Horror


Be careful going outside in London, there’s foreigners everywhere

There are millions of undocumented asylum seekers in this country

Maybe you didn’t feel welcome in London because they don’t want more foreigners there?

Once David Cameron’s elected, them blacks’ll get what’s comin’ to ‘em

Your new girlfriend’s not aboriginal is she?

You’re not English, you’re British

What race is your friend?

Enoch Powell was right you know!

These are the kinds of things my family and friends have been saying about immigration and race in the UK for as long as I can remember. By “family” I mean not just my immediate family, but also the extended family – uncles, Aunts, grandparents and cousins – and all of the family friends I have ever met. Most of my family and their friends now vote for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), but they used to be classic Tory working class. They’re indicative of the political groundswell that is lifting UKIP up in the polls, and are the reason this new and toxic party came first in the European elections a week ago. If ever it occurs to you to naively wonder why it is that so many UKIP candidates get caught out posting terrible things on social media, just have a look at what my family and their friends – almost all UKIP voters – think of race and immigration. Is it any wonder their representatives have some hairy ideas?

My family are pretty much entirely lower working-class or lumpen proles. My father left school at 15, my mother at 13 (I think); my Grandfather was a Spanish refugee (oh the irony!) who left home at 15 to fight fascism; I was the first person in my entire extended family to get a university education, and probably also the first person in my entire extended family to complete a higher school certificate (my brother got O levels rather than A levels, and only just scraped them in). My father was a tradesman, until he lost his job and spent the remaining 10 years of his working age collecting benefits (and fraudulently using them to pay for a mortgage on a trailer park home, against the housing benefit rules, while complaining about foreigners cheating welfare). Most of the rest of my family are unskilled labourers or tradespeople. They should therefore be the natural constituency of Labour, but their unpleasant views on race make them natural victims of parties like UKIP. My father believes everything he reads in the Daily Mail (he lives in terror of gypsies paving his yard in the night and then presenting him with the bill in the morning), and basically my entire extended family have been slowly seduced into voting against their economic interests by appeals to their racial biases. As an example of how they vote against their interests, my father has a lifelong disability brought about by polio, but he sneers at people with disabilities campaigning for their “human rights” (his quote marks, not mine) even though these people are the reason he has special disability benefits and parking rights. He has always refused to join a union because “they don’t do anything for me” but then he was sacked and blackballed by his employer, so he couldn’t work anywhere in the city where he lived – and then he asked the union if they could help him with legal action (they said no, somewhat unsurprisingly). This is the quality of my extended family – always wanting certain socialised benefits, but refusing to share in the responsibilities and costs of those socialised benefits, and as people like them slowly undermine the strength of the shared social systems they rely on, blaming foreigners for the resulting degradation in public services and benefits.

It is my opinion that the modern leaders of both major British political parties are too shallow and too caught in their own little bubble to understand how people like my parents think. As a result they cannot understand why these people are drifting away from the major parties to the lunacy that is UKIP. I think Margaret Thatcher understood these people – it was her understanding of this class of people that enabled her to construct what is now referred to as the “Tory working class vote” in the first place – and her political opponents from before Blair also saw how these people think, but failed to stop the drift away from class-based solidarity to race-based solidarity. The modern Conservative party is dominated by young Bullingdon club economic radicals, who have absolutely no conception of what it is like to even be a grocer’s daughter, let alone to be an unemployed typesetter living in a trailer park. The modern Labour party is dominated by political lifers, who may mean well (a difficult proposition to support when one looks at the 10-year-long mistake that was Tony Blair) but have no idea how the working class they are supposed to support really think. The few remnants of old labour still left in the party – people like John Prescott – are far out of touch with the modern working class after years of snorting cocaine off of babies’ bottoms in Blair’s cabinet, and their response to UKIP’s rise has been to fall back on 50-year-old concepts of economic protectionism.

In the face of this choice – between obviously out of touch Bullingdon toffs and a clique of political apparatchiks to a vampire – is it any wonder that UKIP have been able to make such gains with the Tory working class? With a complete lack of trust in the political system, having been levered away from an class consciousness during Thatcher’s era, but left rudderless with only their racial consciousness to guide them, the class of British people my family are drawn from are natural targets for UKIP. Labour had 10 years to get these people back into the fold, through restoration of the industrial economy, improvements in benefits and efforts to reduce inequality – practical solutions to the living cost and economic challenges consuming this class of people – but instead they focused on being “intensely comfortable about people being incredibly rich” and were too busy sucking up to the banking industry to bother looking at the little people.

So now both political parties are waking up to realise that a sizeable proportion of the votes they thought they could rely on are drifting away, following the lure of Farage’s racist anger. Both parties have lost the knowledge of how these drifting voters think and what they are worried about, and both parties are unwilling to face a central fact: that these voters they are losing are deeply, unpleasantly racist. This is the party whose leader referred to non-white voters as “Nig-nogs” and whose representatives have a disturbing habit of being caught out saying genuinely horrible things on Facebook – but no one in the leadership of either of the mainstream parties seems to have considered that this might be related to the success of the party. Until they do, they aren’t going to be able to craft a strategy to deal with UKIP’s central anti-immigration theme. How can they? So long as they keep fooling themselves into thinking that the average UKIP voter is a non-racist person with genuine but misguided concerns about European workers taking his job, they aren’t going to get anywhere. Because these people are deeply racist, and race is what is driving their vote. They don’t like foreigners, they don’t want them in the UK, and if foreigners are to come here they want clear assurances that their stay will be temporary, they will be treated badly and paid worse and they will never be given the same rights as the “indigenous” population. If David Cameron doubts that, I recommend he spend 10 minutes trying to discuss labour market reform with my Grandmother.

This also means that the debate about whether to call Farage a racist is irrelevant. UKIP voters aren’t offended by being called racist – they revel in it. My father doesn’t start a conversation with “I’m not racist but …” – he is deeply past that kind of self-equivocation. He refers to black people as “niggers” and starts conversations with proud declarations of his own racism. The inferiority of non-whites is a simple and accepted fact in my extended family. Worrying about whether these people will be offended by being called something they proudly claim for themselves is really angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin stuff. The mainstream parties are going to have to do better than that.

And the truth is, I don’t think they can. A large minority of British people don’t want to be part of Europe, and another large portion don’t care either way. A lot of British people want foreigners out. They were willing to vote Tory or Labour despite the incongruence of their aims and the parties’ aims, because they still trusted those parties, and UKIP was not yet a national force. But now that UKIP has begun to be taken seriously, making consistent electoral gains, an in the wash-up of the financial crisis (which destroyed Labour’s credibility) and the expenses scandal (which tainted both parties irrevocably), the stranglehold of the major parties on the neck of the average British racist prole has been broken. I don’t think they’re going to get those people back, and they should be counting their blessings that it’s only UKIP, not BNP that is benefiting from 20 years of mainstream parties’ stupidity.

In the short term I think Labour will be the major beneficiaries of this trend to vote 1 on race. Labour has a natural constituency based on unionism and class issues that the Tories lack, and the Tory vote has been declining for years. Tory success at the polls has relied on some crafty dog-whistling to ensure that some proportion of the working class vote is prized away from Labour, and they have done this through race (see e.g. their broken promise to keep immigration at 100000 a year). These voters they pry loose from Labour on that basis are fair-weather friends, and will easily be drawn away by a credible racist alternative – and now that alternative is here. Even if UKIP don’t win a single seat at the next general election, they’re going to completely screw up the Tories’ electoral strategy, and I don7t think a more openly racist Tory campaign will save them – nobody believes them on European issues anymore, and since they have consistently failed to meet their pledge to reduce immigration, nobody thinks they’re going to do what they say they will. This is going to make Labour’s task much easier at the next election, but if UKIP don’t implode after that then I suspect Labour will face increasing difficulties in the future. The tide has turned. The racist genie is out of its box, and now there isn’t much either of the main parties can do. Unless Labour can find a way to return the political conversation to a genuine, strong position on inequality and complete reform of the British economy to benefit the poorest and the working class – regardless of what happens in Europe – then both mainstream parties are going to be left desperately hoping that UKIP implodes. If it doesn’t, the tories are toast, and unless they can find a visionary to lead them through this challenging new landscape, my guess is that Labour will have to return to 1950s-style anti-European protectionism.

It’s possible that UKIP may win everything they want without ever winning a seat in parliament … simply by dominating the conversation. This is what happens when the working class vote for their racial interests over their class interests. Let’s hope that this madness remains confined to the UK, because it isn’t pretty to watch and let me assure you, you do not want my extended family’s racist imaginings  being treated as a serious policy framework …

Kicking Bear's Dream

Kicking Bear’s Dream

This Compromise and Conceit one-shot begins in a remote part of the northern Red Empire. The background of the one-shot is described here, and the characters are:

  • Wachiwi, a Sioux scout, blessed with special powers to dance in shadows and summon the aid of her tribe’s ancient spirits
  • Weayaya, a Sioux skinwalker, capable of taking the form of other humans and animals, but also quite a strong fighter with a spear
  • Atha’halwe, a Navajo wiseman from the Empire of the Sun, the large empire in the south-west that was founded by the Navajo; this wiseman called on powers of sun and moon, and fought with a semi-magical curved sword he obtained from a demon-faced warrior from beyond the seas
  • Wickaninnish, an Iroquois brave (fighter) bristling with strange spiritual artifacts, whose name means “No one sits before him in the canoe.” The group’s warrior but also able to call on healing and support powers from his tribe’s gods

Our adventure begins in the late spring, on the shaded side of a hill. The sky was a perfect, pale and cloudless blue, and a gentle cooling breeze blew in from the north. To the far southwest the characters could see a massive herd of buffalo, so far away that they looked like nothing more than the shadow of a huge cloud drifting over the plains. This picture of perfect natural peace was marred by only one small detail: the PCs stood up to their knees in a pile of dead Frenchmen. Nearby, one of these Frenchies was still alive, moaning weakly as his life ebbed away. On the crest of the hill a line of huge crows and buzzards had gathered, watching patiently as the PCs picked through the mess of dead bodies.

While the sight of a mound of dead Frenchies would not usually be cause for consternation amongst good citizens of the Red Empire, in this case they were a source of disappointment. Our heroes had been employed by a village north of this battle scene to find and kill these very Frenchies, and recover from them the village’s stolen totem. Yet for all their haste and careful tracking, the PCs had arrived too late, and had found their quarry killed by some other gang. The totem they had been tasked with finding was nowhere to be seen, and all that they could do was stand in silent consternation, looking at the heaped bodies.

Still, where there are dead there should also be killers, and anything on this wide and sunny earth that is powerful enough to kill a squad of hardened French mercenaries is also big enough to track. With Wickaninnish advising her on the details of the battle, Wachiwi set about finding the tracks of the victors. Wachiwi was a master at her craft, and nothing larger than a mouse could escape this battlefield but that she would find it. Soon enough she had located a faint trail, though on the scrubby and stony ground it was too faint to identify too much detail. The group set off in pursuit of those who had stolen their prize.

