Saturday, September 28, 2019

Sparks onto an oil-soaked cloth

I am a huge fan of the weird stuff Janelle Shane coaxes out of the neural networks she trains.  She feeds the machines all kinds of inspired fodder, which they then cough up into interesting shapes, including D&D spells, character bios, adventures. What the machines make is often the perfect spark to ignite our human elaborations, e.g. Swamp of Monsters fleshed-out spells.

Her latest post, my new favorite, is specifically about prompts to human creativity  - a word each day in "Inktober" to inspire 31 ink drawings by the end of the month.

Lynda Barry in similar inky exercise -

To me, things like this should spur the captions of moist, oozy, severely D&D comix by somebody like Karl Stjernberg of Spores of the Sad Shroom fame - or Tim Sievert's Intrepideeers or Clandestinauts:

Container Room Spider cyclone
hatch with wonderful journey
rolling stone hypnotic fetch
barely disguised Awkward
deep image speaks halting words
Light dwelling adventurous stubborn monster
hog ate goats fort protection
Release jelly scary quick
trail narrow lightly acidic to armored magical legs
double perched dragon
Six juggernauts inhabit gallant earth
Future adventure prompts, or play reports scrawled on napkins stained with orange Cheez Doodle dust from another planet.

If you want to have visions, inhale deeply at

 If you make something, words or pictures, please tell me and I'll link with your permission.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Lost Lush: RELOADED is out

I put my new, expanded, and improved Lost Lush: RELOADED up at the Coiled Sheets of Lead storefront  at 

It's fun and should appeal to fans of gritty but humorous low fantasy urban picaresque. Like the first version, it's a medieval pub-crawl in search of a drunken buffoon, traceable through the wreckage and outrage he leaves in his wake, through weird nightspots inspired by 1990s Prague (where I once lived) and 1890s New York City (which the excellent Luc Sante's Low Life can tell you about in detail).
It is now 54 pages long but I'm selling it for the same $4.99 price I sold the original The Lost Lush: Extracting a Carousing Fool for.  I will have to start a new entry sometime soon, in order to get the buzz of "New Today at DriveThruRPG," but I wanted to get everyone who already bought the tiny 20-something-page original version to get my expanded update free.  

I'm trying to avoid tedious kvetching, but it has been weird wandering through the wilderness hexcrawl of marketing.

Two meditations on marketing by people with more coherent skulls than mine:
Cecil Howe

Anyway, I tried to get my new version playtested among various boards and contacts online.  No dice.  So I printed tearsheet flyers and tacked it up on the physical corkboards at friendly local game shop The Source  - I had it OK'ed by managers and employees. 

Nary a nibble!  What's up with people? 

Does nobody want a hard-copy spiral bound thing to test for free?  Is it because I lack the requisite full-color dungeon-punk anime-influenced art and 5E compatibility and Hasbro/WOTC livery that people want these days?

OK, kvetching over.  But I felt compelled to mention this phenomenon.

I'd better put up better free maps to promote Lost Lush on DTRPG.  Sure, people might just take the free maps and ignore the paid thing they might have paid for to get the maps, BUT my maps should be as good as I can make them as a matter of pride and should be free as a matter of principle.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Googly Eyes Make Everything Better

A couple of years ago, I really enjoyed how somebody  (Jeff Reints maybe? Actually, Dyson Logos    as kindly pointed out by Tom H of  Plastic Polyhedra) creatively vandalized a boatload of classic D&D art by sticking googly eyes on the characters and monsters.

I know I have a tendency to slide into the bottomless abyss of humorless joyless pooptacularity.

So I stopped dissecting with MS Paint the Otto Wirsching Dance of Death woodcut I wanted to modify as the cover for my upcoming rollout of the new, improved, and expanded Lost Lush: Reloaded.

And I used the poor man's Photoshop to stick googly eyes on it:

Not only does this imply the wacky hi-jinks that are likely to ensue in this adventure, it burps up a black humor streaked with potential pathos.  The idiot noble on a bender which the PCs are searching for is one insult away from inciting the put-upon proles to barbecue him in a brutal neo-pagan revolutionary rite.  

I tried putting googly eyes on everyone in the picture, but that was too much.  My own kid, the Princess of Excess, said if everyone was googly, it was like no-one was googly.  No true visual impact.  A wise 8-year-old.

Speaking of the kidlet, I lashed out and bought the 2014 version of the boardgame Dungeon!   I wanted to get something we could play together as a family.  

