Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Would you play that, too? (Introducing Angry Little Aliens vs. King Arthur)

When my good friend Mark asked me for inspirations for a new setting, I went a bit crazy about it. The result had been four proper settings I'd really like to play (or make a game out of) myself. But won't for a long time, I guess. So I thought I'd share them here with some ideas about the design I'd go for. I had shared one of those already last month (see here). This is the second, very different take ...

Pitch: Aliens strand on medieval earth, King Arthur's times and try to get off planet asap. However, King Arthur has nicked the mothership and they have no immediate way to get it back. Instead they have to collect the resources and bide their time until they are ready.

 Players will play groups of angry little aliens that will try at every turn to spoil the Arthurian legends. Kill the knights or sabotage their quests, trick Merlin into giving bad advice while getting ready for REVENGE! But the aliens are really small, die easily and lack resources, so all of it is a challenge. Should be light-hearted fun of evil mischief with a lite-rules system. This is:

Angry Alien vs. King Arthur

Log Book Entry 12.5k9 (by R4k1 Z)

Imagine that: you travel through multidimensional space and some IDIOT manages to park your ride in a stone substance on a primitive linear planet. Then some other IDIOT, an ugly warty hairy inbred from that dirt ball of a planet, somehow claims ownership of the mothership by touching it and merging his dirty DNA with it, using it to club things ever since. Made it a whole enterprise, fooling everyone around him to think he's a bigshot. Won't give it back, too.

We should OBLITERATE THE FOOL. Problem is, the escape algorithm was somehow fucked as well, and we ended up being too big to reclaim the ship, but way too small to conquer this reality.

Argh! To be surrounded by idiots!

Then yet another fool appears, alien to this planet as well, running his own scheme with the crowd here. Says he's a diplomat and will help us if we do his bidding. Slaves we are now! The insolence! Yet we cannot deny him and must play along with his stupid "wizardry". But the name Merlin will be cursed for generations to come, be sure of that.

So we are stranded here, planning our revenge. No resources, with ridiculously short life spans and everything here tries to eat us or breed us. But we will NOT surrender to this fate! We will persevere and they will know our WRATH! Eventually ...


Design ideas

This should be a quick and silly game with light rules, I'd say. Beer 'n Bretzels all the way. The "enemy" (King Arthur's court) should be full of dubious and funny characters the group can interact with. Something like this:

KING ARTHUR - The bigwig. He's the worst, stealing the mothership and all, making dents into it, too! There is no easy way to get to him directly, as he merged with the mothership and its AI protects him. Until we have the resources needed to hack our way back into the ship, we'll have to sabotage everyone around him instead! Maybe we can get him when he's lonely and weak ...

MERLIN - Big alien bastard. Has his own racket running on the planet. Maybe he had sabotaged our landing! One can only speculate. He knows about us and acts as if he's a liaison between us and what they call the "court". Bullshit, we say. Calls us "fairies" for some reason. For now we do as he tells us, but if we can subvert and undermine his plans and machinations, we sure as Slob will do so!

SIR LANCELOT - Best buddy of this Arthur guy. He is gullible as a Glblygith AND lusts for the King's female bitch. Lots to work with and he gets the most favorable quests, too. Good opportunities to make ALL OF THEM look bad.

SIR GAWAIN -They call him "the perfect knight, but he is not the sharpest kltrad in the shtiff. Well hung, too, it seems. Unfortunately very loyal, however. And he is capable, we must admit. Very much a worthy target when engaged in moonless nights. Would be a good ploy to make him hate another knight.

SIR GALAHAD - Bastard son of Lancelot. Doesn't touch the females, it seems, and can be quite stubborn about not giving up. Set on the right path, he could unknowingly become a devastating force for the cause as he won't stop running in the wrong direction, too, as long as he believes in the purity of the quest. [Galahad appears later in a campaign and his conception should be a quest where the Aliens help Lady Elaine to bed the guy disguised as her Queen]

SIR GERAINT - Very much under the spell of his female, maybe becyause he'd killed the male that fathered or fornicated her (we are unclear). Either way, there is easy conflict to be made. Too rightous for his own good and easily lured into showing off bravery.

SIR BEDIVERE - Old brute and a cripple, eager to prove himself constantly. Worships that fraud of a king like a dog. Maybe Arthur has some dirt on him. Could be one of Merlin's puppets as well. This guy is a tool, better to be avoided.

SIR BORS THE YOUNGER - Pretty face but will not touch human females. If we could lure him into mating one, it would for sure make him all sad and stuff.

MINOR KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE - Idiots, all of them. Sometimes they gain important quests and we gain an easy win when we SPOIL THEIR PLANS AND MAKE THEM SUFFER. It is fun, too.

LADIES OF THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE - Menaces, all of them, happily helping our cause out of boredom alone. Also like glittering things and are easily impressed throughout. But beware Merlin in all cases, as he very much runs the same game around them.

MORGAN LE FAY - She has beef with the king just like us. A bit on the cruel side and greedy, but we can make this work for us. If we can make big promisses, she can bring some pain to the court. Something to work towards. [Should appear in second half of campaign arc]

THE GREEN KNIGHT - He is fun and definitely an opportunist willing to help the cause on a favor for favor basis. Might not be human, too.


