Thursday, 2 April 2020

[finished](Annual) map giveaway

(Apologies for frequent edits)
In times of G+ (which I still miss) I used to do once-per-year giveaway of some clumsily-made sketchbooks; if people wanted to pay for shipping, I added painted maps to it. This year I am just giving away maps because I hope that the slim letter has better chances to be delivered in timely manner than a more bulky parcel. In the light of this, the map will be shipped for no cost to you, unless you want a more expensive shipping with tracking numbers and such.

Please leave a comment first on which map you want and email your shipping address to cryptic_pale at protonmail com next. All addresses will be kept confidential and will be deleted once the item is delivered. Notes on current shipping situation are at the end of the post.

In this post the maps are photographed, not scanned, so colours and reflections might be slightly off, especially on mostly-metallic ones:

"Chaos Grass"; watercolours, gel pen, coloured pencils; ~9.5cm x 12cm (~3.75in x 5in)

"Coral Mountains", watercolour and watercolour metallics, gel pen; ~12.5cm x 9.5cm (~5in x 3.75in)
"Silvertine Coast", watercolour and watercolour metallics, gel pen; ~12.5cm x 8.5cm (~5in x 3.25in) - it doesn't photograph well due to silver underlay but it looks better in reality.

"Whispering Desert", watercolour, gel pen; ~12.5cm x 8.5cm (~5in x 3.25in)

As of now, all North American deliveries should be slower but (mostly) are assured. International shipping is severely interrupted and, as of the time of the writing, the postal carrier only delivers to Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Curacao, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Holy See, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Korea South Republic, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, St. Pierre and Miquelon, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, Vietnam and Zambia. According to the latest available discoveries, the virus doesn't survive during the shipping.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Doppelganger language

Jonathan Newell just posted a new very big and complex map and mentioned, in a comments, a doppelganger city. Doppelgangers are rarely given an opportunity to have their own culture, mostly presented as monsters here to steal your identity instead of creating their own, but if they do have their own city, what kind of language they might have there? I know nothing of actual Idolum, but it is an interesting thought to think about. 

In many systems as they are portrayed, a doppelganger and other similar shapeshifters of fluid form are given the Common language as a base and often no full telepathy (although they can detect surface thoughts in some worlds). But if the creature possesses the ability to change so much about their body why should they be constrained by somebody's else language, spoken in a standardized audible range?

With ability to transform, the doppelganger language is doppelganger themselves, they 'speak' by changing their body or, more often, the parts of their body, to convey a meaning in the way other people create specific tremblings in air or draw certain lines to communicate. Early DG language was, probably, quite literal – change to a wolf-creature if you 'speak' about wolves – but later it became both more symbolic and much more complex, including shifts in colour, texture, scents, temperature, audible and visual range capabilities to a degree, as well as shape, form and appearance, using the whole world as their language components. With no need to rely purely on the audible component to 'speak', and the natural inclination for doppelgangers to infiltrate, I think it was, at least initially, a silent language, relying on visual (and, in close proximity, textural) changes more than on audible ones, but even without a sound the DG language at its height could be incredibly byzantine. 

In structural sense, the language can be seen as logographic (pictographic in early stages), with difference that each 'written'/'spoken' part of it is the cascade of changes the goppelganger themselves assumes. It probably also has several forms – at least one that is 'common people' version and is more like a quick sign language or huntspeech with only a few bodyparts and minimal changes involved, and another of highly cultured function where the whole paragraph could be condensed to a single change, and poems could be 'recited' with a single movement; the recitations of novels and sagas in this form are grand theatrics performances. If doppelganger society grows past 'oral' traditions (which, I think, would be much stronger for them than for cultures with just audible language) and come to a need to preserve the information externally, DG might have a simplified 'static' written form for the first type, and some highly ornamented multi-coloured-ink calligraphy 'static' written form for the second type, which still won't convey the language whole complexity and beauty, given how many more layers 'live' version might have.
Depending how much the setting allows them to change, red and white flowers could be doppelgangers too; photo from Equal Wedding Japan


Doppelganger language is possible for the outsider to learn, but impossible to 'speak' without some kind of ability to either transform the "speaker's" own body fluidly or, at least, have an active illusion that mimics such transformations (such as 'Change Self' spell). Spells such as 'Comprehend Languages' and 'Tongues' won't translate 'live' DG as the language of change isn't isn't actually written, and whatever audible ('spoken') components it has are meaningless without the rest of the changes adding to them, so translating them by magic would be like translating a written word with about 90% of its strokes missing; in its complexity, to observing non-shapeshifters, it has more similarities to a code, and this is just when doppelgangers aren't trying to intentionally 'speak' in code, or poetic, or making a double entendre jokes. Written forms are more rudimentary than 'live' forms, so even with spells the translations from written forms will lose whatever subtlety they have.

The danger for DG as to a language is in its own complexity; if the city comes under a strong outsider cultural influence, (as it often happens in the real life) younger doppelgangers might adopt the other language as their native one because it is so much easier to learn and also gives them more social mobility with the other, now dominant culture, while DG language might be seen as outdated, inefficient, pompous or, depending on a new regime, dangerous to exhibit. Simple telepathy is even more efficient, so in the settings where doppelgangers have telepathy, such DG language won't develop due to the lack of need.

On another hand, because it is rare and difficult to understand by magic, it might be used specifically to convey secret messages, similar to Native Americans code-talkers in WW2.

* * *
On a more general thought, to function the DG city needs some kind of stable infrastructure but with everybody being able to mimic anybody else (nothing, technically, prevents a doppelganger to assume an innate shape of another doppelganger) the importance of external, preferably unforgeable  symbols for important city positions is bigger than for a regular society. Assuming that doppelgangers are still individuals, with their ability to change almost everything about themselves, if they don't have no innate capabilities to recognize each other under such change (*) the masks of the office can become literally more important than the people who is currently inhabiting them; 'becoming a mask', i.e. assuming a certain specific mindset required to fit into a certain governing ability is, probably, on a job description for most of position of importance for DG city, and whatever the everyday life in such city could be, the official structure could be seen as just one endless theatrical performance by the outsiders.

(*) and if they do, it will take just one captive and/or tortured and/or brainwashed doppelganger to create a cadre of a 'drug-sensing dogs' to find all the others of their people in the vicinity, so they probably don't have such ability; 'True Seeing' spell discovers doppelgangers but it is high end spell of limited duration (and expensive to make into a multitude of items) and so not as efficient.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Diegetics of 'Ryuutama' Seasonal Dragons

One of the three interesting things that 'Savage World (Deluxe edition)' did when I read it first time, was to provide a page of quick optional rules that tweak the mechanics of SW in different ways. By combining these quick rules it is much easier to emulate a certain genre, such as pulp fiction, where heroes never die, or more gory barbarian tales.
Optional rules are nothing new but it was the first time when I saw them assembled in one place in corebook with clear purposes to give DM optional rules as their own genre/mood construction kit. I think more games and systems should do something similar from the start, instead of having optional rules scattered through the whole rulebook.

The other game where this idea is used even more than in 'Savage World' is 'Ryuutama': the cutesy, feel-good game about traveling through the unknown vibrant world, writing travelogues and, by the ways of its spirit world ecosystem, literally expanding said world by feeding said travelogues to seasonal dragons.

There two diegetic loops that exist in 'Ryuutama', one smaller and one bigger. Smaller loop is that travelogues exist both as PC-written documents in-world and an actual gaming chronicle for players. Despite my earlier fears, players don't actually need to write a lot of text (although they certainly can if they want), but the chronicle of who travelled, and to where, and what happened there is recorded for both PCs and players as a part of the gameplay. Both these documents enhance the life of participants in- and out-of-world: for PCs by literally expanding their world and making it more vibrant through abovementioned growth of seasonal dragons, and for players by levelling the special DM character called 'Ryuujin' (Dragon-person, RJ for short).

The second loop is directly tired to this Ryuujin, who is, in-world, presented as an intermediate link between the seasonal dragons and the travellers, between both the spiritual and the material, a being insubstantial and obscured everywhere except their own places of power and rare occasional moments they can manifest; the observer, the helper and, occasionally, the trickster or the adversary.

In-world Ryuujin are supposed to unnoticeably guide the party and influence the travel, so the resulting in-world travelogue would be a better nutrition for the seasonal dragon the Ryuujin is dedicated to, and that dragon, in turn, will make the world bigger and better. Out-of-world, the Ryuujin is the special DM character, and the number of travelogues finished by any particular group serves as XP for Ryuujin leveling progression.

Looks tasty; artwork from 'Ryuutama' corebook
Unlike other NPCs (which DM can still use just like in any other game), Ryuujin have their own rules of generation, their own powers and their own limitation in the form of Artifacts, Benedictions and Reveil. It is in those Artifacts and Benedictions (less so in Reveil) that the 'Savage World' page of optional rules comes to mind, because each RJ's Artifacts and Benedictions are simultaneously sets of out-of-world rules that affect the game in four different thematic ways, and are actual artifacts and spells the Ryuujin casts and uses within the game world, and which could be, presumably, stolen, lost or otherwise thwarted.

