Monday, December 25, 2023

Narblesnard Reveler, & Other TROIKA! Backgrounds I Completely Forgot About for Like Two Years

In classic Furtive fashion, I fretted over a post for several days in a row and got it around 80% finished before completely forgetting about it for years. Earlier today when I found out that it's not only December but late December, I started to scramble for something seasonal to write. Failing in that, next by chance I searched through my unfinished drafts for anything containing the word "Narblesnard", and lo did I find this neglected installment in that series of shamelessly self-referential Troika! backgrounds that I was working on for a while in the hopes of eventually publishing a d66 table (which will still happen Eventually).

The other backgrounds don't really have a common thread between them, certainly nothing holiday-themed, so think of this post as more of an ugly, re-gifted sweater than a proper present. But hey, that's more than I usually manage to do on short notice.

Blessed Narblesnard and stay safe, dear Burrowers. May your Scrap Goblin find you ragged yet whole this coming year. I promise I have less mechanical stuff coming down the pipe after this.

Beaten Chieftain

Your tribe of techno-barbarians follows a simple code of governance: leaders and representatives are elected on an ad hoc basis, and all eligible voters do so with their fists. The candidate who receives (and endures) the most punches from their fellow tribesfolk is appointed to temporary office. Unfortunately your platform proved to be a little too popular with your fellows, and you passed out under the hail of approval. Now you nurse your bruises and hope to toughen up before the next caucus.


  • A Mild Concussion.
  • Muscles, Scar Tissue, Callouses & Microfractures (Lightly Armoured).
  • No Shirt, ever.
  • A Data-Sphere filled with your ancestors' wisdom and also workout tips.

Advanced Skills

4 Pain Tolerance
3 Athletics
3 Tribal Law
2 Unarmed Fighting


Whenever you strike a Mighty Blow with an Unarmed attack, you deal triple damage instead of double.
Additionally, people who have punched you in the face find it easier to like you.

Delta Dead-Keeper

You are called "necromancer" by some, and on the surface that may appear true. You speak to the dead, and under great duress might beseech their help. But you love the spirits in your care, and strive to see the wheel spin on, uninterrupted. The humid river deltas still echo with your jovial songs to the dead, even in your absence.


  • Weathered Old Staff
  • Talisman-Bedecked Robes
  • Coffin containing a Deceased Loved One

Advanced Skills

3 Etiquette
3 Religion (Ancestors Cult)
2 Second Sight
2 Spell - Banish Spirit
1 Singing


You can see all ghosts and undead by the aura around them. It's impossible not to see them, they're so glaring and bright. You can also speak to all undead and corpses, even if they are normally mindless. Getting fruitful conversation out of them is another matter, though.

Graft-Elf Beautician

Once feared, reviled, and propagandized against for tinkering with flesh, outsiders now seek your kind out for the potential that you can draw out of the physical form. With enough time, patience, sinew, and bone, you can induct anyone into the Fair Folk. But the creativity of a yearning heart knows no bounds, and you must search far and wide for just the right donors.


  • Far Too Many Knives
  • 3 doses of Anesthesia
  • Dreadful Beauty
  • 1 Random Roll on a Mutation/Augment/Prosthetic table of your choice.

Advanced Skills

3 Surgery
2 Healing
2 Inspire Awe
1 Knife Fighting


You may Test Your Luck to perform a special surgery upon a creature to add or replace an appendage or other body part. This process requires a day of uninterrupted preparation and work, the spare parts in question, and enough anesthesia to knock out your patient (unless you are operating upon yourself). Failing the roll or interrupting the process reduces the target to 1 Stamina.

Narblesnard Reveler

You are one of the little hole-dwellers living next to the perilous woodland realm of the squirrels. You celebrate the winter solstice as a time of quiet and safety, when the narbling horde has finally laid itself down for hibernation. Yet you know in your heart that their malice always lurks close by, no matter where in the spheres you've burrowed yourself to.


  • An Anxiety Disorder of your choosing.
  • Letter Opener (Damage as Knife).
  • Running Moccasins with Decade-Old Socks.
  • Sack of d66 Acorns.
  • Jar of Emergency Peanut Butter.

Advanced Skills

3 Run Away
2 Foraging
2 Sneak
2 Woodland Lore
1 Evoke Pity


You instinctively know the exact location, health, and aggression level of all squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, or other sciurids within a 1 kilomile radius.

Sea Nomad Mariner

Your people are born of the sea, and the sea of stars and spheres is just another ocean for you to explore and conquer. Or so you thought. Your flotilla is scattered, and you are marooned on curious shores. But you hold true to the teachings of the Eternal Blue Above & Below and keep floating on.


  • An Old War-Dinghy painted in totemic images and tamghas.
  • Brocaded Sailcloth Sarong.
  • Fishing Net, sporting a few holes.
  • Waterproof Composite Bow (Damage as Bow) and 20 Arrows.

Advanced Skills

4 Sailing
3 Archery
3 Climb
2 Use Rope
1 Manatee Herding


While piloting an outrigger canoe, catamaran, war-dinghy, or other small water vessel, you may Test Your Luck to perform extraordinary tricks with it. This includes but is not limited to jumps, banks, rolls, sailing against the wind, and the time-honored tradition of oar jousting.

Uncrowned Monarch

That petulant, shrouded upstart. He did this to you. After he stole your crown, it all went downhill. He broke the natural order of things- surely the people would not have otherwise risen up and deposed their liege and lord? No. 𝒰𝓃𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓃𝓀𝒶𝒷𝓁𝑒. The blame lies squarely with him, and with your vengeance you will reclaim your kingdom. You will claim many. You will slay the Double King.


  • Compulsively Well-Maintained Royal Seal.
  • Tattered Royal Robes.
  • Mostly Ceremonial Weapon of your choice.
  • A Sad little Replacement Crown.

Advanced Skills

4 Self-Aggrandizement
2 Fencing
2 Oration
2 Ride
1 Etiquette


Your obsession with "good breeding" allows you to identify the genealogy of anyone you come in contact with, and determine whether or not they are a royal. "Royalty" is a culturally subjective term you have no control over.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

GLOG Class: Goblin Auntie

A typical auntie, silently judging you.
The loud judging comes later.

Not every goblin is lucky enough to have a mom. But whether they like it or not, they've all got an Auntie. Part parent, supervisor, and tribal elder, Aunties know it's pointless to try and enforce a semblance of orderliness upon their niblings. Instead, they help guide and redirect them, like one might the flow of a mighty river. A green, gibbering river full of teeth and shiny rocks and- hey, was that a goat?

Note that you don't need to be an actual goblin or auntie in order to be a Goblin Auntie. It's all about having the right state of mind.

Goblin Auntie

Starting Equipment: stained apron, sewing kit, dagger, bag of acorns
Starting Skills: Childrearing. Also, roll on adjacent table.

A: Adopt Niblings, Auntie Knows Best
B: Just The Thing, Slap Some Sense Into
C: Family That Stays Together
D: An Auntie's Love

You gain +1 to Save vs mind-altering effects for each Goblin Auntie template you possess.

A: Adopt Niblings

Being a Goblin Auntie means you know true family is found. Found, nicknamed, badgered, and possibly wiped 'clean' with a spitty handkerchief when you want to make sure they're extra handsome. You may designate a number of nearby friendly creatures equal to 1/2 your Wisdom score (rounded down) as your adoptive niblings. Several of your class abilities affect your current niblings.

A: Auntie Knows Best

When one of your niblings rolls under a stat or tries to use a skill you may offer unsolicited advice and admonishments to help them out, even (and especially) if you have no experience with what they're doing. Roll to Save; if you succeed the nibling gains +1 to their roll, but if you fail they suffer -1. You can do this once per round.

B: Just The Thing

Extra snacks, bits of thread, herbs for that one asthmatic kid; your career has prepared you to always have just the thing you need for a random situation. You've gotten so good at it in fact, that the depths of your backpack have become a zone of Schrödingerian potentiality.

