forget spells, or rob magic items of their virtues.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bright Peacocks

The Bright Peacocks, or Uneoblepases, are robots built to resemble giant bats, and painted all over with bright colours, somewhat like tropical birds. They stand about seven feet high. They serve the Burrowing Conquerers as guards.

The creature is easily commanded by one who masters the right tone of voice, and it is theorised that they were built by an unknown race, and simply 'adopted' by the Conquerers.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bashar Hob

There is a certain river, slow and winding, without rapids or even many deep places, which nonetheless oft runs red with blood.

It is rumoured that there is a creature, one Bashar Hob, who is responsible for all these deaths. It is said to be a crocodile, impossibly large, intelligent and ancient.

Whether Bashar Hob exists, and if it exists whether it be a natural or magical creature, is not known.

Though it is forbidden, there are rumours that Bashar Hob may be placated with certain rituals.

Some say that those who perform these rituals have turned to human sacrifice, that if Bashar Hob ever existed it has long departed, and thus that those who pretend to stand against the tide of broken boats and corpses are in truth its authors.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


These beings are embodiments of the attitudes of a particular civilisation. Whether they are cause or effect is unknown.

They sometimes survive the death of their people. This only happens when the important places of their civilisation are not occupied by a new group.. In this case they do not leave the location of their former civilisation, but can influence passers-by. Thus a traveller may find themselves moved to sadness by the sight of a particular ruin, as if remembering it in its days of glory, and longing to see them again.

In extreme cases the traveller may have dreams in which they find themselves in a past they never knew, and yet feel themselves to have returned home. They may even gain hints as to where particular treasures, particularly technology and important religious artifacts, may be found. For this last reason, some adventurers will tolerate or even encourage the presence of these spirits.

Some say that Age-Spirits are invisible. Others say that they can choose to appear as an idealised representation of their civilisation. Thus the Age-Spirit of America, for example, might appear as the late Mr Lincoln, an eagle, or as Liberty; while that of England might appear as a lion, or King Arthur.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Lions Awakened

The Lions Awakened are a group of bandits who live in the forest and attack those who destroy nature. They are led by a druid priestess, Inconvenient Ruth.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"They told Isaac..."

They told Isaac that they remembered when the lot was the site of an old wooden house that had become abandoned and filled with rats. They remembered the house being demolished and partially buried—the basement was still there, they said. They pointed to the ground, saying that the old home was still beneath it, still rat-infested.

Robert Sullivan.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Dandy Highwaymen

There is a far land called the Wild Frontier, brutal and wretchedly poor.

In addition, the place is plagued by this group of bandits, in spite of the fact that the few posessions anyone has are more easily gained by hunting or farming.

One might ask what is the use of robbery, when nothing is worth taking? The answer is that the Dandy Highwaymen have not chosen to become bandits. Instead, it is a symptom of their madness.

In addition to its other misfortunes, the Wild Frontier has many outcrops of the magic metal adamantium. This substance, which flashes in the sun and grabs the attention of passers-by, drives those who touch it mad.

The victim is filled with a compulsion to become a bandit. In addition, on the few occasions when a Dandy Highwayman does get some small measure of wealth, their madness will drive them to spend it on clothes, from the few peddlers who travel through the Frontier.

There are two types of Dandy Highwayman. Whether they derive from two types of adamantium is unknown. The first, the 'Ant People', are almost all sterile in the manner of insects. The 'Sex People', by contrast, are able to reproduce normally. The two types appear identical to normal humans, but they are able to tell themselves apart, and a given group will be of one type.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Bright Company

This group of murderers is rightly feared for their habit of preying on travellers. They present themselves as going on the same journey, and ask to travel together for protection - a common and wise practice, unlikely to be refused.

They may be compared to the tugees of Hindoostan, with the difference that they have no known religious basis, nor do they rob their victims. The Bright Company carry knives, but are happy to use any means at hand, in contrast to the tugee's invariable strangulation by means of a sacred silk cord.

It is said that they recruit new members by always leaving one victim alive, and forcing them to eat human flesh, so that they are ashamed to associate with anyone other than the Company. Yet members who have been captured seem not to resent the group. They also display a horrible lack of remorse, even to downright jollity. One that I interrogated rejected the idea that he had been forced into the Company by ceremonies of degradation. He denied even being threatened, claiming that once the members had murdered his family they simply talked to him, and made him see the benefits of such a life. He spoke as one who had been engaged in some mild foolishness, and had been brought to his senses by well-meaning friends.

Stories differ as to what happens to corpses of their victims. Some say that they extract their victims' fat, using it for cosmetics for fine ladies. Others say that the eyes, lips and tongues are sold to merchants to be placed in the foundations of new shops; the eyes to help customers see the new business, and the lips and tongues to spread word of its existence. Yet others say that the heart and lungs are 'harvested' and given to entities unknown. Some of these stories may be misapplied tales of the practices of the Court of Miracles or other criminal gangs.

