"The Dungeon Master" Fiction in the New Yorker

“I know that he is strange and not as smart as he pretends, but at least he keeps the borders of his mind realm well patrolled. That must count for something.”

The above quote is from a Sam Lipsyte short story called ‘The Dungeon Master’ about kids who play D&D.  I predict that most of the online D&D community would hate it but I liked it. Sort of like a slightly less pessimistic Flannery O’Conner writes about kids playing D&D — or something like that.

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2010/10/04/101004fi_fiction_lipsyte#ixzz2HxwVhFsW

It’s less about D&D and more about being a teenager and how teenagers can be really shitty to one another yet still think of these people who they are shitty to (or who are shitty to them) as ‘friends.’ Perhaps the turning point between ‘teenagerism’ and ‘adulthood’ is when we say, “Why do I still want to hang out with X? X always acts like a douchebag! I’m going to stop spending time with him.”

I know some people are going to bitch up a storm about some detail or another that was ‘wrong’ in the story (“Can of strawberry milk? Strawberry milk doesn’t come in cans! Totally badwrong writing! The author completely destoyed my sense of immersion with that strawberry milk in cans bullshit!“). Mostly they are going to hate the story because the characters in it are misfits. I kind of think they will be missing the point of the story, but, well, whatever.

Please try to enjoy.

Adventurers and BEM Lurker

Just finished this private commission today.  The client gave me great latitude with subject matter, but wanted a group of ‘dungeoneers’ in peril.

Welcome to The Village of Hamlet

Click the pic to go bigger! There’s lots of bad shit going on in Hamlet!

Welcome to Hamlet!

Hamlet (named in honor/satire of Gygax’s ‘Hommlet’) is/was a village in my original campaign just a short walk from Khunmar. It is a village where chamber pots are continually being dumped from upstairs windows on the heads of unsuspecting persons below, dogs fight over severed body parts in the street, executions are so commonplace and frequent that they barely draw a crowd and everything is for sale — East Saint Louis, pre-WW2 Berlin, Rome in it’s glory, NYC before Disneyfication and post-economy Detroit all distilled down to their essence and crammed into a village that will fit on one piece of graph paper.
Price lists should include standard dungeoneering items (ten and eleven foot poles, ropes, spikes, etc) as well as blow jobs, VD cures, exorcisms and whatever the medieval version of crystal meth might be.
Nihilist gaming at its best. Penis size and anal circumference size charts optional and probably not a good idea.

Welcome To Aldeboran

I have been calling my campaign world by several names over the past years — at one point it was ‘The Vales’ since there were different regions (Silver Vale, Red Vale, East Vale, etc.,). It has also been called ‘Hinterlands’ or ‘Northlands’ since most of the action took place is an area that was considered remote and removed from the more ‘civilized’ lands to the south and east. I also called/call it ‘Aldeboran’ (after the sun that the earth-like planet revolves around) or ‘Tellus’ (after the planet itself) but I go back and forth between wanting it to be a planet as an astronomer might define one… or just a ‘world’ which might just be a bubble in space, or moss on the back of a giant turtle… or a clump of dirt floating in space or whatever.

‘Aldeboran’ is an alternate spelling of ‘Aldebaran’ which is an actual orange giant star only 65 light years from Earth and in the constellation of Taurus. The name is arabic and apparently means ‘The Follower’ because when observed, it appears to follow The Pleiades. Lovecraft associated Aldebaran with Hastur, one of his ancient gods, so the name seemed apt.

Most of the action takes place on the large continent divided into several smaller kingdoms. Some of the places are Lenaria — an ancient empire to the east which once rules the Hinterlands where most of the action has taken place. Lenaria was 90% destroyed by meteors a few hundred years ago (or was it fire from the sky — or even some sort of stange curse or magic or weapon?) but the Lenarians still dabble in powerbrokering in the new world (they are a rip-off of the Melniboneans from Moorcock — powerful sorcerers with gigantic galleys, armies of slaves and dragon air cavalry, they worship the Dragon Goddess). The remaining islands of this once mighty empire share the names with German photographic lens formulas of the late 19th/early 20th century (Thambar, Xenar, Tessar, Summar, Summitar, Noctar, Elmar, etc.).