Something like that, I guess. It is those NPCs that populate the missions the group has to engage in to make a dent into the Arthurian legends of old while Merlin schemes to barter the mothership away to some third party to get off the planet himself (or something like that).

The King is not amused ...
General idea is to have some very angry and frustrated, but rather powerless aliens trying to mess up the affairs of men and collect enough resources to get their ship back and TAKE REVENGE. But it happens against a clock, of sorts, as the Arthurian legend runs counter to that (at the end of which Merlin gets to make Sir Bedivere give the ship to the entity know as "Lady in the Lake", maybe an arms dealer of sorts).

As far as the missions go, I'd re-utilize a tool I'm using for years now (and which readers might be aware of): The Random Narrative Generator for Lost Songs of the Nibelungs (can be used as is, but I'd rewrite it a bit f I were to publish it). The reason for that is simply that it provides exactly the quest notes Arthurian knights would go on and enough angles to make spoiling the quest something the aliens would attempt to do! So the GM would roll up a quest or two to see what the court is up to these days and throws the group some bones as incentives to intervene. 

Let's test this. Example (dice say 28,6,4,2,2):

28. Exposure A villain is about to be exposed and the Court is summoned to help enforcing it. The exposure is initiated by a Force of Tradition that is mean and aims for trouble.

Interpretation: Well, what do we have here? Someone addresses King Arthur's court to help enforcing some law. It is something the King would have to address "because of the law", but the "force" initiating it does have mean intentions and is out for trouble, so it won't be an easy task for the Knights dealing with it, and it implies all kinds of useful angles for Aliens to exploit, maybe even escalate.

Okay, "force of tradition" could be an abbot of a monastery asking for help. "Exposing a villain" would be about someone breaking the law, maybe not paying tribute to the king by claiming to be poor. Let us say we have a little baron here that acts poor but actually sits on lots of wealth, hiding it from all. The abbot gets wind of this, and since he has an eye for some of the baron's land (there are the mean intentions), he snitches to the king, forcing him to act against the baron.

Something like this. So we have the mean abbot snitch, the greedy baron eager to keep his wealth and some knights in the middle trying to enforce the king's law. The aliens get wind of the abbot's claim and have a chance to get to the location and look into it before the knights appear. If they don't interfere, it happens what the prompt says: the baron gets exposed with the knight's help and the abbot gets his way. But there are several ways to spoil that whole affair for ALL involved, from getting the (minor, for sure) knights killed by escalating the conflict, by stealing the treasure before the knights arrive, making the abbot and the knights look stupid ... Anything the group can do with that premise and sounds fun will do. 

So that's that. Characters next.

Character Generation

A bit of the nitty-gritty here. Basic idea (in my head) is that each player plays a GROUP of aliens, each of which is one aspect of a "alien collective". So one alien would be strength, one agility, one wisdom and so on. A bit like the smurfs (which is one obvious inspiration, of course), but they have to work together as units to be "whole". The combination of aliens and the available options are what makes this system, I think, so it needs lots of fun of those, and enough to make choices meaningful.

The group now, consisting of several of those "alien collectives", is what the players have to work with, so each player should decide for a group of aliens that make their individual alien collective as specialized as they want or the group needs. Maybe one AC (Alien Collective) focused on physical skill, one build focused on brainy stuff, one one sneaky stuff, one with a tech focus (they are aliens, after all), maybe a "management" build would be nice (helping the collectives work together), something for fighting, maybe ...

You get it.

What it comes down to is that a players dice will act like pets. They'll fight, too. Say, a big guy makes a mistake (roll of a 1). Damage would be that this die is downgraded one size (say, from d10 to d8) as a punishment. Now I imagine a rule that if a smaller die was used for the task as well, that die gets punished instead. Because that little asshole was laughing his ass off, and the big guy is not having it ...

Or a "bystander rule": instead of damaging a die used for a task and losing it (becvause downgrading a d4 would be a d0), another die of the same collective, not used for the task could take a harder hit instead (two downgrades ... you won't do that often). So that little asshole sees he made a mistake, but it is only a d4 and he'd be gone to the nursery and out of the game if downgraded. He won't take it, so he hides behind a d8 of the same Alien Collective who had nothing to do with it, and the d8 gets the punch but also falls pretty bad, and is now a d4 (two downgrades).

Using dice with equal value would have them bicker if one fails and they would be locked for the next task because of it (I imagine they get locked until the highest roll from a follow up task roll is used to unlock them and only the second highest is used towards the task difficulty ... something like that).

The game will have several synergy effects like this. Positive ones, too, obviously. Doubles and triples will automatically count towards the difficulty. Those dice just have fun working together. Big dice performing very well could allow for re-rolls of smaller dice to have them at least behave. Something along those lines.

Advancement would go the obvious routes of adding dice (recruiting), growing dice (genetics) and adding tools (extra little dice rules, basically) from the resources tree (won Mission Dice can be divided between spending them for advancement of collectives or for resources ... aliens want laser weapons, so make itr happen!).

The rest is ... ORWELL again?

