Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Rye Of Sauron

The Eye of Sauron:
koltergeist - Imgur - 9-27-2015

The Rye of Sauron:

Photo by Max Blachman-Gentile of some of the bread he bakes for Torst, Brooklyn, NY, swiped from a Bloomberg article his bread is featured in, which makes ZERO mentions of the Dark Lord of Mordor. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Spells dreamed by machines

The last time on this desolate, near-endless path you saw a face without a muzzle or a snout or a beak was three nights back.  Cold mist alternates with chilling drizzle. The terrain has become very rough, but there still is a trace of a beaten trail to follow up the mountain.

The weathered wooden door of an unmortared fieldstone hut built against the cliff face creaks open and the priests emerge.  They are dour and unsmiling, but they offer you a dry sheepskin to throw over your shivering shoulders.  They remind you of the necessary preparations before consulting the oracle:

Fast for 3 days, perform the ritual ablutions in the mountain stream each day at sunrise, whisper the sacred palindromes in nine sets of nine repetitions into the darkness after nightfall.

There is a narrow cleft in the side of the mountain; the stream trickles forth from the bottom of the cleft and down the mountain.  At the top of the cleft, between boulders slimy with lichen, a hole only as big as a man's shoulders leads into the mountain.  Water rushes and echoes somewhere inside.

Are eldritch whispered words and phrases tangled in the echoes?

After three days of shivering, cold washing, and palindromes in the dark, you are ready for the oracle. The priests cense you with poppy and sulfur, and slide you, feet first, on your back, across the slick boulders toward the small dark hole. You stretch your feet just inside, feel them dangle over a wide void.  The moving water sounds and scraps of voices are loud as you lie on the stone so close to the hole.

Something- not human hands- yanks you swiftly and entirely into the cold, wet void.

Twenty minutes later, some force in the mountain abruptly spits you out of the hole again: wet,  blue, babbling, gasping, sobbing, shivering, shrieking.  The priests have been waiting nearby, and cover you in the warm, warm sheepskin.  They listen intently as your raw, nonsensical ululations gradually resolve into weird sentences, many of them palindromes and rhymes.  They have trained themselves to remember and reproduce verbatim what pilgrims bring back from the oracle.

When you are calm enough, and can finally stop yourself from vomiting words, they will hand you a bowl of broth, and begin to tell you what you said when you emerged from the mountain, and what their interpretations are.


More to read about this ritual (minus my fictional details) is in Tony Perrottet's excellent Route 66 AD, which in turn follows Pausanias's Description of Greece book, which was the 2nd Century Lonely Planet guide for early tourists/pilgrims emboldened by the relatively safe travel conditions of the Pax Romana.

Speaking of oracles and interpreting the results...

A scientist with a great sense of humor is blogging about her experiments with training "neural networks, a type of machine learning imitate human datasets."  In more of her words: "Letting neural networks be weird."  She inputs human-created data like recipes, My Little Ponies, and D&D spells and the machines twist these things into really weird and off-the-wall humorous results.

I found out about this scientist from reading Swamp of Monsters, whose author Nate L. does an excellently poetic elaboration of spell descriptions and effects from the neural networks' spell names, for example:


Duration: 8 hours
Area: Up to a 50 foot cube

The lelent warder appears as if lit by moonlight. It generally takes the form of falling dust, though sometimes it will be a cat that stalks the area, and sometimes will be a young boy who watches carefully. The spell is simple and cruel [...]"

For more, visit the Swamp

Monday, November 20, 2017

Bibliophilia and Logophilia: SUPERGEEKED on Books and Words

Thank you Capri23Auto at Pixabay dot com!

I have just crawled out from savoring a short excursion into fun words, and thought others might enjoy it, too.

Jer Thorpe, the current Innovator-in-Residence for the Library of Congress, made a collection of words with beautiful sounds and meanings, and they all have to do with books, which are two of my restrained-with-difficulty obsessions.

I have to admit, I'm not as good or persistent a reader of the contents of books as I could be.  My grandparents gave me bookshelves worth of cloth and leather books, but it's like swimming through oatmeal reading many 1800s books. My fetish instead is for the binding, the covers, the typefaces.

A word game which can make adventure seeds, poetry, doggerel or dungeons out of phrases:
FMOD's Take on Six Word Dungeons

My previous posts gushing about words:
Close to the Longest Day of the Year
Words or Names I Like for their Sound
Raiding Pharmacies for their Names

I wrote the Statues adventure around a city-wide hunt for books (and statues... and treasure).