The big city on the continent is Eord, capital of a kingdom of the same name… which is also known as the City of Seven Walls… it stands at the entry of a strait which leads from the Inner Sea to the eastern Sea… from the inner sea you can sail north to the ice sea… from the eastern sea you can sail south to kingdoms down there or east to Lenaria.
South of Eord lie the Vales, including Red Vale and The Red Mountains… home of the dreaded red dwarves (who are cannibals who consider everyone else as potential food). North lies a forest kingdom of Elves (named, quite unimaginatively, Alfheim), and Aluria, a kingdom of Amazons as well as other various wastelands. There is also a large swampy land known as ‘The Sinking Lands’ which is ruled by a very powerful magic user… and to the west lies Thool (or Thule) which is ruled by a priesthood who have evolved (or devolved) into creatures with enormous brains and frail bodies. Of course, they maintain armies of lesser intellects to serve and protect them. There is also the ruined city of Tana Tak, which is said to be overrun by flesh eating ghouls, but great ancient secrets are said to be buried deep beneath the ground. There are various other kingdoms, some swamplands to the south (which are littered with gigantic stone statues rumored to be the petrified remnants of gods).

I used to take the ‘science’ of world creation quite seriously, but later just decided to have fun with it. Although I haven’t run adventures there for years, it started out as a middle earth/greyhawkish place and has since evolved/devolved into Flash Gordon land / Land of the Lost / Planet of the Apes… with occasional ruined rocket ships, flesh eating apes, mutants, death rays, wierd cults, etc.

After discarding the rather pompous and unoriginal pantheon of my highschool years, I just toss in any and every god of religion I can think of, with Cthulhu cults rubbing elbows with pagans of every stripe, authoritarian churches and cults modeled on worst case scenarios from the real world and a heaping teaspon of the Mythos of the Subgenius mostly for my own amusement. If a player wanted to worship some other deity, I would have no problem shoehorning at least a small chapel or shrine in somewhere — like in Ancient Rome, new gods are making themselves known all of the time…


I love the comic books that were published before I was even born — especially the old ‘pre code’ horror comics. If you like such things too, be sure to visit ‘The Horrors of it all!’
Every day or two, the blogmeister scans and posts a pre-code horror comic story in it’s entirety, with great commentary and sometimes period advertisements as well (“Are you a 90 lbs Weakling?”).
Well worth the visit!

At the Mountains of Madness

A movie trailer for a film that doesn’t exist (but I wish it did) mocked up by someone with access to a lot of footage from expeditions to Antarctica and a great visual sense.
Why can’t we get films like this one?

Richard Sharpe Shaver

Richard Sharpe Shaver (b 1907, d 1975) was a writer, painter, welder, ‘paleo-archaeologist,’ alarmist, prophet, conspiracy theorist, mental patient, visionary, dreamer and tortured soul.

Apparently, some time around 1944 or 1945, Raymond Arnold Palmer, an editor at Ziff Davis Publications magazine “Amazing Stories” (a man who went on to do much to create the popular UFO culture in the US) fished a letter out of the trash written by someone named Richard Shaver. Shaver claimed that all of human language was based on a series of sounds, each of which could be represented by a letter, and that by using this alphabet (which he called ‘Mantong’), one could decode the secret meanings of words as handed down to current civilizations by the Atlanteans.

An introduction to Mantong
by Richard Sharpe Shaver

This was the letter originally sent by R.S. Shaver to “Amazing Stories.” It was published by Ray Palmer in the ‘Discussions’ section of Amazing Stories in January of 1944. Apparently, the letter was read by Howard Browne, Palmer’s Managing editor at thee time, who tossed it into the trash saying, “The world is full of crackpots.” Palmer fished it out, saw a possibility and decided to run the letter and the alphabet in the magazine. The response from readers was enthusiastic. People wrote in to say that they had applied the ‘Mantong’ alphabet to all sorts of words in many different languages and claimed to have gleaned hidden meanings from the translation.