Each Ryuujin is dedicated to one of four seasonal dragons: Green of adventure and exploration, Azure of relationships and human drama, Crimson of battles and competitions, and Black of secrets, betrayals and tragedies – thus the Artifacts and Benedictions each Ryuujin gets reflect that theme both in-world and out-of-world terms. With leveling up, more of those Artifacts and Benedictions become available, and the Ryuujin with more powers changes the longer-going campaign by introducing new rules and influences as it unfolds. In this way DM can calibrate how difficult they can make a longer lasting campaign or where they want to take it, and this makes the campaign less uniform at its length.

Some of the Artifacts and Benedictions (i.e. changes they make) are odd to me, not by what they do but because in 'Ryuutama' they are the part of codified system of what is usually is just assumed to be there. For example, Encyclopedia artifact specifies that 'You are running the game using the rules as written.' which in a usual game would be just something DM says to the players ('I use RAW'), but here this is the part of the limits imposed onto DM through the Ryuujin; simultaneously it is also the actual magical encyclopedia RJ has and which might be stolen or lost. Longspear artifact '[...] determines in the setting that all the PCs are members of an army, and they are traveling in order to fulfill a mission for that army.' which, again, commonly will be something that decided by DM and players just because they'd like to play this way this time, but here is a part of the limited thematic options. Some Artifacts have more mechanical use such as Crystal from Azure Dragon ('All of the PCs can survive damage that reduces them as far as -20 HP.') which makes less deadly the game which is all about relationships and connections, and where losing a character could be more frustrating than in other themes. There are about three Artifacts per theme, but as Ryuujin levels up/the campaign goes on, they can level up into Artifact from a different theme, creating a mash-up of rules and moods.

Some artifacts from the same theme are contradictory by nature
Benedictions (and, to the lesser extend, Reveils) are a 'spell-rules', using for occasion and with more limited, immediate effect; some can be used for free in level-defined but limited number of slots, and others can be 'cast' on fly from RJ's (very limited) lifepoints, with possibility of death from overusing. As such, in neither way Benedictions are cast left and right on a whim, but they warp in-world reality/game mechanics in certain way when they come to play.

Some general ones, such as Misfortune ('Declare that the dice all come up as “1s” on a check.') simply affect dice rolls; more specific ones, such as The Tale of Nostalgia from Green Dragon ('If the PCs roleplay having nostalgia for home, they can ignore all negative effects of mind-based status effects for the rest of the session; this affects up to two PCs at once if they meet the conditions.') usually affect roleplay and gameplay at the same time, giving mechanical benefits for PCs' roleplaying action which encourage a related theme. Even more strange are Ritual Benedictions which come to play only after the seasonal dragon first matures and Ryuujin maxes the level (meaning experienced DM) – such as Ritual of Sleep ('If a player falls asleep in the middle of the session, their PC realizes that they lost their wallet. Their money decreases by their character level times d6 times 100G. [...]) which creates an in-world feedback for the player character for out-of-world player's direct actions, skipping the roleplaying part.

I am not sure if it creates more fun or paranoia at the table
'Ryuutama' is the only game I know with both very traditional game mechanic (HPs, to hit, classes, encumbrance etc) and codification of more narrative elements (together with group-created world, more typical to storygames). As a result, you can discuss anything that Ryuujin does and has both in-world and out-of-world in equal measure.

How to (possibly) use it
Returning to the page from 'Savage World' where all rules are just a kit to assemble as DM wishes, Four Dragons (whom I rename as Exploration, Connections, Challenges and Secrets) all follow strong themes, but the ability to cross-contaminate their Artifacts and Benedictions still opens up all kinds of interesting combinations. Despite 'Ryuutama' setup as heart-warming game, with some tweaking and/or renaming in Artifacts it is quite easy to run a darker game, especially because codewords for Secrets are "Intrigue, Betrayal, Solving mysteries, Assassination, Tragedy, Madness, Decay, Aesthetics, Deduction, Suspense, Madness, Fear, Confusion, Depravity, The Criminal Underworld, Gambling" already – and one of its artifacts, Dagger is "Once per journey, an NPC can die. No roll required." Going from there to run travel through the mind like "Yume Nikki" or post-apocalyptic world like "Lisa the Painful" is very much possible. Human connections could be involuntary, and Ring artifact could be portrayed as a collar or a link of chain: cross Challenges with Connection with Secrets to get something like dark fantasy of 'Berserk'. 

Four Dragons can be thematically tied to Tarot (because pretty much anything with symbolic base of four can be tied to Tarot, I suspect) and, re-skinned this way, with Major Arcana playing the role of Artifacts and Benedictions, genre-mood/rules system can be laid off more flat and accessible like 'Savage World' rules, while also using out-of-world gameplay of card dealing, shuffling and so on; it can be utilized for games set in some kind of chaos, be it an actual Warp, a dream or a wicked mind; it can be interesting to try it as a subsystem for running through unstable planar travels in moorcockian multiverse or in Reflections from 'Chronicles of Amber', for example.  

What about running such sub-system of theme rules in UltraViolet Grasslands, to reflect the strangeness of the travel into more and more unknown areas?

Step-by-step introduction of artifacts tied to RJ level can create twists in campaign on both narrative and gameplay level, but the limitations set onto DM through the RJ character's limitations, and leveling up of RJ along with levelling up of the PCs prevents rampant pile-up of such twists. As many things about 'Ryuutama', I am finding it all quite fascinating and wish I could run it to the length to see how it works in actual play.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

So, you want to be a Ghost Detective?

(long and loose world- and mechanics- wireframe about how to play a detective who is trying to put ghosts to rest; more broad strokes and words than actual solutions and mechanics. Intended for one-player game, hopefully to be tried this summer)

It is a difficult job, bad hours, in shitty conditions. The only thing you'd have going for you is the knowledge you are doing some good but even this is arguable.

But you notice changes in street signs, an old paint returning to modern walls, vacant-eyes people in a few blocks radius speaking in archaic tones, smiling outdated smiles, going in routes as if half-asleep, more automatic than they usually are. You notice all that, and you realize that there is a ghost somewhere at the epicenter of all of this, a clot of death and self-delusion, and that it won't go away without taking somebody's life.

Echo Dawn didn't touch you as much as the others: you are still able to care, even about the strangers. So you go in. You go in and you try to decipher illusions and lies, to find the clues, to establish lost connections, to recover the truth from under distortion the ghost pours from within itself – so you can face the ghost and make it face this truth, and break it wide open with this truth, and then make it go away.
Hopefully in time, before the ghost kills yet again.
You don't have much time. You never have much time.

Ghola lifar and the ghost cycle
Ghola lifar, stage 5, modern times; art from "Grim Legends 3"

Ghosts bring their own twisted reality with them – the world-as-it-should-be according to their self-delusion. It starts small – a room, a basement, a building, a detail forgotten here and there, a vulnerable person acting oddly – but with current apathy it is rarely detected until it's about the size of the neighbourhood, spilling beyond closed doors and starting to be noticeable to passerby.
Such furuncle with the ghost as its spiritual centre is ghola lifar. Breaking it by 'resolving' the ghost is the main task of Ghost Detective. Failing to break it causes the ghost to become more rooted in death and self-delusion, and as a result the reality-changing effects of ghola lifar become wider-reaching, and stronger, and even more difficult to break, up to the point that beyond the fifth loop the reality of this particular piece of the world no longer can be re-established: ghola lifar ripens and both it and the ghost become permanent.

Initially ghosts are manifesting in semi-cyclical way – as they manifest, they start re-living the pieces of their life they see as important, nudging softly and, later, enforcing bluntly the re-enactment of these events on the wider and wider scale, involving more and more bystanders to act as extras in the theatre of ghost's fragmented life. Such 'performances' unavoidably lead to more death as the ghost nears the finale of their (rarely peaceful) conclusion, and, if not resolved in time, the story ends to start repeating again in a little while, only now in a stronger ghola lifar and with more and more power over people in it.

People inside of ghola lifar are sleepwalkers. When it is weak they go around doing their own business, and the only change happens when it is touches on the ghost-related matters: usually indifference, callousness, forgetfulness and general unhelpfulness. They won't call the police, they won't leave, there is no reason to worry, and with Echo Dawn touching upon almost everybody, they are half-asleep enough as they are, sticking to their own little grooves, and going their own little routes, discussing their own little news, always complacent and calm. In early stages of ghola lifar the ghost doesn't control them directly, but they adopt mannerisms and habits from related era without even being aware what they do; if this is pointed directly, they dismiss it as a quirk, defend it is a 'fashion' or ignore it altogether; a few might be shaken enough to leave, but only a few. Prepare for all kinds of excuses: people are great when explaining things they cannot really explain. At the later states they are mentally warped to the point that they obey the ghost and the 'role' the ghola lifar assigns them without a thought, becoming conceptual zombies. When ghola lifar ripens, they permanently lose their identity to become people the ghost sees them as and wishes them to be.

