Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Once Upon A Time

This is the cover for my collection of short stories and poems. As with all the pictures on this blog, click it for the full-sized version. Please let me know what you think. I'm planning to put it out on September 28.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Is Dark Fantasy a real thing?

I see quite a lot of fiction described as 'dark fantasy'. Wikipedia defines it as "a term used to describe a fantasy story with a pronounced horror element", but then goes on to say that the term is used in a lot of different ways.

Obviously there is such a thing as fantasy that has horror elements. What I mean is this: when you add an extra word to a description, you're implying that the genre is normally the opposite. For example, if you were to talk about 'gay-friendly science-fiction', you'd be saying that most science-fiction isn't gay-friendly. No one would talk about 'sexual pornography' or 'guitar death metal'. So to talk about 'dark fantasy' is to say that most fantasy isn't 'dark'.

However, try to think of fantasy that doesn't have horror elements (not necessarily that they're meant to be frightening).

Lord of the Rings has the ring-wraiths. Conan obviously has lots of Lovecraft-like elements. Terry Pratchett makes his vampires and werewolves 'cute' and human-like, but he has more human evils like serial killers. Even the Narnia series, from memory, has elements that were frightening to me as a child.

There are certainly a few. Jack Vance for example, from what little I've read of him. But it seems more accurate to say that 'light fantasy' is the unusual sub-genre.

It sometimes seems to me that people describe work as 'dark fantasy' because they have a false idea of what fantasy is like. It's a bit like how you hear people talk about 'dark and twisted versions of fairy tales', and it's obvious that when they say 'fairy tales' they're thinking of the Disney versions.

On the other hand, I've read very little recent fantasy, so maybe I'm the one with the false idea of what fantasy is like now.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Unsullied Branch

This sect believe themselves to be the only true worshippers of Father-On-The-Mountain (they reject all other titles of the god). They interpret the god's teachings in a more severe way than all others, to such an extent that they themselves do not claim to be able to follow them. They say that, if a worshipper of the god was able to keep the entirety of his law for a single day, then the god would return to the world and reign in glory forever.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Wizard's Tower - the module

This is the other module I used in my recently ended 1974 rules Dungeons & Dragons campaign. As before, it uses ascending AC.

It was originally going to be based on the Conan story The Tower of the Elephant. However I ended up changing everything except the prisoner Yag-Kosha, and the name of the sorcerer Yara.

The text is here (Word document), and the map is here (jpg). You'll also need the diagram of room 10, which is here.

The idea for the coffee monster (but not the stats) is from the Field Guide to Encounters volume 2. The Men of Wounds are from Varlits and Vermin by Roger SG Sorolla.

EDIT: I've changed the link to the map, in case people were having problems downloading the original link.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Emira's Necklace - the module.

This is one of the modules from the Dungeons & Dragons campaign that I ran, in case anyone's interested. It uses ascending AC.

The text is here (Word document), and the map is here (jpg).

The appearance of the wicked priests, and the miniature city, are by Aaron Somerville. I got them from issue 7 of Fight On! The giant arm is based on this. The stone faces are by ragnorakk from the odd74 forum.

EDIT: I've changed the link to the map, after some people reported problems downloading it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pale Imitations

These creatures prey on the unwary by taking the form of someone they see. They are, however, only effective in conditions of low light, since the imitation is not exact. The creature's skin will always be white, rubbery and wrinkled, like one who has stayed in the bath for too long.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Unseen One

This creature of the underworld looks like a man or woman, seen from behind. But if one walks around to where the face should be, it seems to turn so that it is still facing away from the viewer. This effect continues even if it is observed from multiple angles.

If the creature is reflected in a mirror, the reflection will be of a person with their back to the mirror. There are said to be other ways to see the creature's face. Doing so is said to give the viewer great knowledge, but many caution that it should not be done.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

from The Destruction of Sennacherib

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Lord Byron.

Monday, August 22, 2011


In Teleleli, Plant-Folk largely live near one or other of the city's two major rivers. This is because the soil there is more fertile. Plant-Folk must periodically place their feet in dirt, and draw sustenance from it, entering a state which is analagous to both sleeping and eating for humans. The soil near major rivers is more fertile, and therefore renders this state more satisfying for them.