If I had time and more treasure in real life, I would take letterpress and bookbinding classes and see if I could create a Deluxe edition of Statues with better illustrations and design.  That might appeal to a different customer than somebody who wants a practical, no-frills pdf to run at the table.  (Read this in your skull with a clipped Received Pronunciation Bond villain voice, preferably while sitting in a wing chair, stroking a fluffy purebred cat:) "Certain...wealthy European connoisseurs would pay large sums of money...for the privilege!"  I have no illusions about making more than beer money, but it would be fun to be able to offer some people pdfs, and to offer to other people- bibliophile weirdos like me- solid hardcover books which don't have the same aesthetic as most of the stuff out there. 

OK!  Here, finally, rewarding your patience in reading through my digressions, is the article that I liked so much:

My Sammelband has Frisket-Bite: A Short Glossary of Delightful Library Terms

Monday, November 13, 2017

STATUES review is up at!

My facial expression right now is the opposite of this.
Check out the STATUES review at!
If other bloggers want free copies to review, email me at machuvmajmn at gmail.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

STATUES pdf available now at RPGNow and DriveThruRPG

Part of the gorgeous map/book combos characters are hunting for in STATUES.  Any resemblance to Braun and Hogenbeck's view of Constantinople is entirely because I MS Paint-ed all over their beautiful map

Instead of my usual grumbling, I have finally published my own adventure, composed my way, on RPG Now and DriveThruRPG.  

Bryce Lynch of emailed me some great advice and directed me to look at the formatting tips on (not all of which I followed, but at least now I know what I should be doing for my next project).

Please check it out.  I hope you buy it and use it and have fun.

Click below

or copy-and-paste:

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Czech Early 20th Century Artists as DMs - Inspired by Against the Wicked City

People often rip on "Lazy Gaming Inspiration-through-Art" posts, but in general, I really enjoy them.  Sometimes I'll see a tribute to David A. Trampier, or more often, Erol Otus, (but TOO often, Larry Elmore - here is where I can join in with chorus slagging an art post).

Tumblr blogs can be fun: Archaelogical objects from ancient times which are begging to be magical treasure or Lovingly pre-masticated begging-to-be-in-a-game images  or The one with the great tagline: "Pick pictures at random, that's your dungeon and/or wilderness adventure"

Best are picture posts which showcase art which wasn't intended for role-playing games, tied, in my estimation, with posts featuring photos from the real world (such as just about any random shot of something in Iceland) which could inspire gaming settings, plots, items, characters, and monsters.  It's like your substitute teacher eliciting from the class nouns and adjectives and phrases which have to do with plumbing, and then revealing that these are all part of a Mad Lib which somehow fits alarmingly well into a love letter or personals ad (and then that particular sub NEVER being allowed to teach again in your district once parents heard about it).

So anyway, Joseph Manola, on his often-awesome Against the Wicked City blog, apologizes even in the title of his art post, but writes some really funny stuff: If Romantic-Era Artists Ran D&D Campaigns (AKA 'a thin excuse for an image dump')

Here goes a ripped-off riff from that - hope you like...


Josef Váchal (1884-1969) - Disturbingly vivid improvisor.  Always takes PCs through Astral Plane, Ethereal Plane, Negative Material Plane.  Spirits, non-corporeal undead, and spirit giants storm center stage often.  After particularly terrifying gaming sessions, he won't host again for a month; tells players he has to clean their "psychic residue" out of his apartment due to their "magical experiments."

His gaming group's visit to the "Elemental Plane of Passions and Instincts":
The party lost a valuable artifact during escape from the Astral Plane, had to bargain with one of its denizens to retrieve it...
The next night, the party's magic user had to repay this debt with punishing interest...
 Searching for their missing wizard, the party found their way blocked by the gargantuan, hostile spirit of the Whispering-Wind-in-the-Trees swamps.
Jan Zrzavý (1890-1977) grumblingly broke off from the Váchal-dominated "Sursum" gaming group, swore he would run a kinder, gentler game for his new group:
Still gets mondo-gonzo freaky when Zrzavý lets science fiction chocolate drip into his fantasy peanut butter...

Josef Lada (1887-1957)- Never invited into Váchal and Zrzavý's groups.  Is OK with that because, just from reputation, they freak him out.  Recruited his own group of gamers from local villages to play at the house he shares with his parents and grandma.  Rolling rough-hewn polyhedral wooden dice around his family's antique Czech farm table, the players say his adventures start out sunny and somewhat vanilla, but then quickly turn their folklore vibe up to 11 and get excellently eerie.

When the folklore starts to flow and things get eerie...

Players are often distracted during games at Lada's house by the scent of Lada's babička baking; she interrupts the action at intervals to give players traditional bread and pastries.