You can designate 1 Inventory Slot (other than a Quick-Draw Slot) as a Just The Thing slot that is always filled. You can spend 2 rounds rummaging around in that slot to produce any item that is worth 1 gp or less, even if you never put one in your inventory to begin with. You may do this once per day, after which your compulsive saving and pocketing naturally refill the slot.

B: Slap Some Sense Into

When 1 or more of your niblings are affected by fear or another mind-altering effect, you can attempt to slap some sense into one of them to set them all straight. You deal 1 damage to the target nibling, and they and every other nibling within 30' are allowed to reroll their Save against that chosen effect. You may do this once per day per point of Strength bonus (minimum 1) before your slapping hand gets tired.

C: Family That Slays Together

Even if they never asked for an Auntie, your protective clannishness has begun to rub off on your adoptees. When 2 or more of your niblings are next to each other in combat, they unwittingly start to fight together as a swarming, gobliny unit. Each gains their choice of +1 to Initiative, Defense, or Attack. This effect ends if they split up.

D: An Auntie's Love

You always knew what you were signing up for. What this job is really about. If ever one of your niblings is in imminent mortal danger—about to take lethal damage in combat, suffer a fall, trip a trap, etc.—you may intercede on their behalf through some dramatic contrivance and suffer all harm in their stead. You may do this once per day, assuming you survive.


Goblin Auntie Skills

They have a habit of getting sick, don't they? Gain the "Medicine" skill and 3 doses of your homemade decongestant (extra chunky).

You are a 1st generation gentle Auntie. In your case, "gentle" means you reserve the rod for your enemies. Gain a proper nasty switch (light weapon).

Insomnia is part of the job, but you've elevated it to an artform. Gain the "Stay Awake" skill and a trashy, dogeared novel.

A well-fed nibling is a less troublesome nibling. Gain the "Baking" skill and 2d6 muffins (about to go stale).

Why, it looks like you've already attracted a few hangers-on without even trying! Gain 2 random camp followers, each with an embarrassing nickname.

These fricking kids. Gain a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of spirits.

Monday, November 27, 2023

TROIKA! Background: Homo Algus

They are frightened of you, the little dry ones. They fear your long face and your long limbs. They mistake your little lights for cruel will-o-wisps. They mistake your attempts to deliver food and medicine for attacks, and drive you off with torches and peat knives. You would have spurned the dry ones long ago, were it not for the fact that you seem to know them. You remember them from a time long, long ago, before you were born from the mud, and they were even littler.

If they would just stop running away, perhaps you could ask them what they mean when they call you a "bog body".


  • Lots of Algae
  • Even More Algae.
  • Excessive Amounts of Algae!
  • Favorite Pebble (perfectly round)

Advanced Skills

3 Swim
2 Herblore
2 Sneak (4 in Wetlands)
1 Acrobatics
1 Climb
1 Spell - Light
1 Strength


You may enter a state of suspended animation known as the "Swamp Hunch". During a Hunch you sit perfectly, deathly still for up to a week at a time. During that time you do not need to eat provisions, and others must Test their Luck to recognize you as anything other than a very misplaced sculpture. It takes 1 hour to enter or leave a Hunch, as your joints pop and your metabolism adjusts.

More photos of the original exhibit by Sophie Prestigiacomo.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

TROIKA! Background: Moondog

 Moondog, the Viking of 6th Street

Whether you're rubbing shoulders with Yardbird and the King of Swing, praying at your altar to Thor at home, or accidentally scaring the hell out of New York City couriers in darkened entryways, you do everything with a groove and a sense of vision that not even a dynamite cap to the face can cramp.

Go forth under the howl-honored moon, and remember the beat that Chief Yellow Calf taught you.


  • Spear, mostly for show.
  • Horned helmet, jauntily tilted.
  • A Trimba, Oo, or other idiosyncratic homemade instrument.
  • Beard like a homeless wizard (which you are).

Advanced Skills

4 Acute Hearing
3 Classical Avant-Garde Jazz
3 Music Theory
2 Couplet Poetry
1 Religion (Old Norse)


Once per day during combat or another situation that uses the Initiative Stack, you may activate Snaketime. This strange, slithery rhythm dislocates you from time and space, allowing you to briefly move through it as you please. You may remove as many tokens from the Initiative Stack or add as many previously drawn tokens back into it as you like, with the exceptions that you can't remove the End of the Round token or add the tokens of dead characters back in. This special ability lasts for 1 round, then time and Initiative return to normal.

Additionally, if you are ever reduced to 0 Stamina and the End of Round token is drawn (meaning you die), you may activate Snaketime regardless of whether or not you've already used it that day. Afterward, death rules apply normally.

Humanity might die in 4/4 time, but you won't.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

The One Where Furt Tries to Overcome His Crippling Fear of Reading With the Help of a C-Tier Dragonlance Novel and Then Just Ends up Summarizing the Whole Thing

Longtime readers might know that I'm a bundle of anxieties masquerading as a sapient being. Somewhat counterproductively, these anxieties dominate a major facet of my chosen hobby and (if I'm being extremely generous to myself) career path:

I get so upset and agitated sitting and reading long-form text that I would almost call it a phobia.

The feelings that gradually run through me when I try to read something longer than a Wikipedia article in one sitting are a pretty weird mix of issues, most of them probably unrelated in origin, but I can't say that confidently.

The oldest feeling I've always had, ever since I was little, is an excruciating awareness that I am reading something. Within a few minutes of sitting down and trying to focus, I begin to grow restless. My arms get tired from holding up their own weight (and the added weight of the book), or my neck aches from looking down at my desk or lap. My eyes jump and reread the same lines over and over, but even so, my reading comprehension plummets and I find myself forgetting what I read just a few pages or paragraphs ago. This, coupled with the fact that I read as fast or slightly slower than my speaking voice, means I slow to a crawl.

Next I begin to hear the creaking of my joints, and feel the churning of my organs. My breathing is never automatic while I'm awake; I don't know if it's some kind of daytime apnea or what. But here it's soon joined by the sensation that I need to remind myself to blink or swallow, or an awareness of the feeling of my tongue in my mouth and the smell of the inside of my own nose.

Next, as the minutes tick past, comes the guilt. Despite my lack of social media presence I am one of those "terminally online" people. I have far more important personal connections over the internet than face-to-face, and I want to be clear that that part is okay. That's a reality that a lot of people live with this weird, disconnected society that we have in this technologically fortunate corner of the globe that me and statistically most of my audience occupy.

But where it turns into a problem is the way I respond to that reality. By divorcing myself from a screen for so long, or even just looking at a different screen in the case of using an e-reader, I feel as though I'm selfishly disconnecting and shutting myself off from other people who might want or need me- and considering how agitated I get trying to read, I begin to ask myself "for what possible benefit?"

Finally, way back somewhere in my reptile brain, there's always that tickle of existential pain.

Language is two or more unique meat-computers cobbling together a facsimile of mutual understanding through the use of noises that carry with them multiple layers of abstracted meaning. The speaker's brain thinks a thing, then tries to break those thoughts down into constituent parts, then tries to match those parts to words that they then speak to the listener's brain. The listener's brain then receives those words and—shared vocabulary willing—tries to reconstruct the first brain's meaning using its own separate set of building-block connotations between those same noises and the meaning attached to each, which are created through that second brain's fundamentally different lived experience from the first.

If two people are talking about a tree, then there are actually three entirely different trees present: the tree in the speaker's imagination, the tree as it is capable of being rendered in human speech, and the tree in the listener's imagination. And that's the way it has to be. Barring the invention of technology that allows people to accurately and directly beam their thoughts to one another, no one will ever know exactly what another person means. The same goes for art, music, and every other form of expression that tries to communicate the concept of a tree, or infinitely more complex ideas like emotions.

Most people who learn about this concept will make peace with the fact that it's weird, but it is what it is. Or maybe they'll exult in the miracle of language and the amazing humanoid achievements suggested by the fact that we are able to cooperate and communicate at all like this. I was first introduced to the idea by Innuendo Studio's examination of Davey Wreden's The Beginner's Guide, which takes it in stride while diving into semiotics, death of the author, and other stuff like that.