Prominent Telelelene Plant-Folk include Bo Tanical, famous for her detailed studies of the anatomy of scientists, and Erol Lotus, one of the few outsiders to learn the language of the Groaners.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Brazen Head

A Brazen Head is, as the name implies, a life-size model of a human head cast in brass or bronze, and often set with precious stones and with the head-dress of a priest, which is reputed to be able to answer any question.

It is said to speak in a voice like the piping of flutes, although some authorities say that it does not literally speak, but gives its answers on a scroll which issues from its mouth. Some say that it can only answer 'yes' or 'no', and that it takes questions in a frustratingly literal way. Others say that anything which a Brazen Head sees or hears, it is as if all Brazen Heads in the world have seen or heard it.

There are cryptic references in the Lesser Key of King Ranjit to 'false Heads'. But whether they give false or random answers, or cannot answer at all, is unclear.

(thanks to Telecanter for the original inspiration for this)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Daily Science Fiction

If you haven't seen the website Daily Science Fiction, you should have a look. Despite the name, it has a lot of fantasy fiction as well. This site has reviews of all their stories from February, including my story The Uncharted Isle.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Talking Pigs

Talking pigs are known for their skill in the creative arts. Prominent examples include the playwright Sergei Eisenswine and the bard Notorious P.I.G.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Talking Foxes

Talking foxes are popular heralds in Teleleli. For many citizens of the city they are a primary source of news, despite their tendency to make things up.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dungeons: An Alternative View

Neferu of the Seven Burdens proposes that dungeons represent a system of reproduction and adoption for magic swords. She asserts that adventurers go into dungeons, find treasure, and then spend it, causing normal swords to be forged. These adventurers eventually die in a dungeon, where their normal swords can soak up magic until they become sentient. This will attract more adventurers hoping to gain possession of the magic sword, allowing the sword to make its way into the world.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

False Dwarves

The False Dwarves are a race of robots. They were presumably created by some other race, but now make copies of themselves.

As the name would imply, they appear identical to dwarves. At least, they appear identical to dwarves to everyone except dwarves (and presumably themselves). Indeed dwarves generally find them terrifying, to the extent that most dwarves are unable to remain in the company of one.

Like many other robots, they are immune to various kinds of magic that directly effect the soul (such as spells to cause one to fall in love with a specified person). On the other hand they are vulnerable to water, and may be dazzled by extremely bright light.

Aside from their method of reproduction their behaviour, personality, and culture are in all apparent respects identical to those of true dwarves.

(my thanks to Mr J. Maliszewski for his initial research on this topic, which may be read here, here and here).

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Terrible Manuals of Balthazar the Unstructor

These magical books appear to be instruction manuals on a variety of activities. However they are so incompetently written that anyone who reads one will end up with less knowledge of its subject that when they started.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Life-Cycle of Hungry Houses

There are two distinct groups of Hungry Houses. They appear identical as adults (to other species at least), and differ only in their childhoods.

One group resemble doll-houses when born, and increase in size. The other are born as sheds, then grow into bungalows and finally houses.

It is not known whether they are two sub-species, genders, or something else.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Masturbating to Frank Frazetta Paintings Is Still Not A Philosophy

I added something to this blog which lists what the most-read posts are. Apparently you're most interested in me criticising John Norman, author of the Gor books. I am nothing if not populist.

OK, so the thing with John Norman is that he insists - in real life, not just in the his books - that male ownership of women is the natural order of things. He also heavily implies that criticism of his books is a conspiracy to suppress this truth.

The Gor books are about someone who can only dominate women once they go to another planet. It's not about someone who convinces modern women that they're wrong. In fact it's not even about someone who convinces the women of Gor. Once the main character gets to Gor male dominance has already been established, in the distant past.

And even then (from memory) you get women rebelling against it.