Along with people, the environment itself changes – on a surface level at first (calendars show a different year, tree is back after it was cut, previous shop sign returns over the new one) but it progressively becomes more and more as the world-as-it-is from the ghost's point of view. Fifth stage ghola lifar could be twisted reflection of Boston in 30s with almost no indication that the world outside is something else. A major side-effect important to Ghost Detective is that what ghost wishes not to remember or remembers wrongly, becomes more obscured as far as it can spiritually reach: archives burn, servers crash, mementos get lost, photographs fade, coffee spills on unwanted names and people forget. Initially it only affects things connected to the ghost directly, but when ghola lifar grows enough its reach becomes stronger and touches on even unrelated things, along with general change in its reality.

You would think people would care, but inside ghola lifar people won't and then can't, and outside of ghola lifar people capable to care about strangers after Echo Dawn usually have their hands full already. Ghola lifar remains relatively small in scale spatially even as it comes to full power, and, being self-absorbed on a ghost's life story, rarely Causes Troubles to those far enough outside, so if there is no complains, nobody is going to go anything. There usually no complains.

Ghola lifar is also a place of the great comfort for the ghost. However horrific and distorted it might be to the detective, it is still a protective blanket of the world-as-it-should be for the ghost itself. This is why initially the ghost is calm and concerned only with playing out their own story, regarding you as just one of the sleepwalkers. This is why as the investigation escalates and you start digging into things left buried, the ghost becomes more and more aware of what you doing, and thus, more and more aggravated: whatever self-delusion it built for itself, you are taking it apart with your questions and your discoveries, you break into the grand performance of its own Life Where Everything Is Right and toss proverbial rotten tomatoes on the stage. No ghost ever takes it kindly. Before they are able to face the truth, it will always come to pain.

The hostage
Amidst sleepwalkers there is usually a hostage: a living human who is kidnapped by the ghost and is forced to be the centerpiece in the dramatic re-enactment, playing a role of a lover, or a victim, or sworn enemy. The hostage might be related to the past events – directly, tangentially or as a few-generations-later relative – or they just might look vaguely similar to the important somebody, or they might be just a random person, as it is often true in late-stage 'performances'. Point is, they are most aware person in the whole situation – wide awake in the ghost realm, heck, even in the apathetic world itself – but are controlled and confined by the ghost into doing its bidding.

They die at the end. Hostages always die at the end, and ghost goes away for a little while but soon returns with ghola lifar grown even more powerful, more reaching, more ripe than before. This is how such place propagates: on death and enforcement of false memory. For all your remaining compassion, however difficult it is to do, you have to save the hostage. For their sake but also yours.

You were a hostage once too. You remember all too well how it is to be utterly alone, helpless and terrified by something you have no understanding of, forced into a role that is not your cause or fault. Somebody – a stranger – pulled you out of it, risking their life. This is how it all started. Play it forward.

Mirror-wrights
Power within power; art from 'Magnetic Rose'
As ghola lifar grows and festers, people become what the ghost wants them to be: unaware actors on the stage, fully dedicated to the unfolding performance. If the ghost concentrates, it can control some amounts of zombies as their physical arms, into doing things in the physical world, but these people are still living humans and do as living humans do; the worst harm they can do is a gun or with fire, with known human means. They are still no smarter than humans are, and can be fooled. They can be harmed as humans can be harmed as well, but each death makes ghola lifar stronger, so better to go with fooling.

Mirror-wrights appear as the situation escalates to the conclusion (or from the start on forth and fifth stages) to guard the ghost's most precious truths, each one as their own little guard dog king in their own little guard dog kingdom. They are fully aware what is going on, but adopt the roles of people the ghost wants them to be with enthusiastic dedication – usually the one of ghost's trusted friends and wise advisors, cohorts and authoritarian figures (or, occasionally, monsters, executors or boogeyman), molding and mirroring themselves to move the grand performance forward as required.

Their reach is mercifully short – a building, a scene, a cell – and they cannot move far from their place, but like boil within boil their powers are amplified to the point they may establish their own laws drastically different from what the reality is, even taking into account the whole mess of ghola lifar itself. From flames that cannot be extinguished and locks that cannot be broken, to words that can only express the past or a riddle, to the extra moon moving along with hands of the clock.
Mirror-wrights have supernatural powers and are most dangerous opponents: facing them unprepared means death or a terrible, unending curse. What they are and where they come from is difficult to know – their minds are twisted, their tongues are mocking – but just before being banished they occasionally sigh for the 'Black Sea below', and this is all that is known.

Resolving a ghost
The violence is rarely an option. You are outnumbered by sleepwalkers, and overpowered by mirror-wrights, and there is no outside help. Occasionally you can enlist a help of another person who is similarly awake, but they are going to be on a verge of exhaustion from their own work, and, while they can offer a pair of eyes and a good advice, they rarely can come to help guns blazing. And guns don't help against ghosts or mirror-wrights anyway.

You can interrupt the 'performance' on a wide scale, usually by causing a huge fire or another calamity grand enough to endanger many of sleepwalkers' lives; in direct and immediate danger they will awake enough to flee and maybe break free entirely. It can halt the performance and even revert first- or second-stage ghola lifar. But hostage is usually unable to leave and dies, and on latter stages conceptual zombies don't care much about their well-being, with their will subverted so much they will keep finding excuses to remain in burning building but not to break 'the role' if this suits the ghost. Aside of collateral damage, such tactic and the following death toll usually escalates the ghola lifar into fifth stage immediately, or, rarely, even beyond that.

So your only reasonable solution is to hit the weakest spot – the ghost itself, the spiritual anchor of this whole mess – by discovering what really happened, and connecting all the clues, and eliminating all contradictions, and asking all painfully uncomfortable questions nobody wants to hear. If ghost remembers their life as it actually was and are unable to wiggle away into some other explanation, they break open, and are resolved, and pass on to whatever place they have to go, and the ghola lifar heals back into reality with people usually none of the wiser to what just happened.

Told you this wasn't a very rewarding job – barely anybody remembers anything to say thanks.
But the world is slightly less twisted at the end, and true dawn maybe slightly closer.

Barebones mechanics
1) Decide on your appearance, name and such.

2) Your stats are curiosity, compassion, courage and constitution. Unless modified by background, you assumed to be of average human physical capabilities.

Curiosity helps you to find the truth, to get to the answers faster. Compassion, the gift of open heart, helps to make connections easier. You need courage to make progress, and good constitution helps to endure the pain when events, inevitably, come to pain.

Roll 4d6 discard the lowest four times, in order. You can either reroll one stat, or switch two of them.

Your Life equals to your Constitution score; when Life is zero, you are either dead or worse.
Your Vitality, the resilience to all kinds of pain and hardships, equals to Courage + Compassion; when Vitality is zero, the pain is too much and you start losing Life. You can lose Life directly as well.
Vitality heals overnight fully or, in lesser way, by passing time.
Life heals only in hospitals, usually in days if not months. If you have to heal Life in the middle of the investigation, you usually lose too much time to save the hostage.

3) Roll or chose your background (>possible backgrounds) and personal items or connections to help you along the way (>more tables).
4) Optionally: roll or chose an office (>possible offices) as means of downtime research and recovery.

Principles I
The dungeon is ghola lifar: rooms are buildings or areas of interest, hallways are streets; although it is more point-crawl than a dungeon, on a scale of the neighbourhood or a city.

True memories, hard facts, unearthed secrets are treasures. In the world of distortions they are very valuable to resolve the ghost. Outside research is never clear and complete due to the nature of the ghost; it might be still helpful but it also takes time to conduct.
There is no Intelligence or Perception stat to roll, so all conclusions and observations has to be done by the player(s).

Truth also serve as defense – the more facts are established the higher the figurative AC is, although some facts could be used for defense only limited amount of time(s).

Some items found within ghola lifar work as one-use spells-or-potions to help you progress.

Detective attacks with questions – and all important questions use their own Vitality so player has to think about what they ask (like in "Speaking with dead" spell, which in a way, it is), but if the question catches on contradiction, exposes the fact or otherwise pieces through obfuscation, the next question is free (similar to Persona 5 attack into a weakness, and somewhat similar to Phoenix Wright court procedures). Technically you can ask as many questions as you want but without imbue of Vitality they are unable to break sleepwalkers' stasis and you get some platitude of no-answers.