His players give him props because Lada isn't afraid to describe, in front of his grandma, the beautiful and deadly rusalka emerging onto the lakeshore to have topless moonlight confabs with the green-skinned vodnik, who collects human souls to seal in his jars underwater.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

BOOYAH! Third Time Playing D&D in the 21st Century!

So I finished the He Who Watches Crocodilopolis adventure and I was burning to try it out.  Another year had passed since I last played D&D.  
I've described already how I am shy about, or positively averse to, playing D&D with just any stranger.  What if they are boorish?  What if they don't care about history?  What if they want everything to have an aesthetic like a Naruto anime?  What if they want everyone to be steampunk gnomes who wear goggles and fire machine guns from hang-gliders?  What if they are obsessed with crap like railways powered by magic, steaming through cities filled with magical streetlights and telephones?  FEH!

I REALLY appreciate the perspectives of my friends, some of whom are new to D&D and ALL of whom have interesting artistic, analytical, and intellectual proclivities.  

But, unfortunately, it's harder to get middle-aged people with 170%-jam-packed lives together than it is to herd cats into an inflatable bouncy castle shuddering and jolting with shrieking 5-year-olds.  This is, of course, not much of a surprise.

After undertaking an e-mail odyssey, I finally got confirmation from Antonin and Zahra, as well as from Lindsey, who hadn't played with us before, that they were in town, not working, not hosting visiting relatives, and were free to meet on June X at my house.

We played my adventure set in Late Ptolemaic-era Crocodilopolis, Aegyptus: He Who Watches. 

We used pre-generated characters I had made.  I told people they could change 'em, but they didn't.  People liked picking out a character from a list, rather than having to spend the time and creative power to roll their own.  They ended up with a cleric and two thieves.  They were going to have to get hirelings and NPCs to join them, the latter of which happened after a little while.

The party found themselves entering the city during the peak of Pilgrimage Season.  The city guards admitted people in groups so that merchants and touts and townspeople could line the street on either side and strew petals on people, give them a Ptolemaic Egyptian, non-necklace equivalent of Hawaiian leis, offer accommodation, hawk pilgrim's supplies, sell cheap maps.  The players rolled dice for an "eye-contact" gauntlet undergone by their characters.  I was inspired to write the gauntlet into the adventure because of the receiving lines encouraged by Ricardo Montalban's Mr. Roarke: "Smiles, everyone, smiles!  We must welcome our FANTASY ISLAND!" as well as by a scene in the 1990 film Henry and June, which Zahra once said resembled her experience walking into a college party in 1989 and having to decide whether to fend off, or respond to, the offers and entreaties of every single person at the party.  
The players decided to fend off some people in the gauntlet, and engage the others in additional conversation.  They ended up with a pilgrim's map, cheap but full of advertisements for religious goods shops.  They fended off the innkeepers and their agents, and ended up following the advice of a friendly young pilgrim, who gave off a vibe like a Phish fan, 2000 years in the past: they slept for free outdoors in the Agora.   


Temple officials sought the party out.  Two of the players chose to have their characters join the temporary army doing the easy job of guarding the new Son of Sobek crocodile at his hours-long coronation ceremony.  This earns them the esteem and trust of the Archpriest of Sobek the Crocodile God, who summons them for an additional job offer in private: 1. Investigate and eliminate, without any publicity whatsoever, whatever threat is absconding with pilgrims who are "incubating", sleeping naked in search of visions, in tunnels dug from the side of Sobek's Tomb.  2. Find out if this is related to whoever or whatever assassinated the late Son of Sobek crocodile in his pen at the beginning of the holy Pilgrimage Season.  

Meanwhile, Lindsey's thief is hanging out with Showshenq, the hippie-like pilgrim. The thief accepts "Mummy Dust" and has confusing, disturbing visions.  While the thief is slipping in and out from under the influence of the drug, agents of the Priestess of Bastet discreetly summon her into a quiet enclosure on the edge of the Agora.  The world-weary, brittle, high-cheekboned, beautiful Priestess complains about the unfounded hatred the Sobek-obsessed locals harbor against her and Bastet's cult, but says that there are rumors of something that threatens EVERYONE making away with incubating Sobek pilgrims.  The Priestess says she and her known associates would not be able to join the incubating pilgrims and find out what is happening, but she would paid Lindsey's thief to do so.  The thief accepts the job, is curious about incubation anyway.
While she recovers the next day, the rest of the party have successfully guarded the new Son of Sobek at his coronation and have been offered their commission, which they tell her character about.  Lindsey decides not to have her character try to get this assignment as well, but instead to have her character incubate in the tunnels dug into the side of the Tomb of Sobek.  There is a chance for pilgrims to do this, with fanfares and crowds, every sunset in Pilgrimage Season, so she does it that evening, and smuggles weapons and tools into the tunnels surreptitiously.  The tunnels go on for much longer than they are supposed to, and some of the excavation, seen by the light of her smuggled-in lamp, seems recent and brutally rough.  She encounters the vast bulk of a titanic crocodile mummy, oozing white goo from tears and wounds, and thrashing back and forth.  The thief decides to attempt a run and a jump over the crocodile mummy to a doorway past the jerking, gigantic body.  Lindsey rolls over her DEX.  Deadly.  Her thief is rolled over on and crushed.  