The Good Woman

They traveled as fast as they could while tracking, but after several hours’ travel they were interrupted by the sound of screams coming from the lee of a small hill. Our heroes guessed they were a woman’s screams, and immediately set out to investigate. They rode to the base of the hill, and rested their horses near a group of rocks. Weayaya disappeared behind the rocks, and a moment later an enormous crow hopped out from behind them, looking quizzically at its comrades in arms. Weayaya took off quickly and flew over the hill, ascending on the warm air to join a small group of crows that were circling in the sky a short distance away. His instinct was right: they had identified a scene of death, and were waiting for the living to depart so they could descend to feast. From this vantage point in the sky, the whole tableau was clear.

A group of six men in military uniform had made a quick camp in a dry creekbed on the far side of the rise. This creekbed was narrow and choked with bushes, but at one point behind the hill it widened to encompass not just the path of the long-dry stream, but a little beach lined with sagebrush and two small trees. From one of these trees hung a dead man, obviously harshly treated before his end. On the next tree hung a living woman, naked from the waist up and partly flayed. Three of the military men stood around her, while the other three sat around a nearby campfire. Between the fire and the trees lay a dead baby, and on the baby stood a vulture. As crow-Weayaya watched, the men did something to the woman, and she screamed again.

Weayaya returned to the group. It was clear what needed to be done, and no debate was necessary. Wachiwi slid into the creekbed and crept up to the camp, to prepare an ambush. The three warriors led their horses to the top of the rise, and when they judged Wachiwi to have had enough time to approach, they attacked.

Wachiwi slid carefully and quickly up to the camp, and was able to take a position within an arms’ reach of the three torturers. From here she could get a clearer sense of what was happening in the camp. One of the men held a lemon, another held a handful of salt, and the one in the middle held nothing. The woman was tied to the top of the tree by her wrists, so her back was arched and she was helpless before them. They had flayed off parts of her face and shoulder, and were treating these parts with salt and lemon to encourage compliance. As Wachiwi watched the man in the middle struck the woman in the face, and demanded something of her in a language Wachiwi did not understand. A moment later the vulture began to croak, and out of its hideous curved beak came words in rough Sioux: “Where is it?!” The woman stared back at the man in disgust, and replied in Sioux, “My husband may be a coward, but I will give you nothing. Kill me as you did him, you dogs.” The vulture then croaked all this back to the men in their hideous gabbled tongue.

Wachiwi had heard enough; the time for battle had come. In silence she drew from her clothes a dried coyote’s paw, and whispering prayers to her ancestors she buried the paw in the soil near one of the sagebrushes. Having invoked her totem[1], she waited for the sound of her allies charging down the hill. As their ululations reached her, she slipped out of the sagebrush behind the man who slapped the woman, and slid her vicious knife deep into his side, fully intent on gutting him from hip to armpit.

As she struck her comrades came hurtling down the hill, screaming and yelling and firing their weapons, all of which missed. The men in the gully were held frozen in alarm at the sudden ambush, so that their attackers had a chance to charge straight into battle. Wickaninnish leapt from his horse and fell on the salt man, striking him deep in the shoulder with a single blow; Weayaya smashed into the other man with his spear, knocking him back. Atha’halwe dashed past the three men at the campfire as they scrambled to their feet, decapitating two immediately with his katana.

Battle was joined. The man with the lemon was revealed to be a wizard; he invoked some spell that confused Weayaya so that he was unable to strike him. The salt man tried to regain his feet and fight Wickaninnish, but he was too damaged; Wickaninnish surged over him beating and hacking with his axe. Everyone left Wachiwi to deal with the man she had ambushed, but he was tougher than she expected, and was able to recover from the near-fatal wound and draw a sabre, badly damaging her leg. Meanwhile Atha’halwe circled back to kill the last man at the campfire. As the struggle proceeded, the wizard cast another spell, yelling some imprecation in his ugly tongue as he did so. The vulture, of course, translated: “The Great White Mother does not allow her loyal servants such cowardly rest!!” Moments later the two beheaded soldiers rose to their feet, shakily moving towards the battle zone. Fortunately the wizard cast his spell too soon to reanimate the salt man; having clubbed him near to death, Wickaninnish drew from his belt a nasty-looking device made of a huge bear’s claw. With his last axe strike he shattered the hapless foe’s jaw, so that he could stretch the mouth wide enough to insert the bear-claw hook. Moments later he surged up from the twitching body, raising the bear-claw hook to the sky and yelling in triumph. Sunlight glistened on the man’s tongue, ripped out whole and intact from the back of his throat[2]. Wickaninnish flicked it disdainfully to the earth, and turned to take his next foe.

Now the battle had turned desperate for the defenders, and the Vulture translated for both sides as Weayaya speared the wizard to his death and the others teamed up to kill Wachiwi’s foe. “Die, you stinking white man!” “No, please, not that…” “Oh fuck, I’m done in…” “Get behind me, satan!” “aaaaaaaagh!” At the last, Weayaya smashed the wizard to the earth with his spear, and then used the point to score deep cross-marks in his chest. Then, as he twitched and groaned, Weayaya savagely tore back the skin from the crosses, so that he was flayed in a great x-shape, chest and muscles opened to the cleansing sun. With a roar he stood up and joined the battle to fell the remaining soldier.

Having dispensed with their enemies, the PCs took stock. They lay one surviving soldier and the leader, who was still vaguely conscious, next to each other by the fire. Then they cut down the woman. She fell to her knees in the dirt, then rose unsteadily to her feet. She took just one deep, steadying breath and then leapt screaming onto the leader. Knees astride his chest, she grabbed his face and tore out his left eye as he squealed and grunted in horror. Then she stuffed it into his mouth, forcing it shut with one hand while she held his nose fast shut with the other. There followed a minute or so of savage grunting and struggling as the severely wounded soldier tried desperately to shake her off, and our heroes stood around approvingly, catching their breath and watching the woman take her vengeance. The woman screamed curses at him in Sioux, promising him that he would suffer in eternity for torturing her and killing her baby; the Vulture translated her imprecations as the man twitched and kicked. Eventually the leader’s struggles stilled, he stopped kicking, and with some final desultory gurgling sounds, he choked to death on his own eyeball. The woman stood up proudly, spat on his corpse, and then collapsed in the dirt.

Having witnessed justice dispensed fair and honestly, the characters questioned the other man, before ending his miserable existence. The soldiers were English, from a large camp deeper in the wilderness, and were here searching for something that the Vulture translated as “the well of souls.” They thought this might be an entrance to the underworld, but it wasn’t clear in translation. The woman told them that she, her husband and her baby had been traveling when they were abducted for questioning by these soldiers; her husband had proven a coward and told them that there were rumours of a village that held the well, however he had also proven weak, and died before he could tell them more. The woman was a good sioux woman, however, and had held out for an hour before the characters arrived. Atha’halwe healed her, and she told them she would return to her village to tell stories of their heroism, and curse her husband for all time as a coward and a weakling.

The characters decided to continue the path they had been following. These soldiers had come from the direction they were tracking their quarry in, and they suspected that their Frenchmen had been killed by an English patrol. Thus, the story of this quest for the well of souls, and their totem, were intertwined.

 

Treading only lightly on the laws of physics

Treading only lightly on the laws of physics

Custer’s Last Stand

The characters traveled slowly and carefully, aware that they might cross more such patrols. They stopped to rest the night rather than risk stumbling on enemies in the darkness, and next morning set out early to follow the trail. They traveled for the whole day, and towards evening they found what they were looking for. From a hillside they saw a large British camp in the near distance. It was set out against a steep slope, that curved up to a nearly unscalable bluff. In the shadows of the bluff rested a huge Corvette, something none of our heroes had seen before, though perhaps they had heard of such miracles from the British. This huge vehicle was large enough to carry perhaps 200 men, and indeed set out in its shadow was a large camp for about that many men. The camp was set in the lee of the bluff, so invisible to people in the plains beyond. A wide picket on the edge of the camp ensured that noone would find the camp without alerting its occupants. This picket held three gun nests, and also had a soldier every 30m or so. Wandering the line was a six-legged, two-headed chimaeric dog. This force was obviously deep in hostile territory, and moving with extreme caution to avoid being detected by large Red Empire forces.

The PCs had to get in there to find out what was going on. They waited until dusk, and then Weayaya disguised himself as the dead captain. He and Wachiwi slipped into the camp, and set about finding out what was happening. Weayaya found himself enlisted into the senior officers’ meeting, where with the help of a little magic he was able to understand the proceedings. The meeting was convened by a big, arrogant British general called General Custer, and his plans were very clear: in the morning the entire force was going to do a forced dawn march to a town two hours’ walk away, in the shadow of a hill called Little Bighorn. They were going to descend on the town and kill everyone in it, and then his two wizards would enter the well of souls – for reasons not disclosed at the meeting. They would then leave, leaving no trace that they were ever there. Any squad leader who left any evidence that they 0r their men had been there would be thrown from the Corvette on the return journey. The corvette – which Weayaya discovered was called the Custer’s Last Stand – would remain here, to be called in if things went wrong. The attack would take place at dawn.

While Weayaya learnt these military facts, and then went on a tour of the autonomous sentinel cannon gun-nests at the periphery of the camp, Wachiwi was investigating the two huge warrior-beasts standing in the shadow of the corvette. She had never seen anything like them before: three metres tall, made of human bone and demon flesh, with plates of metal armour embedded amongst the organic mess. Each was armed with a huge sword and an infernal blaster, and though they appeared to be inactive at dusk, their eyes still burned with an evil light inside their heavily-armoured skulls. These beasts were Myrmidons, the pinnacle of British military technology and formidable opponents by any measure, likely worth 20 braves in close battle. The force amassed here, though not capable of defeating a major sioux battle group, would certainly be able to wipe out a single town with a surprise raid.

Something would have to be done.

The dawn battle

Their plan was simple. Weayaya remained in camp disguised as the British captain, and would ride near Custer into battle, with Wachiwi hidden in his saddlebags. They would ambush Weayaya when the battle began. In the meantime, Wickaninnish and Atha’halwe raced ahead to the town of Little Bighorn, to warn the residents of the coming battle. The chieftain of the town was one Sitting Bull, currently deeply involved in the politics of Imperial Ascension and eagerly looking for a victory to present as proof of his candidature. He agreed to the ambush, and they set their ambush in a forested hollow at the base of Little Bighorn.

The trap was easily sprung. Custer’s forces were moving fast and quiet, and had little time for outriders; those they sent were easily neutralized. When his forces entered the hollow the braves attacked, and as soon as the battle began Wachiwi and Weayaya attacked Custer. Wachiwi’s ambush was not enough to seriously hurt him, but she pinned his leg to his saddle with her knife. As he struggled to throw her off, Weayaya struck him with a spear. Custer’s wizards were riding near him and reacted in outrage at this attack, but Weayaya confused them by yelling,

“Custer! You coward and traitor! You have led us into a trap!!”

This declaration worked so well that the wizards were briefly confused, and did not rush to Custer’s aid. As he battled Weayaya and Wachiwi, his men were caught in ferocious battle with the Sioux attackers. Wickaninnish and Atha’halwe cut their way through the throng, making their way towards Custer. Custer was guarded by one of the Myrmidons, but with a stroke of luck Weayaya was able to confuse it with an invocation to the spirits, and for a few brief flurries of battle it did not attack.