(I think it is possible to re-purpose Feint-Block-Evade-Attack-Lunge and similar fighting techniques for interrogation)

Principles II
Investigations are on clock – time passes, usually in 10 min intervals for such actions as to search the room through or to change the location noticeably. It is 3+1d4 days until the ghost 'performance' is over and the hostage is dead. To recover Vitality fully you need at least 6 hours of sleep or 4 hours of sleep with a hit to one random stat. Taking short breaks restores a bit here and there. Some items might help too.

There is an escalation mechanics (re-purposed Chaos Index): the ghost starts in a calm state and the more disturbance to them and their cozy ghola world there is, the more it is aware and aggressive. It cannot do much on its own but it can direct zombies, influence sleepwalkers and assign mirror-wrights. Ghost isn't as much of a stand-alone monster as an environment or a weather that comes to hate the intruder detective.

It is possible to de-escalate the ghost or to learn more about their life by playing along with its performance up to certain degree but the risk here is losing yourself or running out of time.

Final confrontation:
- Assemble evidence
- Bear through ghost's rage
- Present your case
- If successful, bid final farewell
- Go home and get some rest

Possible campai(g)n
All these words are, technically, for one-shot game but, equally technically, Ghost Detective could level up on a number of ghosts successfully resolved and maybe gets some powers, connections or insights on their own up to some helpful magical familiar or actual arcanoi powers of their own.

For the added grimness and darkness, track the number of ghosts not successfully resolved as a separate 'levelling' progression of World Is Getting Worse.

There might be actual treasure unearthed to help to pay the rent, but probably nothing beyond ordinary lifestyle.

XP is used to point-buy more mundane abilities, one-shot preparations (treat as spells/gear) and/or raise stats, similar to World of Darkness. On a longer run, each year Ghost Detective loses a point from (randomly chosen) Compassion, Curiosity and Courage, just like the rest of the world does, until such stats hit the minimum of 7, the world average. The world isn't a good place right now. Maybe it can be resolved?

Examples and variations
Any sufficiently progressed ghola lifar (stage 4 and 5) merges into playing a dungeon as a travel through a mind or dungeon as a travel through a dream, as such place bleeds so much of the ghost's preferences, memories and perspective (all distorted) into the real world it becomes difficult to tell them apart.

As such, few other ideas could be re-skinned for ghost investigation:

> Tower of High Art: Ghola lifar presents itself as a magical tower which keeps the world from apocalypse by sacrifice of the chosen few individuals to keep the magical seal on Evil intact; each sacrifice's life then become a floor in a growing tower, immortalizing their contribution with pictures and significant items. In reality, the ghost is a serial killer and the 'tower' is their crime string, with their victims being sacrifices, and seal is their realization of their own nature.

> Garden of Magnetic Rose: based upon extremely good short SF animated story (somehow not yet adapted for Mothership) it might utilize depth mechanics to emulate the environment, and ghost to take place of AI.

> Dark Ashen Souls: "Dark Souls 3"-like land as an extreme example of distorted grieving. It is less about detective work through questioning, but more about detective work through connecting what is already there from treasure found and sights seen (as so much of actual lore-hunting in DS-games does). Areas serve as monsters, with their "attacks" taking form of separate creatures which die in one hit (for example, something like Undead Settlement will have first attack as 'dogs rush at you', second as 'few gaunts with touches lunge at you', third attack "evangelists breathes fire at you" and so on); defeating such 'monster' means that the character made progress through the area and mastered it enough so it isn't a problem on subsequent run through. Mirror-wrights take place of bosses.

> Options: for more than a single player game there might be classes; there might be options of no downtime available for harsher play or no clock/no hostage for softer play; or being a wright themselves for more of WoD Oblivion inclination.

-------------
I used to have a very low opinion on Hidden Object Games: they are glittery, they are saccharine, they are shallow, simple, cliche, full of repetitive simple puzzles, badly made characters and threadbare story. And they still all of those things but occasionally there are interesting moments in them (such as mirror-wrights and tower that grows floors from sacrifices) that it is currently my favourite place to discover some unexpected interesting details, some interesting shadow-settings.

And if to think about it, the world in such games is the world where people regularly meet all kind of supernatural – which _supposed_ to be previously unknown supernatural, the first ever confirmation in the history that supernatural actually exists – but nobody cares or even wonders about it at all, which gives that impression that the world takes a look at what is going on and then goes back to sleep, not caring in the slightest. As if bystander effect taken up to extreme apathy. As if Echo Dawn.

Aside of multitude of HOGs, this post is also inspired by "Blackwell" series, anime series "Mononoke" and "Mushishi", abovementioned "Magnetic Rose" and "Wraith: the Oblivion" to some small measure. 

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Her dream envelops us

(short post, just thoughts)
I don't always remember dreams, and even if I do, not often they have sound, much less so coherent speech, much less so coherent interesting sentences. So when somebody in the dream tells me, in perfectly calm voice "The queen chose to remain childless in order to remain immortal. All her longing manifested in oppressive and glorious architecture. Her dream envelops us." with the image shown of brutalism-like structures as if a hard carapace over intricate and ornamented interior, it becomes memorable.

I always wanted to make something that employs the depth mechanic from Emmy Allen's "The Gardens of Ynn" and "The Stygian Library", and a palace structure looks interesting, partially because it is both a place of function (the court, the apparatus, possibly other parts of power and/or bureaucracy), place of glamour (again, the court, but also a display of current era arts, fashions, crafts, etiquette at its best) and yet, it also could be a very personal space to people inside it.

Control Louvre is more of the aesthetic, because the impression the dream conveyed was of not fully human or of no-longer fully human mind that orders to build all these things, and when brutalist architecture briefly cracked, it shown some alien but fragile and rich interior.
In principle, something like that; image from agatafinecrystals


One of the few things that I like about video games is the sense of being lost in strange architecture: in games like 'Bloodboune', 'Infernium' or 'Naissance'  I wish these games were about ten times bigger because I don't have enough of such environments and explorations. This is probably why 'Blame!' and its almost endless environment is such an memorable thing, but I don't think it is practically possible to implement something like that, or even anything to scale of Imperial Palace from Warhammer 40K (which takes the area of former Himalayas) without eventually running against the limits of imagination. The matter of size and usability also a concern: maybe with some coding, nesting sub-generators within sub-generators, it is possible, but not for pen-and-paper.

In the dream the impression was given that queen's architecture envelops all of her realm, but palace, again, looks more interesting and more doable.
The difficult part is, of course, making it. The sheer scale of this kind of project looks insurmountable to me, and with difficulties to imagine fine details along with generally very slow pace, makes such idea to look impossible to implement. But finishing 'on abyss' was probably liberating in more than one sense.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

On abyss

(this is an extension of G+ post from December 2016; this is one of the longest-lingering drafts I had because, while the thought was here from the very beginning, the words didn't line up right and they, probably, don't line up in a right way still. It is also very long post.)

Worlds are not created equal
Some are precious, cohesive, detailed, with a lot of work put into them. Some are scrap worlds, a drawing on a godly napkin, a crude blueprint, a proof of concept, a prototype to test some better things to come and then to be discarded, creators' first and clumsiest attempt before any clear lines are drawn on a good reality fabric. Worlds created on a minute whim, out of boredom, out of spark of passion that fades quickly as all sparks do. For every world imbued with divine vitality, there are world insubstantial and fragmented, underdeveloped, forgotten.

Just as with any other garbage, those are tossed into a metaphysical bin and this bin eventually ends up in the landfill of multiverse. Abyss, the home of demons, is not a place of innate ultimate evil but a unmeasurable multitude of those half-baked scrap worlds from all over the universe jammed together into one another, titanic continents and laws of magic, half-created nations, insubstantial histories and barely defined creatures, all in the same garbage heap.

Heaps over heaps, newer worlds over older ones, rotting together, spreading slowly not because of  malicious intend but because that what any landfill does with time.

(That campaign that went nowhere after a couple of session. The initially big project where passion died after a couple of blogposts. A quirky funworld created from random generators without care how it all fits together. A rectangular map (one mountain range, one forest, one piece of an ocean) doodled in a boredom of waiting or to test some new paints. A thought experiment, with a few aspects fleshed out but where most everything exists as a vague idea of what it is supposed to be. A one-shot world with an illusion of history. The world created in high school, since long outgrown. One-page world, created for a contest and never remembered again. Idle worlds of free association, made in a long waiting line. One-paragraph world, in bullet-point, its gods in a tiny spreadsheet: the name, the job, the symbol, the weapon, nothing more to them. All of this drift quietly into the abyss.)

It is a huge mess, and it is endless, and in a way it is like a black hole: once a world ends there it cannot escape.