I do not take it in stride. I find the idea painful to deal with. I hate knowing that my interpretation of a story is 'wrong'. It reminds me of how flimsy and subjective our ideas of meaning are, and from there I typically spiral into obsessing over how by extension we are as unreal and invalid as the contents of a book. Then I usually settle into desperately willing the universe to conjure up a bubble of false vacuum decay and please just end it all already.

Keep in mind, this is all happening while I'm trying to read through a breakfast scene in a fricking Redwall book.

So yeah. I have some hang-ups about reading books, and my resulting avoidance of the medium has shaped my life enormously, in ways that I know and probably don't know. As a kid I always felt like I was nerding "wrong" by not being the bookworm or comic book geek. As I've grown older I've started to lament the hypothetical worthwhile experiences I could have had but never did. I'd say the last time I read an entire book purely for my own enjoyment separate from schoolwork was sometime during senior year in high school.

Visual media like shows and video games played a far bigger role in my development, and online gaming had a direct hand in making the creature that I am today. I opt for adaptations of books because even when they flop or grossly conflict with how most people interpret the text, they at least give me someone else's interpretation of the world to replace my own with, and that feels somehow more legitimate and permissible than my own. More official.

This doesn't sit well with me. I know I'm missing out, and it diminishes my enjoyment of other media by proxy. But usually I just avoid the issue entirely. Very rarely, I'll make a half-measure like listening to audiobooks. Sometimes I'll even finish them, but more often than not the extra voices become too distracting for someone who basically lives inside of a Skype call.

Every few years I do take a crack at "real" reading, but it usually only lasts a few pages before I fall off again. I never found a way to incentivize myself to finish a book.

Until now.

Because now, I've had an idea. If I can make myself accountable to an external party, such as you fine Burrowers (and the bots that inflate my site traffic), then I am that much more likely to follow through with the task. Because otherwise, I don't even have a finished story to relay here, and the post will remain an unfinished draft mocking me from my dashboard each and every day.

I realize that trying to outweigh the pressure of reading by using the pressure of not reading and therefore squandering a blog post I've already started writing is maybe not the healthiest technique. But it's the best plan I've had in a while, so I'm going to give it a shot.

Of course the plan isn't perfect. I can't just start reading anything under artificial duress. I still need it to be something that I have an interest in. Preferably, it's something that I also already have some familiarity with, so that I have an experiential base for my imagination to draw upon. Finally, it should be something bland, low-stakes, and utterly inconsequential to the real world and humanity's place within it.

I know just the thing!

I tease, I tease.

While I've gone on record as saying that Dragonlance is kind of past its prime as an IP (and especially as a moneymaker for its owners), I don't actually dislike it all that much. Like many kids, the original Dragonlance trilogy was one of my first experiences reading through a huge, high fantasy setting- I didn't get around to the LotR books until after high school, and when I did they were in the form of the admittedly wonderful audiobooks by Phil Dragash.

The series' central themes of faith and the balance between good and evil feel increasingly stupid to me the older I get, but the world of Krynn still holds a quaint charm for me, the way you might like certain parts of a mostly cringey '80s cartoon. The huge history always meant that there was something of passing interest to me somewhere, somewhen. It was also the closest thing to a culturally diverse fantasy series that I experienced for a long time, what with its prominent protagonists of vaguely Native American and Black inspiration- although you wouldn't know that from looking at the cover art that makes most of them white.

I really should read Earthsea someday.

Also for some reason I still think it's so cool that Krynn's major continent is in its southern hemisphere, with all the changes to geography and climate that entails? I'm sure fiction writers have been using that trope for a hundred years or more, but these books were what opened my tiny whelpling mind to the fact that you could do something like that and I just think that's neat.

Anyway, yes. I have chosen to read a Dragonlance novel for this little project of mine.

Next, I have to choose which one. Which you might think would be the bigger challenge, given that there are over 200 books in the series, spread across dozens of trilogies, anthologies, sagas, etc., all written by different authors with different abilities and areas of focus. And it's not like my past reading narrows the list down much- I read the original trilogy, the finale/reboot Dragons of Summer Flame, and one book in the Ergoth series. I've never even read the Twins series that is, as I've learned during research for this post, one half of the "Holy Six" that everyone recommends starting their Dragonlance journey with.

But this is one area where my brand of one-trick-ponyism comes in mighty handy.

I'm not even sure which of the 200+ Dragonlance novels this entry is, because every publication list I looked at online gave different numbers depending on which modules or anthologies they included or excluded from the lineup. The Rebellion could be the 140th in the series, or the 152nd, or the 182nd. Suffice it to say it's pretty high up there.

The Stonetellers series is a trilogy set during the latest era of the Dragonlance timeline, the Age of Mortals that started in the wake of the gods' war against their dad (or maybe uncle?) Chaos. Chaos was trapped inside a rock for eons and then decided to erase the gods and their entire world as payback. Obviously he failed, but the whole ordeal combined with the goddess Takhisis' unceasing machinations led to a pretty serious shakeup of the status quo. I talked more about the magical consequences of this in my recent 3E OdditE post about Ambient Tempests.

In hindsight this move was pretty clearly meant by TSR to set Dragonlance up for a new series of books with new protagonists and new challenges (as well as to market the new spin-off RPG using the SAGA system) that ended up not performing so well. The huge changes to the setting split the fanbase, and after a few years the entire story arc was revealed to have been a deception by Takhisis, with the world returning to something closer to what it was beforehand. I see it as a hasty rewrite from corporate to try and course-correct, but I have no evidence for that.

In the aftermath of all that mess, a plethora of Age of Mortals books has released that explore the less well-known parts of the world, far and away from the entrenched protagonist families that became central in the Summer Flame era. You can probably make a comparison here to how liberating or refreshing it is to read a Star Wars Expanded Universe novel that isn't about a Skywalker or a Solo, but of course I've never read any of those either.

The first installment in the Stonetellers series is, as the image above suggests, The Rebellion. In it, a group of goblin slaves find an opportunity to cast off their chains and seize some measure of justice and self-determination after their people have been unrelentingly shat upon for the better part of thousands of years. That is the extent of my knowledge of the book so far, but it's enough to entice me.

Goblins occupy an interesting position in Dragonlance, if you'll allow me to use 'interesting' as a synonym for 'pathetic' for a moment. They typically exist as another species of mooks to be bossed around by bigger and meaner villains, and hobgoblins essentially replace orcs, who are not native to the planet Krynn. But draconians do much of the same- and corrupted dragon people raised from eggs to be Spartanesque soldiers and perfect minions of evil are a touch more compelling and visually exciting than "D&D goblins, again". So goblins have almost always been backup minion fodder on Krynn when the Dragonlords and evil clerics don't have better folks under their employ- a pretty ignominious position to be in.

There are exceptions here and there, like the peaceful and "civilized" Ergothian goblin province of Sikk'et Hul, or the weirdly Blackadder-esque story dedicated to the grotesque but comically lucky little hobgoblin despot, Lord Toede. But those instances are rare and often unserious, so I was surprised to find that someone wrote an entire and sincere trilogy about them. Or at least I'm assuming it's serious- I haven't started reading yet.

Jean Rabe, the author, has a somewhat soured reputation among at least one vocal part of the Dragonlance fanbase. Her Dragons of the New Age trilogy was the one that carried the Age of Mortals forward with all its radical alterations, and some of the onus of things being too different and bad is placed upon her writing, or even her personally. In her defense I will say that the changes technically began with Summer Flame, even if it was originally intended by Weis and Hickman to be the Dragonlance finale. Other than that I don't know a thing about her, but she's the first Dragonlance author I've seen write about goblins this way, so I'm going to give her the benefit of a doubt.

It occurs to me that I've been infodumping a lot here to put off actually reading. That stops now.