As Wickaninnish and Atha’halwe approached, Custer realized he was beyond salvation. Calling to his elite cavalry, he spurred his horse from the battle and led them up the slopes of Little Bighorn, declaring that they would make a last stand on the hilltop. As he fled, Weayaya yelled

“Custer! You cowardly traitor! You lead us to an ambush and flee! You are a low-down servant of the red man!”

The wizards, convinced by Weayaya’s declarations, decided to take sides, and they both let loose balls of balefire on Custer. As he rode up the hill, he was engulfed in two huge balls of black fire. He fell roasted from his horse, and his men riding behind him fell into disarray as the lead horses crashed into the fire and fell. Pursuing Sioux fell on them, hacking them to death.

With their general revealed to be a cowardly traitor, and now dead, the remaining British began to panic. Weayaya rode up to Wickaninnish, and their followed a remarkable piece of stage-managed deception. Wickaninnish dismounted from his horse and, drawing his tomahawk and letting loose a great cry, plunged it deep into the ground. A ripple of confusion spread from the axe, and all across the battlefield people stopped attacking each other[3]. The vulture, circling overhead, translated for Weayaya from English to Sioux, as he said

“Oh brave and powerful warleader, I offer you the surrender of all my men on this battlefield if you will show us mercy.”

All about them soldiers and braves looked on in amazement as the Vulture translated. Wickaninnish raised an arm and replied,

“Pale-faced captain, you have fought well and bravely. It is not your fault that your warchief was a coward and a traitor. Because you acquitted yourselves well, I grant you mercy. If your men throw down their arms and admit their error in this attack, we will allow them to live, and will escort you all back to your camp. I assure your safety!”

Weayaya looked around at the soldiers, and issued this demand. They threw their weapons down and with cries of sorrow, offered themselves to the tender mercy of the Sioux. The battle was over, Custer disgraced, the mission to the well of souls a complete failure, and Wickaninnish now a proud and revered warchief.

They led the men back to the corvette, which they claimed for the Red Empire. Inside they found their totem, which the British had simply stolen opportunistically when they stumbled on the French mercenary band. A few Sioux prisoners were freed, Custer’s documents and plans were stolen, and the wizards questioned. The men would be forced to return on foot to the nearest French outpost, their mission revealed but their lives spared. All that remained was for our heroes to find out why the British were willing to risk so much for a raid on the well of souls. What did they want in the Underworld that they were willing to risk an elite force to do it? What was their interest in the mysteries of the Red Empire…?

fn1: This totem enables everyone in battle to replace one characteristic die with a reckless die. Totems need to be placed at the point of battle, so charging braves cannot deploy totems; Wachiwi was the only person who could invoke a totem for this battle.

fn2: This is counting coup! From this Wickaninnish regained a coup point and one point of fatigue.

fn3: This is one of Wickaninnish’s powers, “Bury the hatchet,” which forces a temporary peace on a battle.

Picture credits: the corvette is obviously from Nausicaa. The picture at the top of the post is a piece of ledger art depicting Custer’s last stand, by Kicking Bear, 1896.

A harbinger of what ...?

A harbinger of what …?

The eroding empire campaign begins in the rain-washed aftermath of the Black Company’s raid on the Doomsday Cult, which was the event that drew our PCs’ disparate lines of fate together. Having fled the Black Company raid, our PCs rested briefly in a clearing some distance from the Doomsday Cult stockade, eying each other suspiciously. The characters were:

  • Thybalt, Tiefling warlock
  • Lithvar, Wood elf druid, the pivot around which all our fates had been drawn together
  • Syrion Dessair, a human paladin who, were he forced to admit to a god that he serves, would probably say “Myself”
  • Ayn (pictured), a human cleric of the Doomsday cult, swathed in black robes and deeply scarred both physically and emotionally
  • Cog 11, a gnome rogue who had decided, on an impulse, to desert his position as scout for the Black Company, and join this strange bunch of wanderers

Though the group mostly shared a common link with Lithvar, Ayn did not, and had only briefly known Syrion (whose motives were, typically for him, very base) and Tyhalt, not the most trustworthy of acquaintances. Thrown in with this strange band, she was even less inclined to trust the scarred and diminutive gnome with the ice-blue, frozen eyes who had led the Black Company to destroy the only good life she had ever known.

No matter! Cog 11 pointed out to everyone that when the Black Company is tasked with destroying a cult, it at least tries to do the job properly, and would be scouring the land for survivors at first light – they needed to get out of this area as quickly as possible and find the relative safety of a town. Lithvar, knowing the area slightly, recommended Tamaran, and after a little pushing and argument they agreed to set out immediately for Tamaran.

Our GM prepared a description of the journey, which I present here:

You set out from the campsite towards Tameron. Everywhere you look you see evidence of last night’s storm, with fallen branches scattered about and dank ground muddy underfoot. Rainwater continues to drip off the leaves above you.

It doesn’t take you long, though, before you can see the sunlight through the trees in front of you. It feels good as you step out of the forest and into the sunlight. You’re greeted with the view of a grassy green valley lying before you, with Tameron lying just a short walk below. A small huddle of buildings lies peacefully in the center of the valley. It is mid-morning and the sun has already begun to dry the muddy roads. You enjoy a cool breeze as you make your way down to Tameron, sticking the edges of the road where the mud has already hardened.

As you approach the town you are reminded of just how good life can be in the Dragon Empire these days. Farmers are hard at work, their ploughshares swinging at the ground semi-rythmically as they prepare their fields for the planting. A boy of about ten herds a flock of geese past you, at first staring at Ayn as he approaches, but then nodding politely as he passes.

Further in town more people are out and about. Some people are picking up roofing shingles that must have come loose in last night’s storm. One man loops a shingle onto the roof of a nearby house, where another man takes it and starts hammering it into place.

A small group of kids skip by, with a chubby boy lagging behind them slightly. They stop and taunt him, and hold out something as if to say “You want this? Ok, come and get it!” and then start running away again. As the red-faced boy sighs resignedly and waddles off after them again, his rotund body turns your thoughts again to how good the people of the Dragon Empire have it these days. Although they are far from wealthy, barely one step above poverty, it’s been many a generation since famine or even plague visited, and war is kept to minor skirmishes on the borders of the Empire, barely effecting the lives of the common folk. Considering the long history of the 13 Ages of the Dragon Empire, a tubby kid in a town like Tameron is a rare – and joyous – thing indeed.

The kind of description that encourages suspicions of impending destruction … Nonetheless, our heroes needed somewhere to hide, so they marched steadfastly into the town, looking for breakfast and if possible somewhere to hide. Soon after they arrived, as they stood in the main square waiting for the nearest tavern to open, they heard a disturbance and saw a boy riding pell-mell into the town, yelling something about destruction and chaos. Cog 11, suspecting the worst, slid into the shadows behind a verandah. Sure enough, the boy had rushed to town to report the destruction of the Doomsday Cult, which the townsfolk had been quite fond of. People gathered and voices were raised in favour of taking a group to the Stockade to look for survivors. Syrion spoke out against this, pointing out that the Black Company and its camp followers would be hungry for loot and unsure of who was a cultist – best to wait. With this counsel dispensed, the party retired to the tavern to enjoy breakfast.

While they were eating breakfast, a local rube entered the tavern and began reading a tale of sexual transgression involving a young knight and two ladies-in-waiting. Syrion turned bright red; though he did not tell the other characters, someone has somehow managed to document all of Syrian’s romantic exploits in painful detail, and is now distributing scrolls throughout the land depicting his scarlet adventures. Try as he might, Syrion is unable to find the source of these pornographic missives, and though he once again tried to identify the source with this latest reader, he learnt nothing. Of course the listeners did not know the stories concerned this particular visiting Paladin, and simply laughed uproariously at the ribald humour of the thing. A strange fate indeed, to be renowned across the land for this kind of night-time swordsmanship, but unknown to everyone.

During breakfast, a local farmer recognized Thybalt, who is unmistakable as the tiefling lad who used to live in a village not one day’s ride from Tameron, and told him that his father was near death three months ago. With little else to do, the characters decided to accompany Thybalt back to his village, to see if his father was still alive and if he needed any help. However before they set off they decided to return with Ayn, the Tameron sheriff and a group of villagers to the ruined stockade, judging it now safe from Black Company soldiers. They arrived to find a scene of complete destruction, the stockade and buildings collapsed in smouldering ruins and the open areas of the encampment scattered with dead cultists, all hacked and mutilated by camp followers seeking rings, gold teeth and hidden treasures. Ayn drifted around the stockade in bewilderment and shock, looking at the ruins of what her life could have been and stopping to shed tears over every member of her little cult. The irony of a Doomsday cultist distressed at the end of the world as she knew it was not lost on her new comrades, but they waited patiently for her to attend to her grief.

When her grief was done it turned to anger, and Ayn began invoking a ritual pledge of vengeance, calling upon the names of her apocalyptic gods to bless her in a quest for revenge. The sheriff, seeing this, attempted to force a deal out of her: that she would not turn vigilante if he would prevent the townsfolk from disturbing and robbing the bodies of her dead fellows. She agreed readily, though as the group left the ruined stockade she told them she would obey no promise to any mortal power, and only pledges to her dark gods counted for her loyalty.

A point that was well noted by her new comrades, no doubt.

From the stockade they traveled to Thybalt’s home village, arriving in the late evening to find a tiny hamlet of just a single cluster of large farming houses. They were greeted with suspicion and coldness – Thybalt was never welcome here – but Thybalt was led into his father’s house, to see the slowly crumbling ruins of his once strong and vibrant father. The old man lay on a pile of blankets and mattresses in one corner of the room, no longer able to climb the stairs, and only moved feebly when the PCs entered. A few villagers came with them bearing food, and sat around to eat as Thybalt’s father told him the true story of at least a part of his origins…

Before Thybalt was born the village was in danger from evil, and Thybalt’s father made a deal with the Crusader to protect the village. To fulfill his pact he simply had to give the contents of a small sandalwood box to Thybalt. He gestured to the box, a non-descript thing on top of a cupboard that had probably sat there all through Thybalt’s childhood, undisturbed in its mundanity. Thybalt took down the box, opening it to reveal a scroll. Like a classic knave, he unrolled the scroll and read it. Two words leapt out in swirls of golden light and swam into his eyes; with all the wisdom of corrupt youth, Thybalt immediately blurted out the words.

As soon as he uttered the words, growling them out in some ancient and sinister tongue, three things happened in three different far away places:

  1. Somewhere deep and dark, a figure reads a book at an altar. Behind the figure is a grey wall. As the figure reads the wall folds slowly away, and the grey mass is revealed not to be a wall at all, but the scaly lids of some vast and terrifying eye. The lids open further, and a huge golden lizard eye swims into view. “It has awakened …”
  2. Somewhere else, outside in a grim and windswept plain. Three rocks stand in a line in a rocky, scrubby part of this barren expanse. After a moment the middle rock vibrates, begins to hum, and then explodes. Where the rock stood a vortex opens, its swirling colours a gate into …
  3. Thybalt hears a voice inside his head. “Who has called me?” it asks in a rattling, hollow tone. Thybalt, again showing the good sense that only youth can give, tells the voice his name. “Thybalt the untitled one. Why have you awakened me?” “It is an ancient pact,” replied Thybalt, opting again for truth over wisdom. “I see… There is much I must teach you.”