I would have given Lindsey another character to play, but she decided at this point to go home and feed and walk a dog she was taking care of.  

Splitting the party - I didn't recommend it, but it happened.  Antonin and Zahra were patient, however.  Now they were on deck. They bought supplies from outfitters, and went to a converted pyramid tomb outside of the town walls, where they bought torches, lanterns, and flasks of flammable lamp oil- "Oil.  Lots and lots of oil!" Their thief and magic user, along with 2 plainclothes men-at-arms sent by the Temple of Sobek, obtained a secret blessing from the Archpriest which "turned off" all the door curses (at least those installed by the Temple).  They descended into the catacombs, which are linked with the Tomb of Sobek and (unbeknownst to the pilgrims) the pilgrims' incubation tunnels. The thief declined to loot the tombs, the same as the magic user and the men-at-arms, as was more expected.  He said he had a job to do and was going to get paid to do it, not to defile the tombs. 

A certain magic item found on the corridor floor was fair game, though, they thought.  They played with it and various weird things, some of them very loud, occurred.  Screams and moans which were distant before came closer, attracted by the noise they had made.  

The party was attacked by three animated corpses wearing mummy cerements and spewing white goo.  The thief and magic user whipped open lamp oil flasks at their feet.  The thief tried to keep them at bay with his ten foot pole.  One of the men at arms helped the thief by striking at the mummies with his long khopesh, and the other set threw the torch he was carrying at the creatures.  The mummies made some hits on the thief and the man at arms with the khopesh, but the uninfected made their saves and weren't splashed too badly with the animate white goo.  Choking smoke filled the catacomb halls and made it harder to fight, but luckily the burning oil, dart throws, dagger throws, and khopesh blows wore down the enemy.

Stumbling out of the smoke, the party smashed through sealed doors into another chamber.  A mummified baboon announced that it would answer one question and then be silent for 100 years.  The magic user asked who had assassinated the last Son of Sobek, and received an answer blaming the Priestess of Bastet, the Cat Goddess.  
The party decided to beat a quick path back to the surface, amidst more screaming and moaning sounds approaching.  They made a discreet beeline to the Captain of the Temple Guard, who had employed them for the coronation-guarding gig and arranged their introduction to the Archpriest.  When they told him what the mummified baboon said, he, like most other locals they talked with, vehemently disparaged the Priestess of Bastet and her arrogant attempts to distract pilgrims and visitors from Sobek in the city named after him and his sacred animal.  The Captain excitedly whipped up guards and a large mob of townspeople, who attacked the Chapel of Bastet, killed everyone in it, and burned it down.  The party stood on the edge of the mob, and were rewarded with some of the charred, bloodstained items looted from the Chapel.  

I thought the players might do some moral questioning of their actions, but especially without Lindsey present, whose thief had met and talked with the Priestess of Bastet, they just took the bloodstained booty without qualms. 

The thing in the catacombs, shrieking, moaning, making away with incubating pilgrims, remained.  Maybe they would persuade the Temple of Sobek to arm and equip them again for another foray.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Just Say No To Mummy Dust

Where mummy dust comes from

Foul-tasting “Mummy Dust” supposedly made of a fungus that grows inside mummies- price: 0-5gp. Available: at the Agora, in streets outside the Incubation Tunnels, under-the-counter from Merkarei’s Incendiary Shop in the Pyramid outside the Desert Gate, or from Tefnut
MUMMY DUST EFFECTS – Roll percentile dice
00-70 - DM shows Player a random part of the PICTURE APPENDIX. Roll d30 for Fig. #
71-99 – Upsetting visions.  Cross each vision out as they are seen.  Once all visions are seen by at least one PC, this roll result means the mummy dust only causes a stomachache and no visions this time, as well as -2 to all die rolls for the next 24 turns/4 hours. 
1. The Pale Corruption (See Catacomb Map Area 15) enveloping victims;
2. A hooded, misshapen figure smashing an amphora in an underground room. Something small, slimy and luminous skitters away.
3. Veiled woman feeding a jewelry-festooned crocodile a bundle;
4. Tomb doors thumping and shaking;
5. Screaming, decayed face of a mummy lying in a tomb- after a moment, it chokes, vomits up a white viscous goo, screams more;
6. PC feels like he or she has just awoken, wrists crossed, inside a mummy case.