Demons of abyss often do not start as malicious. They are just unfinished denizens of their unfinished worlds, both heroes and villains equally forgotten in a dumpster where there is nothing else but other such trash and the realization of their own defective nature. Majority of demons don't even start with consciousness, as they were created, at mass, only as 'people of Broken Hills', 'elves of Two Rivers Alliance' or 'followers of Yrih' and exist more as an idea of beings than beings of actual personality, body and mind; barely a cliche to their nature, one for everybody. Such demons are barely here, faceless and insubstantial mirages, often becoming nothing more than a wind of noises.
Scar-skies are connective space between the layers, the sludge of all possible skies; screenshot from Doom
Supposed movers and shakers of abandoned realms fare both better and worse. Unlike faceless masses they have a name, a personality, a history, some skills or powers, a background history in the world that barely has any, a knowledge of what their world was supposed to be. For all respects they are actual beings: powerful wizards, kings of nations, pivotal historical figures, faction leaders, bartenders is a popular tavern, ordinary people with a role to play in the world. Unlike faceless masses who won't often discover their state unless intentionally pushed to a revelation, sooner or later such beings come to full realization of what had happened and what was done to them and their world. In abyss where the substantiality and identity are the biggest powers, they start with a lot of this power even if they were made to be just a funny blacksmith, or a scheming noble, or a scared midwife. They find that in the realms of the fragments and mirages they have their own gravity to them, and that they can shape their lands and command the winds, and elevate their aspects to the new laws of reality. They can be called anchors, for they are holding their layer together, a maelstroms, for they are affecting everything around them, but often called princes as they are most often assume the roles of rulers of the new layer because there is nobody else suitable to do what they can do. 

Abyss is endless and each of such anchor demons has their own reaction to a fact of becoming a demon, as per their personality, which shapes them further. Some are using their powers to help to save whatever they can, to adapt, to survive, even to build themselves and the realm around them anew. Some give up and retire, concerned only with their own well-being and a bubble of their own comfort. Some strike out to find the impossible cure or to escape. And some let the bitterness all of them feel to become their nature – after all, what was done to them is not their fault, this lack of care that shaped their very existence is not what they deserved, and their abandonment in the trash bin is forever. These are the most prevalent, and many of anchors who started helpful and hopeful end up this way, given enough time.

Not every place in the abyss is actual hell
Most of the new layers start the same as proper worlds, intended for living of proper beings. Continents, plants, animals, structures, civilizations (however phantom they might be) – in a fresh layer of the abyss a traveler from outside can be easily confused to think they got in a some actual world, especially because in a new layer most of demons don't yet behave as older demons do and often as confused by alien scar-skies as a traveller would. New layers rarely have a sun (for the creator rarely thinks of sustainable system for it) but there is relative abundance of moons (to the point many moons are floating between neighbouring layers at their whim or go orphan) so there is a light; there are rudimentary weather cycle, and biomes, and patches of the layer can often support an actual life.
Quiet abyssal city; art by Jacek Yerka
But because the garbage bin of the abyss is a literal mess where worlds are tossed in, where realms are jamming into one another, with newer layers piling over older ones, and older ones meshing together in a cacophony of catastrophes. From the actual continents getting stuck into one another, to principles of souls or laws of magic getting into conflict when two or more layers are near, it creates an even less stable and more grotesque mess, even more fragmented layers, even more metaphysically rotten realms. This is why so many anchors are losing hope with time: however try they may to adapt and rebuilt their layers to some point of livable coherence (however inhuman it might be), so often some another layer just crashes onto their, ruining all the work over and over again; even if they are successful, the communal rot of the abyss slowly taints and erodes what they hold dear. A few demons grow adapt of modifying their environments after each collision, finding the beauty in endless transfiguration: sculptors and surrealist poets of the landfill, taking anything and everything as their inspiration, however ugly. And because the abyss is endless, it is possible, by mere coincidence, that a layer might exist intact for a very long time, but such peace is fragile and rests on mere chance of future non-collisions. Thus there is both gentle and fierce beauty in the abyss, with mountains of amberglass reflecting necklace of moons in newer layers, fireblue rivers of older layers, and jagged absurdness of layers even older, where lands go in all directions and spider-bridges connect through scar-skies between floating crumbling islands.

Abyss is endless and it grinds under its own weight, so there is no stability in present and there is no security in future; only the newest, the most mindless or the most willfully ignorant demons don't know that. Older layers of the abyss are ground to the state of non-being-at-all; wherever they supposed to be initially or had became while in abyss later no longer can be known, even to the higher powers that initially created the first discarded demi-world. Few demons who escaped these layers are some of the oldest in abyss, and they survived either by constantly moving away or by fueling their existence at the expense of newer layers.

This is another thing that makes the abyss: demons themselves, as the older ones often raid newer, brighter, meeker layers for their substances, denizens and materials, to survive and prosper on the spoils. In the scarcity of any resource and instability of any environment, the newly abandoned layers are the only resource that abyss reliably gets, and these layers usually have at least something valuable to them. Often older demons don't even act out of malice to their fellow outcasts but everybody just wants to survive, to push whatever of their abandoned, forgotten, abortive world remained into more of the flimsy abyssal existence, to retain, whatever they can, of themselves. Some layers build alliances but with time – and abyss will always exist – eventually, each layers is all by itself and each demon is by itself. How many times through eternity any kind being can take a high road of compassion and charity if their own existence is constantly scarce and threatened? Everybody just wants to be but there is just so little to go by.

A note on divine recycling
Abyss is a prison but has no wardens. Nobody cares what becomes of a discarded world – otherwise the world wouldn't have ended as an abyss layer in the first place. As long as abyss doesn't spread out of its stinky place onto their nice lawns to cause problems most worlds don't care about demons either. For vastest majority of demons within, the abyss is inescapable simply because for them it is a black hole; on their own, very few of very old and very knowledgeable demons collect enough power to burst back into rest of the being universe. Demons can be summoned from the outside, granted the substance they lack to temporarily escape the garbage heap of their not-fully-existence; the fact that they are needed and wanted for something to do by somebody real could be enough.
Any demon can become an angel; art from Recycl'Lab
But occasionally beings of higher powers come to the edges of the abyss where the most of new layers sit, not yet too messed up, or tarnished, or rotten, and they see some ideas and pieces that appeal to them, and they offer to take the appealing piece of it out so it might serve as a piece of their actual world. Demons of newer layers still often think as normal beings they were supposed to be would think, and they feel fear as normal beings would feel fear, and are often so horrified by their circumstances that they take this angel bargain even if it always means that they are recycled and reformed to fit a new world and keep little of their original identity. Azure mages of Ilvirion with their sky-based magic might become plain-dwelling cultists of some all-father-sky; the school of swordmanship can be picked up and planted into a new history; the ruin might get an entirely new history and name while keeping their walls. Core principles remain the same upon recycling but surrounding identity changes, often molded into a new suitable form. For those who take the angel bargain such fate is often little better than death but at least something of them will exist away from the abyss, something of them will be real, and cared about, and have a place in the universe, and this is often enough of a consolation.

Exceptionally rare, even by the endless scope of the abyss, is for a higher being to adopt the layer in its entirety. To rescue it, to gently pull it out of landfill, to imbue it with thought, and care, and compassion, and respect for what the world is, to flesh out and build up all threadbare connections, to give the names, and lights, and life. Such occurrence is so rare and so very much not confirmed by any possible proofs that for demons the mere idea of such rescue comes closest to faith in miracles they can have.

Lore fragments
Lore fragment of sort; image is from Dark Souls 3
Just as some beings were made to be more than background filler, some items and places were made to be important in soon-to-be-discarded world. The local brand Excalibur, the Spindle Tower, the Book That Caused the Revolution. Such fragments give demons the glimpse in what their world (or some other layer) was supposed to be in grand design that never came to a fruition. Lore fragments have a great innate substance to themselves and are some of the most durable things in the abyss, untarnished by ambient abyssal rot and capable, in knowing hands, to stabilize vast areas around their concept of being. To great many demons, especially demon princes, these lore fragments are valuable treasures even if the items or places aren't related directly to them or their own layers; there is always something that can be traded for lore fragments, always something gained from having them. Scholarly-minded demons often build elaborate theories out of fragmented lore on what their world could have become or what their own existence was supposed to mean; some demons worship lore fragments, other simply use them as a way to a security, wealth, prestige or power. Some rarer few demons seek to destroy all lore fragments altogether, holding the view that the past that betrayed all them is not something to cling to, and demons are better without doing so instead looking on what they have now and doing their best. But even those heretics sometimes carry lore fragments to cross the most unstable parts of the abyss.

