We Moved to Pennsylvania

I'd like to blog about the road trip in detail, someday, but that would be a big project. Here's the distilled version.

We knew if we were going to move east anytime soon, it had to be before the winter weather hit, so over the course of September we got packed and stored and in October we hit the road and headed east, with a vague intention of maybe moving to the Philly area unless something caught our fancy along the way.

Nebraska was horrific until we got to Lincoln; Lincoln was a pretty rad town and we were kind of tempted to stay. Iowa was surprisingly beautiful (it's impressive how much prettier rolling farmland is compared to dead-flat farmland), and we went to see Kirk's birthplace and met a cool nerdy lady working at our hotel in Iowa City and talked to her a lot. Illinois was pleasingly industrial and had the first signs of cultural shift, which energized me and we did briefly flirt with just moving up to Racine Wisconsin because Encounter Critical but ultimately decided to just go look at Lake Michigan up close, by which point we were technically in Indiana, where we got excellent trail mix. In Ohio we got the best food we've had all year, and some coffee at a Tim Horton's (a rush of nostalgia for Sandra, and me too!) and a buckeye candy and spent a lot of time away from the Interstates doing winding roads, and decided to detour down to Cumberland so I could brim over with emotion about that and get a coney dog at the old coney dog place (it moved half a block but was otherwise identical) and bum around the bowling alley where I used to play Centipede when Centipede was new.

We didn't move to Philly, but we did stay there for a week or so, including some days in a funky modern experimental hotel downtown, and we found neighborhoods we loved and food we loved and places we loved and not so much with the job and apartment situation.

We tried Delaware for a bit and found an apartment we loved in a neighborhood we didn't love, complete with neighbors we would have loved. We stood there talking to them 'til the sun had gone down.

And then we came to the Wilkes-Barre area up in the Delaware valley and I GM'ed some Risus and we walked around and found a little place we like in a spot we like, so now we live here in northeast Pennsylvania and Sandra got a new gig and I've got a game shop to run Risus at and yay!

[Then we both got super sick from a cold for a while and mine lasted longer because of my respiratory thing but now we're better and Christmas is behind us and I figured it's time to blog and that's the story.]

That's not the story, not all of it, not remotely, but it's ... the adcopy on the back cover of the story, which will have to do for now. Hi everyone! More blogginess soon! Here are some pictures.

A gift shop in Nebraska. I couldn't think of any worthy questions to ask.

Riverside, Iowa. Corn.

When Kirk's parents eventually have sex while this stands in the back yard, will it be awkward? In terms of paradoxes, Kirk's faced worse, but still.

Lake Michigan. We were standing on the Indiana side but could see Chicago across the water, which was cool.

Lead melts at 621 degrees Fahrenheit, so if you're casting lead, you've got about a nine minute window with a fresh cup of Tim Horton's coffee before it cools below that point.

The Coneys of my childhood, five doors down from the original location with carefully reconstructed fake-ass logo damage. As a maker of stressed type, this goes right to my heart. Like the Coney.

Beautiful cheap produce, Philadelphia.

Beautiful cheap produce and a beautiful man making beautiful batches of kettle corn, Philadelphia.

A memento from my first-ever Risus run at my new home-base game shop. A valuable axiom established in play.


A Dungeony Word-Fill

It's been awhile since I've done a pencil-puzzle post, so here's a new wordfill: the Puzzle-Dungeon of the Ancients, stocked with dungeony words and delverish terms.

The intersection of "dungeon map" and "crossword grid" is a hoary old beast but it still makes me smile. I had this sitting around in the drawer for a while (it was originally meant to be the pencil-page for an issue of Cumberland Gamer) and one thing was bothering me: the perfectly grid-fitted look of the original grid. As you can see, I landed on the simple solution of just bending the graphic a bit, and it feels a bit more like a thing.

Like most wordfills, it's a pretty gentle exercise for the intellect, less a jog-around-the-block and more a short-walk-to-the-fridge, but it unfolds nicely with a few logical hurdles right out of the gate. Take pencil to paper and you'll see what I mean!

Hope this finds you well. Drop me a line, if you've a mind to!


Guacamole Quickstep

Today's new font from the Cumberland Fontworks is called Guacamole Quickstep. It's simple and huggy and nothing-fancy. I dig it:

It's got a nice on-screen legibility, even at smaller sizes. I'll probably use it for character sheet graphics, and maybe some Risus captions sometime ... it's got a similar visual personality to the Little Cartoon Bastards. It's probably what their handwriting looks like.

It's the first font I've ever drawn entirely on my phone, which is no shocker nowadays (phones have some top-notch doodling apps so there's a lot of good work being done on those little screens) but it's a personal milestone in expanding my mobile productivity. I've used phones for LCB art before (some of the pieces in Toast of the Town), and for writing small sections of my books and modules and things (Toast again, plus other titles still in the works). The process of doodling the font was very comfortable, so it ended up with an extended-character set, all of it pretty thoroughly kerned.