Though not cognizant of the distant eye and its import, or the vortex on the plains, the others did hear Thybalt say those words, and watched him sink into a trance. When he awoke he was … changed.. in fact, awoken into his Warlock powers.

Satisfied that nothing too unusual had happened – beyond one of their group binding himself to an ancient evil in exchange for a few weak curse powers – the group settled to sleep the night away, falling into slumber near Thybalt’s father’s slowly dying fire, and Thybalt’s slowly dying father. They did not sleep long though, before they were all woken by a high-pitched and terrified scream.

They tumbled outside to find a woman standing near the house, pointing into the open area that all the houses were built around. The night had brought with it a low mist that hung thick and still over the ground, and here in the middle of this small square lay a dead horse, gutted and still steaming, half protruding from the mist. A monstrous red semi-humanoid lizard-thing squatted in front of it, noisily indulging itself on the poor horse’s innards. When the characters moved towards it it fled into the mist and shadows on the edge of the village, but not to escape – oh no, now it was joined by some fellows, that prowled on the edge of the square.

Instinctively the party came together, forming a tight, outward-facing circle. Only Cog 11 chose not to join his comrades in the defensive circle: he preferred to trust concealment in the darkness and the mist than to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with his new comrades. Besides, he figured, he would be a more effective combatant if the enemy did not know where he was. He just hoped that these un-Godly beasts used their eyes to see, and not some other sense.
 
Fear gripped the party as they peered out into the darkness, catching fleeting glimpses of shadow-like movement. Something, or somethings were out there, waiting for the opportunity to strike out of the darkness. They knew little of infernal or otherworldly creatures, and their fear of the unknown was almost paralysing. A trembling hand held the only lantern aloft above the center of the circle, sending trembling shadows rippling in all directions, only to rest on the thick, roiling knee-height mist. 
 
Two of the party members, however, were able keep their composure a little more easily than the others. Thybalt had seen these creatures before. They were the same creatures from the hauntings: the ethereal visitors who came to Thybalt in his night to loom menacingly over his bed. Only this time, these monsters seemed somehow… different … their simple physical presence, lifted from dreams and made flesh, emboldened Thybalt – what he could not confront in dreams he realized he could easily kill in the flesh. And there was no trembling in Syrion’s hands as he boldly held his sword forward, ready to pounce. For better or for worse, this boy knows no fear, and was looking forward to the opportunity to demonstrate to the Empire what a fearsome defender of the weak he is.

Moments later two great flame-limned dogs leapt into the square and attacked our heroes. They were followed by a strange, sluggish semi-humanoid creature seemingly made of tar, that sludged its way in from the shadows towards the party. From another direction that red-skinned humanoid lizard came loping out of the shadows on all fours, carrying a spear. Battle was joined!

The fight was short but brutal. After a few passes, Thybalt tried out his new powers, wrapping one of the flame-dogs in shadow-magic that extinguished the dog’s hellfire and tore the dog apart. Cog 11 drifted out of the shadows past the second flame-dog, which sank moments later into the mist, its flames banked and its innards sliding out of several deep cuts to steam in the mist. Ayn called upon her Gods of the End to bless her, and hurled a brilliant shaft of light through the the red lizardman, striking him dead as if he had been hit by a white-hot comet. Finally, Cog 11 hurled a chakram into the head of the tar-man, slicing the top of its head off. Bereft of strength, it slowly oozed out into a puddle in the thinning mist.

Catching their breath as they stood back to back, peering out into the darkness for the next attack, it slowly began to dawn on them that they were still alive. Some of them may have been in life-threatening situations before, and perhaps some of them had even experienced a violent attacker had trying to rip their lives from them before, but for all of them, this was the first time they had stood up to such a threat and defeated it. A combination of adrenaline and fear saw their bodies trembling in the light of the lantern, sending ripples out on the surface of the mist below them. They were alive, which was both a relief and somewhat exhilarating. Drawing breath, they looked around at each other, and for a moment they all drew strength from each others’ position in that circle of belonging. They had done it, and they had done it together.
 
Congratulating themselves on their first successful battle, the group began to clean up. But then, as if the whole group suddenly realised something simultaneously, they exchanged nervous glances with each other before they wordlessly turning their heads in unison toward the wooden shack where Thybalt’s father lay. They had left it unguarded… 

 

A few months ago I participated in a short World of Darkness campaign. This campaign went pear-shaped from the very beginning, when we failed to stop some kind of evil spirit from exterminating a native American tribe so completely that they were wiped from history as well as existence. We ended up in a battle with some kind of fallen angel with bronze for skin, and half of our group died or were rendered comatose by their injuries. Conveniently those players also simultaneously moved on, and the campaign was put on hold. Recently it restarted with three new players, who spent the entire first session staring agog at us and mouthing “WTF” as we tried to give them some kind of perspective. Finally one of the players drew a diagram of the main forces involved. Here it is.

I want tactical database assimilation by 0800 hours

I want tactical database assimilation by 0800 hours

Things are … more complicated than I realized. This might explain why my character, John Micksen, is extremely flippant with powers that can eat him for breakfast – because he is out of his depth and he knows it [this might also be explained by his Composure attribute of 4].

The basic flow of the first campaign goes something like this:

  • A dodgy company called Aesir hires a bunch of no-hoper humans for a dead end job
  • The no-hoper humans (us) end up in a pocket dimension created by a demon called the Judge
  • The Judge was planning to turn a single human, Danny into a genocide machine
  • Someone (probably the company Strauss) stole Danny, just as the pocket universe disappeared, taking an entire native American tribe (Danny’s tribe) with it
  • Our company sent us to a psychiatric hospital to get Danny, who was pumped up on magic and ready to destroy the world
  • We killed Danny, but while we were on our way to kill him we disturbed something called the “God Machine”, a vast and empty wilderness of cogs and clockwork that may or may not be a god, and is definitely out to destroy the universe
  • Somewhere in all of that I met the Faerie Queen of Winter, awakened, and became the Winter Knight
  • Oops
  • For most of the campaign I was useless (we were using the Faerie books for my character)
  • Some guy called Azazel turned up and started offering to help us. He was dodgy. Definitely a fallen angel
  • Some assassins tried to kill us all and we had to go on the run. We (erroneously, it turns out) thought they were sent by Aesir; they weren’t
  • Azazel told us about a girl who could hide us from the God Machine, but to get her we had to cut a deal with a vampire in Chicago and sell out some communists
  • No big deal, we got the girl, but then we discovered there were others, in fact a whole industry of abducting children and using them for something
  • We traced the abductions to a warehouse outside Chicago, and discovered that mundane management of the children was handled by a paedophile ring, who were paid for their services in … access rights
  • We flame-grilled the paedophiles [see Figure, top left]
  • We discovered they were working for an Angel called D’Angelo
  • We killed him too
  • Most of us died; campaign stopped

Now we are in Berlin looking for more information about the German companies, Strauss and Orpheus, that were involved in the child abductions. We also now think they were the ones who tried to kill us, and we are very vengeful, very angry and very committed. We know that the God Machine is trying to destroy the world and we have to stop it, and we know that the German companies are engaged in some sort of unholy and necromantic experiments involving half-angelic children. We have a very long list of people we are going to kill, and our preferred method is to do it slowly and horribly. We’re on the wrong side of the red line, and we aren’t concerned with crossing back any time soon. The three new members of our group look at us like we’re monsters – probably because we are – but we look at them and think “give it a week, they’ll come around.” This is World of Darkness, we survived a battle with an Angel, we’re living on borrowed time and we know it: we are going to use that borrowed time to destroy everyone who crossed us, and anyone who gets in the way is not likely to fare well.

The second section of the campaign began on this footing. I don’t think it is going to end well …

Clare de Lune begins her dance of death

Clare de Lune begins her dance of death

This blog has been quiet for the past few weeks because I have been traveling and working at the same time, and it has been very difficult to make the time to do anything interesting here. However, for the past 10 days I was in London, and during that time I was able to reconvene my old Compromise and Conceit group for a four hour one-shot.

This one-shot used a hyper-stripped down version of the Warhammer 3 rules. I was going to use Shadowrun but I just didn’t have time to prepare something new, so I decided to just muck around with Warhammer 3. We used diceroller apps, had no cards and I made up all actions for all the characters in an hour one morning. We dropped stances, conservative and reckless dice (except for spells that use them), group initiative, and recharge. I used stress as a consequence of spell-casting to limit spell use, and didn’t bother with skills: instead I just gave each player a list of four things they were trained in. Everything else was just a check on the appropriate attribute. This system is really fast and quite fun.

The PCs were:

  • Captain Nostromo, a wizard who specializes in manipulating machinery and infernal objects, probably Polish
  • Clare de Lune, an exotic dancer formerly of the Cirque de Lune, who fights with knives and is accompanied by a gyrfalcon that can also attack (a Large and Vicious Gyrfalcon!), she also has a selection of nature magic
  • The Sicilian, an ageing ex-mercenary who is preventing the decline of his martial prowess with age by an increasing array of infernal enhancements
  • Jack Cloudie (not his real name), an Iroquois Stormcrier who visited Europe on a mission and decided to stay so that he can civilize the savages of this strange and backward country

I will put up character descriptions in subsequent posts, along with some descriptions of how I simplified the WFRP3 rules.

The setting and the adventure

The year was 1830, and the PCs were on a ship bound for Svalbard in the arctic circle in mid-July. They had been employed by a rich industrialist in London to investigate the strange disappearance of a wizard working in Svalbard, one William Sealy Gossett.

Out of place and time

Out of place and time

Svalbard in 1830 was a huge whaling station, and William Gossett had been sent to Svalbard by the PCs employer as part of a project to research ways to imbue whale oil and whale bones with magical essence, and to design new magical tinctures and items. Svalbard was going through a kind of whale-oil-based gold rush, because whale oil fresh from the corpse is an excellent solvent for magical and infernal essences, and whale oil that cannot be enchanted can still be used in industry. William Gossett’s task was to conduct experiments to enable the whale oil to be treated so that it could hold the essence longer after the death of the whale, with the ultimate goal of shipping it back to Europe to be enchanted. Currently only a small amount of whale products were being enchanted, because there were very few wizards willing to live in the harsh confines of Svalbard and work long days enchanting whale fat. The PCs’ employer aimed to revolutionize this industrial process through developing techniques of magical preservation.

Unfortunately, William Gossett appears to have gone missing. He was supposed to send a letter of safe assurance with each ship that left Svalbard for Europe, but the June and July ships both brought nothing back. Although it was possible he could have missed the first ship, his employer is certain something must be amiss for him to miss two. It could be something simple (such as suicide during the winter darkness) but Svalbard is a lawless place in which whalers often fight physically for control of whale pods. The PCs were sent to Svalbard to find William, and punish anyone who has interfered with him.