Some abyssal layers and all that is known about them.
#110, Keriola
01. Great Yori Mountain
02. Star River of Ilm
03. Roi Forests
04. Kaessa, The City Within
05. Purple Dream
06. Fields of Now
07. Tower-over-Forest
08. Waterfall crown
09. Palimon
10. Rushes
11. Abandoned Throne of Geos
12. Lasae, moonshadow ridge and sea

01. The only, the biggest, the greatest, the most real and powerful place in the whole layer, Great Yori Mountain of Keriola raises for tens, maybe thousand miles above the rest of all layer, visible from everywhere. It is a centre not simply topologically, but spiritually, occult, politically, culturally and in most of other meanings. Amidst Roi Forests the Mountain is a place of relative stability. The top of the mountain is blanketed by dead turquoise ice, and billions of streams and furious mountain brooks, which start Star River below, carry this colour through all of its length. The God-Witch is sleeping at the very top, worshiped in their slumber and feared for their awakening; many demons climb the mountain in order to catch the enlightenment of their runway dreams.

02. Star River, the only, the mighty, the diving one. So wide, in places one cannot see the other side from shore, given the river a meaning of a rather narrow sea. It flows between the forests of Keriola as one of few permanent landmarks – the bed of the river is unmoving even if everything else in its waters is. Stars of the sky-that-never-was reflect in the turquoise waters instead of scar-skies of the abyss, and visions of false future can be read in its waves.

03. Roi Forests are multitudes of different kinds of the forest, melting and transforming into each other as they cannot decide which biome they desire to be: coniferous taigas give place to birch lightwoods only to get changed into mushy mushroom jungle and then into dry, jagged sandwood. There is always some kind of forest here, but different biomes battle each other in never ending war, recruiting whatever unlucky enough creature they can catch. Demon here take on appearance of heaps of floating leaves and disperse quickly if another battle is about to happen.

04. City Within Yori Mountain. Heavily terraced with inverse-curve arches raising in tension as if they are the ones supporting the fragile shell of the mountain from collapse instead of being continuously crushed by it. The city itself is the orderly cascade of districts, where dim, and scream, and struggle calmed down almost immediately by obsidian-masked priests of the Mountain, dressed in heavy indigo robes and red ribbons studded with diamonds.

05. Purple Dream is defined by its borders – the line of contest between Roi Forests and its own fluid identity. Purple dreams break down the light of Palimon into saturated pink rays, and the soft gradient of this colour tints everything within the dream. According to few lore fragments, the land within the Purple Dream was supposed to be a kingdom of magic, with towers flying on giant crystals, but, alas, no towers and no crystals. Instead the Purple Dream defined by the fact that it isn't Roi Forest, and as such is not a forest at all, not a river, not a mountain, but a hilly area with mires of vivid lunar visions that condense from pink light and are pooling like water in cup-lakes of perfect circularity surrounded by moonlit glass cities. Demons here were any clothes that aren't shades of purple if they wish to remain visible. Invisible demons are known to eventually dissolve into pink light if they aren't careful.

06. Fields of Now is a forgotten and forgetting place only discovered when accidentally stumbled upon and forgotten again when they are left away. Demons believe that Fields bring the feeling of happiness but to intentionally seek such paradise is to never find it.

07. Tower-over-Forest is a shell of concrete building raising over the highest possible trees of Roi Forests regardless of tree height. Small dwelling at top of glass-and-black-lacquered gunmetal grids houses six endlessly talking sages whose language is not understandable and cannot be made understandable by any known means.

08. Waterfall crown is a part of the Mountain where multiple streams are crashing down to form Star River. Behind the waterfall, above the churning whirlpool of white-foamed waters – the flow so fast and powerful it can be maelstrom – sits the only official entrance into the Hidden City, itself hiding after the facade of subversively austere monasteries; the Hidden City is the most turbulent, beautiful and tragic area in the all of Keriola.

09. Palimon, the pale moon, is a rare native moon that kept with the world instead of flying off elsewhere as so many more moons do. Its light is not very strong and creates soft, grey-blurred shadows, and the moon always looks semi-transparent and as if it waning.

10. Rushes is a peaceful swampy area that eats memories – a place of the exile or punishment among demons. Heavily avoided despite having no other dangers.

11. Abandoned Throne of Geos is a stone throne of inhuman proportions which sits between Purple Dream and Roi Forests, almost enveloped in semi-crater or ribbed greenstone edges. Geos, dog-headed Prince, used to rule these lands justly, until she left, leaving only her throne behind and destroying everything else of her rule but the memory.

12. Lasae is where moonshadows pool into the sea, framed by petrified shards of former cities of Keriola. Palimon provides a pale light and thus, weak shadows, but with time they pooled strong enough to provide the surface for small many-legged ships to come across and carry travellers.

#111, Orvarein

01. Crimson Wave Mountains
02. Faded Peak
03. Plateau of Yr
04. Lanangar, the Flux Desert
05. Widow's Braid
06. Gero Shell
07. City of Kamlon
08. Dissipating Forest of Yrgeth
09. Mist City of Toroin
10. Crystal Sea
11. Tower Penninsula
12. Hidden river of Malir
13. Port Morsai
14. Hidden river of Deolan
15. Rottenedge
16. Bridge-belts
17. The only true tree in the world

01. Crumpled, petrified wave of titanic proportions, broken into separate chunks by its own stillness, but retaining in the spine a certain crescendo of movement, each mountain ribbed with a flow of arrested motion. The stone of the mountains is deep crimson, and the vegetation is so pale grey it looks almost bone-white and can be confused for a snow.

02. Among other mountains Faded Peak is the tallest and the most massive, bursting from the ground in monumental spikes and peaks as if a droplet hitting the ground in stopped frame. Its pale-red texture attributed to the unnamed apocalyptic demon living under it roots and slowly sucking the colour out of it; the stone of Faded Peak is somewhat fragile (despite the mountain height) which fuels the rumour even further.

03. A narrow strip of land between the mountains and the desert. Many small settlements and loose congregations of them make up the bulk of Orvarein civilization; 'yrian' since became the world of relative calm which one might find between two dangers.

04. The regular desert is rarely still but Lanangar defines the principle of flux, and she mixes and moves not only her own sand but everything these sands touch. Very few things are able to remain the same, as there are areas of dead sands, from old desert wounds where sand is verdigris and bitter. Through the rest of the desert caravans travel on stilts but because the sand is everywhere the travellers often come with minor marks even with all possible precautions (the colour is taken and replaced by somebody's else colour, the arm is taken and ability to know lies is given).

05. Widow's Braid is the narrow ridge in the middle of Lanangar where her fluctuating touch is almost absent. A warlord built a keep here, hewing heavy bones of his loyal companions into cornerstones of the buildings. Bones grew up into amber-white trees through the stone and intertwined like a cage, so at the end the warlord got caught in the prison of his own making.

06. Place where Gero molted and left their shell. One of few unfluxed places in Lanangar it soon became occupied by a mismatched band of misfit demons and later became a city carved into folds of giant shell. Gero Knights, established in the honour and with gratitude to Gero, often wander the desert in their armour made out of Gero Shell, like a giant moving boulders, to do their knightly deeds.

07. Oldest city on the layer, Kamlon was always here, always invulnerable to the desert, defiant denial, complex arrangement of soaring towers and intricate bridges, build of amberstone so much like the land around it that in certain light the city blends completely into its environment and only multitude of banners, and ribbons, and huge, crooked spikes define its counour. Inside, as if to distinguish themselves, there are million of variant hues, and the city itself is often viewed by its inhabitants as a deity.

08. Dissipating forest of Yrgeth isn't as much of a forest as the idea of the forest. Like Lanargar it exists in a constant state of the motion but where the desert takes, and gives, and pushes forward by the force, Yrgeth evades, befuddles and reshapes itself around invaders, building labyrinths of thorny trees so wherever the traveller goes there is no respite. Unlike Kamlon and possibly Lanargar (as nothing could be said for certain with this desert) Yrgeth is not fully sentient, and is more automatic, reactive place than anything truly alive.

09. Mist city of Toroin is somewhere in Yrgeth. Being elusive to the power of elusive makes one wonder how anybody came to know about it at all.

10. Crystal Sea is a piece of the ocean which at the world edge crystallizes into deep blue crystals that seem to hold the water together and not letting it spill out of layer. The water itself isn't fresh and isn't much saline; even somebody unused to the abyss can drink it for a while but has to be careful not to drink it too much or too long, unless they wish to become a blue crystal statue.

11. Tower Peninsula is exactly what it says: out of any proportion  tower, miles tall and wide, making the peninsula between Lanangar and Yrgeth where another narrow strip of the world allows settlements. Soils of Orvarein are white, and the grain that grows near Tower Peninsula tastes like a bone, but demons think this is how all wheat is supposed to be. Inside the Tower is mostly hollow and dank, despite stadium-wide windows in its walls. Partially flooded, the Tower Peninsula has multiple inside rooms the size of the city, and winding, road-wide staircases. Dwellers of the Tower are secretive, mobile and considered untrustworthy even comparatively to denizens of Kamlon.