I have no idea if it's the first ever font drawn entirely on a phone. I can certify that it's the first Cumberland font drawn entirely on a phone, and that the second one is already drawn and in the works.

This One Isn't Named After Guacamole. Probably.

Sandra's glyph-mapping that new one right now in the laptop across the booth from me.

That's one of the other cool things about Guacamole Quickstep: it's the third new Cumberland font this month (following Cynocel Poster and Monesque), because Sandra's now (as I like to say it) slaving away in the font mines or (as she likes to say it) having fun helping husby with fonts.

So, if you're happy to see new Cumberland fonts, you have Sandra to thank for a lot of that happiness from now on. She's shouldering the glyph-mapping portion of the production process, letting me focus on the designy-and-kerny parts, and it's a productive formula, fueled in large part by Sandra's almost giddy enthusiasm for it.

It's also National Avocado Day, and if I'd known that I was releasing a font named Guacamole Quickstep on National Avocado Day I'd have worked it into the release somehow, but I found out later. D'oh.

As always, fonts from the Cumberland Fontworks are available out in the wilds of the Internets and tend to spread from font-website-to-font-website like embers in a forest fire. Google knows the way. I'm also experimenting with posting a couple on my DeviantArt gallery but I'm not sure how I feel about that; they might vanish by the time you read this. Dunno.

Equally as-always, my inbox is open if you'd like to chat about fonts or, you know, games or food or whatever. Hope this finds you well.


Three Real-Time Moments from Spider Man

Sandra and I went to see Spider-Man: Far From Home tonight and this is a spoiler-free mini-post about it. I had the following three thoughts in real time as the film ran:

1. "I know so many people who were thinking what Ned just said exactly when he said it."

2. "Wow, that could be taken out of context." [a few minutes later] "Aha."

3. "Must be Maria's music playing because I do not accept that Nick would -- oh. Okay yeah that makes a lot more sense."


Capping More Mapping

The last time I mentioned doing some vidcaps of me town-mapping, I mentioned fancy things like voiceovers and music and that hasn't happened just yet. But, I have figured a few other things out, like cropping the video a bit better, and this time I did a nine-minute chunk (with the same 8x speed boost):

I'm demonstrating the same basic technique, but this time I carry it from blank green to the finished subdivisions of individual buildings (instead of just stopping once I lay down the frontage ruler). I think it explains itself fairly well, but my inbox is always open if anyone has questions.

I'll keep poking at this. I don't think the kind of basic video editing I need to do is difficult; it's just that every new piece of creative software (even the freeware tools I've been fiddling with) feels like dropping into the cockpit of a jet fighter for the first time when you're not familiar with the tools, so my typical response is a pained "eep" followed by desperate scurrying back to Planet Comfort.

For an example of what it looks like when I keep on doing this ... a lot ... see last post!

It doesn't stay orange. Good for separations in Photoshop, though.


Shadow River: Inside's Out

This'll be a short entry, but I just wanted to mark the first public appearance of the entire Shadow River interior, which gives us almost exactly half the Shadow River map (the other half being the exterior, which is trucking along nicely). But, as far as a lot of people who live there are concerned, it gives us the whole thing, because whatever's outside the walls, they don't want to know but they suspect it's bugs. They're not entirely wrong.

Anyway, this mockup makes me smile. I hope it does that for you, too.

It's the Ridiculous Hedge Mazes That Really Bring the Snoot to the Snooty Districts

If you'd like to chat about mapping (or whatever) my inbox is always open!


The Seven Vestments of Sutoyar the Mad

In a recent volume of our journal, the scholar Duncan catalogued – with accuracy – the many known oozes associated with Sutoyar the Mad, the slithering legacy of that lunatic some six millennia gone. But Duncan’s work, while impeccable in many respects, commits a childish sin: repeating the indefensible theory (first proposed by Greevers) that Sutoyar never existed, but is some convenient composite upon which to heap historical blame, in the mold of Smithee the Forger or any of a dozen criminal folk-heroes, or of Magus Greevers himself, revealed eventually as a pen-name shared by a dozen Hathira Cult witches in the midlands. Duncan frames this slander as if it were sage consensus, instead of particular to the rantings of an ignorant few. Most “modern scholars and savants” know all too well the reality of Sutoyar … or at least, they know parts of it. Here, I hope to shed my candle’s light on just a little more.