I am going to make use of my first-ever jump break to mark my first-ever intrapostal time skip for whatever this nightmare is turning into, because I know it will be longwinded. What follows will be my "live" commentary as I work through the book in chunks.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

3E OdditE: Ambient Tempest (Bestiary of Krynn, 2004)

Click here to return to the OdditE archive.

Dragonlance has a weird relationship with the larger body of 3E material, as well as the audience who engages with it. WotC owned the license throughout the entirety of the edition, but after one of many legal back-and-forths they handed the actual work of writing and publishing Dragonlance books off to Sovereign Press, the printing company owned by Dragonlance cocreator Margaret Weis.

Because of that technically-officially-licensed-yet-also-3rd-party status, all of the 3E Dragonlance books are in a weird limbo when it comes to whether people consider them "core" or not. You rarely ever see material from them referenced alongside other splatbooks on forums and in character build handbooks. Even other settings like Eberron were talked about far more often in similar contexts, although part of that was probably thanks to differences in sales and plain old popularity. This was the early-to-mid 2000s, and Dragonlance was no longer the same hot young IP it was in the 1980s.

As a result, I regularly learn about whole new classes, spells, and feats that I've never even heard of before cracking open one of the old Dragonlance campaign setting books for the first time. It's always a fun discovery, no matter how bland or broken or just plain weird the thing in question happens to be.

Today, I'll be sharing one such find.

The Bestiary of Krynn was originally released in 2004, but owing to the hefty amount of errata and cut content that it shipped without, a Revised edition was released in November of 2006. 3E Dragonlance books were somewhat notorious for their seeming lack of close proofreading and editing, which probably contributed to their lack of popularity online. At least the Bestiary got a second shot, unlike most others.

(And it really needed the second shot, because one of the class abilities we'll be looking at today was completely nonfunctional due to an omitted word!)

In the Bestiary we are treated to all manner of nasties and weirdos. This includes an unsurprisingly large proportion of dragon subtypes, but also some beasts, outsiders, undead, and a caste of goblins mutated by chaotic magic called the Gurik Cha'ahl. It also has a suite of monster-oriented Prestige Classes, as well as rules for handling a monster PC's initial rejection and possible acceptance by any humanoid communities they adventure in, which I wasn't expecting at all. Savage Species should have done something similar, in my opinion.

One monster PrC in particular grabbed my attention, because more than being for monsters, it's for anyone with enough primal magical power.

3E Dragonlance books were mostly set during the Age of Mortals after the Chaos War, where through multiple novels worth of machinations the dark goddess Takhisis used the cosmic battle with the gods' deadbeat dad Chaos to steal the entire planet of Krynn away from her siblings. All divine and arcane magic ceased to function for that approximately 50 year period, because even wizards are dependent upon the three magical moon gods for their spells on Krynn.

During this magical dark age, mortals rediscovered the ancient "wild" sorcery that comes from the land itself, rather than from the moons. Simultaneously, they drew upon the latent power of mortal souls to develop the more internal and spiritualistic form of divine magic called mysticism. In thematic terms they're remarkably similar to different aspects of Primal magic that we would later see in D&D 4E. In mechanical terms, the sorcerer is unchanged while the mystic is a new base class presented in the Dragonlance Campaign Setting that acts like a spontaneous cleric minus the heavy armor, undead turning, and 1 domain. Kind of sparse, but still a solid Tier 2.

Even after Takhy's plot was foiled in part by a time-traveling kender and most of the gods returned to the world, these new/old forms of magic continue to exist alongside their traditional cousins. The future is uncertain and bound to be rocky, but mortals are in a better position to steer their own destinies than they have been in ages- so long as those pendulum-obsessed rich kids they call gods can stop meddling in their plaything so much.

Delving deeper into either of these ambient forms of magic to unlock their hitherto-untapped potential is the specialty of the aptly-named Ambient Tempest.

Ambient Tempest

Unquenchable, unstoppable, and, er, unclothable.

The Ambient Tempest (AT) is a 5-level PrC with 1d4 HD, 2 + Int skill ranks in a modest list, 1/2 BAB, poor Fort and Reflex Saves, and 4/5 spontaneous spellcasting advancement. Between the sorcerer and the mystic, its basic chassis is closer to sorcerer. A melee mystic would get set back quite a bit by levels in this class, though its unique abilities might make up for it to some extent. Dedicated casters who are already trying to stay out of harm's way are mostly only looking at a downside of 1 lost CL.

Qualifying for AT requires 9 ranks in Knowledge (Arcana) and Spellcraft, two out of a selection of magical and metamagic feats, 3rd-level spontaneous spells from either of the above classes (or a weirder pick), and either a supernatural or spell-like ability or two more of the above feats. Mystics can qualify depending on their chosen domain's granted power, while sorcerers might need a bit more work depending on if the Familiar class ability counts as (Su) or not. Something like a dragon with innate magical abilities has the easiest time qualifying for this PrC, but PC species can potentially qualify by 6th level.

Unsurprisingly there are no online reprints of this or most other Dragonlance material.
So here's a screen grab of the table from the revised PDF. Shh, don't tell Hasbro.

The three big class features of the AT are Shifting Knowledge (Ex), Ambient Secret, and Spellshaping (Ex). Their theme is tweaking or breaking many of the usual rules for spontaneous casting, which fits well with the flavor of the PrC.

Shifting Knowledge allows the spontaneous caster to dispense with the once-at-4th-level-and-every-2nd-level-after-that rule for changing out their known spells for others, and instead change 1 spell/week with an hour of meditation as long as it's 2 spell levels below your max. While it isn't as freeing as other classes like say, the Spirit Shaman (Complete Divine) that can change their spontaneous list daily, it's a big step toward making sorcerers and mystics more versatile. With enough downtime you could redo most of your spell library, and I think that's an uncommon and neat ability.

Ambient Secret comes up 3 times during AT progression. It allows you to select 1 ability from a short list, most of which can't be selected multiple times as is standard for that sort of thing. The choices are:

  • Improved Metamagic, which allows you to ignore the normal rule that metamagic on a spontaneous spell costs a full-round action. I always wondered why that rule only existed for the less overpowered of all the full-casters, but wonky balance is part of why I love/hate 3E.
    • (This is the ability that I mentioned was unusable prior to errata, because instead of "a spell" it just said "a". Big improvement.)
  • Improved Shifting, which allows you to ignore the spell level limit on swapping spells in and out with Shifting Knowledge. Simple but good. Now your entire repertoire is mutable.
  • Metamagic Feat, which is exactly what it sounds like. You may learn any metamagic feat you qualify for, and you can take this more than once if you really want.
    • I'd personally avoid taking this more than once because you only have 3 secrets total.
  • Shifting Knowledge, which is named exactly like the other class feature for some reason. I would've gone with Expanded Knowledge or something like that but hey, I'm not the editor. It lets you swap 1 extra spell per week and can be taken more than once. This could be really good, or just kind of nice, depending on how varied the challenges you tend to face are.
    • My personal ranking puts this at the bottom—maybe tied with the bonus metamagic feat—below the other two near-mandatory secrets.

Spellshaping lets you just walk all over the normal rules of metamagic. With this ability, you can reverse your Enlarge, Extend, or Widen metamagic feats so that they reduce the spell's effect for a spell slot 1 level lower than normal. This is the first instance of reverse metamagic I've ever seen in 3rd Edition, and I love the concept. It gives so many situationally useful spells that much more utility, especially at higher levels when your lower-level spell slots start to pile up and feel less impactful. 

Imagine Narrowing a Fireball so that you don't clip your friends who are hanging around too close to the target, or Shortening all those combat buffs and debuffs that have durations measuring in the minutes/level, which rarely ever matters in a system where combat lasts less than a minute on average. It barely even feels like a cost, and that's before you get to the gravy of saving your bigger spell slots, or the hidden tech of adding one of these on top of a regular metamagic feat in order to modify its increased cost.

I've never wanted to play a sorcerer before (except for an attempt at a Greater Mighty Wallop build one time), but this PrC kinda gives me the itch to try. I'd probably opt for mystic if I was in a Dragonlance game, though. Playing a Stone-Teller of the Godless Folk would be too nifty to pass up.