Yeah. Doubles and triples do something, tasks are rolled against a difficulty, players take the highest result of the dice they used but can "buy" additional dice  by making the DM stronger, the works. But (just like in part 1), a light version of it, mixed with other little twists that would fit that specific kind of game.

So instead of having a elaborate little system for the DM to gain and spent dice, he will get a pool of dice that the players basically fight for to get xp and resources (I call them "Mission Dice"). So if a DM wants to set a difficulty for a task, they offer dice from the pool as award (the dice offered make the difficulty). Menial tasks might just be a roll of the whole collective to see if they behave. Which means: roll over a certain limit that differs from die to die ... dice could have "moods" or "humors", too, now that I think about it (so get a higher die, but with a disadvantage that it is moody and misbehaves more easily).

If all behave, great, shit just works. If they outperform, they might get a boon for it, too (like minor healing of a damaged die, for instance, if the damaged die rolls its maximum). If half or more misbehave, shit doesn't work and might even produce problems if they underperform badly!

Cute little fucker ... but moody!
 Antagonists (as outlined above) would represent additional rules that apply when they are involved in a mission, usually making things more difficult, but offering little loopholes as well (as per the legends of old, I imagine ... certain weaknesses make certain things easier with certain antagonists).

Mission is over when the dice pool that came up for the mission is gone (I'd go and take the d6 results from the RNG above ... 14 dice for the mission outlined above, for instance) or the Alien Collectives openly challenge the remaining pool for a showdown by claiming the mission is over (as in: the mission as outlined seems over and done with, but there are still dice left, so unforeseen circumstances make themselves felt ... I'd just add another roll of the RNG without adding the d6 as a follow-up of that story).

You could already play that, but would you?!

Alright, this is already at a level where I would feel comfortable to test run it. If I invest a little time into writing and layouting and throw some artwork at it (some of it you have seen here in the post), this could be done pretty soon, I imagine (and given how fast I managed to gobble Rebellion together!).

It would be a shame at this stage to not make it happen. Actually has potential for a series! ANGRY LITTLE ALIENS versus BILLY THE KID, anyone? [edited as I had some more ideas like: versus NERO or versus DRACULA! So much fun could be had] But the question remains: would you play that? Would you like to see any of that?

Thoughts and impressions are very welcome.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Would you play that? (Introducing: Legacy of Gyrthwolden)

While ORWELL is getting an errata and a pdf release, I'm playing around with a  couple of setting books based on the ORWELL rules I might start developing here on the blog (since I'm taking a close look at those rules again right now) and eventually publish, if they get any traction at all (or it just manifests, as the last game did!). There isn't enough concept work on the blog anymore, and that has always been loads of fun. Lets give it a shot!

Legacy of Gyrthwolden (Pitch)

Betrayal was what had the wardings fail. The whole school rotted from the insides like oil poisons water once the magical protection had been penetrated. They had no chance, but some still had fight left in them. It just made the destruction worse. Demons triumphantly stalked the halls, a whole menagerie of beasts had been unleashed and was spreading terror in the dormitories and the east wing. Students had turned into indescribable horrors, their screams driving others into murdering frenzies and ultimately into madness. The most powerful one ended up building a quivering flesh throne in the Lost Cellars where now the mad and mutilated mimic and pervert the old traditions Gyrthwolden held up until it fell.

And that is not all.

Within the faculty, impartial observers would have found bravery, defeat, cowardice and old grudges turning bloody fast as the end drew near. The arch chancellor had made the most impressive exit, devastatingly altering reality from the Hanging Gardens of your Holy Lady Reneviere to almost the entire Dyrkterwoods in the west. No one knew he still had it in him. Almost brought a turn of events, too, but then a doom engine materialized in his stomach and made itself a new home in his body. Some say his soul is still caught in there, tormented towards eternity. Maybe it's wishful thinking. He wasn't liked much.

Eventually, Gyrthwolden fell. Eventually, the smoldering ruins left behind cooled down and while the rest of the world fell into the darkness unleashed at the school, evil started creeping all over campus, struggling with nature for residency.

There was one area all of that could not penetrate. One last magical stronghold created through the most beautiful improvised ritual in the school's history. Build on a whim, tapping into a not yet corrupted flux of Aether, it bloomed like a flower and enclosed a whole schoolroom, layering the most severe, and costly, layers of protection around it. The teacher who did that had to forfeit her body and burn her soul to weave it strong enough to have a chance. It distorted space and time so elegantly, it stayed untouched by the apocalypse. It wove itself into a future where it persevered. It just cost all within its protective stasis dearly.

In a final effort, as her soul burned through its last milligrams some decades later, Etherina Dinklethorne forced out of stasis among the students she had saved those she thought had the most promise in a desperate and mad gambit to save of the world what may still be saved.

You are those students. You are the Legacy of Gyrthwolden.

This is her last message:

We failed you, my dear children. Our corruption and greed have brought doom to the world you knew. You are save here in this room, but outside these walls, darkness reigns. You have within you what it takes to push back ever so slightly. And if you persist diligently, if you prevail and trust that there still is light and good in the world, you have a chance to overcome this evil curse. I know that in my heart. Go now, my children. I will sacrifice my last energy to extent the wards surrounding you. I know not what will be trapped then with you inside my protective veil, so be careful. Start with freeing the school, building by building. Unlock its secrets and power, everything else will fall into place then. You will see. And never forget ...