The Maniple of Regret

I should begin by noting that the term vestments is used commonly, but inexactly, when referring to Sutoyar’s ensorcelled garments. In truth, only three of the known items are certain to be priestly garb. At scholarly gatherings, I am often asked: was Sutoyar a priest at all? Indeed he was, many times over, serving as clergy to the cults of dark demigods, devils, vile elemental lords, and eventually, in his later years, to himself, once he declared his own divinity. To this day, there are Sutoyar cults, and in those (each the “true” one), Sutoyar remains both deity and the Grand Pontiff (for ‘twas his title) since his death has never been acknowledged by the faithful.

The Maniple of Regret is among the more sumptuous of Sutoyar’s vestments, fashioned from black damask silk, with bone-white tassels of a shimmering material none have identified. Worn loosely over the left arm (in the manner of a waiter’s napkin), the Maniple is ill-suited for action (a stiff breeze, jogging, or doing anything useful with that arm might dislodge it) but the compromise is worth considering, as the Maniple is a shield of great strength, effortlessly drawing physical blows toward itself. Arrows, quarrels and the like are dissolved in a fetid but nourishing steam that Sutoyar found both delicious and arousing (Belton, p.109,112). Hand-weapons are held fast, used as conduits to pump nightmare-magic to their wielder, sinking them into waking dreams of the vilest sort, until the attacker crumples in terror, and the weapon cracks to ashes (Scavius, Little Songs, book IV).

The last known owner of the Maniple was no priest, but a collector, Rinson the Eager. Rumor has it, Rinson had it stolen for his collection from one of the Sutoyar cults, and that any charitable donation to those twisted faiths (they can be found begging alms in many a village) might serve to pay for Rinson’s assasination. Rinson, it is said, seeks the six remaining vestments, and if he succeeds, he’d be the first to own all seven since Sutoyar himself.

The Blooded Bliaut

Opposite the chased-silk finery of the Maniple lay this humble bliaut, a common woolen garment ubiquitous in Sutoyar’s time. One aspect of the bliaut’s magic is apparent immediately to those who know its age: the many bloodstains spattering the garment, though millennia old, gleam with freshness, and even bear the meaty, metallic stink of blood spilt fresh.

Sutoyar wore the bliaut as part of a disguise, in which he imagined he could “pass as an ordinary man” and hear the conspiratorial whispers of those dwelling near his estates (Hunterman, p.8,11,14-16). In his madness, however, he had no subtlety of disguise, and simply stuffed his more ornate garb under the bliaut, stuck a piece of straw in his mouth (Belsic, p.32), and wandered the grounds speaking in a thick imitation of the local accent. No one believed the disguise, but none dared to admit it.

The Blooded Bliaut, once enchanted, is now haunted, though it’s a fine distinction in this case. In order to have “a commoner’s insight,” Sutoyar had slaughtered a chapman and his wife, and bound their souls (or at least their memories, given voice) to the garment, and they would speak to him as he role-played an ordinary man, whispering to him the right way to speak, the right things to know, and not to know. At some point during the Ninth Spectre War this enchantment broke, and the garment – once washed clean of the blood of the ritual murder – acquired the blood afresh. The spirits, no longer meek consultants on matters mundane, became more driven, more purposeful, and more violent in their desires. At first, Sutoyar embraced this change with delight, until (Yivvers, vol. 8-9 inclusive) he came to realize that the mad ghosts were madder even than he. Soaked with yet more blood, and forced to endure screams too foul to enjoy, Sutoyar removed the garment and never wore it again, except to bed.

The present location of the Bliaut is a matter of some debate, but a clutch of monastic necromancers in the port of Virtog specialize in “ever-fresh blood” magics, so they would be strongly motivated to possess the Bliaut for that, and comparably obvious, reasons.

The Scaled Orarion

Sutoyar is remembered for many things: his menagerie of oozes, his deadly puzzles, his automata, his vast and deadly manse, his casual approach to mass murder, his devotion to children’s charities. Visually, though, he is most clearly remembered for (and depicted wearing) his “scaled scarf,” technically an Orar (Orarian) from the Cult of Black Thalex, believed (Vulnetti, p.60) to be the cult in which Sutoyar learned his earliest spells. Indeed, the Scaled Orarian might be Sutoyar’s first work of enchantment.

But for all its fame, the Scaled Orarion is misunderstood, overshadowed by its own legend. There are many accounts of it being a kind of “turns into an enormous snake” sort of garment, of the sort still popular today (Ninra, p.40, 47). I have witnessed the scarf’s magic firsthand, and I can attest that it does not become a serpent, though it’s easy to imagine – with it’s glistening satin snake-scale design – how such legends might be born. Rather, the Scaled Orarion is more akin to magic rope. It can slither and constrict, bind a target in knots, bear considerable weight for climbing, and in all other ways perform as a supple limb under the wearer’s mental command. We may consider these its primary power, but not its only one ...