Svalbard’s Bay of Blood

The adventure opens as the PCs’ ship enters the Svalbard bay, to a scene of horror sufficient to shock even hardened campaigners such as The Sicilian. The air was suffused with a red mist, and the sea stained red with the blood of a throng of dying whales. The bay was thick with the whales, passing through in huge groups, and in amongst them were multiple whaling ships and many small harpoon boats. Wherever they could, the whalers were laying about themselves with harpoons, and everywhere they looked the PCs could see dying whales floundering in the open seas. The whalers moved amongst the pods stabbing whales with harpoons tipped with leather bladders, so that once a sufficient number had been stuck into the beast it could not submerge. They then began to hack, beat and stab it to death, but usually they would haul it still half-alive back to their ship, where it would be tied alongside other dying members of its pod. Then, men would begin flensing the whales, cutting sacks of fat and meat away even as the dying whale twitched feebly in the water. No indignity was spared these hapless beasts: seabirds flocked to their ragged bodies, pecking at the flesh of the injured beasts as they waited weakly to die; a pod of killer whales moved amongst the gore, picking injured whales and eating them even as they fought to escape the whalers; and here and there a half-flensed whale would be set loose, its body no longer valuable to the whales, to die in a slow spiral of viscera and desperate shrieks, torn at by birds, fish and orcas alike as its unique voice faded.

This scene so horrified The Sicilian that he was forced to act. Declaring that the murder of helpless enemies was beneath a warrior, he ordered the ship’s captain to sail over to a particularly large whale. This whale had been caught and tied to the stern of a whaling ship, but the ship’s crew were in violent dispute with the crew of another ship over possession of the poor giant, and as they fought it simply floundered in the scarlet water, unable to escape because of the ties to the ship and the many harpoons that held it at the surface. As his ship approached The Sicilian leapt onto the whale’s back, slicing the ropes that held the whale to the ship with his soul-bonded infernal sword and running along the whales back, smashing harpoons as he passed them. He noted in horror that, as a final indignity, the harpoons were themselves crafted of whalebone – the majestic giant was being killed with tools made of its own kind. Unfortunately the beast did not understand the purpose of The Sicilian’s mercy mission, and in anger it thrashed its newly-freed tail, flipping The Sicilian high into the air. Moments later he found himself lying on the deck in between the two competing whaling crews, a shattered harpoon in his hand. The crews, realizing what he was doing, joined forces to attack him. The Sicilian was just preparing to sell his life dearly to this gang of reprobates when the whale resurfaced, smashing into the ship from below in a fury of revenge. He found himself flying through the air at the whale’s behest again, and landed close enough to his ship that he could be rescued by his fellows. As they sailed away and the whale made its escape, the sailors on the stricken ship yelled threats and imprecations at him and his team.

The Sicilian was unimpressed. No human threat has scared him since winter, 1812. But something else in the atmosphere of Svalbard unsettled him. He and all the group felt as if some dark and imposing force watched from the deeps of the sea, waiting for … something. As they turned away from the carnage and headed into the Svalbard docks, a shiver ran down The Sicilian’s spine. Though he lacked empathy for human emotion, he was finely attuned to the infernal world, and he felt it pressing close about him now …

The wizard’s lab

This scene of horror did not relent when the ship landed, and the PCs wound their way through a street lined with flensing sites and pots of boiling blubber to the town’s only inn, The Bloody Spout. Here they dumped their meagre possessions and inquired as to the whereabouts of the wizard, William. They were directed to “go outside, turn left” and walk until they came to his lab. This they did.

At the lab they found the door snowed shut, and the lab deserted. It showed no signs of a struggle, and it appeared that the wizard had been on a journey recently. They also found two notes, both addressed to the wizard but unsigned. The first said simply:

William, don’t waste my time with your ludicrous theories and propositions. I’ll have no part of this.

and the second said

William, you’re still crazy but let’s meet. Under the gallows tomorrow.

The PCs knew the gallows – they could see it from their hotel room, at the top of the gravel-and-ice-strewn hill behind their hotel. However, they had no idea who had written the note. In order to find this out, they visited the harbourmaster’s office post-haste. The harbourmaster handled all mail for everyone on the island, so must surely know the hand-writing of every person in the town. Sure enough he knew the writing, and immediately identified it as belonging to the other wizard in the town, who ran a lab at the opposite end of the town.

They visited this wizard immediately, and were received with an air of suspicion and threat. This wizard obviously did not like the thought of people investigating goings-on in the island, and was not inclined to be cooperative. However, eyeing The Sicilian and Jack Cloudie with an air of obvious concern, he was convinced to answer their questions honestly. He told the PCs that William had found evidence that the population of whales was crashing under the pressure of human hunting, and that they would soon disappear altogether, taking this boom town with them. William seemed very agitated about this and claimed to have a plan to save them. He told the PCs that William ran a secret lab (that everyone in town knew about) on the far side of the Island, and suggested that perhaps he had travelled with his apprentices to this lab. The PCs decided to follow this lead.

Journey to the secret lab

The PCs found a whaler who was travelling around the island and who agreed to take them to within an hour’s walk of the “secret” lab, though he would be no further diverted from his whaling mission than this. Since it was unwise to travel overland while the ice was breaking up in early summer, the PCs were forced to accept this journey plan. The next day they found themselves standing on a wind-blasted expanse of fast ice, with instructions to head northwest and “don’t fall in or you’re dead.” Thickly swathed in their winter furs, they began to walk, picking their way carefully over the empty ice. However, their journey was interrupted halfway through when they stumbled upon a pool in the ice, in which lurked a submerged polar bear. This beast emerged soaked and roaring from the pool to attack the group, and another emerged from a similar hiding place behind them. With its first strike the bear nearly tore The Sicilian in half, and the second bear tore deep gashes in Nostromo’s armour, but between them they soon killed one, and drove the other away.

Clare de Lune was unfazed. No animal had scared her since her childhood in the Siege of Paris. But that thing, that sinister spirit that watched the battle with cold detachment – neither she nor her bird could see it, but she could feel it following and watching them. No animal this, it disturbed her in a way that nothing in the natural world had done since she was very small…

A short walk later they found the secret lab. This building was open to the elements, and showed signs inside of a savage fight, though there was little blood and mostly mess. One wall had once abutted a kind of earthwork rampart extruding from the hills behind the lab; this wall now had a huge hole in it, which opened into a tunnel. This tunnel clearly extended into the earthworks, and thence under the hills behind the lab. Whoever had attacked the secret lab had done so through this tunnel; but the tunnels were old, and the lab relatively newly built – had William known of them when he constructed this laboratory?

The Trolls and the ritual

The PCs soon found the answer to their questions. After 10 minutes’ walk down the darkening tunnels they emerged into a sheltered bay, carved out of a cave that faced the bitterly cold arctic ocean. Between the tunnels and the sea, sheltered under the archway of the rock above them, was a beach of black gravel and stone. The sea was held back from this stony shore by broken icebergs floating in the water inside the cave, but it still boomed inside the cavern and crashed against the ice, scattering spray throughout the cave. The sense of being watched and of foreboding was very strong here in the wilds under the looming rock, and they felt they could almost see something out in the wild ocean, watching them with grim intent.

The wizard William Gossett stood on the shore, and behind him stood a gang of trolls. None of the group had ever seen trolls, of course, and to the enlightened European such beasts are merely figments of the Scandinavian imagination, but what else could these things be? Over 3m tall, beast-like creatures walking on two legs, with huge clawed hands, their skin alabaster smooth and obviously hard like stone. They had narrow, black eyes deep-set in vaguely humanoid, monstrous faces that looked as if they had been carved from flint. Spines lined head and shoulders, and they wore ragged clothes of polar bear and walrus fur. They also looked angry.

Between the group and William and his friendly trolls stood his apprentices. They were roped together and standing motionless on a broad slab of stone, onto which had been carved a complex magical pattern. Some enchantment held them still, and they obviously were intended as sacrifices in some horrid sacrifice, probably to the looming dark thing in the sea.

The PCs approved. They had seen enough slaughter and brutality on this island to know it was no place for human hopes and dreams, and that it should be turned back to the wild. They had also seen no evidence of anyone on the island who deserved to be saved or to have their dreams of wealth rewarded.

They turned and ran, leaving William and his little army of trolls to complete his unspeakable ritual. As they ran they felt that presence again, bearing in towards the shore to do … something.

The Flensed Ones

When they reached their rendezvous point with the whaler, they found it empty. They waited for two days but no whaler came. Finally they realised that they could die out here if they did not move on; they began to carefully pick their way over the broken ice of the shore, and after several days’ walk they returned, exhausted and starved, to the town. Walkign down the hill from the gallows, they immediately noticed that the sea returned to a pale natural blue. The town swarmed with seabirds, and when they entered its outskirts they soon saw why. Every single person in the town was dead, their body reduced to a withered husk. Some vile magic had swept through the town, killing every human there by the simple expedient of sucking out their fat.

The entire town had been magically flensed.

The PCs walked to the shore and stood there, looking out at the cold and desolate sea. The sea stared back at them, that same dark malevolent force now fully in possession of it. A cold wind blew in, and somewhere in that wind they sensed a hint of gratitude.

Whaling at Svalbard was over, and the Kingdom of Trolls had begun. The only witnesses to its creation, and indeed the wardens of its formation, were Captain Nostromo, The Sicilian, Clare de Lune and Jack Cloudie. Turning away from the sea, they looked out at the desolate hills and the bird-tattered corpses of the flensed victims, and shuddered at the horror they had created.

Many people have pondered the real reasons for the Iraq war, the stated reasons being so blatantly false. Most critics have claimed it was a war for oil; some have suggested it was a stupid mistake by a clique of idiots; others have proposed the darker conspiracy theory that it was intended to unleash chaos specifically to keep the oil in the ground. Well, today Tony Blair revealed the truth: it was a crusade by Protestant extremists. In a piece for the observer, Tony “the Vampire” Blair gives his considered opinion of wars in the 21st century, and decides that they will be primarily driven by religious extremism.

Well, the Iraq war was the second war of the 21st century, its longest-running new war, and certainly a fairly serious business. Before it was invaded, Iraq was a secular dictatorship. It was invaded by a ragtag coalition of Christians, and the leaders of the coalition of the willing were two Protestant nations. Surely we should apply the Vampire’s logic to the big war that he started? Western religious extremism is surely the greatest threat to world peace …

We can do better than that though, can’t we? Now we can look to the religious roots of the Senkaku Islands conflict, driven by the irreconcilable differences between Confucian fascists on the one hand and Shinto Extremists on the other. The increasingly tense dispute between Indonesia and Australia is not really over boat people, but over interpretations of whether Jesus was the son of God. And what is this shit about the conflict in the Central African Republic being ethnically based? It’s clearly a threeway fight to the death between born-again christian fanatics, shamanic exterminationists, and moderate Islam. Right?