Some say that members of the Company travel continuously. Others say that they live settled lives for part of the year (in some accounts, losing their memory of their murderous activities). There are tales of hidden villages with no roads where they dwell. Others say that they bribe the rulers of certain kingdoms, and are provided with positions in royal courts.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Invisible Hand

This spirit is said to haunt a particular market in Teleleli. It steals money from some people, and gives it to others. In almost every case those from whom it steals are already poor, and those to whom it gives already wealthy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Foulness in the Night

This creature collects the liquid that pools in the bottom of piles of garbage. It puts this substance into a device like an eye-dropper. Sneaking into people's houses, it drips the liquid into the mouths of people who sleep with their mouth open. This explains why such people often wake up with a horrible taste in their mouth.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The True Mummer's Standard Advanced

It is said that in ancient times a great director came to loathe what he saw as the theatre's emphasis on artificial style over emotion. He set up a secret theatre in an unknown location. He then began kidnapping ordinary people, and forcing them to learn the lines of his plays. Just before they gave their forced performance, he informed them falsely that their entire family had been killed, in order to inspire the correct depth of feeling. Though the director is dead, this organisation is said to continue his work.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Seventh-Day Inventists

This unpopular group fills the heads of the young and vulnerable with obscure drivel about 'experiments' and 'rational explanations'. For example they insist that the tides are caused by invisible rays of force that emanate from the moon, rather than being the sea god Numen Mari breathing. They are the enemies of all gods (other than the god of low self-confidence, who does not believe in himself).

Their members have, however, gained some respect in the adventuring field, since their fanatical beliefs allow them to use ancient technology with less danger, to resist sorcery (unfortunately this includes useful magics as well as harmful ones), and to shake the self-confidence of demons and evil spirits; they have been known to convince ghosts that they do not exist.

It is rumoured that the Inventists posess a suit of clothing with the power to destroy magic. Its parts are said to include the Suspenders of Disbelief, and the Selfish Jeans.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Pony Express

This guild of gnomes has catapults and giant nets carefully arranged in Teleleli, and various other cities. Specially trained horses and riders are flung by the catapults, to land in the nets at their destination. They carry parcels and letters, which is how the guild makes its money.

Every so often a horse will arrive on time, but without its rider or parcels. It is said that those hired to investigate have found nothing, or have disappeared themselves. One theory is that some villainous personage is firing a magnetic ray to cause the ponies to fly off course.

These losses have led to a rise in popularity of the carrier parrot. This system is more expensive, but has the advantage that a well-trained parrot will not speak its message unless it arrives at its proper destination. Thus no third party can learn the message by intercepting the bird.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Insurance Companies

Those who are undertaking a journey outside of Teleleli may wish to begin by visiting the offices of an insurance company. In most cases this will not be to take out insurance, but to find work.

Wealthy folk often seek insurance for long journeys; for example, a monarch sending a child to another kingdom to be married. The company stands to make a great fortune on such a policy, but they may lose a greater one if they have to pay out. Since these journeys are very rare, there is little data on exactly how dangerous these journeys are. Thus it is difficult for the company to know what conditions to offer.

To remedy this, companies will often hire groups of adventurers to make a particular journey, to see how many survive. They may have to make the journey under particular conditions, in order that their chances of survival more closely match those of potential clients. For example, the company may supply a wagon which appears to be laden with silks, or a child whose finery suggests they have great value in ransom.

The adventurers should be sure to negotiate their contract carefully, especially if they venture into an area where there are jackals or wolves. Insurance companies generally do not cover acts of dog.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The League of Snide, Aristocratically-Accented Villains

This criminal organisation specialises in elaborate schemes on a grand scale. Ideally a plan should allow them to take over at least part of the world, or gain a fortune by threatening the destruction of a city or kingdom. They disdain ordinary crime, with the exception of burglary of art and precious jewels.

My investigations suggest that their base is either an abandoned funfair, or what sounds like a gigantic zeppelin, so high in the sky that it cannot be seen. My informant suggested that they travel from zeppelin to city and back at night. She also claimed that the zeppelin has a device which fires sharks at anyone who attacks the base. Presumably the sharks are equipped with hang-gliders, and modified diving-suits allowing them to breathe.

It is whispered that some of their members, convicted of their crimes, have chosen to be executed by catapult and, once launched into the heavens, have been rescued by cleverly-placed hot air balloons.

Their most respected member is the Count Nom DePlume, a figure of great mystery. Some have suggested that this is not even his real name.

They have vast wealth, dedication and genius. However they are let down by their poor social skills, with members trying to become leader rather than co-operating. Indeed it is rumoured that one of their number, Baron von Rickman, has started a rival organisation, after a dispute with the Count over a favourite monocle.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Proper Behaviour During an Expedition

It is wise to bear in mind the near-universal taboo against failing to properly bury bodies. This is not only out of respect for the person, but fear of being haunted. This belief also applies to beasts. Hunters will perform a token funeral rite for their prey, burying a single bone.

This taboo includes taking posessions off a corpse. Even one who confronts a thief in their house and kills them will fear to recover their shells.

This state applies only to the recently dead. There is no fear in robbing the tomb of one dead for at least a century or so. Though woe to he who 'picks unripe fruit'.