12. Hidden river of Malir is one of the two major rivers that flow through the whole of layer. Entirely underground and free from both maddening howl of Crimson Wave Mountains and joyful whim of Lanangar it is one of the most treasured places in the whole layer. Denizens of the Tower claim they charted Malir and know its course well enough, but their claims are untrustworthy and often serve as a lure for a naive or a desperate demon. Malir's waters (as the river flows from Crystal Sea and up the mountains) are cleaned by bonesoils enough they are safe for the demons to drink without measure. Arterial wells into Malir has to be sealed all the time, otherwise all river will run up to become the rain and the mist nobody wants; each seal taints the water slightly, so it doesn't float the demon up into scar-skies. When heavy rain comes, demon joke that somebody forgot to seal Malir's tap.

13. Port Morsai is a dug-in cave gridded with false metal sky on one of the many waterveins of Malir. The port is entirely landlocked but utilizing the power of pure water they float up in giant water-sail ships to service routes to Kamlon and across Yr. Morsian demons known to be the most joyous demons in the layer.

14. Hidden river of Deolan: just like Malir, Deolan flows underground but this (and that both rivers are made of water) is where similarities end. Where Malir just wants to be free, Deolan, awoken below the roots of Yrgeth, wishes to be left alone. Evasive and meandering, she changes course upon the slightest attraction of outside interest, so permanent settlements on her banks are simply impossible and few that exist are constantly following the river. By coincidence to her constant migration, Deolan often comes as a help to a weary traveller, although not by any kindness but just because the river moves so often that springs and pools of Deolan occasionally come to the surface for a breath of fresh air.

15. Long narrow piece of the crystal edge of the world touching Lanangar. The substance of the layer here is more worn than anywhere else, and weak demons might simply unravel into not-being, which is why this 'peninsula' so often serves a place of execution or exile. On the other hand, for those who are strong enough, this is an easiest way to travel to another layer without a need to go through scar-skies.

16. Bridge-Belts stretch between two halves of Yrian Plateau, made from bodies of stillborn gods of whatever world Orvarein was supposed to become. Never having as much as a name, much less any kind of identity or awareness, such would-be gods still have a bare nascent idea of the imperishable divinity and provide some healing to everybody who walks them, or, occasionally, grant wishes of the demons. Stretched skin of Bridge-Belts sags under the pounding feet of demons, traders, travellers and pilgrims alike; the latter are a soft of shamanic bruteforce, not having any special connection to Bridge-Belts – despite all their claims – but instead seeking the fulfillment of wishes by sheer numbers of travels they made through the Bridges, back and forth, to violent disapproval of other travellers. As occasionally pilgrim's wish is granted and a lot of their wounds are healed simply by walking through bridges again, it only enforces the determination of wonder-catchers.

17. The only actual tree in the world, it is a lore fragment enshrined and venerated by Viridian Sages and their Jade Guard, as they try to discern the truths about the Orvarein-that-never-came-to-be. The tree is called Honna, and ascribed to be divine even if to a mortal traveller it would look just like a regular tree (specifically, a cypress). Given how evasive Yrgeth is, demons of the layer derive the whole concept of the forest from Honna.

#112, The Beloved Sorrow
(the world that almost became to be)
01. Golem Sun
02. Horha, Uncubed Mountains
03. Cerulean Gorges of Okaste (Sisters-in-Blue)
04. Shadden and Geliora, Forest Engine
05. Gemflower plains
06. Chained heart of Aio
07. Lamplighter fields
08. Crossroad Station
09. Azure City of Ines
10. Azure City of Lalgamen
11. Bren, The Golden
12. Fractal Railroad 19. Edge Cliffs
13. Kanavan, Waystation of the Ways 20. Rainbird
14. Jewelled Gardens 21. Floating Oracle
15. Waveland amaranth 22. Eradeth, Howling Brass
16. Moaning Forest and city of Erv  23. Chiseya, The Clockwork
17. Glass Woods 24. Grassland of free wind
18. Machine of Life, Holy is Her Name 25. Wells of Atma

(this world almost didn't make it into garbage of abyss, and as a result it has a lot of substantiality and intended beauty to it. Before the farewell, the creator put in as much care and vibrancy as they could. Demons of Beloved Sorrow are an upbeat bunch and believe the creator still visits the world incognito, keeping it from falling apart or being consumed by other layers)

01. Golem Sun is called Most-Magnificent Sun-Heart by the worshiping demons, and is guarded most strongly, with princes and their armies taking turns to repel any would be thief in exchange for Sun's crystallized sunlight. The Golem Sun is infused with enough energy to serve as the layer actual sun despite being earthbound, and is technically made of the same solar system that Beloved Sorrow was prototype to, even if its light is artificial and due to broken reality of the abyss doesn't allow most natural plants grow.

02. Horha, Uncubed Mountains were supposed to rise in a perfect geometrical formations, like the whole ridge made of various voxels but due to lack of creative experience, they were scrambled into a more common form. Still, beneath the sharp peaks, there are many places where glass, metal and stone came in perfectly cubic rocks. The mountains themselves bathe in Golem Sun light and gestate various minerals, all of them sun-coloured: gold, bronze, brass, amber, citrin, sepia-glass and so on, regardless of reasonability of such gestates. As the mountains are considered to be sort of a seat to Most Magnificent, mining happens with almost as much ceremony and adoration as the service to Most Magnificent itself.

03. Deep, deep gashes in the world – where they supposed to be ravines or oceans? Cerulean Gorges are both now, full of intense azure mist-sand-stone-mirage that serves the layer in almost the same capacity as a water; not all demons need this substance for living, but all rely on it somehow. Gorges are vertical seas and, except Elder Sister, bottomless and seem incapable of running dry. Demons inhale the blue mist or carry blue stones for sustenance; Sisters cause blue dreams that have the same nourishing effect. Like immeasurably giant slugworms, Sisters have a rudimentary perception and movement, and shift so ever slightly with the passage of time.

04. Gilded engine, higher than some of Horha peaks, filled with emerald, mammoth-sized gearwork quietly turning in the darkness, Shadden-and-Geliora are so much embroidered by long-merged cities on the top of it that Geliora often considered to be the name of whole cityscape, where dwellings hang from steep vertical walls of Shadden and intertwine with geometrical golden trees the Engine sprouts endlessly. Nobody by Laya the Blind Knight can venture into darkness of Forest Engine and return (whatever the seeker is blind or not), and the cause of indigo sludge that turns sands into rich soils isn't known as Laya keeps his silence. The soil causes the false memories of what the world could have been but some demons seek such disturbing visions and carry talismans of soil with them. Shadden-and-Geliora trees are beautiful and most unnatural metallic plants, growing to sizes so big they can host a moderately large city all by themselves. Demons living in cityscape of Shadden are agile as not to be poked by many sharp branches, and dressed in long flowing metal threads as to quickly discharge a random lighting strike the forest storms so often provide.

05. Gently rolling plains where amethyst flower-gems grow. A heartland of the plain is a center of power to Enhayda, the Mistress of Silence. As any flower-gem can serve as a power source to most anything on a layer, she enforces strict punishments for poachers (most often turning them into more flowers). It is rumoured that Enhayda can see and hear thought any of her flowers regardless where they are, which is why amethyst-purple is viewed as ominous colour in Beloved Sorrow.

06. Aio was a warlord demon of once-invading army from another layer; his heart was taken as a trophy and his whole remaining army fed back to it. Chained heart is still capable of speech and might divulge the knowledge of anybody it ever ate; there are few places most terrifying to demons and most interesting for demon sages.

07. Lamplighter fields is where lightbulb flowers grow. It is as normal of industry on Beloved Sorrows as it gets to plant, weed, grow and collect these lightbulbs. Nearby city of Crossroad Station provides a comfortable ways of trading across the layer, but poor demon-workers aren't treated very fairly by the powerful demon-merchants, and the the ruler of Crossroads is too enamored by Floating Oracle to pay any attention to the situation.

08. Rather stern and orderly city behind all adornments where several branches of Fractal Railroad connect. Being near Elder Sister Gorge, Crossroad Station only grief is that the Gorge slowly moves toward it and it isn't very clear if the Sister is going to eventually pass the city by or drop it down its bottom.

09. Azure City of Ines is no-nonsense city which main specialization is 'mining' azure mist from the nearby Gorge and transporting it through dispersed pipes all across the layer. Blue pylons and towers, cerulean-tipped roofs, silver spiderweb of threads stretched all around the city to catch blue vapour. Despite it industrious nature, there is a sort of melancholy about Ines: the city itself feels as if it is going to wave goodbye at any moment, and the feeling of longing travels along with the mist it gathers, catching demons by surprise. Memories occasionally remain in Ines, stealing away and embedding themselves as graffiti and bass reliefs.

10. Azure City of Lalgamen is located at the very edge of the layer in a way few things are. Its broad-casting radio-tower listens to the tide and muttering of scar-skies and abyss beyond, and catches thoughts of passing-by demons, and bubbles them into empty gem-flowers. The strings of such thoughts are 'rumour-necklaces' and are an equivalent of the outworld news digest. The radiostation itself broadcasts the abyssal screech it pulls from the scar-sky as a popular trend of local music (after some composing it sounds very industrial and to the liking of many in this busy, bustling city with a pulse of its own).