But then her voice flattens to a whisper and as it disappears, the mummy of her corpse, trapped in an intricate summoning circle, explodes into a puff of glittering smoke.

IDEA: the students are still connected to the stasis field. When they die, they may feed their souls back into the classroom and awaken another student. No one knows how many and which students Miss Dinklethorne saved. Or what the magic did to them, for that matter, so this can be considered to be an infinite pool of replacement characters (or limited, if the GM feels like making this part of the challenge).

All said and done, it'll be your basic goth horror wizard school versus the apocalypse anime experience. Harry Potter goes Tim Burton and everything died but you ...

The Game (powered by ORWELL)

Basic premise of ORWELL is that character development happens as the character is played (each character can develop up to 10 slots per "Level"). Characters come with a potential, and players activate that potential as the story unfolds. They might create gadgets or skills or contacts, as far as the original game is concerned. Everything else is up to the players. If it fits the genre and the group can agree with it, it is fair play. Want to play a conscious spell that just wants to be human? You can do that. A little Lizard Wizard? Sure ... A sentient rock? If you can make it work. This is about having fun telling stories.

I'd shift those paradigms a bit to fit the story, so players may invent SKILLS, SPELLS or MAGIC ITEMS. While ORWELL would have players now roll to see how well established that power is, LoG might expand on that by making it something that might need to be obtained as well. Basically it'd need two additions:

1) Rules for Rituals that might need to reach a certain level, special items and specific roles for characters to assume. That'd block a slot or two. Rituals will open new areas and solve general problems with the curse.

2) Assuming the students have some idea where is what at that school, it'll need an extension where they manifest the school bit by bit as they talk about and explore it. Some stuff will be provided by the GM, but nothing says it couldn't work like character development does.

It had to be as procedural as ORWELL is, but shifting the focus a bit from having a proper cyberpunk district to where to find crucial quest items and knowledge and what difficulties await a group to their way there.

So they might know that the library would be great to have access to. And it is easy enough to assume that there is one. However, while they know where the library was before the fall, they sure as hell know nothing about what happened to it and how to get there now. So the GM will have tools to create a path of obstacles that fit the story to anything he or the group may come up with ...

There you go ...

I'd have to play around with that for a bit, but that's what a blog is for. Other than that, I'm pretty sure people could work with the premise alone easily. Doesn't even matter that much what system you are using. I guess.

ORWELL will be a great fit for the setting, on the system side of things, and given that the DM part is mostly system agnostic anyway, this should work for all kinds of games, if that's what you'd want to do.

So what do you guys think? Would you play that?

Monday, September 4, 2023

Rebellion - The Card Game is out now! (Publishing versus Blogging ... 1:0)

Yeah, I know, it's been a while. Other than having a new family member (which will have you quite busy, of course), I've also spent the free time I could get with ... writing another game: Rebellion - The Card Game! Crazy, right? It is a (fun!) card game, but still relates to one of the role-playing games I'm working on here at Disoriented Ranger Publishing: Brawlers! Lets talk about that, shall we?

Get it at a discount here!

Introducing: Rebellion - The Card Game

It is a card fishing game loosely inspired by games like Pasur or Scoba, but it comes with the additional layer of adding abilities to the cards that opens it all up to something more akin to games like Dominion, while staying with the classic, standard card decks (I might add customized decks later, but for now, the standards work perfectly well).

So, two sets of 52 standard card decks with two Jokers each (something every household should have, I assume) together with the rules will set you up nicely.

All else you'll need is at least one friend and a table to play on. Even digitally works very well: the card feature on roll20 works like a charm with this. Set up two standard card decks, one for the player of the King, the other for the Rebel Players, snatch the template from the pdf, the product page on drivethruRPG or here, put that as a map background, and you are good to go. Worked like a charm for us.

For the map layer in your roll20 game ...
Anyway, so how does it play? Well, as you can see on the mat above, it's about two sides fighting about cards in the middle, the so-called Realm. They do so by playing hand cards to reduce the Realm cards to zero and win them. Additional effects will alter that by adding fun little mechanics that give each side special boons and the Realm itself come with some interesting features that may offer opportunities for special moves and awards.

It's all well balanced and comes with a high re-playability, if I may say so. If you like card games with a quick set up that also carry a little depth once you dug into it, you should give Rebellion a chance. We have loads of fun playing it.

If you end up getting AND playing it, we'd be happy to hear about it. Naturally. And leaving some love on the product page is always appreciated.

Tie-in for a RPG that doesn't exist?

You remember Brawlers - A DungeonPunk RPG (formerly known as Bastards!, er, the Grind)? I'm still working on it. Rebellion is part of that process. The world of Brawlers was pretty dark: a sort of apocalypse took a dark spin on a vanilla fantasy setting. Now the monster menagerie is in charge and sitting on the ruins of the lost world. Characters go on "brawls" in that world to help petty gods back to power and kick some demon butt ... Rebellion is a card game from that long gone era. A reminder of better times, maybe, or just a card trick game played for coins. Illegal under the monster empire, of course That's the idea, anyway.