You could bring in any other spontaneous caster for shenanigans, though. Imagine a spirit shaman combining daily list tweaks with the metamagic metagame, or using the Unearthed Arcana option for spontaneous clerics and druids.

Or don't, because that might be too much cheese. It won't be mozzarella nightstick levels of cheese, but at least a solid, rindy gouda.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Troika: The Spellsponge

You aren't sure if you were lucky or unlucky when the witch-hunter's spell fizzled out upon your bare skin with an inelegant schlorp. On one hand you escaped immediate, agonizing death. But on the other hand, everyone within sight of the incident couldn't shake the feeling that maybe the fanatic's suspicions about you were not completely baseless.

You've been on the run ever since. Not because you're still being hunted, although that certainly is one motivator. No, you wander because that fateful day awakened something in you. A thirst for magic that isn't academic, nor megalomaniacal, nor power-hungry. Well, maybe it's a little hungry. A hunger for spells, the look and feel of them, the sensation of intuitive knowing that fills you when you're around magic.

That ineffable feeling has sent you wandering far. Maybe somewhere in the feeling of sublime wholeness, you'll find out just how and why you randomly soak spells up like a sponge.

Or maybe you'll get to freak out another inquisitor.

The Spellsponge

Nishat by Ron Koza (formerly hvit-ravn)


  • Travelworn Cloak, stitched and patched in many colors.
  • Walking Stick, inexpertly carved out of boredom.
  • Knife, more for the outdoors than the battlefield but still quite sharp.
  • Idiosyncratic Trinkets & Charms which don't actually do anything supernatural but help you make sense of the world and your aberrant relationship to magic within it.
  • A Map scribbled with notes on local wizard schools, temples, ley-lines, etc.

Advanced Skills

    3 Second Sight
    2 Awareness
    2 Intuition
    2 Spell - Random
    1 Spell - Random


When you witness a spell being cast or are targeted by a spell, you may Test your Luck to learn that spell as if you had trained a new Advanced Skill to rank 1. Additionally, if the spell is targeted at you and you succeed your Test, you "soak up" the spell and it does not affect you. You may attempt this once per week per spell. You can't use this ability on a spell you already know.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Slag & Scale

It is known how the God at the Forge created the Sun: by complete accident.

When the Trickster wished to give the smith a gift to express its love for them, it did not know how, because it could not express anything. Deceit and concealment was so ingrained in its ways that it could not even tell a truth it wanted to share. So the Trickster fell back on old habits and presented to the God at the Forge a lump of the world's worst, most impure ore. The Trickster then dared the god to create anything of beauty out of it, teasing them and doubting their abilities as a child might the person they fancy.

The God at the Forge was insulted, for pride in the craft was their insurmountable nature. So they accepted the challenge, and set straight to work. They took the lump of ore to their forge and heated it a thousand-thousand times over, in a fire a thousand times brighter and hotter than the smith had ever stoked before. So bright and hot was the forge that all the other gods and creatures of the Rift shied away and fled to the twilit places- all but the Trickster, who watched the smith work in teary-eyed awe.

The Trickster beheld as the god at their bellows began to melt away the outer layers of the ore. Molten slag flowed like rivers and cooled into mountains, yet that vexing lump of ore remained undiminished; still impure. The smith's anger burned as hot as the forge, nearly melting it to the firmament. The god finally lashed out and sent the slag crashing to their feet, before stomping away and brooding over what next to do.

The Trickster also watched as some of that discarded slag began to move. Shattered crags picked themselves up and brushed off the smaller, crumbly bits of their fellows with stumpy, blunt limbs. They looked around with eyeless heads, and soon trundled or toddled away in fear at the sound of their creator's loud grumbling.

When the ore proved too stubborn, the smith pulled it out of the forge and laid it upon their anvil in the grip of their great and immovable tongs. If all the impurities would not melt out, then they would hammer them out. The smith deliberated at length, and finally took up one of their 6,842 hammers with which to begin the Great Folding.

For a length of time that would come to be called a year, the god hammered at the lump of ore. Every swing lit the Rift with showers of sparks, and shook the gulfs to their depths. The ore was beaten and shaped, tortured and purified, until the lesser metals were dragged screaming to the surface and smote.

The Trickster watched as those flakes of hammerscale rained upon the anvil like storms-yet-to-be, only to be swept away by the calloused hand of the God at the Forge. The flakes danced and shivered like black snowflakes as they fell, twisting in the heated air currents until they landed upon spindly little arms and legs. Jagged and pointy, these diminutive creatures did not flee in fear from their creator so quickly.

But just as the smith ignored the gawking Trickster, so too did they ignore the growing audience at their feet. They seized upon the progress they made, bringing the hammer down faster and harder until their arm was a blur, and their work reached a fever pitch.

When it did, they broke their hammer upon the lump of ore and ignited something deep within it. A spark unlike any other, that grew and grew to absorb the entire sphere with a brilliance that not even the smith could withstand. So they hurled it away into the darkness, where it caught in the empty void and erupted into its full glory.

At that, the little scales yipped and fled in fear. All the gods of the Rift came to look in awe at the newborn Sun. Without a doubt, it was the greatest thing of beauty the God at the Forge had ever made. Even the dust and the dregs of the Rift thought so, and began to dance around the Sun in ever greater crowds.

But the story of how the worlds were wedded together is for another time.

For now, the God at the Forge stood and basked in the warmth of their creation, and the accolades of their fellows. They waited, proud and imperious, for the Trickster to come before them and declare its challenge met. But the Trickster did not. The Trickster could not. All it could do was conceal the ache in its heart as it stole away to darker parts, where the smith's beauty did not burn so brightly, and the laughter of gods was not so loud.

There, in the dark and quiet, the Trickster found that it was not so alone. It found there, huddled and frightened, the little bits of slag and hammerscale that the smith had cast off and forgotten in their work. They were as children without a parent, in a Rift that was no longer what it once was. Yet they were sharp and rough to look upon, beautiful like lead, cruel to the touch and clumsy in all ways. The haughty gods of the Rift would never even notice them, let alone deign to welcome them in.

And so the Trickster reached out its long arms, and gathered the slag and scales up in spindly hands that could only steal the belongings of others. And then it closed its mouth so full of lies long enough to tenderly kiss them upon their jagged little heads. And then in a voice too quiet to hear it admitted that yes, the God at the Forge had made something beautiful indeed.

That, child, is why you should always treat with respect the things we might call waste: you never know when they might hold the guarded love of the Trickster.

Or perhaps that is just another lie, meant to put fidgeting children to bed. Now go to sleep.

Friday, September 1, 2023

SotU Hack: Sojourners of the Unknown

Last month I didn't publish anything because I was flitting back and forth between three or four different things that might turn out to be major, trajectory-altering projects for me, or they might end up being nothing at all. It's hard to tell at this stage. But the tiny voice in my head that embodies all the passive-aggression of a YouTube commenter saying "you should really do X again" has gotten loud lately, so I decided to take a break from flitting and focus on finishing something small.

Incidentally I've recently learned about Searchers of the Unknown, another hackable 1-page OSR system that got its start in the late 2000s. It was inspired by the single-line, barebones monster stat blocks of old school modules. If that's good enough for the monsters, why not for PCs too? So asks the expressly minimalist SotU, before going about offering an answer. It has dozens of hacks now, and I see the charm in it. So I decided to give it a shot too.

To do that, I spent a day diving into the 2012 SotU collection. If there's a more recent edition, I couldn't find it, but even back then it offered plenty of hacks and version updates to study and compare. Most of the rules down below are tweaked or outright stolen from the various hacks found within.

The remaining rules are borrowed from D&D 4th Edition's skill challenge system, because there are no gods and no masters, and we must hasten entropy in all things.