The more surprising property of the Scaled Orarion is its ability to defy the shape of local space, wrapping around its wearer, apparently consuming him, and folding itself into a small, neat object easily mistaken for a purse or cloth-bound journal. When thus contained, the wearer is safe in an adjacent universe, impervious to harm and unreachable by most magics. Only the skillful unfolding of the Orarian will reveal the wearer … and release him. For, dangerously, allowing one’s self to be consumed by the Orarian is one-way trip to placid unconsciousness (complete with dreams of snowy meadows, lit with sunset gold, where the dreamer may wander and browse echoes of Sutoyar’s own emotions). If no outsider then solves the Orarian’s enigma of unearthly folds, the wearer will be trapped, unharmed but helpless, forever. Why did Sutoyar want such an option? Unknowable, for he was mad, but my personal experience has confirmed that some of the owners since have made unscrupulous use of the garment, tricking the innocent into it, and leaving them there until they could be discreetly removed and dealt with.

I write with authority on this garment for I have owned it now for years, insuring that it does no harm. I myself was its prisoner, placed there by Humalis the Savage and left for generations, un-aging, resting with the ancient feelings of Sutoyar, while my children and grandchildren grew old and died, and while my libraries were plundered by my students. No matter, for I emerged sane and lucid, as the reader will certainly attest (see also Nugris, Book of Sane Scholars, volume 5). I have allowed many a fellow sage to study the garment while it remains in my care but, Rinson, if you are reading this, my refusal stands. It is mine; there is no price at which you might buy it.

The Carrion Clownshoes of Sang

Unique among Sutoyar’s fabled vestments are the Carrion Clownshoes, for, of the seven, these are the only Sutoyar himself did not craft. Rather, he won them in sorcerous battle from Lung Sang, Master of Dragon Corpses, on the occasion of Sang’s violent death, and the beginning of his servitude to Sutoyar. Indeed, some fringe scholars regard the Mustache of Lung Sang to be a kind of eighth vestment, but this depends on a misunderstanding of traditional folksongs (Burghiss, Merrye Rhimes For Alle, p.82-90) and the manner in which the mustache was “worn.”

Sang’s shoes – exaggerated footwear that spoke of his early days as a fire-juggling dancer in the traditions of his homeland – were not made of carrion, or flesh of any kind (see the Chasuble, below). Rather, they were attuned to it (Runebotthom, Journal of Complementary Enchants, Vol XIX, Scroll 3), to “guide the feet to flesh, flesh that’s rotting, flesh that’s restless, eager to rage.” Sang had built armies with the clownshoes, before he fell, himself, to a kind of soldiery.

The shoes are fashioned from plain, reddish silk, with chasings of gold, and “leering pom-poms of midnight wool,” affixed smartly to the toes (Urlich, p.722). Legend disagrees on whether Sutoyar wore the shoes habitually, himself, or whether he left them on the servile corpse of Sang until which time he required their power. It seems likely Sutoyar wore them during his war against the Lost City of Harronport, destroyed by armies of deceased house-pets from within the city’s own walls.

Today, the Clownshoes are the property of a mountain warlord, Ritharion II. Ritharion has despatched criers throughout the lowlands, proclaiming that he awaits a maiden whom they might perfectly fit.

The Tear-Stained Mask

A mask built for two? One large and one small? If a mask can fit two, can a mask fit us all?

Any child knows the nursery rhyme this item inspired (Gurtham, Things Children Must Know, p.1), and the words are true: the Tear-Stained Mask of Sutoyar was built for two to wear at the same time, Sutoyar and a Dwarf named Hansible, in the early years of Sutoyar’s now-infamous manse.

Sutoyar faced many social difficulties, and was often described as aloof (Aristel, Duncan, Wudderman, et al) but in fact made several game attempts at socializing beyond simply raising corpses and formulating tractable slimes. Hansible is, some would say, the closest the mad wizard had to a “friend,” to the extent that Sutoyar never murdered him, and seemed to respect his value as a summoner of infernal beings, a craft they explored in concert. The mask served them by forming a powerful link between them, one of pure emotion, which they could exploit in rituals of demon-binding. It allowed them to enslave powers beyond what they might otherwise have been capable of, but it rendered them emotionally unstable and weeping, hence the name – and hence my presumption of good faith between Sutoyar and Hansible (Wudderman, What Price Blood?, p.300).

One lingering mystery is how Hansible (a heath-dwarf shorter than Sutoyar’s dogs) stood eye-to-eye with a mad wizard known to be six feet tall. Most presume some form of levitation magic, but a few (notably Yinnikers, p. 890 and Holiday, p. 76) have maintained that Hansible wore great wooden stilts, themselves held to be relics by those enamored of Sutoyar or his era. The scholar Baylean suggests (Riddles of History, page 111) that if one were to collect all the splinters and fragments of the “true stilts of Hansible” held in reliquaries across the realms, they might provide enough wood to rebuild the burned city of Hashmiran (not that anyone – even Sutoyar – would be mad enough to want to).