Maybe not the final cover ...
 I was looking for a nice way to connect what the players are doing with that card based mission generator I wrote for it years back. I was thinking poker variant, but that never really clicked somehow. Roughly two months ago I had an epiphany of sorts: what if players get a chance during mission to challenge the BrawlMeister (the DM, so to say) to a game of cards, and if they win, it'll alter the mission parameters by creating some better conditions ... but if they lose, shit gets worse. 

A no-brainer, since the cards already connect with the mission generator. All it needs is the specific ... And I already have some ideas for "wild" cards that could be played, as well as alternative decks and how it all connects to character levels. Lots of possibilities!

But for now, the game itself is done. I think it might make a good "setting game" for most fantasy settings. Something with its own lingo, something non-player characters might play or talk about. At least it will be that for Brawlers ... And it is fun to play by itself, so there is that.

What else is cooking?

I'll keep it short, but lots is happening. I decided to finally publish a pdf for ORWELL, that dystopian role-playing game I wrote and sold as dead tree copy only until now. Will make a little errata before that, make it all pretty and clean, with hyperlinks and bookmarks ... the whole ten yards. And then it'll go live. This month or next, I think.

I also got a bit of fiction published! A cyberpunk short story of mine appeared in a great anthology: Ipseities (by As If publishing). I liked all the stories, with three really exceptional favorites. Really a great anthology of weird and creative stories. Good company to be in! Really recommended, if nuweird is something you like.

I'm also working on all other fronts, and hope to get  couple of things done before years end. Looks good right now. I feel it's happening. Look forward to see some more about be67 in the near future ...

What I imagine a be67 GM looks like ...
And the blog ... well, I need to do some more there, too. It takes a bit of a back seat, but I have that review series with my friend Eric going, so something like that will happen next. If I can do it on the sly.

So that's it. A lot is happening behind the scenes, but you guys will see results soon. Some proper rpg material will hit digital shelves in the very near future! Stay tuned. And check out Rebellion. It really is tons of fun.

The King disapproves of your attempts to resist ...

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Revisions Part 2: The True Nature of Encounters (with another excerpt from be67)

Hello, friends and neighbors. How's life? Mine (thanks for asking) is good but busy. Still can't leave the blog hanging like that. I keep finishing be67 as of this writing, but I am making progress, if ever so slowly. We are now testing this with another GM having a go at it (the great Mark van Vlack is giving it a shot ...), and it has been a most illuminating experience so far (and a blast rolling dice with Jay and Eric ... first time I had the pleasure of playing with my good friend Eric from Methods & Madmen!). Turns out, you can write 140 pages of rules and still miss some of the more crucial aspects of the game unmentioned.

To give you an idea ...

Anyway. I'm on it. We are here to talk what works, which would be the Narrative Encounter Generator that game features. Lets have a look ... You could also check out part 1 first.

Lost Songs did something like it!

Lost Songs of the Nibelungs is another game still happening that hasn't seen love in some time now. Things is, all the work I put into other games right now is (still) to make LSotN the best game I can make. One of the most crucial parts (no one seems to care about) is what encounters are and how they measure towards a gaming system. As most of you will be aware, it never translates fully. Not all non-player characters are fully statted or carry even a tenth of what your basic character sheet will hold.

Couldn't, to be honest, unless it'd be a game with very basic values and no real depth. A game needs to provide the necessary data as soon as it is needed, which can be tricky, of course, if it is a whole lot of information a GM needs fast. D&D is a bit more complex like that, but can take a huge amount of punishment before breaking down and (for instance) killing a party because a random encounter turned out to be too hard. That can be a boon (as gamemasters can wing it and get away with it), but it also comes with huge disadavantages when you actually try to emulate it properly in your gamedesigns.

Seems like lots of it had been guesswork ...

Now, what you can learn when designing it from the bottom up, is, that it needs a deep understanding of what encounters really are and how they need to connect the game with players and gamemaster in a meaningful way.

I think one of the bigger misconceptions early D&D let fester, was the reduction of encounters to only being entities to interact with. It codified the idea that the game is around encountering monsters and taking their treasure. That this is only partly true is easily obvious as soon as one takes a closer look at all the interactive elements those games offer: ability scores, skills, saves ... all tools to probe a fictive reality in several different ways. role-playing games are about interacting with everything imaginable in the narrated surrounded. Everything the players ENCOUNTER, that is.

First time I developed designs in that direction was when writing Lost Songs, where characters didn't encounter entities as much as "narrative concepts" associated with fairy tales that may manifest as some sort of entity, but could be something entirely different, like a storm or a landscape feature that offers ineraction of some sort.

You can take a close look at that Random Narrative Generator here (damn ... that was seven years ago!). It is thoroughly tested, and let me tell you: it writes fantastic D&D stories, even on the fly. A variant of this is used to generate cyberpunk stories to great effect in ORWELL, too.

Turns out, however, that be67 needed a somewhat different approach. What I ended up with is a tool where the same method is used (generating abstract and random narrative encounters), but with more individual encounters specifically designed for one scenario instead of a whole genre. It helps focusing on the movie part of the experience, while somewhat moving away from the sandbox approach (characters are still having freedom of choice, but not as much on a fictive map as what the action sequences and movie scenes are, in a sense).