THAT one. Pic swiped from

Kidlet is waaaay too interested in video games like Roblox, and watching loud, hyperactive teenagers play Roblox games on Youtube: "Hey, FELLAHS!  WassUP?"  These kinds of entertainment feed off her negative emotions and ADHD, like some kind of Star Trek: The Original Series entity.
Like from "The Naked Time" or....
Pics from
So anyway, I would really like to get my kid playing tabletop D&D, boardgames, or anything unrelated to the accursed iPad.  

Did Dungeon! do the trick?  Yes, for a while.  Then ADHD overcame attention span.  But we've tried two times so far and we'll try playing it again sometime soon.  Still, there's the nagging feeling, "Dungeon! is fine but when will she be ready to play the real thing, ie. Holmes Basic?"

Earlier this year I took her to see the band KISS on their End of the Road Tour.  We sat around a long time in the arena, then watched the opening act - a speed painter- then sat around an interminable length of time before a voice boomed out: "YOU WANT THE BEST?  YOU GOT THE BEST!" and then "Detroit Rock City" busted out and there were fireworks.  It was cool for that song, but then my kid was saying, "I hope you're not mad, Daddy, but I want to go home..."  I wasn't mad at all.  She had lost the earplugs I gave her during the rock-and-roll speed painter, and so I had given her mine, but the high volume of KISS reverberating in the craptastic tin can acoustics of the Target Center was making her kid's body physically sick.  I had brought fully-over-the-ear headphones for her to further protect her ears, but the music was buffeting her sternum and guts. Besides, I was feeling the loss of my own pair of earplugs.

But even from the beginning of the evening, an unspoken pissed-off grumbling kept echoing off the inside of my skull:"I wish I could have taken her to see Gwar instead, and not in a basketball stadium."  So anyway, Dungeon! is a better substitute for D&D with families than KISS is for Gwar, but you'll still wish everyone was able to play D&D.

Picture 1 of 5
The most un-rock-n-roll $20 souvenir EVER!  I drink coffee out of it, and my kid drinks milk out of it with a straw and blows bubbles.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Czech "Witch-Burning" night is thinly-Christianized Pagan ritual (and excuse to party on hilltops)


April 30th is the eve of the festival of St. Valburga, called Walpurgisnacht or Hexennacht by  Germans.  Hexennacht means "Witches' Night".  As noted by Tim S. Brannan   and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe  on this night, evil witches are supposed to convene their Sabbath on the summit of the Brocken in Thuringia.  

The Church was eager to establish a feast day for St. Valburga (Walpurgis) close to the time of this opposing holiday, on May 1st, because the saint was a staunch missionary among the still-pagan Germans of the 8th Century and because of her reputed efficacy in battling witchcraft.

In the Czech Republic, the sometimes-celebrated holiday is called Čarodějnice ("Witches") or Pálení čarodějnic ("Burning of Witches").  Crude effigies of witches are burned in large bonfires on hilltops.  Supposedly the bonfires ward off witches and associated evil spirits. Of course, up until the present day many young people celebrate this holiday just as an excuse to meet in natural areas, drink, and party.

It's easy to see a pagan ritual with a thin veneer of Christianity covering it.  The "witch" effigy is actually Morana the ancient Slavic goddess of winter and death.  Burning her effigy is symbolic triumph of Spring over Winter and Life over Death, a drama which Czechs have been enacting seasonally since long before conversion to Christianity.

During the Nazi occupation in World War II, and under the Communist regime of 1948-1989, Čarodějnice activities were suppressed.  My first host family in Prague described how unstructured, youth-driven sports like skateboarding were anathema to the old regime. Imagine how incensed the authorities would be toward these rowdy ancient traditions that involve nature, huge bonfires, effigies, and Christian and pagan elements.

Often the hilltop sites of today's bonfire celebrations, such as Petřín hill, were formerly "pagan paradises" where the ancient Czechs kindled sacrificial fires amidst clearings in the groves.  Centuries after Bohemia was converted, these fires were supposed to spontaneously ignite at random times.  People peered into the flames and saw the faces of their pre-Christian ancestors, or pagan deities dressed in ancient clothing, or devils.  Old people felt their rheumatism improved if they warmed their bones around the mysterious fires.