History tells me that people in the UK voted in quite large numbers for Tony Blair, several times. I find this hard to believe. Was there ever a time when if he opened his mouth, lies or garbage didn’t come out? Because I don’t remember it, but surely millions of British voters (adults, apparently!) couldn’t have been so easily fooled? Once again there can only be one explanation: Tony Blair is an extremely powerful vampire, with incredible powers of mass hypnosis. Put a stake through that beast! Or at least, keep its hideous rantings off the pages of national newspapers …

I follow God on Facebook[1]. Not the real God, obviously, but this one has almost as many followers: just over a million people follow God. God does a couple of weekly regular updates that get a lot of attention: he does a weekly smite where he finds someone really annoying in public life and threatens to strike them down with some terrible curse; he posts pictures of new creations in which he has blended animals together; and he runs regular “Ask God” sessions where you can ask him questions about life. My favourite was the guy who asked God “why does my girlfriend yell your name when she is coming,” but he has a wide range of questioners. He also occasionally puts up hate mail he gets – he gets a lot of messages from people telling him to stop mocking God, and mostly these messages are full of hatred and anger.

I think it’s safe to say that God is a pretty forgiving, tolerant, inclusive kind of guy. He’s of the pro-gay-marriage, live-and-let-live, community-action-minded kind of viewpoint, not the kind of person who supports vengeance and judgment. He’s how God would be if God hadn’t written the Old Testament, and caused all manner of trouble with his violence and vengeance. This is not a God that will turn you to salt for disobeying him, and will refer you to a suicide helpline rather than tell you not to do it or you’ll go to hell. He’s also funny, sometimes hilarious, and a generally light-hearted and positive voice on my Facebook feed.

Sadly for God, recently his mother died, and he and his family were rightly distraught about it. He announced this on his website and received a huge outpouring of support. Perhaps buoyed by this, God revealed that the insurance company were being dickheads, and set up an Indiegogo website to raise $5000 to send his dad on a holiday. This got a huge response, and within a couple of days God had raised $20,000. You can read more details about the positive aspects of this story at this blogpost about God as a community phenomenon.

Sadly, God’s Indiegogo successes brought some trouble to his online community, and the very worst of humanity came crawling out from under their rocks to criticize him. The things they said were terrible, and the things they said about those who donated to him were also terrible. The worst of the comments have been weeded out now so I can’t copy them, but there are still some pearlers. For example, one person wrote:

like i said before…it is kind of sad that i asked for money to pay my mother’s cancer bills and did not receive a penny…but YOU raise thousands of dollar’s for ” a vacation”……what a shameful example of humanity !!!

Another wrote:

I’ve had enough. Man, it’s like a car wreck!! I can’t believe how many gullible people there are in the world! Yes this was a fun page to visit on occasion but folks….his reward for putting the page up in the first place is his million followers. That’s the reason he does it. He doesn’t get to expect money for making you laugh. To each their own but you are sending money to a cartoon image. You know nothing about this person except what he/she wants you to know. If you think he or she is going to visit you while on vacation with Dad, you’ve got another think coming. YOU ARE SENDING MONEY TO A CARTOON!!!

while someone else writes

like this god page, but i think asking for money and receiving over $20,000 is kind of bullshit in my eyes, sounds alot like gods taking this stuff to seriously and becoming like the church……

but the nastiest by far for me was a comment that has now been taken down, which I saw with my own eyes when it was put up, in which someone wrote

Both my parents died and I didn’t get a cent from anyone. Get a fucking job.

These comments to me seem to show the worst of humanity. Some guy with a million followers openly states that he wants to raise money for some personal, completely selfish purpose; people give him money because they like him and it’s no trouble to them; he raises more than expected and decides to use it for himself; but for a  sizable minority of the population, this is a terrible terrible sin. The first quoted comment shows the reason for this: people can see a person getting something they couldn’t get, and they are angry about that. But they aren’t just angry – although they know that he is sad from a recent loss of a close family member, they post critical comments and accusations on his facebook wall where he can see them. These comments include personal attacks, accusations that he is lying about his family, that he is a scammer, and demands for him to drop his anonymity. Something that had originally been a source of joy for a person going through a difficult time has obviously turned into a huge and painful chore, simply because a sizable minority of people on this earth hate to see someone else gain something for nothing. And no doubt some of the attacks will rub off on God, making him feel like a dirty person for simply asking for help and receiving it. Is this a microcosm of the reasons why so many people are opposed to welfare in all its forms? And why charity is always expected to come with so many strings and so much shame?

I find this particularly amusing when I compare God’s honest and open request for money for jam with the way so many Indiegogo users scam their users through obvious deception. I defriended someone from my Facebook after they began spamming their friends with Indiegogo fundraisers for a project that was clearly dishonest and that they never intended to deliver on; and of course the role-playing world has been beset by very real scams involving large sums of money on undelivered projects, and an entire website devoted to uncovering vaporware. Strangely though, the Dwimmermount project still has supporters even though the author has disappeared for 18 months and taken $50k with him; while God cops a heavy dose of abuse for asking for $5k for the stated purpose of producing nothing. How can it be that the humans in this world can behave this way? What psychological or philosophical perspective makes people supportive of a scam with no product after 18 months, but critical of a direct and simple plea for money from someone who has been entertaining a million people for 3 years?

It’s as if God has managed to prove that there is no humanity out there, just a deep, untapped well of jealousy and immaturity.

fn1: yes, I am sufficiently shallow to have facebook. And no I don’t use google+.

The morning after ...

The morning after …

The murderer was clearly in the volcano. Our heroes, having been asked to go and find him, set off up the mountainside to the location of his victim, from whence they hoped to track him. Now they were joined by Grunstein the wizard, who had travelled ahead to Steamline Spa on his own business. The slopes of the volcano loom over the northern side of Steamline Spa, and take some hours to climb to the misty summit; but all these slopes were smooth and perfect as an old Emperor’s burial mound, and a smooth path wound up the sides of the volcano, through fields scattered with sheep and dour shepherds. Brom Barca’s attempts to buy sheep having been rudely rebuffed, the group trudged on without incident until they reached the murder scene, a smear of blood and gore behind one of the volcano’s scattered basalt boulders. Rounding the rock, they found a scene of horror: the body of the dead shepherd had been torn apart and scattered across the land behind the boulder, disfigured so thoroughly and violently that it was almost impossible to say how the victim had died. Nonetheless, Leticia the elven swordmaster was able to piece together the clues; the attack had started with a sudden strike of the shepherd’s head against the boulder, and the shepherd had then been mercilessly mutilated while he yet lived. There was evidence that he had been drugged – perhaps with a soporific called Poggle’s Drakeboon – in order to ensure his unhappy compliance with his own dismal destruction. They could not find the head, though the ears were resting on a ledge of the boulder …

Having established they were most certainly dealing with a murder, the PCs set off up the mountainside to catch this evil Otto Mercads. Grunstein employed a new spell to transform himself into a wolf, and easily followed the scent of death and terror up the mountainside. They marched for another hour or so, into the mists that surrounded the top of the volcano. Here was a caldera, surrounded by high but broken walls of old volcanic stone. A narrow crevasse ran through the caldera wall, and they found themselves looking inside the volcano. The caldera was a rough bowl shape, filled with steam and a gentle rain from the higher steam as it emerged from the caldera to suddenly cool in the mountain air. A narrow path ran down from their crevasse to the bottom of the bowl, but it was impossible to see where it ended due to the steam billowing around the caldera. They reached the caldera a little after midday, so the bright mountain sunlight was streaming in great golden lances through the steam, but it was obvious that in just an hour or two this cloistered feature would be shrouded in clammy darkness as its walls cut out the sun. Realizing it best to do battle in the bright noon light, Azahi the dwarf marched forth down the narrow path. The others followed, and as they approached the bottom of the path they could hear the sounds of manic laughter echoing off the walls.

At the bottom of the path they found a small, neatly laid-out camp under a lean-to, with the shepherd’s severed head in pride of place in the middle. The steam parted for them as they fanned out in the caldera, revealing a large central pool of nearly-boiling water. A large stone jutted into the pool, and on this outcrop they could see Otto Mercad’s crouched and chuckling, painting pictures of blood with a loop of intestine and talking to himself. They approached carefully but he did not seem to care, and just laughed manically as they grabbed him, beat him a little, and tied him up.

Too easy. Just a few hours later they were leaving Steamline Spa with Otto chained in an empty wine barrel out of sight of prying eyes in their wagon …

The storm and the Drowning Well

That day’s travel was uneventful, but towards evening a vicious storm rolled in off the mountains, and they found themselves being pummeled by howling winds and heavy rain. Fortunately they had been told of an inn along the road, that most travelers a day out of Steamline Spa could expect to lodge at for the night. They redoubled their pace to this tavern, passing as they did a band of four road-wardens who had been called out in the inclement weather to attend a possible beastman raid. They were also surprised by a bounty hunter called Elizabeth, who emerged from the shadows of an old redgum to ask for their company on the final kilometre to the inn. She told them her horse had been lamed in the storm and, having killed it, she was walking to the inn to pick up the tail of her targets, two bandits who she had a mark on. A dour and tough-looking woman, she seemed more than capable of killing a horse and capturing two ruffians. All travellers on the road were focused now on the inn and respite from the rain, so few questions were asked; instead, they all slogged on through the gathering gloom, the howling winds and the mud.

By the time they arrived it was not yet sunset, but the storm was so intense that it had blocked out most of the light, and they arrived at the gates of the inn feeling as if it were already late. Grunstein the wizard had transformed into a raven and flown ahead, so he missed the strange arcane markings daubed on the wall by the gate, and none of the other PCs were able to decode them. Against the backdrop of the raging storm they pushed their way through the rain-soaked doors of the inn compound, and found themselves lodging within.

The inn was a large complex, consisting of a central three-storey mansion surrounded by stables, outhouses and gardens. The whole was ringed by a wall just over 2m high, made of dressed stone and thick enough both to repel any serious attempt at battery and to enable defenders standing atop the wall to fight back from crenelations. This kind of travelers rest is a common sight in the wilder fringes of civilization in the Steamlands, where local farmers are used to the predations of greenskins and, occasionally, beastmen. When a band is spotted approaching the neighbouring farms they lock up and flee to the travelers rest, from where they join together to fight off any siege and wait for roadwardens from other towns to relieve them. Like fighting summer fires, community defense is something that all remote farming hamlets practice at, and the scattered houses around the Drowning Well were no different, so it was no surprise to the PCs to find such a staunchly defensible tavern so far from civilization.

So, the PCs ducked into the tavern and booked a night’s accomodation, and a cellar for Otto Mercads. The cellar was as safe as a prison cell, pre-fit with chains and a portcullis that locked only from the outside, as well as a staunch outer door that only a minotaur could smash through. The Drowning Well was obviously used to hosting its share of passing prisoners, because the landlord locked Mercads down in this hole without a single word of complaint, and the group were able to repair quickly to drinking and relaxing. The evening passed uneventfully, and after a few hours’ rest the PCs were able to retire for a long, relaxing sleep.