I already shared this in Part 1, but here it is again in the new context presented here:

So instead of a barony in your fantasy setting that has specific problems and quests, the movie title is the "territory" the players are exploring, and everything is geared towards that specific experience. You have a Zombie movie, scenic encounters should be about humanity failing to push back against the undead: streets with abandoned cars, overrun military outposts, burning cities. An encounter like that should set the mood.

Landmark would additionally offer some form of orientation (you'll notice that the encounters are arranged hierarchically), and might offer left behind messages by other survivors, like "Newport is still free", or "We are meeting at the Hargrave military base", or something along those lines.

Benign NPCs, then, would be other survivors with no ill will towards the characters, most likely (given the genre) someone needing help one way or another. 

Challenges could be anything from avoiding zombie infested areas to getting some form of energy (gas for a car, electricity, wood even) or ressource (ammunition might be a bg on here). A threat would be to get discovered, for instance, or overrun, while the main plot would hint towards the source of the zombie uprise, while the Main Evil is the source itself, and "showdown" would offer some form of solution to the get rid of the main evil. In this case, it might be a face-off with the zombie master (the difference between "just" encountering him as "Main Evil" would be that in a showdown, it is personal for some reason ... "You know my secret, therefore you must DIE!").

Now think about how those parameters might shift if it where, say, an alien invasion of body snatchers, or the plot of some Bond villain for world domination ... All get different NEG, but they might interact, even, like different locations would in a fantasy setting but as movie sets instead.

Throw some sixties weirdos into that (classes in be67 are Journalist, Outlaw, Activist, Spy, Flower Child, Saboteur, Veteran), and you got a game going!

How is all of that explained in the book, then?

The thoughts tying all of this together in be67, are formulated in the beginning of the GM chapter of the book (right after establishing the genre, as you may read here). Consider this (unedited, as it were):


But how to tell those stories? How to prepare for them? There is more to a story than having some maps and the numbers and information for monsters or Non-Player Characters on hand. It all needs to come together, at best gearing towards a very specific experience: bloody grindhouse cinema in the Weird Sixties.

As we just established, we are already half way there. The system carries a lot just by setting up specific player goals and resolving all of it geared towards that experience. It does not tell a story, however.

All the sources of inspiration we offered so far will also go a long way, giving GMs ideas what elements they might want to see in their games. And while that might lead to some satisfying adventures, it’d be difficult to make that a campaign to last over the course of 30 levels. It needs more than that.

The following segment will give some basic information how to prepare and tell stories as well as connecting all of that within a be67 campaign.

The Rule of Cool!

The first bit of structure every game needs is an understanding between the participants what “fun” constitutes for their gaming. They need to be on the same page about what be67 can be at their table. The Weird Sixties can provide a wide array of possibilities beyond what the hard rules the game already provides are able to convey.

You can have dog fights with dragons over New York, hunt werewolf Nazis lurking in the deep snow of Antarctica, or head expeditions into the Hollow Earth to fight dinosaurs and King Kong. All with a good dose of splatter and psychedelics … A GM’s imagination is the limit and a group’s willingness to suspend their disbelief directly correlates with the fun that can be had in be67.

The Rule of Cool, then, is basically a sleight of hand allowing “Suspension of Disbelief” by explaining what can happen as “movie magic” as long as it does not contradict the rules presented here.

A Character loses an arm? Why not let them have a prostheses with a shotgun because they “know a guy”? It is easy enough to see the advantages and disadvantages of something like that (even how to express and expand on it within the rules!). The blunt weapon of choice a Character is using is a frying pan? Why not have them do just as much damage as a mace would? The damage would be the same since Weapon Mastery doesn’t make that distinction. They could use a spoon, for that matter.

In a sense it is the logical consequence of how weird the setting is combined with how flexible the rules are. There is a “wiggle room” in between, and exploring that is part of the fun. In that spirit, The Rule of Cool proposes to let the imagination go wild for the fun of it. Not as a hard rule, but as something to keep in mind and everybody has an understanding of.

The easiest way to build tension?

The smallest narrative unit relevant in a role-playing game is an ENCOUNTER with an interactive element of the game. Those elements are interactive as soon as they enter the narrative, which could be as benign as a passer-by on the street or even just the entrance into a cave. For there to be tension, however, it needs to signal that there is either something to gain or something to lose. In raw game terms, gaining could simply mean xp while losing might simply mean losing Hit Points. In more general terms it might mean information that somehow brings the narrative forward.

By asking lots of questions about their surroundings, players will actually fish for interactive elements that can be salvaged for in-game currency most of the time without further initiative necessary from the GM. The art of gamemastering, however, is in shaping the dynamics of that fishing. There’s a couple of simple rules to follow when working Encounters into the game:

  • No Encounters Without Purpose – Encounters should always at least manifest one element of the setting, the mission or the scene. Even if totally random, the benefit must be either for meaningfully enhancing the atmosphere, enriching the world or advancing the game.

  • Always A Tease – No Encounter should occur without being hinted towards first at least once. It does not matter if the players are looking for the Encounter or the other way around.