The end result took a few turns away from the spirit of SotU, but then again that's the heart of hacking. It's a watered-down nomadic exploration flavor of game, somewhere in between my old Desolate Days idea and some of the house rules I've regurgitated in the past. It also works about as well for a cozy, nonviolent camping trip style of game. Go figure.

I did a much better job limiting myself to the right size this time than with previous 1-page projects. It still spills over a little bit in the original two-column Google Doc, but that doesn't matter so much here in Blogger because either the editor lacks the support for it, or I don't know the HTML sorcery to make it myself.

Sojourners of the Unknown


Another SotU hack that turns the minimalism toward trailblazing and discovery. Your tribe/village/community is migrating after being driven from its home by marauding adventurers. You are scouts sent ahead of the caravan to find safe passage through unfamiliar lands.
Or if possible, find a new home.

Build a Sojourner

PCs are not expert guides or hardened survivalists. They’re novices, apprentices, and surplus relatives. The only reason they’re out here instead of someone else is because the community could afford to let them go.
1) Choose a Background. Could be herder, tradesperson, musician, healer, etc. You receive +2 on all related checks.
2) Choose Traveling Gear. This gives your PC survival rate (SV) and movement rate (MV).

Gear Level






Traveling Light



Always Be Prepared



Complete Packrat



You get a backpack, walking stick, waterskin, etc. regardless of gear level.
The party also gets 1 pony/wagon/travois/etc.
3) Roll for Hardiness (or don’t). Roll 1 hardiness die (HD) per level, or take half the die’s value. Do the same for all future HD.
4) Finish up. Choose a name, a 1-line description, and a 1-line background for your PC if you're feeling extra fancy.
Example: Nergui (3HD SV 9 MV 8, househusband, apprentice shaman) is a ruddy, reedy fellow in search of snacks for the village kids during his cheerful self-exile.


Any discrete scenario that offers stiff resistance, like a perilous hike or a pack of angered animals, is an encounter.
You face an encounter by rolling checks. The referee determines how many successes an encounter requires to advance, and how many failures will thwart the party. Remember to fail forward and/or complicate victories.
The players are encouraged to get creative with checks, and the referee decides if their logic and applied bonuses fit the fiction.
Example: The party failed to avoid hostilities with a neighboring tribe, and decides to circumvent them by rafting down the nearby river. The referee decides 4 cumulative successes means they navigate without issue, while 3 failures whisk them far downriver, out of control on the strong current.


All checks are made by rolling 1d20 +½ level (rounded down) +other modifiers (background bonus, etc). A result of 20+ succeeds.
Survival Checks: Knowledge and grit. Treating an injury, following tracks, identifying (and surviving) poisonous plants, befriending strangers, etc. Roll +SV.
Movement Checks: Athletics and fine motor skills. Climbing, swimming, sneaking, avoiding mauling, etc. Roll +MV.
Hazards: Exploration is dangerous. Bad encounter outcomes deal 1HD to each PC from injury, stress, or loss of resources. Disastrous results deal 2HD. Certain dooms deal 4HD. PCs recover hardiness by setting camp and resting. PCs who run out of hardiness need to be brought back to the community for healing before they can rest.


The occasional scroll, potion, wand or runed piece of tree bark bearing a magic spell can be found by the party while exploring.
Spell names imply their effects, the dimensions and details of which should be described by the players when they cast them.
A spell lasts 1 encounter and counts as 1 or 2 successes without needing to roll checks, depending on how cleverly the player uses and roleplays it.


The PCs’ community starts at level 1 with 0 XP. Each time the party reports back with new discoveries or resources to share, the community gains XP.
The community requires an additional 1000 XP multiplied by its current level to advance to the next level. There is no level limit.
The community gains 1000 XP per major discovery. Discoveries include finding a landmark, meeting another community, making alliances, recruiting new people, facing a new foe for the first time, etc.
The community also gains 1 XP per GP worth of supplies or treasure donated (i.e. not spent by the party or on the party).
When a community levels up the party shares in the benefits, gaining better rolls and another Hardiness die (or half its value). Every 3rd level the PCs each gain a new background, or improve an old one by +1.

And now, for sure, wander on!

Thursday, July 27, 2023

10 Unpublished Manuscripts for your Failed Novelist (N)PCs

The study reeks of stale air, burnt coffee, and artistic self-loathing as you enter. Your eyes are slowly, inexorably drawn toward a nondescript binder on the desk. You know you shouldn't open it. Yet like the idiot protagonist of a cosmic horror story you are compelled to gaze upon that which is best left forgotten. Your eyes begin to roll back into your skull as you glance over the humbly bragging foreword. By the time you read the trite opening sentences, the maddening mediocrity has already consumed your soul.

You should have listened.

1 When's Okay to Say...?
Some people just shouldn't write children's books.

A nameless child wanders through this watercolor picture book, encountering various relatives, friends, and pets throughout the day. The child obviously suffers from anxiety and may also be neurodivergent, but the disembodied voice of the narrator only ever calls them "selfish" or "rude" for expressing their worries to other people and in turn bumming them out. The narrator goes on to teach the child how to refrain from sharing too much.

At first this works, and everyone's mood immediately improves. Every character, even the goldfish, expresses joy that the child isn't sad all the time now. Even the color palette becomes brighter and more pleasant to look at. But soon the child decides that they don't enjoy being "polite", and resume being honest with the people in their life.

This causes some sort of cancerous growth to appear in the air above the child's head, which grows and pulsates the more they share. By the final pages of the book it has split open to reveal a crimson, Sauronic eye that leers down at the child for trying to do or say anything. The kid eventually faints while hiding under a laundry hamper with their teddy bear- which the book makes sure to point out is only the child's friend because it's completely inanimate and doesn't have a choice.

"Lesson" finally learned, the child completely shuts down emotionally, and the eye shrivels up and disappears in time. The final spread depicts the whole cast joyfully embracing the child, who now has a pained smile fixed upon their face.

O, Mirthsome! O, Girthsome!
A questionably titled crypto-biography of the life, death, and ascension of Groesbeck the Carbunculous, a jovial god of consumption, infestation, and probiotics in an implied urban fantasy setting. Groesbeck begins the story as a lowly, put-upon fast food restaurant health inspector who is as unlucky as he is personally underwhelming. The first few chapters try to hammer this point home by showing all the ways he fails to find love, aspire in hobbies, or earn the respect of his coworkers.

This barely changes after he falls prey to the parasites in an undercooked beefalo patty. He continues to act upbeat and undemanding, perhaps to the point of delusion, even as his body becomes a ravaged hive for the infestation. His body balloons until he is confined to his apartment, and through his own placid observations it is implied that the entire building has been condemned around him as a quarantine zone.

It is at this point the parasites begin speaking to him, singing him praises and adulations for the first time in his life. They thank him for giving them life, but lament that they have so few siblings with which to play. Groesbeck takes to his new "children" quickly and tries to share their affection and positivity with the rest of the world, to less-than-stellar results.

The remainder of the book covers these failed attempts to spread the joy, horrifying and putting to flight countless townsfolk and causing an epidemic in the process. The text attempts to treat his corpulence with a degree of body-positivity, but instead comes across as fetishistic and occasionally outright shaming. Groesbeck's speech takes to a strange poetic metre by this point, and he drops the title during one of his many bombastic soliloquys.

The book ends when Groesbeck is rolled down a hill into a pit and lit on fire, but returns to life two weeks later to continue his great work at the head of an ever-growing wave of upbeat, infested converts. The final page-and-a-half is dedicated to the marching song they sing while washing like a tide over the tristate area.

Tucked into the back of the manuscript is a copy of a C&D order from a litigious game company also known for its jovial and corpulent rot-monsters.

X Gaiden Rinne!
An anthological deconstruction of the isekai genre. It subverts the traditional escapist fantasy and wish-fulfillment tropes of the genre by couching its sequence of worlds and stories firmly within a tightly interconnected dharmic cosmology. Every protagonist is reborn where they are because of the karmic debts their past selves accrued, and their every action is of immense consequence for the incarnation that succeeds them.