“Sirs, Am sending this in hope you will insert it in an issue to keep from dying with me. It would arouse a lot of discussion. Am sending you the language so that some time you can have it looked at by some one in the college or a friend who is a student of antique times. The language seems to me to be definite proof of the Atlantean legend. A great number of our English words have come down intact as romantic –ro man tic-“science of man patterning by control,” Trocadero – t ro see a dero- “good one see a bad one”- applied now together. It is an immensely important find, suggesting the god legends have a base in some wiser race than modern man; but to understand it takes a good head as it contains multi-thoughts like many puns on the same subject. It is too deep for ordinary man – who thinks it is a mistake. A little study reveals ancient words in English occurring many times. It should be saved and placed in wise hands. I can’t, will you? It really has an immense significance, and will perhaps put me right in your thoughts again if you will really understand this.
I need a little encouragement.”

The Mantong Alphabet –
A – is for Animal
B – is to Be
C – means See
D – is the harmful energy generated by the Sun
E – is Energy
F – means Fecund
G – means to Generate
H – means Human
I – means I
J – is the same as G – generate
K – means Kinetic, as in motion or energy
L – is Life
M – means Man
N – means child, as in ‘ninny’
O – means Orifice, a source
P – is Power
Q – means Quest
R – horror; signifies a large amount of D present
S – means the Sun, which emits D
T – is the beneficial force, the opposite of D
U – means You
V – Vital; in Shaver’s words, ‘the stuff Mesmer calls animal magnetism.’
W – Will
X – Conflict, sometimes meaning D and T in opposition
Y – means Why
Z – means Zero, or when T and D cancel one another out.

“We present this interesting letter concerning an ancient language with no comment, except to say that we applied the letter-meaning to the individual letter of many old root words and proper names and got an amazing “sense” out of them. Perhaps if readers interested were to apply his formula to more of these root words, we will be able to discover if the formula applies … is this formula the basis of one of the most ancient languages on Earth? The mystery intrigues us very much. – ED.”

Shaver later claimed to have discovered that these ancient civilizations had hidden images, films and records inside of rocks, and stuff really started to get weird. Like many conspiracy theorists, Shaver claimed to know a great secret that threatened all of mankind. According to Shaver, there was a subterranean race of evil humnoids, whom he termed the ‘dero,’ who enjoyed capturing surface dwellers and enslaving, torturing and sexually abusing them. The editors at Amazing Fantasy said they had to “tone down” a lot of the sex and violence (and sexual violence or violent sex) in Shaver’s stories before publication. Shaver stated he had lived underground with the ‘Tero’ (good Dero) for a number of years and that all of his “Shaver Mystery” stories were true. Others said he was in a mental asylum during that time.

Eventually, the “Shaver Mystery” was dropped from Amazing Stories and Ray Palmer went on to other things. The sci-fi fans who cried ‘hoax’ and used to heckle Palmer and Shaver publically (including a young Harlan Ellison) declared victory. Bizzarely, one of the major complaints of the anti-Shaver Mystery crowd was that “if the Shaver Mystery was suppossed to be the truth, it did not belong in a magazine devoted to fiction.” Shaver felt that the decision by the publisher to no longer carry his stories was a part of the plot to silence him and conceal the Dero plot against mankind. He and his wife retired to a small town in Arkansas where he ran a shop selling geological specimens as well as publishing his newsletters, making his remarkable paintings and continuing his research until his death.

Most people consider him a crank and a crazy. They call his conspiracy theories a ‘hoax.’ As far as I can tell, however, Shaver was dead serious about his beliefs. Was he really lying if he believed what he was saying?