Stilts aside, the present owner of the Tear-Stained Mask is the Priory of St. Humilius just west of Rettlesport, where it is used in “educational demonstrations warning against the dark arts,” according to correspondence with Reverend Mother Scoline. Given that the mask’s only real power is to create an intimate emotional bond, it is unclear exactly how the Priory might use it in these lessons.

The Chasuble of Skin

Garments made of human (dwarvish, etc) skin are nothing new in the realm of mad wizardry, and weren’t new in Sutoyar’s day, either (refer to Thulcara’s Catalogue of Skin Garments for a treatment both thorough and readable, and upon which this entry depends). Sutoyar’s Chasuble of Skin is unique among recorded examples, however, for being made of Sutoyar’s own skin, during his own lifetime.

The tanned skin, augmented with sections of simple linen and leather fittings, is little more than a wide oval with a hole in the center (for the wearer’s head to poke through) draped over the shoulders like a poncho. The garment’s enchantment is one of slow, gliding flight (the wearer can’t gain altitude, but can maintain it impressively, descending as little as three feet per mile, as desired). The décor is mostly elaborate religious symbolism, all embroidered by Sutoyar’s own hand, and arranged to render the garment symmetrical in design by covering for the elaborate patchwork necessary to achieve the necessary shape.

But under what circumstance was Sutoyar able to skin himself, and survive, to create such a thing? The occasion was that Sutoyar had already replaced his own skin with a superior substitute: transparent, glossy, flexible and strong, boiled down from the brains and nerves of a dozen psychic animals into a plastic sludge, and then painted on his bare musculature until it bonded. In this new skin, Sutoyar was said to be less vulnerable to some forms of attack, and more sensitive to all forms of touch, so that he could sense lurkers by the weakest ripples in the evening breeze (Waterman, p.60,64). This left him in possession his old skin without function, and since he already had a mad wizard’s fair share of skin-bound grimoires, skin-made bookmarks and skin-crafted belt pouches (ibid.), he decided that he would once again wear his skin – a bit less intimately than before – and that it would serve as wings on which he would “drift from his manse in starlight, absorbing the songs of the world” (Elux, vol. 2, p. 19).

The last recorded owner of the Chasuble of Skin was a Sutoyar-unaffiliated church in the eastern islands, where it was kept as a relic and worn by the High Priestess on occasions celebrating the summer hurricanes, on which she would soar in reverence. The Chasuble was lost, along with its wearer, in a storm too vicious to ride. Its present location is unknown.

Sutoyar’s Pliant Ring

Also related to Sutoyar’s skin-replacement wizardry is the Pliant Ring, a garment made from the same reduction of nervous tissue, but as a separate item, rather than bonded to his flesh.

The item’s magic is subtle, easy to overlook: the flow of blood in the area where the ring is worn is enhanced (Bidworth, chapt. 2-6), and the area will redden visibly after a while, and become warmer to the touch (Bidworth, chapt. 8). That seems to be all it does, though some spells cast upon the ring have suggested that there are other, hidden enchantments.

The ring’s size adds to the confusion, because it’s too large to be comfortably worn on a finger (even a thumb), but too constrictive to be worn comfortably on the arm or leg (even worn at the wrist, it’s distressingly tight on all but the thinnest wearer).

A gift of some kind for a small-framed companion (an elvish lover, perhaps? Even in the age of Sutoyar’s transparent, inhuman skin?) or perhaps a tourniquet of some kind (but what’s the use of a tourniquet that increases the flow of blood?)

While the function of Sutoyar’s Pliant Ring is a puzzle, its source is not, since none but Sutoyar knew the magic to create that transparent, pliant substance from rendered nerve and brain … and the softest vibrations in its enchantment are attuned, without question, to his own frequencies (Hollstein, The Second Oscillarium, p.1274-1277).

The last recorded owner of the Pliant Ring was a barbarian, Harnok, who won it from a hoard in the Dryblood Hills. Harnok is aged, now, but has not fallen, and is rumored to own the Ring still, and to wear it secretly, “so none might see.” It is apparently an object the barbarian prizes above all, for he’s butchered men for offering to purchase it. Those seeking a demonstration of whatever useful magic he may glean from such a thing must seek out the man himself – and be ready.

This is the first Web appearance of this article, which I wrote in 2014 for Secret Santicore, a kind of annual mega-'zine community project which ran from 2011 to 2015 (with a 2017 one-off revival). Participating in Santicore was one of a handful attempts on my part to better understand the OSR. I never have quite understood the OSR, but I had a lot of fun writing this piece anyway, and the article got sufficiently warm feedback to let me know that, even if I OSR wrong, I landed near enough to the ballpark that some of the Santicore folk dug it. Among those expressing support was Ray Otus, the original creator of his backwards-namesake, Sutoyar, and the author of the prompt which had been assigned to me:

The 7 Lost Vestments of Sutoyar the Mad. (Wearable artifacts presumed to have once been created/enchanted by this legendary figure, the whereabouts of which have been lost in the intervening years.)