It happened that the noted cat-burglar Edwina Tibbletibtub, when caught in the bell-tower of the Temple of the Crone, held on to the ancient and priceless bell as she died. Thus the relic was removed and buried with her in a secret place, until generations later when the temple was able to dig it back up and reinstall it (the event celebrated as the Return of the Bell).

Thus hirelings who are prepared to loot dead enemies, or tolerate others doing so, are rare. And they will always be desperate, unable to find other work, and will be wounded in body or mind. Yet they will still expect higher pay than normal hirelings. An aged cripple values their only life no less than a stout swordsman.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Engaging Hands for An Expedition

The guild members that the traveller will have most traffic with are, naturally, those who take part in expeditions to the wilderness, sea, or underworld. Some examples include
  • Porters who carry equipment or treasure, or those who handle pack-animals.
  • Guides and interpreters (two skills most valuable in a land where travel and maps are so rare).
  • Those who hunt food (and usually also serve as cooks).
  • Those with a specialised knowledge of plants. Depending on the prevailing flora they may be able to gather food, prepare poisons, or give some limited medical assistance.
  • Sailors. This single word covers a variety of trades: navigators, helmsmen or -women, dressers (who maintain diving suits and assist in their use), rowers and so on.
  • Caddies. Some creatures are resistant to particular weapons. Thus many travellers will have several weapons, and will engage an assistant to carry them and present the most appropriate one as needed.
One may be tempted to pay less than the going rate. I have heard that, with patience, one may as much as halve one's expense. Of course those who are hired at such rates will be more likely to desert in times of danger. They are also more likely to be incompetent, quarrelsome, or prone to theft. Paying higher than the going rate will not necessarily result in better applicants, but they will at least be more loyal.

Typically contracts involve a promise to pay the assistant's heirs if they die, and to make all efforts to bring their body back. One can of course break these promises. However this will result in difficulties hiring others. Further these contracts, like all others, involve a supplication to the gods to curse anyone who breaks their part, and it cannot be said with certainty that the gods never listen.

Contracts usually specify a minimum amount that must be paid, as well as a percentage of treasure, with the higher amount applying.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Guildless

The traveller should expect to be feared or pitied by many for having neither guild nor clan nor temple. The adventurer, despite that he may have great wealth, is still cousin to the vagabond and the bandit (the word 'askaris', literally meaning 'swarming locusts', can be applied to mercenaries, groups of bandits, or any other band of armed outsiders). Indeed despite their curiosity about our world, I was almost never asked about it, for all assumed that I must have a great shame or great sorrow to have travelled so far alone. This feeling is more intense outside of the big cities, where rootless wanderers are less common.

The hemianthropoi are unique in that a few of them will freely choose to leave their homes to wander the world; albeit to the bewilderment and mortification of their more sedentary fellows. All other lone wanderers will not have chosen their life, but been driven to it by circumstance (I say lone wanderers, since those nomadic folk who travel in family groups are an entirely different class of person). Through lengthy enquiry, made difficult by the tenderness of the subject, I have identified several common reasons, here appended.
  • Fleeing an unwanted arranged marriage.
  • Chosen for human sacrifice.
  • Rejected in love and set out to prove themselves a hero, to find forgetfulness, or to die.
  • Exiled for a crime, or facing execution, slavery or imprisonment, or an escaped prisoner (whether innocent or guilty). Given the nature of society in much of the world, the law may be the custom and opinion of local people rather than a formal judicial body.
  • Life made intolerable by an oppressive fuedal lord, or a slave-owner.
  • Escaping an unpayable debt, whether of money, goods, labour, or honour.
  • Deserted from an army.
  • Life is forfeit due to their participation in a war (usually a failed rebellion or civil war, since these are the mostly likely cases where the defeated side will be persecuted after surrender).
  • In the case of barbarians, became dependent on some aspect of civilised life and so unable to return to their own. Commonly the barbarian grows to need liquor, reading and the academic life, or the ownership of slaves.
  • In the case of zeru, or albinos, fleeing the persecution that this condition often brings.
  • Starvation, war, madness, disease, or some malevolent entity has destroyed their community.
  • In the case of the wealthy, guilt about the source of the family's wealth has driven them forth. Commonly related to slavery, crime, war, a political objection to inequality of wealth, or a religious objection to luxury.
  • Some cause or cult fired their passion and, having lost their faith, they are unable to return.
  • Life or freedom is forfeit due to the actions of a relative, such as criminal or political activity.

Friday, November 12, 2010


In ancient days a dwarf is said to have stolen fire from the gods, upon which the gods decreed that they could keep the fire, but lose the gods. This is said to explain their habit of ancestor-worship, and skill in metal-working.

My enquiries into the truth of this story, and others, has borne little fruit. However I remain convinced that the dwarves' body shape indicates that they were designed, or evolved, for a higher gravity than exists on Teleleli or Earth.

It might be thought that the dwarves, being prodigious minders and builders of underground cities, would be constantly tunneling into the underworld. The reason why they have not been driven extinct in this fashion is the mineral they call 'Giant's Blood'. It appears in dark veins through certain rocks. Where it appears, it alerts the dwarves that danger lies on the other side. And in any case, it renders the rock almost impossible to break.
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