Oftentimes the protagonists (who are all sent there as a consequence of death, though none are traffic accidents) are reincarnated as denizens of the worlds their past selves cultivated. Some of these are karmic rewards, but just as many are awful revelations that the person has been reduced to NPC-levels of agency and must now endure the next visitor's whimsy; just as so many others had suffered their own time in the limelight.

Ever-present throughout the anthology is an enigmatic Pure Land buddha who oversees the protagonists' struggles, failures, and lessons. The buddha fully reveals themself in the penultimate chapter to confront the one protagonist who rises to supervillainy in their utter refusal to let go of the power fantasy they feel entitled to. The resulting clash of hubris and wrathful aspect proves cataclysmic, and the closing chapter makes the ambitious attempt at conveying a sense of blissful anatta to the reader.

A historical fiction "romance novel" describing the mostly physical relationship between a pair of 16th century Maldivian cowry shell divers. The story's prose, initially purple and flowery, grows increasingly stilted, jarring, and lurid as the author moves on to more and more bizarre, esoteric, or just plain immature euphemisms for sexual acts and body parts in an attempt to keep things fresh.

This is constantly contrasted, sometimes to the point of tonal whiplash, with a remarkably well-researched and in-depth analysis of the power structures and systems of oppression of the Portuguese-colonized Indian Ocean and the human toll that the cowry industry takes. As the divers' world falls apart around them, they throw themselves at one another with increasing desperation.

At about the midpoint of the story, a vague sense of magic realism rises up from background dormancy. The cowries and their shells gain voices of their own, which they use to snark at one another or make observations on the divers like some kind of molluscan Greek chorus. None of their wisdom or dating advice is heeded however, and the situation continues to deteriorate until the divers have to flee their homes and the authorities.

By the final chapter, the story's language reaches a fever pitch as the couple, their boat, and the entire exploitative cowry industry merge together into a many-limbed pataphorical orgy that then pleasantly sinks into obscurity beneath the waves of the Indian Ocean.

The Lay of the Cantankerous Hrütlander
Despite being called a lay, this story is not a lyrical poem told in octosyllabic couplets. It is in fact a turgid, 400-page long sword & sandals adventure novel about the eponymous Hrütlander, a towering embodiment of hypermasculinity and sullen demeanor in the lands of the Far Nørthe. He journeys down from the mountains of Hrütli-lejr, tasked by the gods to act as kingmaker for two warring clans; the Rittugids led by Chief Rittu and the Chegguderi led by Chief Klegga Cheg (or perhaps Chegga Kleg; the text flipflops on his name constantly).

Apparently "kingmaker" in this world means that the Hrütlander has moral license to betray anyone and switch sides in the conflict at a whim, which he does often and at the slightest perceived insult. The plot and the world as a whole eke out an existence in the margins between long, self-indulgent scenes of Iron Age warfare made all the more bloody by the Hrütlander wielding his highly impractical, ahistorical atgeir topped with nine blades.

The world itself is a fictionalized mythic Scandinavia, written with about as much nuance and understanding of the source material as you might expect from a high school metalhead who plays far too much Skyrim. The land is cold and inhospitable except by the tribes of barbarians who grow huge, muscular and/or buxom on nothing but beef and ale that they seem to have an inexhaustible supply of. The Rittugids and Chegguderi are introduced as being irreconcilably different from one another, but the only differences that come through in the text are their hair color (blonde and brunette in contrast with the Hrütlander's "glowering red"), and which side of the body they start on when sacrificing a living person to their god Wōdyn.

At the climax of the story, the much-anticipated three-way (battle) between Rittu, Chegga/Klegga, and the Hrütlander is unexpectedly cut short by the appearance of a sorceress who reveals herself to be an ale-wench whom the Hrütlander previously tried and failed to bed. She kills the chieftains and hurls the Hrütlander into a tear in the spacetime continuum, sending him back to the early Jurassic Period where he promptly falls into the middle of a savage territorial fight between dinosaurs that had no business being in the same time and place as one another.

The closing text boldly proclaims that the story will be continued in the sequel, Gondwanalandmansaga: The Saga of the Man from Gondwanaland.

Maul Punx
A so-called "dystopian suburb punk toxo-romance" set in the distant year of 199Y, in an alternate reality that split off of our own when the cult classic 1989 teen dark comedy Heathers was directed by Stanley Kubrick as originally intended by the writer. The film stayed as niche as the original, and the world at large remains almost identical to our own. The major difference is that this timeline divergence inspired a subculture of especially disaffected suburban youths.

Not content to passively criticize the world around them, a coalition of Midwestern punks, goths, and a few nerds begins an uprising in which they burn down several McMansions and a car dealership before invading and fortifying a mall to repulse the authorities. This course of action becomes almost immediately the correct choice when an overworked lab assistant at a nearby military base accidentally unleashes a bioweapon that turns the majority of the town into zombies.

What ensues is a mix between awkward romance as two youths (a trad goth with an interest in taxidermy and the bassist for an experimental emo-shoegaze band) take a liking to one another, action-horror as the undead besiege the mall, and a rather unsubtle critique of American consumerism- the zombies all moan "maaall" instead of "braaaiiins", among other hints.

The couple turns out to be an unhealthy fit for one another, with jealousy and codependency quickly taking root between them. Still, they decide to stick it out together through the siege, frequently speaking the cynical adage that they're "better off dead (together)". Ironically, they end up being the few left entirely unscathed when they fall back to the roof of the mall under the unrelenting zombie assault.

Eventually it is revealed that the zombies are weak to loud music, which the youths take advantage of until exploded undead heads have painted the majority of the parking lot. They also get a radio antenna working on the roof, which allows them to discover that uprisings similar to theirs occurred all across the Midwest at around the same time. The mall survivors pass on the secret to countering the outbreak, and the dawn rises on a very odd new world.

The novelization of a screenplay that was dubbed simultaneously too technically difficult, visually boring, and audience-alienating in premise to perform. It follows a pair of advanced, cephalopod aliens bound to their life support shuttles as they float in high orbit above a backwater planet and ruminate on the extinction of their entire species. One, a historian named the Preserver, laments the folly and hubris of their people. The other, a bioengineer named the Caretaker, tries to devise a way to save the species from death and genetic bottlenecking.

The Caretaker eventually hypothesizes that they could insert their DNA into the genome of one of the modified and accelerated subject species on the planet below, essentially hijacking them and creating a new hybrid designed to replace the originals. The Preserver balks at this idea, citing how their systems-spanning empire fell apart precisely because they wouldn't stop meddling in the development of other species. They say that they deserve to die out as a warning to others if they will not stop repeating history like this. The Caretaker counters that they can still learn from their mistakes as long as they're not all dead, and that the loss of all their accumulated wisdom would be a tragedy for the whole galaxy.

What follows is a long, increasingly bitter philosophical debate over free will, ethics, and the burden of knowledge. Eventually the disagreement comes to a head and the two aliens fire their shuttles' weapons at one another. One of the ships is fatally damaged and its life support shuts down after some remorseful parting words; the other stays intact enough to putter down to the planet's surface.

It is left deliberately unclear which of the aliens survived; either the Caretaker violated their oath to protect and cultivate life by killing their fellow and taking advantage of their own charges, or the Preserver was ironically the one who ultimately consigned their species to history before trying to create a lasting warning for other sapient species.

Presented as a found diary with occasional margin notes from the "finder" character, this alternatively uncomfortable and outright goofy book details an anonymous linguist's spiral into mental illness and a paranoid world of conspiracy theories.

The linguist was recently kicked out of their university for a series of violent outbursts, as well as their increasingly vehement belief in a Tower of Babel-esque theory of the origin of human language. To prove this theory correct and unearth the supposed global conspiracy threatening it, the linguist goes on a globetrotting academic tour despite barely having enough money to feed themself with.