P.S. last year I made a request related to Sutoyar the Mad and Jeremy Duncan added this text to his lore (see SSv3,p62):

"We have no reliable evidence for the physical existence of Sutoyar the Mad, much less the salient facts of his life and by now considerable legend. Most modern scholars and savants consider him a composite figure of several (many far better attested) eccentrics and magicians of the late XXXIIIrd Aeon, given name and form solely to provide a convenient scapegoat for the teeming horde of prodigies and monstrosities that continue to infest the towns, villages, and countryside in the vicinity of the ruins of his reputed manse."

The article's reference to "scholar Duncan" is a shout-out to Jeremy. The prompt, and Sutoyar himself, is Ray's fault, but for the rest of this nonsense, the blame falls on me. If you want to chat about it (or anything else gamerly and groovy), my inbox is open. 'Til next time.

A Chasuble Not Made of Skin


Encounter Critical's Signature Ride

The clank and clatter at the Cumberland Games garage is all about Encounter Critical lately, as I prepare for the first test campaign for Intruder Moon, an EC campaign module of special weirdness! Part of my "mood prep" was a fresh viewing of Damnation Alley, and that gets me thinking about Damnation Vans.

Like most things EC, the Damnation Van is less a thing than the hint of a thing, a riddle about a silhouette. All we know is the name, and that for fifty thousand Gold Credits our Player Characters will be treated to "well equipped travel" with fairly modest odds (15% chance) of getting a lemon. We also know it's tricky (6%) to outfit a whole army with them, though we don't really know why Hank thought that rated a column on the chart to begin with.

But what's a Damnation Van, really? What kind of features is it "well equipped" with? How is it fueled and maintained in the wilds of Vanth or elsewhere? How many PCs can live in one?

Heck if I know. Encounter Critical isn't really about explaining itself, and I'm not about explaining it either. But I can tell you about a half-dozen vans I think of, when I think of Damnation Vans.

The Landmaster

Damnation Alley features two of these monsters, called simply Land Master I and Land Master II. The coolest part about the Landmaster is that it was a for-real, practical effect, a working vehicle constructed by the late Dean Jeffries, himself a bit of a legend when it comes to fantasy vehicles for Hollywood. The other coolest part is that the funky triple-wheel design was also functional, with each wheel separately powered for conquering rocky terrain. In real life, there's only one Landmaster (the film did a Patty Duke on it), and you can pay it a visit in California to this day. You can see the beast in motion in this brief clip:

Like any sci-fi vehicle, the Landmaster has fans, fan-pages, fan-diagrams, model kits, and lots of speculation as to its capabilities and capacities. The most common bullet-points seem to be amphibious capability, military communications/navigation gear, the obvious mounted weaponry (machine guns on the sides, turreted missile- and/or rocket-launcher on the roof), capacious rear cargo area (sometimes used to store a couple of light-duty off-road motorcycles), and a well-armored body. If you only know one "Damnation Van," this is the one to know.

The Super Van

When I was a kid, my cousin J.J. had a Super Van toy (a Matchbox / Hot-Wheels sort of thing) I recall envying (he also had a green Hot Wheels "Dream Van," ditto, and so many LEGOs that I just wanted to be him, but was not).

I had a thing for any matchbox car with interesting plastic windows, which is an odd thing to fixate on, but I was a weird kid. The Super Van had very interesting windows indeed, but in my innocence I had no idea it had a movie, in which the super van is solar-powered and has lasers. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube. I haven't, personally, watched the whole thing, because while I'm still a weird kid, I've learned that I have limits. I can absolutely recommend watching this video showing the interior, however, and keeping in mind, for entire run of the video, that the Super Van was originally built as "The Love Machine."

What's more, the Super Van is the creation of another legendary fantasy-carmaker, George Barris, perhaps most famous for the 1960s Batmobile, a job he took over when Dean Jeffries (above!) had to bail on the project. Small world? Probably so, in the specialized craft of fictional car-building. While the Super Van was absolutely in my mind in the dawning days of Encounter Critical, it feels to me less like a general template for a Damnation Van and more like "Thrazar's Own Custom Damnation Van," especially given the interior. Click here (or over here) to see Barris himself alongside his creation, and you can see he's decked out in a manner most appropriate for Thrazarian adventure.

If the Landmaster is the "military version" of the DV, this is the "leisure version," but still has lasers, of course, because they're the most disco possible weapon.