So the books don't give the impression that John Norman thinks male dominance is natural. They give the impression that he wishes it was natural, but thinks that it isn't. So much so that his character has to literally leave the planet to find it, and even then finds it constantly under threat.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hassan-i-Sabah and the Assassins

The original Assassins, also known by many variants such as Hashishin or Hashashiyyin, were an Islamic sect or cult at the time of the Crusades. Their practice of stealthy murder has given us the modern meaning of 'assassin'.

It is widely believed that their leader, Hassan-i-Sabah, known also as The Grand Master or The Old Man of the Mountain, controlled his followers by means of hashish or another drug, thereby tricking them into believing he could show them Paradise. There is, however, reason to suppose that this is is false. Firstly it arises from the unreliable tales of Marco Polo. Secondly, scholars say their name is most likely to derive from Asasiyun, meaning 'those who are faithful to the foundations [of the faith]'. And finally, while hashishim does indeed literally mean 'hashish-smokers', it was more usually used as a general-purpose shorthand for wickedness than as a specific accusation.

It seems more likely that the Assassin's headquarters in what is now Iran, Alamut or 'Eagles Nest', contained yet another entry-way into the world in which Teleleli lies, or instructions on creating one. This would explain both the story of 'showing Paradise', and the Assassin's otherwise inexplicable ability to appear as if from thin air. The fact that the library of Alamut was burned after its capture by the invading mongols suggests that it may have held books on travelling between worlds.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Guy Who Wrote Dragon Warriors Likes My Game

I recently got a post on the guestbook for my online game Age of Fable from Dave Morris, saying he liked the game.

Which was pretty cool for me, because this is the same Dave Morris who co-wrote the Fabled Lands gamebook series, which was the biggest single inspiration for Age of Fable.

He also wrote Down Among the Dead Men, which was another big inspiration, especially in terms of the game world, and Dragon Warriors, which first gave me the idea that it made more 'fantasy sense' to have barbarians and knights as two classes instead of a single 'fighter' or 'warrior' class.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Swingers' Party

In the past Teleleli had a single government, in which the Swingers were the ruling party. The government collapsed due to a celibacy scandal.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Party for the Equality of Talking Animals

PETA fights for the rights of talking animals in Teleleli.

They began as a group dedicated to defending the right to arm bears. Although there have been violent incidents between talking bears and humans, the group claims that all would be well if humans would refrain from spying on their picnics, or Bear Mitzvahs.

There are a number of smaller splinter groups, usually representing a particular species, such as the loud and obnoxious Hen's Party.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pulp Poetry

I've been writing a series of poems which are adaptations of fantasy stories in the public domain. I've completed three of them:
  • HP Lovecraft's Under the Pyramids.
  • Robert E Howard's The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune.
  • Clark Ashton Smith's The Garden of Adompha.
I'm currently working on Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars (the same book that the upcoming John Carter film is based on), which is a bigger project since it's a novel rather than a short story.

Anyway, I was wondering whether anyone had suggestions for other stories I could turn my attention to once I finish A Princess of Mars. If so, please leave a comment.

PS All four of the stories I've mentioned here can be found on

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Saturday, August 6, 2011


The goddess of procrastination is unique among the gods, in that she is not immortal. In fact she intends to die pretty soon.

Her chief festival, The Welcoming of Summer, is held every autumn.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Gods' Tongues

In certain seas, though not the Wine-Faced Sea which breaks on Teleleli, there wash ashore objects that are popularly known as Gods' Tongues. Skeptical scholars insist that they are the corpses of some unknown sea creature. However it must be admitted that they bear a great resemblance to gigantic human tongues (they are about three feet long) and thus it is widely believed that there is an undiscovered country in the depths of the sea, peopled by at least giants if not gods.

The Tongues themselves are said to be useful in magic, especially when freshly pulled from the sea and still wet. They dry and curl up very quickly. Popular belief holds that the hypothesized sea-dwelling giants do not die naturally, but only by murder, and that their tongues therefore contain poisons of a strength beyond any known on land.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

from The Lord of the Rings

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Guild of Wrestlers

In Teleleli, male wrestlers are forbidden to cover their chests during bouts. Legend says that this is because, in the distant past, a women disguised herself as a man and became a wrestler, defeating and humiliating all men who opposed her.
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