The murders begin

The PCS were woken by the maid’s screams during the dead of night. The storm was still raging outside, but the maid was so disturbed that her anguished cries could be heard over the racket of howling wind, driving rain and banging shutters. Of course our heroes ran into the hallway to see the problem, and found themselves facing a familiar scene of horror: one of the guest rooms was open, and the occupant had been murdered in a very familiar way – the same way as Otto Mercad’s victim. There was blood and body parts everywhere, and guests gathering in the darkened hall to retch and cry in horror at the sight. The PCs, along with Elizabeth the bounty hunter, took charge, shepherding the guests downstairs to the common room and rushing to check on Mercads. They found Mercads sitting comfortably in his cell, chuckling and grinning and with not a drop of blood on him. How had he done it?

Other murders soon followed, with the maid, the landlord and his wife quick to succumb to some kind of brutish and supernatural force. Every time the murder was so reminiscent of Mercads’ artwork that the PCs just had to return to his cell to watch him, but the third time they returned they found him, too, dead, torn apart in the same way as the others. However this time they were fast enough to see the killer – a grotesque, incorporeal ghost, 3m tall and shaped like a beastman with a single eye. They attacked the ghost but it fled too fast, disappearing through a wall and out into the wilds of the night. Shocked, they realized that Mercads must have been the channel or conduit for some darker creature. They remembered finding a necklace made of a fleck of old beastman’s tusk when they captured him, and wondered if he might have been somehow connected with this ghost. While some of the PCs rushed to protect the guests in the common room, Gregor dashed to their own room to check on the chaos artifacts they were transporting to Heavenbalm, lest that should prove to be this beastman ghost’s true focus.

The ghost wasn’t there though, it was gone … but the beastmen were coming.

Artuta rises ...

Artuta rises …

The beastmen come

Shortly after they saw the beastman ghost, the PCs heard yells and clamour from the front door. Residents from nearby farmhouses were gathering at the gate, telling urgent stories of a new horror: a horde of beastmen was gathering in the darkness to attack the inn. As they filed in, bedraggled and dishevelled from the storm, they and the residents began to prepare for a siege. The PCs, however, were distracted by a light in the corner of the compound. Approaching, they saw the vague outline of a ghostly form, glowing faintly and flickering in the onslaught of rain and wind. This was no beastman, but the remnant form of a witch hunter, obviously injured and looking desperate, and wearing clothes from a previous generation – the ghost of someone with something important to tell them? As they approached the ghost whispered to them with a voice that carried despite the snatching wind and rolling thunder:

The truth is beneath the words. The truth …

With these words he disappeared, revealing a slab of stone, scoured clean of earth by the rain and wind, on which a short passage was inscribed:

Here lies Artuta,

Most twisted of the changer’s brood,

Cleansed by Solkan’s hands.

He will not be the last.

The PCs dug up the stone quickly, and beneath it they found a waterproof scrollcase, laid carefully in a hollow beneath the stone. Dashing out of the rain, they opened the case to find a torn piece of parchment, on which someone’s story was written:

I do not know why I have written this but I feel death is close. Artuta stares up at me. His one eye is still, but maybe it watches. Foolish thoughts, but in the forest lurk the remains of his band, now led by the Shaman Grazzt. He has strange dark powers at his call. Who knows what he can do?

What has brought this disquiet upon me? I cannot say, although a strange dream came to me last night. I was guarding Artuta even though he lies dead. Even in death, he led them. Yet I could not escape from this task for a wall surrounded me on all sides, a tunnel above through which I could see the stars. It was difficult to move, for my limbs were heavy.

This vision fills me with fear.

May Solkan watch over me.

Were these the words of the ghostly witch hunter?

At this point the party fragmented. Gregor fled back to his room and began a frenzied effort to destroy the amulet of the beastman tooth; Leticia and Brom Barca headed to the walls to coordinate the defense of the inn against the gathering horde of beastmen, who could now be heard outside the walls howling and preparing their attack; and Azahi the dwarven Trollslayer ran with Grunstein the wizard to the well after which the inn was named. Azahi had interpreted the “tunnel above through which I could see the stars” as the well, and wished to explore it. As he and Grunstein lowered themselves into the well they heard behind them the first roars of beastmen preparing for battle…

Born under a subterranean star ...

Born under a subterranean star …

The well and the battle

In the well Azahi and Grunstein found a tunnel leading into the earth below the inn. They followed it inward, Grunstein lighting the way with a cantrip, and soon found a locked stone door, on which a clear warning was written:

Ye thatz enter here, beware

For liez here, Artuta

When he rizes

Come hiz brood

To spill the blood of all.

The door was locked, and neither Grunstein nor Azahi a thief, but Azahi managed to remember a few hints of technical trickery from his dwarven tribe and disabled the lock. They opened the door to find a crypt, rough-hewn from the earth. In the centre was a depression covered in brush and rubbish; leaning against the walls of the room were four skeletons of beastmen. The mark of Tzeentch was carved into the wall at the far side of the room, and it was obvious what this room was – the resting place of something called Artuta, probably an ancient and powerful beastman. Grunstein began breaking up the first beastman skeleton, but before he had done much damage the other three came to life and attacked Azahi. The dwarf braced himself, and battle was joined; but as he fought the ghost of Artuta arose from the central resting place and fled out of the door. Both he and Grunstein struck at it, but their attacks failed to kill it, though they seemed to wound it badly. The ghost was now obviously more corporeal, gaining in power from the murders it had managed to commit, but still able to shift to ghost form, in which shape it drifted rapidly down the tunnel and out of the well into the stormy night.

Upstairs, the beastmen had begun to gather together for battle. Their force was far larger than a normal beastman band, numbering perhaps 30 in all and with four beastman captains. Lurking at the rear near some kind of makeshift altar was a strange figure indeed – a smaller beastman similar in appearance to a Gor and lacking full horns, unarmed and dressed in tattered cloth but obviously in charge despite its small size. As Brom Barca and Leticia watched, this figure was joined by the ghost of Artuta the beastman, and the attack began.

The inn compound had two gates, and the beastmen attacked both at once. Their attack was artless and brutal. A beastman captain charged forward, and used his enormous strength to boost a couple of Gor onto the walls; these then hauled the massive captain on, and they attacked. Meanwhile a gang of larger Gors lined up and took turns charging at the main gate, trying to smash it in with their horns. By this means, should the captain fail to seize the wall itself, his minions would still eventually beat down the gates. Unfortunately for this beastman captain and his Gor minions, Leticia and Brom Barca guarded the gates; Brom himself almost the size of a Gor took on the three minions, and Leticia moved forward to engage the captain, fighting with delicate poise and grace despite the slippery stones, the howling wind and the beating rain. The battle was short but brutal, and within a few short exchanges Brom and Leticia had slain their enemies. Leticia hacked off the head of the slain captain, and as Brom Barca lifted it high for all the beastmen to see the captain at the other gate began a temporary retreat. At this point Gregor joined them on the wall, scattering the fragments of the beastman amulet before him into the wind. This seemed to have no effect – the distant shaman ignored it, and Artuta’s flickering form did not change except to howl in rage at the retreating beastmen. Now Azahi and Grunstein also trudged up onto the wall through the rain, and our heroes grouped together ready to receive the next charge.

As the beastmen milled about, preparing to make a new attack and being berated, beaten and enraged by their captains, Gregor remembered the Hochland long rifle he had looted from bandits on the journey to Steamline Spa. Though the ghost of Artuta was far from the walls and beyond easy range of a crossbow or longbow, it was not beyond the reach of a long rifle, and Artuta was obviously injured. Perhaps if Gregor were lucky … he carefully lined up the rifle, Brom Barca and Leticia holding their cloaks over him to try and prevent the worst of the rain from damping his powder. He fired as the beastmen formed their lines for another charge, and his bullet flew true … with a single howl of outrage and shock, Artuta’s ghost dissolved into the storm, vanquished by the witch hunter. The beastman shaman took one look back at the walls, screamed his rage to the uncaring tempest, and without further ado turned to flee into the distant woods. His followers, seeing the destruction of their plan, lost all their lust for battle and fled after him.

The battle was done. The beastmen had failed to break the gate, and Artuta had been killed before they could drag any prisoners back to sacrifice for his manifestation. Whatever sick plot had been laid to wait here in the courtyard of the drowning well, it was done now. Though the PCs had inadvertently brought about the invocation of Artuta’s ghost by bringing Otto Mercads to the inn, they had triumphed over Artuta and his whole tribe. They could rest, and enjoy the reward of heroes. And heroes they must be, for in the morning they must surely head off in pursuit of the shaman, to uncover the full story of how Otto Mercads had become the kingpin in a plot to bring back an undead beastman; and to slay the shaman before he could foment more mischief. Perhaps in those hills they could find more dark magic to take to Heavenbalm for destruction … or perhaps there they would find their doom …

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the Philippines was just hit by a monster storm that killed more than 1000 people. It’s likely that this is going to be the third year in a row that the Philippines experiences a new record-setting disaster, and this is also probably the fourth biggest storm on record anywhere in the world. Of course, others have noted that certain infamous denialists are trying to pretend that this is just a normal storm, but only idiots would believe such crap. The world has changed. In this same year Australia has had record bushfires occurring earlier than ever before; Japan has suffered at least two moretsu (extremely violent) typhoons, one of which was generally described as “never previously recorded”; Japan’s summer was excessively intense; Japan’s cherry blossom viewing season was delayed by heat; and the Southern hemisphere had the hottest year on record. Britain also had its second strongest storm in 100 years, and Somalia experienced its worst ever cyclone simultaneously with typhoon Haiyan. Natural disasters from storms, flood and fire are coming thick and fast, and every year sees a new record in at least one and often more than one of these dimensions. It’s time to recognize that we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Scientists, of course, want to proceed steadily without jumping ahead of the evidence. For example, the current thinking in science is that the arctic won’t be ice free for a long time (probably not till 2050, I think) because that is what the theory and models tell us; but the evidence is pointing at 2020 by the latest, and the consequences of extreme arctic melt (such as occurred in 2012) for North Atlantic countries are serious. This year Britain had to import wheat for the first time (Kelloggs stopped producing Shredded Wheat!) because of rain-related crop failures. Hurricane Sandy’s extreme damage was directly related to the arctic ice melt – everyone knows it, but science isn’t able to prove it, so we have to just pretend that yet another extreme weather event was just random variation. Yet nothing about what happened in Sandy or Haiyan matches our understanding of normality – I am quite familiar with tsunami damage and the pictures I am seeing on TV of the wake of Haiyan look to me exactly like the northeast coast of Japan. No typhoon has done that in the last 30 years, and our instincts tell us this. We need to recognize this: the climate has jumped the shark, and science isn’t keeping up.