  • Always A CatchThe more the players want something, the more they are willing to do for it, so the effort needed to have something happen is an easy regulator for a GM to motivate players into spending resources or have them drop an attempt by making the attempt too expensive. Teasing helps finding out how big of a catch an Encounter allows and which challenges are acceptable to engage with it.

  • Play With the Unknown – Signs of an Encounter about to happen should be as obscure as the narrative allows and might even be misleading as long as the reveal is able to explain what had happened.

  • (Let Them) Run With It – Encounters should never be changed while manifesting in order to accommodate the players’ intuitions about what’s happening or going to happen.

  • Allow Tension, Allow ReleaseThe interplay of teasing, little challenges and The Unknown will produce tension during Encounters, but tension always needs to be released as well. It is crucial to resolve all Encounters if the end of the Encounter is not obvious, even those that fail to manifest completely (due to a failed challenge, for instance) need to be resolved by signaling the Players that whatever was happening has come to some sort of end.

  • Never Stop Moving – Ideally, players will always look for something or have questions, which means there are enough encounters to explore around them. That said, it is always good to pile on what is existing to have something to engage them with as soon as the game stalls for some reason. A good rule of thump is to have at least three encounters manifesting at all times in some form or another, while being on the lookout to add even to that.

  • [ADVANCED] Little Puzzles Everywhere – What applies for Encounters in detail (as described above), does also apply for the sum of all Encounters over the course of a Session (or even several Sessions). Encounters map the gaming world for the players, and GMs should aspire to allow for meaningful patterns to appear on those maps for the Players to discover and play around with.

  • [ADVANCED] Encounters Triggering Encounters – While the above suggests an organic flow of the action manifesting from the interaction between narration, gamemaster and players, it is important to stress that encounters might escalate situations based on wrong decisions the players went for, making life more dangerous because of it. A natural consequence of bad decisions is, therefore, that additional encounters manifest immediately into the encounter that is playing out, making a bad situation worse. Gamemasters are encouraged to let that happen, but also signal that things are forced to escalate and the dangers associated with the escalation.

  • [ADVANCED] Time is a Construct – Not all encounters follow – or should follow – in a timely fashion. Sometimes it is, instead, advisable to have time pass without incidence, and without the attempt to fill the passing time with meaning. It just passes. The narration bridging the time gap sets up the next encounter instead, manifesting after the designated time has passed. Since there is an arbitrary element to this process, doing so deliberately between encounters will help shaping the narrative favorably while allowing for drastically shifting a group’s surroundings in a natural way, if need be.

Following the advice formulated above should lead to satisfying gaming loops in all Sessions when the challenges offered cover the range of systems that make be67, no matter the specific adventure. The next important step is to set the frame for those Encounters to happen in.

What kind of Encounters does the game need?

As already established: for the purposes of this game, an Encounter is basically EVERY element in the game the Characters can interact with. It needs to be distinguished, however, between NARRATIVE and STATIONARY Encounters. The first category is occurring in a (usually randomized) sequential manner as the story unfolds, the second comprises a set of necessary locations the Characters can (or need to) find over the course of a scenario or adventure.

Those two categories will interact with each other as the game progresses. Not only will the Stationary Encounters summon the “back cloth” for the run time of a specific movie scenario and keep that present, some locations will also be more dangerous than others and that will alter Narrative Encounters as well.


And that's how it's done in the book. Build on that follow tools to create challenges and monsters, going more and more into what the rules actually need (from most abstract, like shown above, to most crunchy).

This is where I'm at ...

At the moment I'm hammering down the finer details of this. It all needs to click in the end so that all those different ideas and designs come together into something coherent. Not easy (as it turns out), but fun nonetheless. Takes time, however (who'd have thought ...).

So this is what I'm doing when I'm doing something right now.

Artwork for the Spy in be67!
Well, what do you guys think about it? You think encounters should be EVERYTHING, to one degree or another, anyway, or is it too confusing for those used to the very specific way D&D established so many moons ago? Would you use it like I propose here? As always, your thoughts are very welcome.

And now back to work ...

Monday, May 8, 2023

Is it Appendix N worthy material? The Sword Itself by Joe Abercrombie (Review & my Appendix N)

This is part 2 of our book review series. "Our" meaning that Eric Diaz over at the wonderful blog Methods & Madmen and yours truly started readig books together and share our thoughts about them on our respective blogs. I'm a little late for this one, so this one better be good. What I can say up front is that I did NOT like the book, and I could go on in detail why it is objectively bad just by comparing it with the book I read after The Blade Itself, which was Ravenheart by David Gemmell ... A book so much better, the thought Abercrombie is a younger author, standing on those mighty shoulders just to take a piss, almost brought me to tears. Instead of  being negative about a bad book, I'll also offer my Appendix N at the end. Never did that for some reason, and this is a good opportunity.


Before I start doing my thing and embrace my feelings for this grotesque mockery of a "dark fantasy story", you might want to go and check out Eric's take on the book here.

If you are just here for the Appendix N, and not for the rant, please feel free to scroll down to that part.

Kudos for writing a book, champ ...