According to their theory, the original human language was split into all existing language families by some cataclysmic event in prehistory. Mankind's destiny can only be reclaimed by reconstructing this ur-language. This must be done by purging all of the false words from the world and finding the "true words" hidden in every language; approximately 1 word per lect. As an example, the true word of the modern French language is "peste" in the sense of a bratty child, and absolutely every other part of the language can and should be thrown out, excluding cognates or loanwords now "owned" by other languages. There are as many exceptions as there are rules to this theoretical language, and the linguist often interrupts the flow of the story to explain them at length.

The linguist's pet theories and other eccentricities often put them at odds with the other people in their travels. They constantly alienate themselves from others while making little if any progress in their search, leading to a worsening mental crisis and more than one physical altercation for extremely specific reasons. One dispute escalates into a fistfight with a group of Neo-Nazis for their "crypto-Saxon revanchism" (rather than because they're, you know, Nazis). Another scuffle nearly gets the linguist hit by an irate New York taxi driver for insisting that dumplings be called farts, from French farce for stuffing. Toward the end of their journey, another incident involves the linguist ineffectually slapping people with a karakul cap at the Al-Salam Festival in Australia until they were arrested and escorted off the premises, ranting all the while about the "Idiqutic erasure" they saw in modern definitions of the word Uyghur.

Somehow, the linguist never catches a criminal charge.

The linguist eventually decides that the Seima-Turbino Phenomenon must in some way be the key to proving their theory. They illegally cross several national borders through Eurasia, before finally pausing to rest in a hidden camp in the Altai Mountains on the Sino-Russian border. The linguist believes they are being hunted by one or both governments for the knowledge they possess, and the diary ends as they resolve to seal it in a waterproof container and plunge it into a nearby lake to retrieve later.

The epilogue shifts point of view and describes how the diary and the abandoned remains of the linguist's camp were found by an equally anonymous hiker. The hiker guesses that the camp is decades old by the time they finally find them, and doubts that the linguist got what they were searching for. The hiker proves unusually adept at decoding the diary, which is revealed to have been written entirely in the linguist's own neo-Babelian conlang, which consists of a grab-bag of vocabulary from thousands of languages living and dead, all awkwardly stitched together on top of a grammar that vaguely resembles Esperanto.

The hiker debates destroying the diary, and remarks upon how strangely prescient the linguist was at times, before going home and sitting down for a plate of mutton farts.

Huginn, Where's Your Muninn?
Another children's book, less reprehensible in premise. Huginn & Muninn, the pair of ravens who fly across the world acting as spies for Old Norse mythology's Odin, have become separated. This is bad news for the little birds, because they rely upon one another to be a single functioning unit. Huginn (whose name means "thought") has all the smarts, but it's Muninn ("memory") who remembers everything.

The reader guides a clever but easily disoriented Huginn through several locations in the Scandinavian cosmology, helping them solve challenges that range from riddles and logic puzzles to fully articulated pop-out games. Surprisingly mythically-accurate portrayals of various saga stories can be seen playing out in the background of each page as the reader goes along, though Huginn is comically oblivious to them.

Ultimately, Huginn and Muninn are reunited after they find the latter trapped in a rather easily unlocked birdcage right outside Fensalir. Apparently they were pranked by one of Freyja's bored cats while the Vanr was visiting Frigg for brunch. The ravens embrace, thank the reader for their help, and then take wing together to tell Odin all that they've learned.

The book still hasn't found a publisher, despite its admitted charm. The most commonly cited reason in rejection letters is content deemed inappropriate for children. It probably has something to do with that one background illustration with Loki and the horse.

10 Substition
A "sub-supernatural thriller" detailing one government agent's very bad day.

The story opens with our protagonist, Agent Tomris, sitting at her dinner table on a drunken Thursday night with the muzzle of her pistol tickling at her soft palate. As Tomris mentally prepares to repaint the apartment walls and ceiling in Reptilian Brain 117, her life flashes before her eyes. These memory vignettes form the bulk of the story.

Tomris became obsessed with the supernatural early in life, and chased any avenue by which she could prove it real. This hunt became increasingly more desperate the older she got, as more and more magicians and occult traditions failed to deliver. Eventually she was on the cusp of giving up hope, when she found the Agency.

The Agency of Paranormal Research & Development is a secret department of the United States government, founded shortly after the end of the Second World War when it was discovered that the Germans and Soviets had similar programs. Emphasis 'had'; one was disbanded soon after the war for lack of progress, while the other was lost in a shipwreck on route to Argentina.

The Agency is also a colossal failure by all metrics, barely kept on life support by its shoestring budget and the efforts of overworked agents. It is forgotten and overlooked as much as it is secret. But Tomris joined the Agency's ranks anyway, to get closer to the supernatural.

There, she learned the greatest and most terrible truth of her entire life: the supernatural was extremely real- and also extremely boring. After nearly a century of research conducted across the globe, dozens of examples of paranormal activity were known to and even housed by the Agency. But most specimens are frustratingly unimpressive, and their underlying rules and explanations remained elusive.

For example, one of the first objects new agents are introduced to is the first to be discovered by the Agency: the Orb. The Orb is a seemingly plain sphere of tin 27.8cm in diameter, seated on a table in what has since become someone's office after the department went through another facility downsizing. The Orb is completely ordinary in all parameters, except that it weighs ~12% less than it should. Its composition and physics have been rigorously tested, but no light has been shed on why. It's... just a slightly light ball of metal.

Other impossibilities prove to be equally unimpressive: a stone coin that, when flipped, seems to accurately answer and even predict any Yes/No question related to someone's shoe insoles; a man from Milwaukee who can spontaneously generate over 15 liters of water from nowhere but only by sweating it out during moments of extreme stress, discovered because he was an acapella performer with stage fright; a corgi who cast no shadow so long as no one was looking at him (Mr. The Pippers was more of a beloved office pet than anything, and died of old age decades before Tomris's arrival), etc. Their natures are impenetrable, and their applications are useless, especially to a shadowy board of directors who would rather can the whole project already.

While the work is gratifying at first, the crushing reality of the situation (plus the long hours and lousy pay) start to take their toll on Tomris. She begins to question her entire life. So what if the paranormal is real, if all it is is this? What's the point? Why would the universe suck all the magic out of magic? This depression, combined with a B-plot about her caustic, estranged family, eventually brings Tomris to her dinner table with gun in hand.

The narrative snaps back to the present just as she begins to squeeze the trigger. But the positioning of the gun triggers her gag reflex, causing her to pull the gun out at the last moment. She survives, and the bullet only grazes her upper lip. A moment later, she receives a phone call from the Agency: a recently exposed cult might actually be onto something.

The point of view then abruptly shifts to that of a nameless six year-old girl who is being held captive by the so-called Order of the Grey-Litten Ingress, a millennialist cult dedicated to a being, energy, or concept (or all of the above at once) referred to as "Abiding in Silence". She and another two-dozen people of varying ages and backgrounds were kidnapped by the Order, and are slated to be sacrificed to pave their way into the next world.

The cult leader is interviewing each of the sacrifices before the ritual, and takes a keen interest in the girl's sharp tongue and wit. They engage in verbal sparring, debating the nature of knowledge, the question of salvation, and whether or not the cult's patron even exists. Slowly, the girl gains the upper hand on the cult leader. By the time the Agency is knocking down the doors to the cult's compound (after a lengthy delay spent squabbling with local law enforcement over jurisdiction), he is reduced to a catatonic wreck endlessly lamenting that 'magic is dead'.

In the final chapter the PoV switches back to Agent Tomris. The disorganized cult is subdued, nothing unnatural has a chance to happen, and all hostages are recovered- with the exception of the girl, who takes off into a nearby wetland upon the Agency's arrival. Tomris pursues her and gets lost for what feels like hours. She finally finds and tries to coax the girl back, saying they can reunite her with her family. The girl gives Tomris a smirk, then viscerally merges with a nearby mangrove tree, which proceeds to stand up and crabwalk its way deeper into the swamp.

Tomris finds herself back at the compound with another agent snapping their fingers in her face, saying that she had "zoned out" for a minute there. Disturbed but exhilarated, she contemplates what this encounter might mean as she changes the bandage on her lip.