The Ark II

If the Landmaster is the military build, and the Super Van is the leisure build, the Ark II is the science build, complete with force fields, built-in laboratory gear, and standard equipment including a Jet Pack (sold separately, per the EC price-list) and a little car in the back called the Ark Roamer (a groovy little Brubaker Box, which works out, since Curtis Brubaker and the Brubaker Group built the Ark II and other vehicles used in the television series of the same name).

Ark II (the whole T.V. show, not just the Science Damnation Van) is another juicy piece of the Encounter Critical fruit salad, and you can watch all of it on YouTube, too. I can happily recommend it. It sits at that perfect intersection (for EC purposes) of "omg bad" and "hey actually kind of good." It's just about the most good-natured post-apocalypse drama ever made for children's TV, with a crew of young scientists (led by "Captain" Jonah, who I prefer to think of as "Wasteland Jesus"), and a chimpanzee named Adam, because things are better with a chimpanzee (yes, there's a chimpanzee in Intruder Moon, and his name is Pithicus and he wears a little lab coat and a diaper and he's awesome). Highlights of that first episode include master character-actors Malachi Throne and Jonathan Harris in epic scene-chewing competitions, so don't pass it up.

I believe that Ark II is one of those things Hank and Jim bonded over. A kid's show they watched shamelessly even though they were "too old for it," because it fit a lot of their ideals, ticked a lot of their boxes, and showed them something they wanted to believe in. Including a really pretty, and much more civilized, Damnation Van.

(I personally never had Ark II as a kid, but it got retro-introduced to my fake childhood thanks to folks on the EC Mailing List)

The Big Trak

Vans were simply a big deal in the 70s, and so was sci-fi, so there were a number of sci-fi van toys. The most legendary of these is the only Damnation Van any of the Saturday Night Dragon Slayers ever owned: the Big Trak, an awesome programmable electronic toy. In the version of the story that lives in my head, the group ganged together and bought one for Hank for Christmas of 1979, and Hank adored it, and brought it to EC sessions ever-after.

Even cousin J.J. didn't have a Big Trak, and neither did I, but I remember staring at it in stores as a kid, and lusting after it in the Sears wishbook. Here's Starlog magazine (top) and the wishbook (bottom, in color) burbling about the toy that lets you stun "moon monsters" with tech "spun off from the space program." Rad.

The 1970s GMC Motorhome

I've saved the truest and most scientifically real for last. When I personally picture a Damnation Van, there are elements of Big Traks and Landmasters and Arks, plus cool windows and rotating disco fuckbeds ala the Super Van ... but the basic vehicle is always a mundane, real-world workhorse: the 1970s GMC Motorhome. GMC built nearly 13,000 engineered-from-the-inside-out custom motorhomes in the 70s, and they were frickin' magnificent.

Too mundane for EC? Just look, though:

I mean yeah, it needs some military equipment, and some armor, some external weapons, maybe a force-field generator and an Edible Excretions Processing Minivat (for flavor, for variety) but it's almost there. I mean it's just ... yeah.

I like to imagine that Ivan Reitman was a secret Encounter Critical enthusiast back in the day, and that his comedy Stripes is basically Bill Murray and Harold Ramis acting out a version of their EC campaign (the movie's fictional APC, the EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle, is - of course - a 1976 GMC Motorhome with a few props added, and while it's from 1981 and thus squeaks past the game's own era, it's a pretty great model for a Damnation-Van based comedy, to the extent the world needs such a thing)!

Here's hoping this finds you enjoying the far reaches of Vanth in "well equipped" comfort and luxury. Got any tales to tell? Want to be a blindtester for Intruder Moon? My inbox is always open.


Chatting With Fiona Howat

Of possible interest if you enjoy me rambling: you can hear me doing it in a more verbal, slightly growly, managing-to-blank-on-Greg-Stafford's-name sort of way thanks to Fiona Howat at the What Am I Rolling podcast.

The emphasis is mainly on Risus: The Anything RPG and Uresia: Grave of Heaven, but with some fruitful wanderings into other matters roleplayerly. Fiona's graciousness shines through as clearly as my befuddled fogeyhood, I think. She GM'ed some Risus on her podcast this past December and this amounts to a kind of post-system followup, which I enjoyed a bunch!


Pointless Clicking: The Dark Side of Automation

A few days ago I posted this graphic over at DeviantArt. I mention in the post that it's a snap to make an effect like that into a single-click Photoshop action, which is true. What I didn't mention is that I do this habitually, even for effects (like this one) I don't actually need to automate or even intend to repeat. When I'm playing around in Photoshop, I smack the the Record button just in case it turns out interesting.

There is a dark, wicked, unfortunately evil-naughty side to handy Photoshop Actions: They are fun to pointlessly, endlessly play with in a way that is not actually a form of work. I can just feed any one-bit image to that Action and apply the same style to it, so ... I do. Pointlessly, for amusement. Click, click, click. This is why I call Photoshop one of my favorite videogames. When I'm not working in it, it's a time-suck. My alternative to matching three or tapping cartoon treasure-chests for explosions of gold coins:

Embiggening These Will Be Necessary.
The Line-Fill Effect is Too Fine to Show Clearly in the Thumbnails.