Image result for neprakta prag voller
There's a better picture by Neprakta of the devilish faces in the fires, but I'm too lazy to scan it
I don't know if you are inspired to create gaming content out of all of the preceeding, but I hope you'll be inspired to get life-content out of the following: May 1st, besides the Labor Day meaning emphasized from 1948-1989, can be a powerfully pagan-ish (or just fun) holiday for Czechs.  If they are willing and able, they smooch under blossoming cherry trees.  Like getting smacked in the butt with a pomlazka switch, getting smooched under the flowering trees is supposed to "keep women from drying up" and "keep them feeling young and beautiful" in the coming year.

Image result for polibek 1 máj
The original Karel Hynek Mácha wrote the most famous Czech romantic lyric poem starting with "It was late in the evening on the First of May/An evening in May - the time of love..."


Monday, April 22, 2019

Czech Pagan Rites of Spring Underneath Layers of Christianity and Atheism

Inline image

Pomlázka... Easter Monday
The Czech Lands, especially the countryside, quietly simmer with thinly-Christianized pagan traditions that survived centuries of religious turmoil and Communist promotion of atheism and sports.  Easter Monday is a beautiful hot mess of these traditions.

Boys buy (or make) plaited willow pomlázka switches and go from door to door, especially in small, long-established villages. 

Very young boys go around with their parents like Halloween trick-or-treating and politely chant a doggerel poem, threatening hitting with their switches unless eggs are handed over: "Hody, hody, dobra vody!  Give me some eggs, painted or at least white."

When I lived in a big apartment building soon after arriving in Prague, I answered tentative knocks on my apartment door: some kids and their grandmother were going door to door on Easter Monday.  I thought: "Oh, yeah!  I've heard of this!  This is that folk tradition thing!" So I listened to their unison-chanted doggerel spiel, thoroughly confused them by asking them to tap my wrist with their switches (I hadn't heard or understood the tradition correctly), and gave them apples (didn't have any eggs in the apartment at the time).

High school and college-aged boys, however, chase young women around in earnest.  They demand eggs or a shot of schnapps and spank the girls' butts with their switches if they don't get any.  This is a Freudian field day, these thinly-veiled pagan fertility rites of spring: the long willow switches, the girls' surrender of eggs.  Supposedly, getting hit with the pomlázka switches makes girls prettier and rejuvenated ("omladit") for every time they are smacked on the butt. My Czech ex's mother used to ask me to smack her on Easter Monday, as well as my girlfriend, for this rejuvenating effect.

Neuteče. Koledníci z kyjovska na lovu. | na serveru | aktuální zprávy
This photo came from an article in the Lidovy Noviny newspaper site: "Is Pomlázka a Cute Tradition or Barbaric Custom?" Photo credit: Jiří Salik Sláma of Mafra media
In many villages, the young women get revenge by soaking the boys with buckets of water, thus "wilting" their willow switches.  "Ahem!  Dr. Freud... Dr. Freud... Paging Dr. Freud!"  In some villages, girls chase boys back with their own switches, either on Easter Monday or the next day or in a leap year.

Photo by Dušan Skala at
 So anyway, I hope you, dear readers, and your families have been doing well on Passover and/or Easter and are doing well on Easter Monday and/or Earth Day.

As for gameable content- that's up to you to sift out of this post!  Maybe something in a general folklore or folk horror or Dark Pastoral vein. Neoclassical Geek Revival did the Krampus-inspired adventures.  Chris Kutalik did Slumbering Ursine Dunes .  What folk tradition beautiful weirdness can you write up?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Non-Sequiturs and then Meaning

Made by me with substantial help from G. B. Piranesi's Carceri; additional inspiration from Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now
Pardon me for the fuzziness and non-sequiturs - I don't feel that great, have to work second shift soon, and the rain is making a sound like slow chewing and swallowing outside.

I just finished reading my friend's 177-page novel-in-progress.  It's very difficult to focus and give decent critique.  My hat is off to those who can and do: Bryce Lynch , Melan , Prince of Nothing , Ynas Midgard among others. 

I am also grateful and amazed at the energy and sincere interest people like Zach of Zenopus Archives , Jeremy Frothsof of Thought Eater, Alex Schroeder who compiles Old School RPG Planet bring to spotlight other people's creative work.

James Smith  of  Dreams of Mythic Fantasy was one of these people with a true enthusiasm in encouraging others' creativity.  As of April 2019, his family needs help with funeral costs.  Like me, and many people I know, he had no life insurance or decent savings.  See this post from his family on his blog for a link to Paypal where you can donate if you are willing and able.