11. Most glorious and glamorous, Bren is demonic metropolis of sprawling skyscrapers, nonsensical architecture and a constant, unending buzz of activity. Various demons come to Bren, and not only from this layer, as this sense of active life is difficult to come by in so many layers. That the central city placed so close to the edge is not too usual, but the closeness to so many important landmarks makes Bren both desirable and well-defended. Golden light of Bren shines softly through the shadows tossed by Horha across red-petaled fields; demons native to the city wear their arms laced through with red ribbons and tiny bells reminiscent to flowers. Songsmiths of the city can forge any voice in tangible things; and glass-tubed 'canals' carry pearly waters that hurt mortals like acid but cause demons an occasional euphoria.

12. Fractal Railroad is a railroad that breaks physically across the realm but to the traveller on a train the ride is one uninterrupted journey as the train follows the tracks regardless of how big the gap between them is. Demons operate giant flesh-and-brass-bound trains by becoming the one with train segmented body, and the trains sing to Beloved Sorrow as they run across all major cities, terrains and corners of the layer.

13. Kanavan, Waystation of the Ways – city of peridot where all railroads connect, a giant arrival and departure platform dominated by clocklight-tower and spiraling horn of Observation Desk. Demons who wait too long for their train are at the risk of succumbing to urge to climb up to Observation Desk and remain there forever, adding their body to this slowly growing structure.

14. Jewelled Gardens is crystalline 'forest' of beautiful purple gems, each the size of the house and framed by smaller gems. The sharp nature of such terrain makes it the most beloved place for various cruel sports of demons who reside here, combining maiming and the scenic beauty of the place as some kind of art. The biggest ever gem is All-Seeing Station, which floats a top of Gardens and controls the weather in a significant part of the layer.

15. Still and braided terrain where amaranth grows; flowers bend and bow with a wind as if the waves of a sea. Demons gather amaranth for nourishment but somehow it never runs out. The flowers only grow in the shadow of Horha, and are beloved by demons for their taste and fragrance; in many ways amaranth is the symbol of their whole realm. To them the flower says 'We are alive and doing our best despite all circumstances'. Amaranth smells bittersweet and brings calming, dreamless sleep.

16. Wild forest saturated by hostile spirits. Erv is born as the city under spiritual siege and remains so to this day, mostly self-sufficient and isolated save for railroad running near it. As even trains are attacked by the spirits, few go there. Unlike mostly joyous demons in Beloved Sorrow, ervian demons are stoic and serious demons of stoic and serious city, and by many considered to be glumbuds who don't know how to relax.

17. Where glass trees grow like a kaleidoscope of transparency and colour. Oldest trees have translucent nature to them, similar to crystal salt, but younger plants are bursts of colours, vibrant to the point of sensory overload. Most everything alive in Glass Forest is either also glass or looks glassy - from bugs and snakes to springs and deer.

18. Holy is Her Name. 
She makes life
She makes us be.
Worship the Green.
Divine machine, which makes the smaller life systems possible in Beloved Sorrow. With few exceptions every plant, bush, tree root eventually connects with Life Engine, and most of the layer animals have a tiny emerald swirl somewhere on their body showing that they originated in one of multiple apple-green spheres that bloom from branches of Holy Machine. To the other demon layers Life Engine is the wet dream but after Golem Sun it is the second best-protected place on Beloved Sorrow, with thousands of demon-knights (said to be made by the Engine itself) keeping watch to protect Her Holiness. Theosoph of Green is in perpetual dispute with Shadden philosophers on topic if Geliora itself is just a wayward shard of Her divine structure.

19. Cliffs at the edge of the layer with wide view on the abyssal turmoil beyond. Home of many grey birds, who serve as a strange calendar of sort for the layer that doesn't know true seasons. Birds move mechanically, from cliff to cliff, vanish and reappear. Augurs observe them, keeping track on their position and noting any derivations. Their watchtower also serves as trading post with flame-sheathed demons of Ur, and a sky-spy network.

20. Rainbird is a wandering bird-cloud that brings actual rain wherever it flies. A lot of Beloved Sorrow is made of metals and gearwork, and with demons not having a human water-dependencies Rainbird causes as many problems as it gives rainwater. Sky leviathan with wingspan of about ten kilometres wide, it takes no orders from anybody, and wanders chaotically, although it seems to like Lalgamen and Bren corner of the world a bit too much for the liking of its inhabitants.

21. Floating Oracle are three levitating cubes in shades of ominous purple. Demons capable to get in-between these hovering entities (which is not easy, given that cubes can and often do crush such demons easily), are granted a brief prophetic vision. Cubes have cynical, naive and authoritarian personalities, but which one is which seem to fluctuate.

22. Eradeth, of Flowing Brass and Golden Leaves: multilayered jungle always lit by emanations of Most Magnificent, to the point that to human eyes it is always a golden sunset here. Leaves of the jungle grow like thin golden sheets on branches of crooked brass, and the unwary traveller will be easily cut into something resembling the work of art as the every little cut will scar with golden edge and won't ever fully heal, leaving a demon with a network of golden 'tattoos' all across their body. Poor demons gather the leaves by bucketloads (to serves as a base for the local paper) and golden-scars came to be associated with poverty and grueling work despite their objective beauty.

23. The whole city of Chiseya is a giant clockwork. It rotates and moves constantly, in a steady, well-measured rhythm that looks overwhelming and chaotic only to the strangers. The streets rearrange themselves, buildings go deep underneath or soar high, and the configuration of the city changes moment by moment. Sidewalks become deadend, parks shift into vertical spirals and the concept of hour in the world with entirely immobile sun is derived through Chiseya span of time where the smallest street becomes the smallest street again. For the city of such shifting precision, chiseyans known to have a few personalities they go through in unison of shifting hours, and are lauded as best numerologists and accountants.

24. Ochre-tinted plain where black grass grows. Full of wind-whistle sounds and mirage-sounds of hunting horns. Cats with geometrical patterns to their fur stalk the savanna wide. One can toss their name to the wind, erasing their history and becoming nameless, with untroubled eyes and black presence of somebody who no longer has anything to lose. One can give their blood to the grass, to feed it abortive roots, and know the weakness of anybody they meet. One can bury their bones – an arm will suffice – into the ochre soil and no lock, no knot, no manacle will be able to hold them. One can gift their eyes to the salty, stagnant pool, and no darkness, no pain, no love will be able to imprison them forever. One can plant their heart so it grows into a soft-leafed tree, and never know loneliness.

25. Wells of Atma craft curses as other places craft food, or tools, or luxiry – it is all the same to them, and here one might find curses of any kind, from fragile and crude to elaborate manifold hexes. Atmian demons wear deaden amethysts, and viewed as workers of perilous but necessary profession, akin to nuclear power plant workers elsewhere. The city itself builds in concentric circles away and close to the pit – the  abyss within abyss – from which atmians mine pure malice for their hexes, as innately they don't yet have enough of their own.

#35, the vortex, the pit
The whole layer is downward spiral with a strong pull; full of shining lights it grabs and swallows on any passerby as soon as it is capable, mindlessly, its false light serving as a lure and trap to those who seek any light in this bleak and dark realm.

The Vortex, The Pit is semi-sentient as it consists of condensed remains of its former inhabitant demons, who huddled together as their layer crumbled around them. They are still here, but have no space to think in this density of hunger and lack. The one dumb or unlucky enough to get close is pulled under and devoured without a trace.

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This is both the overview of my 'default' principles of abyss (entirely usable for gaming and making demons and demon layers) and personal perception on some parts of creative process. The writing is rudimentary, especially at the end, because it was written in small pieces all across these three years, with the three bigger layers being made as early as January 2017 and as late as November 2019; when I was typing it all, it took almost eight hours, and my mind temporarily refused to look at the text to make edits for better.

If anything good came out of January experiment of writing once a week, 'On abyss' was it, as I can finally post it with all its wrong-words and all of its typos, and all its "its" instead of "it's", and get it out of drafts, and maybe fix it later, in the accordance with its own nature. If the sense of liberation was December purpose and the sense of discipline was January purpose, this achieved both. Time to move on.

The inspirations for abyss probably started as early as first 'Doom' I played back in 90s, where I clipped through the map and fell into entirely alien skies. I was also always puzzled by the idea that Planescape Abyss is such stable and luxurious place with its infinite layers nicely separated from each other and having a plethora of usable space. 'Malfeas' from Exalted had shown me that the abyss doesn't have to be all evil and ugly, while my own many failed attempts at maps surely proved to me that it can be. 'The world on godly napkin' idea came from sketching a world map on an actual napkin and later tossing said napkin into a trashbin.