Works better for some test-cases than others! On that last one I'm fiddling with different fake spot-colors and, as noted in the DA post, this isn't really a Uresia look, just a side-effect of constantly browsing through old maps for research and/or funsies. But it occurs to me, it might be a good visual direction to explore for Fly From Evil when it comes time to do the San Francisco neighborhood maps.

But right now, it's just pointless clicking, because I'm simple-minded and easily amused. That's the dark side of automation for me ... but at least, when Photoshop is my videogame, time spent it can feed back into my actual work! Pointless play is how I learn most things in graphics software. 

Speaking of pointless: that was all. I didn't want to delete these test images without sharing them with someone; they're cute! Hope this finds you well; drop me a line if you're bored and want to talk Photoshop (or gaming, or any of the usual things).



One of the things I've been up to lately is archiving/mothballing projects that I'd had somewhere on the Maybe Burners for Cumberland, which never quite made it to the Back Burners.

For the most part, this process is a solemn series of document-flips, sighs, folder-compression and a final file-dunk into the "dead" archive discs instead of precious hard-drive space.

But, as you might suppose, I linger on some more than others. A Uresia mini-supplement called Gods of Gurlinghouse is one of those.

Gurlinghouse is one of those projects that I call "pre-finished," which means "finished enough for me to GM with it, but not nearly finished enough to send it to blindtesters." It's the level where a lot of projects stop, because if I can GM with it, that's all I'll personally ever need from it. To decide if a pre-finished item deserves the long hard production march to Finished Cumberland Games Title, I float little feelers in the directions of the fan-community. If they seem excited by it, I continue. If they seem indifferent, I take the hint and simply keep it as part of my own GMing arsenal.

Gurlinghouse teeters on the line. When I floated feelers on it, a couple of fans perked right up, while most registered no response. But more importantly, Gurlinghouse is probably going to be the basis of my next online runs in heaven's grave ... and that nudges the teetering a tiny bit.

Which means it hasn't been mothballed yet. It's just kind of sitting there in the Uresia Projects folder, daring me to finish it, or at least take it another layer deep into production. So, I'll ramble about it for a moment.

That's Gurlinghouse in the middle
(Old Gurling Manor, if we're being starchy)

The Very Short Version is that Gurlinghouse is an old town-manor on Shortshadow Street in Shadow River, and once upon a time it was owned by the Gurling family (cordage folk; hemp and jute; very knotty; ties to Boru; the jokes write themselves; etc), but then all the Gurlings were dead and the Duke made a gift of it to an elf he fancied. This elf – Tani Arrowspike – was so famously indelicate she once horked an entire ham across the Duke's dining-hall, so you can understand his ardor, I'm sure.

Tani turned the house into a delverclub, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a place where Overtly Player-Character-Types gather and give the neighborhood a slightly shadier name. This was many years ago (she was part of Grandma August's crew) and Gurlinghouse rages on, having housed multiple generations of ne'er-do-wells and always-do-wells and the muddy in-betweens.

So that's the boiled-down essence of what the Gods of Gurlinghouse mini-supplement would have been (or might be?): an exploration of this particular delverclub, with side-notes about delverclubs in general (just like Caravel did for caravels). It would also include a few notes on the neighbors (the alchemical gardens behind it, the massive Cordage Guild in front of it, Dredjer the Locksmith is just around the corner there, etc. It'd focus on a few colorful NPC-types, some adventure possibilities, some mysteries about the house, and of course a floorplan of the place. Probably in this style, approximately:

This isn't Gurlinghouse.
It's Rede Cottage, Dreed.

This map is from another (fully mothballed, fully cancelled) Uresia mini-supplement about Sindran Loreseekers, which included this zeroed-in look at one of their foreign chapterhouses, yadda-yadda. Like Gurlinghouse, Rede Cottage falls into the general (and useful) category of "houses where Player Characters can forward their mail when they're off galavanting." Gurlinghouse is a bit larger: three above-ground levels, two subterranean levels, and a rooftop terrace ... but same general idea, a home base for a campaign.

The reason I have a mostly-finished map of Rede Cottage is the same reason I'll soon have a mostly-finished map of Gurlinghouse: despite the Cumberland book being shelved, I'll be needing a player handout for my own gaming purposes.

Inevitably, if pathetically, I can't help but wonder if Gurlinghouse perks any additional eyebrows nowadays. If not, I've got enough on my project-plate and I'll just take it from "pre-finished" to "pre-finished plus handout map for the players." But if so, let me know? Either way, it's always nice to hear from Uresia gamers. Hope this finds you all well.