As Much of the "Pilgrim/Tourist Map" as I Can Stuff Into This Page...

Thank you Braun/Hogenberg Cities of the World!
and MS Paint!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Paw of Sehkmet

The party finds this on a papyrus in the catacombs, tucked inside the wrappings of a mummy...

                                                             The Paw of Sekhmet

 1. Cut off a fully-grown, healthy lioness’s paw in combat wherein the opponent is under a disadvantage to the lioness.

 2. Cut up into fine hamburger.  Grind the claws into dust.  Mix dust with the hamburger.  

 3. Mold into patty. 

 4. Marinade nine nights in tincture of moly root. 

 5. Soak mummy wrappings nine nights in tincture of cardamom, mead and blood spilled in anger.

 6. Wrap patty in mummy wrappings.  

 7. Bury nine months 1 pharaonic cubit deep (7 palms deep) undisturbed in the desert sand.

 8. Unwrap patty and discard the mummy wrappings.

 9. Feed patty to target beast.  Although unappetizing looking and smelly to humans, it will be irresistible to carnivorous animals. The lioness’s paw will reconstitute itself, complete with muscles, bone, fur and claws, inside the target’s stomach and will attempt very violently to scratch and batter its way out.  The paw will disintegrate into black and white dust once it emerges.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Top 10 Reasons I Wrote "He Who Watches"

1. I wanted an excuse to use the Papyrus font in Word.

    Matthew Carpenter at is by no means alone when he writes:
Papyrus is the king of bad fonts. Equal parts childish, kitschy and irritating...Papyrus isn’t bad because it is overused: it’s bad because it just doesn’t look good. Kitschy, cheap and vile.
     How could I resist!

2. I wanted to use the Papyrus page background in Word.
    Love > Fear. Kitsch > Class.

3. I was inspired reading about the city in Egypt: Faiyum, Phiom, Shedet, Arsinoë or Crocodilopolis
    As you can imagine, just the name itself hooked me.

4.  I bought a used book on Egyptology for my kid, and like all the best presents for one's kid, I borrowed it back and read: "Sobek, the crocodile god, was known as 'He Who Watches'; Bast or Bastet, the cat goddess, was known as 'She Who Scratches'."

5. At night, with my wife snoring beside me, no light in the room but the glow of my laptop, I saw Kom El Shoqafa The Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa  on Wikipedia:
The necropolis consists of a series of Alexandrian tombs, statues and archaeological objects of the Pharaonic funeral cult with Hellenistic and early Imperial Roman influences. Due to the time period, many of the features of the catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa merge Roman, Greek and Egyptian cultural points; some statues are Egyptian in style, yet bear Roman clothes and hair style...
I had misremembered the name for a while thereafter as "Mother of Shards", but "Mound of Shards" is still a fine name.  Kom El Shoqafa - "Mound of Shards"-  is called this because the trinclinum funebrae (three-couch funeral room) in which people holding funerals and commemorative feasts in the underground necropolis would smash the amphorae of wine and food plates they had brought with them and just leave the terra cotta shards to accumulate on the floor.

6.  I resolved to not write about Old Kingdom Ancient Egypt, but to write about Late Ptolemaic Egypt, when Macedonian/Greek-descended Cleopatra was courting Julius Caesar of the up-and-coming Romans and certain cities in Egypt were home to overlapping traditional Egyptian and Hellenistic Greek cultures.

7.  I saw a "hobo nickel" carved into a Death's Head image.  I had to make these into "Charon's Obolus" kinds of coins in what I wrote.

8. As described by Tony Perottet, the religious spoiling rotten of crocodiles in Crocodilopolis, but also their gilded cage vulnerability.  Tourists/pilgrims, say Tony, would visit these tame crocodiles in Antiquity and demand the chance to feed them, even if the crocs weren't hungry.  They had filed+ down claws and jeweled bracelets around their limbs and tail.

9. Tony's great book in general: Route 66AD AKA Pagan Holiday  It has been reviewed as "Bill Bryson meets 'Gladiator'" + I highly, highly recommend it.

10. Vodka which comes in glass skull bottles.  I saw it at Yarmo's.  I wanted to drink it and then have an ominous bottle I could write into an adventure, as well as a real-life LARP prop from which my friends could drink in the game, in parallel with their characters drinking an in-game potion, if they dared!

He Who Watches