On the other side of the coin, economists and political scientists are used to the measured rhetoric of equilibrium, and they don’t have a language or a culture that is able to accept what is happening, because what is happening is disequilibrium. Economists are still labouring under the impression that the changes that are coming – and the changes that are happening now – can be expressed in percentages of GDP and the cold calculus that applies to growth in ordinary times. They can’t. Today 8 people died in a riot at a rice factory, because the destruction in the central Philippines is so complete that millions of people are going without food, and desperation is their watchword. The calculus of mainstream economics is not geared up for looting, for the destruction of cities, for life on the edge. And that is where increasingly people are being driven. Economics hasn’t come to terms with the concept of ecosystem services – it’s too far outside the selfish, consumerist culture of economics to make sense – but this is where we’re at. Our ecosystem has turned against us. Which means we’re fucked. Does George Mason University’s economics faculty have a department of We’re Fucked? No, which is why they’re still churning out plagiarized shit about how climate change is all wrong and stuff. Economists still think this is a problem that can be dealt with using the numerical analysis of small changes: Nicholas Stern on the one hand with his arcane trade-offs and debates about discount rates, and the Lomborg’s of the world on the other hand with their ideas about balancing the future costs of adaptation with the current costs of mitigation, and angels dancing on the heads of pins that are buried in the debris of Leyte Island.

No, we’ve entered a new era: the Anthropocene. The era of We’re Fucked. We need to develop a new politics, a politics of Getting Unfucked, and we need it now, not 10 years from now when the baby boomers have finally chuffed off to the next plane and stopped complaining about ineffectual carbon taxes. We need to get desperate, and we need to do it now.

This is going to mean some radical changes. For starters, and most importantly, every developed nation needs to ban coal. Set a deadline: five years from now, anyone who owns a coal-fired power station is done for. Get rid of them. And while we’re at it the main providers of coal need to stop. Australia needs to declare: we ain’t selling no more, 2018 is it. Sorry kids, but your dope dealer is planning to retire. Canada needs to do the same. And this decision shouldn’t be enforced with pathetic halfway measures like taxes. We need to ban that shit, before the planet decides to ban us. What’s going on in Germany – closing nuclear plants and falling back on coal and gas – is absolutely criminal. Let’s not beat around the bush about this. Anyone in Germany who supports this kind of ecocide should get on a plane right now, fuck off to Tacloban, get on their knees in the salty dirt and say “I’m sorry, but your family died because I’m stupid.” There is nowhere on this earth where coal is a good idea, but a country with power and choices like Germany is absolutely behaving like an international criminal in choosing to go back to this poison. Anyone who supports such a move should be ashamed of themselves. Ten years from now people with such views will be being locked up, mark my words.

We also need to give up on the idea that solar and wind are our short-term saviours. Long-term, yes, they are the siznich. But right now, we have a grid that is developed for baseload generators in centralized locations, and we need to recognize that. So we need to go nuclear. It’s the simple, clean, safe alternative to coal. Every country with a major energy economy needs to shift to a world war 2 style war economy of energy, and replace its existing plants with nuclear. Don’t fuck around with new technologies, because we’re heading into a disaster zone. We have perfectly good nuclear plant designs now, so let’s get them up and running. With robust oversight and good monitoring agencies they’ll be fine. Sure, there’ll be accidents, but the reality is that nuclear power is not that dangerous. It kills a crap-ton less people than coal and it’s easy to live in areas with nuclear fallout. It’s not so easy to live in areas that are too hot to grow food, too stormy to build, or too flooded to stay. And – sorry, country folks – if you build nuclear plants in the country, the accidents really don’t affect many people.

Some people say that nuclear is too expensive, it needs heavy subsidies, but who cares? Home owners in Australia get $35 billion a year in state subsidies, and no one would dare interfere in such a sacrosanct subsidy. Why not give another 35 billion to an industry that might save us from destruction? Why quibble? And if you’re going to quibble about the cost of nuclear, then fuck, let’s make this clear: remove all state subsidies to all industries, and let them fight each other to the death. Don’t want to do that? Then stop pretending the electricity market is free of distortions, stop pretending it’s somehow above politics, and above all stop pretending it’s not going to destroy us all if we don’t interfere.

Since the Kyoto protocol was first signed in nineteen fucking whatever, people – well, economists anyway – have been trying to pretend that we can solve the global warming problem through market mechanisms. Well here we are 20 years later, and fate’s duck is crapping on our eiderdown. We don’t have a functioning market mechanism that will prevent diddly squat, and we have ascended beyond diddly squat to epic storms that wipe out cities, fires that threaten whole communities, homicidal heat and wholesale changes to the way we live. It’s time to recognize that the market has had its chance, and every oily fucker, grafter and spiv who had any chance to get in the way has spoilt the opportunity. So let’s drop the pretense and get serious. We need to move to legislative and political solutions to the most serious environmental problem the world has ever faced. Scientists and economists need to take a back seat to eco-fascists and hard-arsed decision makers. Ban coal, bring on the nukes, and let’s fix this problem the old-fashioned way – through the cold, hard application of power.

Last weekend the Guardian had an interesting article about the New College for the Humanities, some dodgy knock-off rich-kids proto-university in the UK, land of inequality. Apparently it’s being run by someone left-wing, so we have to take it seriously even though it charges 18,000 pounds a year (twice the cost of Oxford) for a humanities education. For my reader(s) who is not familiar with this issue, the college was set up by A.C Grayling (apparently a lefty, apparently a philosopher). His college has a bunch of famous professors like Richard Dawkins and Niall Ferguson (who lectures precisely two classes a year) and offers the following quality of service:

Every week, [Jamie] goes to 14 hours of lectures and has one hour-long group tutorial, with three students and one tutor, and one hour-long individual tutorial. “We’re expected to do between three and four hours personal study a day. We write a minimum of an essay a week. It is a full-on education. We are being educated actively.”

Let me tell you something, “Jamie”: you’re being ripped off. I did a physics degree, and in first year I had 32 contact hours a week, and at least two assignments. Included in that is my first year English course, so I had to read a novel a week (sometimes Shakespeare) and attend a one hour-long group tutorial, with about 5 students and one tutor. I had three hours of laboratory a week, which (obviously) required special equipment. You can rest assured I didn’t pay 18k pounds a year – actually in 2012 pounds I paid about 1000. Are you sure, “Jamie,” that you’re getting value for money? Incidentally, I was lectured by Paul Davies, so I guess I got famous lecturers for my 1k. What do you think, “Jamie”? Are you doing better for having chosen the New College of the Humanities over some dodgy red-brick or an ex-teacher’s college?

Despite this, the article makes the environment sound fairly good, and certainly it seems like the lecturers and tutors are generally attentive. But the cost keeps being raised, and I can see why – not only is it a lot of money, but there are a lot of people in Britain (i.e. most British people) who really aren’t very wealthy, and for whom 54,000 is completely out of their range (especially since everyone is culturally expected to be up to their eyeballs in housing debt). Now, I’m sympathetic to the argument that poor people choose not to go into debt for education for cultural, rather than financial reasons – they’ll take on huge debt for a dodgy housing investment, that they wouldn’t take on for a reliable education investment, for example – but still, 18000 pounds is pretty damn steep. So I was interested to read AC Grayling’s response to the cost issue. And what did this famous left-wing philosopher say?

“The downside of being educated at someone else’s expense is that you may not value it,” he says. “You may regard it as an entitlement. Unless you are acutely aware of the opportunity that is being offered to you, you may be rather cavalier about it. [You] might not be quite so keen to suck the marrow from it.”

Statements like this leave me simultaneously angry, sick, disappointed and confused. First, let’s make one thing clear: no one in Grayling’s college is being educated at their own expense. No one at the age of 19 – people who have never worked – can afford 18k a year. They’re all being educated at someone else’s expense. Of course, in this case it’s their parents’ expense, but why should that matter? Certainly when I was at university I met a wide variety of people being educated at their parents’ expense, and I can assure you that they were “not quite so keen to suck the marrow from it.” But this was not what Grayling is thinking of when he said this – so much is clear from the context. He was clearly thinking of people being subsidized by the state.

And this is why his statement leaves me angry, sick, disappointed and confused: why is there a difference between the state paying and your own parents paying?

It makes me angry because there are a lot of people out there who are desperate for an education but can’t afford it, and if someone else paid they would snap up the chance. One of my players is from the Dominican Republic, and he finds it amazing that in Japan there are still people who don’t really care about the education they are receiving, because in the Dominican Republic an education is a difficult and precious thing to get and so many people who want it will never get it. Yet somehow Grayling – advanced philosopher that he is – thinks that all those people out there hungering for an education can’t really properly value it because if they did get it would be through someone else’s largesse, thus suddenly their desire is sapped.

It makes me sick because I am one of those people. Abandoned by my parents at 17, with no money and no prospects, I was funded through my education by the state. I appreciated every single fucking minute of it, thank you very much, and I shat all over my private-school educated, parent-funded friends. I fought my way into university, I studied hard, and I loved it. I still remember in first year my private-school-educated “colleagues” openly challenging my high school grades because they didn’t believe a pleb like me could have done so well. Fuck you, you rich fuckers. I beat you every step of the way. Not only was I better than you, but I understood the value of the benefits I was getting from the government. I knew exactly what my “free” education was worth. But here we have some famous, apparently left-wing philosopher recycling this crap about how because the state paid for my education, I didn’t value it? That makes me sick.

It disappoints me because it shows how far the understanding of welfarism and inequality has fallen in the UK – once a beacon of thought on these issues – if supposedly left wing philosophers are spouting this claptrap. What chance have we of addressing the serious inequality issues in the UK if serious educators seriously believe that anyone who is funded by the state to support their education is going to be inherently inferior in attitude to someone who is funded by their parents? What hope for redistributive justice in such an environment?

Finally, it confuses me because, as someone whose parents never helped him out, I can’t understand why receiving fat scads of cash from your parents is okay but getting the same cash from the government is poisonous for your character. I don’t deny the right of parents to pay for their kids’ education, or the fundamental rightness of people supporting their own children, flows of capital through families etc. That’s all fine. But the idea that a person’s character and attitude towards self-improvement (represented, in this instance, by education) should be somehow reduced by being supported by a soix-distant patron, rather than a family member, is just confusing. I mean, it’s all free moolah, right? How come one is character-endangering and one is not? I have never, ever been able to understand this, and I think I’ve never been able to understand it because it is bullshit.

An interesting aspect of our culture is that we make these cultural assertions about how weak and inferior rich kids who receive gifts from their parents really are, but we make policy that benefits those people and encourages that act. So we refer to rich kids as “spoilt princesses,” “trust fund babies,” etc.; but we make policy that is explicitly designed to benefit these people and we make philosophy (apparently) that values their personal achievements more highly, even when those personal achievements were bought not earnt. For example, in Australia everyone can take a university debt; but rich kids’ parents can pay up front, in which case they get a 15% discount. So rich people get exactly the same education as poor people, but pay 15% less for it. So on the one hand society is laughing at these kids for being supported by the mummy bank, but on the other hand society is guaranteeing that those kids and their rich parents pay less for the same product. And then those poor people are meant to thank their all-powerful masters for their beneficence? Or maybe we’re supposed to accept these crumbs of wisdom from people like Grayling, who tells me that even though I paid 20% more than my neighbour for exactly the same product, I value it less because the government, rather than my rich daddy, dropped the money in my lap.

What can I say to this logic? Fuck you, AC Grayling, and your “philosophy.” I didn’t go to your top quality university, but I think I can detect bullshit a lot more easily than you can. But I guess, sitting in your room labeled “Master” after a life of success, you don’t really care how much your bullshit smells to people like me, do you? Is there a word for a philosophy like that?

 

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