Some of Shaver’s books can be read for free on the net:
I Remember Lemuria
Return of Sathanas

Exquisite Corpses

“Exquisite Corpse: Game of folded paper played by several people, who compose a sentence or drawing without anyone seeing the preceding collaboration or collaborations. The now classic example, which gave the game its name, was drawn from the first sentence obtained this way: The-exquisite-corpse-will-drink-new-wine.”
–André Breton

My new project involves a book of ‘creatures’ which can be used, mixed and matched, to create new creatures. As I say in the introduction:

Introduction: In the 1920s, surrealist artists would gather and amuse one another with acts of pure fantasy. One of their amusements was to take a piece of paper, fold into several sections, and then each surrealist would draw a section of a figure or creature on that paper, folding it over so the next participant could not see what had already been drawn. The first artist might draw the head, the next artist would add the torso, the third the hips and legs, etc., and when finished they would unfold the paper and admire the drawing that had been created. Thus they might end up with fantastic creatures that might have a head shaped like a house, the body of a nude woman and the feet made of curling tree roots.
We often played this game when I was a youngster. I remember spending more than a few days in a cabin up in Wisconsin, with my sister, cousins and aunt, when it was too rainy to play outside, drawing, folding and passing the paper and enjoying the fantastic and improbable creatures we created. I loved monsters and improbable creatures and it seemed a great way of combining those interests into a game that left you with some pretty amusing drawings as souvenirs. We still play the ‘Exquisite Corpse” game today. All that is needed are some pencils, paper and some willing participants (although a bottle of wine or a few beers can add to the fun).
In 1978, I had just acquired AD&D “Monster Manual” by Gary Gygax. It ripped the roof off my imagination like no other book had before it. Here was an encyclopedia filled with some of the most improbable creatures that myth, fantasy or Gygax could create. Some had the torsos of beautiful women, the faces of hags and the wings and feet of vultures. Others had the heads of bulls and the bodies of men, or beaks instead of mouths, tentacles, etc. Still more improbable creatures combined the worst (or best) aspects of birds, lions, owls, bears, fish, etc. And the improbable and fiendishly fascinating combinations were increased tenfold when you turned to the sections on Demons and Devils. In the page of Gygax’s seminal bestiary of the fantastic, the improbable creations of myth and unhinged imagination sprang to life… and Gygax included many fascinating details (like how fast the creature moved, where it lived, how tough it might be and what (or whom) it might eat…).
This little book, then, is really just a love poem to some of my favorite things (the Exquisite Corpse, Gary Gygax’s “Monster Manual,” monsters of all kinds and realms of the imagination). Use it for your own amusement, and, if you like role playing or fantasy games, use it to create your own “Dr. Frankenstein on acid” creatures who will hop, slither, slide, plop, run or flutter into the world that you and your players create.

At current I have about 10 drawings done and plan to finish 16 more. The book will probably measure 5-7 and be about 40-50 pages (26 of which will be one-sided) and will include guidelines for how to use the book in a fanatsy game, adding special abilities, etc.

At present the plan is to offer it through Lulu or similar means.

Picaresque Adventures

In reading the gathered wisdom of others via sites like Dragonsfoot, I gather that the general consensus seems to be that player characters should all get along and evil alignments are frowned upon.

I find myself wondering why? Sure, I’ve been involved in some games that became bitter feuds between players, but removing the choice (to be good or to be bad) from the players seems heavy handed. Sometimes it can be great fun to play a real villain… and sometimes a fight to the death between player characters can be more fun than just knocking down the monsters that the DM has set up to be conquered.

In literature, a novel in which the protagonist is flawed or even occasionally villainous is often called a picaresque story. Classic sword and sorcery heroes such as Leiber’s Fafhrd and Mouser or Vance’s Cugel the Clever are decidedly flawed heroes… maybe even REH’s Conan would qualify. Certainly D&D got its start with killing monsters in order to steal their treasure… the game was structured to reward those who were most proficient at killing and looting.