I'm not trying to be cute here. Writing a book, quality not withstanding, is a HUGE task. If you manage that, and even end up with something close to coherent, you deserve praise. There are no two ways about it. It shows dedication and stamina. But to write an atrocity like "The Blade itself" and end up being called an "authority" in the dark fantasy genre is a bit much. Gemmell could have written circles around the guy after having a stroke, it's so bad.

Calm, calm, calm ... All I'm saying is, we have very capable fantasy authors out there writing good books, even setting new standards. Go as far back as the pulps and you already get Burroughs and Lovecraft and Howard and Turner and Moorcook and Farmer and even Heinlein. Add Lewis Carroll and C. S. Lewis to that and don't forget Tolkien, Peake and Ursula K. Le Guin, voices so strong, they shaped fantasy for centuries to come.

All of them providing more than enough reading material to have you set for a long time before you have any need to look for something good next. And an even longer time before your eyes should fall on Abercrombie's atrocity.

There is free amateur translated Chinese fantasy out there that is better than this shit. Microsoft AI could write a better novel than that, it's that bad.

Anyway, there is better. You go contemporary, you'll find Pratchett there on the high throne all things fantasy. There's also Robert Jordan worth mentioning, as well as Neil Gaiman (although they'd be on different ends of a spectrum that could be considered "fantasy"). Simon R. Green has some very solid entries into the genre, and there are Joel Rosenberg, Garth Nix, Paul Kearney and Philip Pullman to check out as well. Or have you seen what Piers Anthony is offering? Roger Zelazny needs to be on this list, too!

And that's just a superficial look at my book shelves, not even going beyond the native English authors. There's lots of great French fantasy, for instance (if you can track down the books by Gilles Servat, for instance, that's good reading), Poland has a strong scene as well (the Witcher series is quite popular, it seems), and Germany isn't that bad either (Cornelia Funke, Wolfgang Hohlbein, Kai Meyer, Walter Moers ...). Doesn't matter where you go, you'll find something that shines more than this turd. Even if you use google translate to read them, you'd end up having a better reading experience.

It's that bad.

You just want it dark? There's also lots to read: G. R. R. Martin has his cult following, Steven Erikson's Malazan series is among the best dark fantasy you could read, Glen Cook wrote lots of great dark fantasy (although I really love his Garrett P. I. series more). And David Gemmell is up there, of course. As is Stephen R. Donaldson.

What gets a good book recognized? Time!

I always loved to read. Right now I manage to read round about 40 books a year. It'd been more for a long time, it'd been less for a bit of time. I'm also, as you might know, a bookseller. One of the things you learn when becoming a bookseller in Germany is that every category has its jewels, its great books. Doesn't matter if travel or IT or fantasy or, say, women's books, you look long enough, you'll find something worth your while (although I always found it strange that women get their own category of books while men don't).

Another thing is the idea of fixing prices for books, which we still have in Germany. That's a good thing, and I'll tell you why as well. For one, big publishers cannot strong-arm small publishers out of business with price dumping. Seen the other way around, small publishers can make a living with their products and that leads to more diversification. It gives people a chance who wouldn't have one otherwise, which leads to an enrichment in culture.

And those publishers do get their chance here. Maybe less so than 20 years abo, but they still do. Book fairs, for instance, are great for the small press, the book sellers still go through all the catalogues and complimentary copies they get sent, and there still are solicitors sent by publishers that aim to shine a light on new books we'd miss otherwise ... 

... because here's the thing: in Germany we get round about 90.000 new publications per year. Books, all of them. There are school books and all that jazz among them, but still, it is a humongous amount of books. If you were just to trust the industry, you could, for a long time, see a process at work

  • where people write a book, then
  • go to find a publisher (first gate to filter out trivel like that Abercrombie book)
  • if, done, have the book edited, printed and marketed (another filter, if a finer one ... your book may come out, but without getting some love from the publisher, so no one notices), then
  • book sellers get their dirty paws on it, maybe read it (sometimes even before publication), maybe give it a special place in their shop with higher visibility, maybe recommend it, and then
  • people buy it and read it and, ideally, talk about it or buy it again as presents for others or review it, to finally
  • the book gaining some profile in the general public.

And that is a lot of rings to jump through. Usually, the way it is set up, it might be hard on authors, as they have to actually manage to carve out a place among other well established authors, old or contemporary, but for a culture it is what you'd want to have, as (ideally) you'd build excellence on excellence.

Now, we know that things have never been easy like that. You'd have phases of (unfounded) elitism surrounding literature, you'd have societal trends that bring specific needs that wouldn't last but earn a pretty buck in short terms. And still, over time those established systems would produce results. Quality (usually) will be recognized over time.

Nowadays it is somewhat different, however, as all active elements in the list above try to subvert that system for as long as it exists, obviously. We also experience a severe form of cultural stagnation right now as the mainstream will not stop ruminating the last 40 years of the 20th century. To a degree where the only innovation in that regard seems to be to charge old ideas with new ideologies. Established publishers are not immune to those trends, and it shows.

Add to that desktop publishing and self publishing and all the other new and beautiful ways that allow authors to directly market to their audience ... with all the good and bad that entails.

But the far bigger problem, the problem that allowed for something like The Blade Itself to not only be published, but even gaining popularity, is that publishers try to sell us the same ideas again and again by claiming it'd be something "new". It is why you don't see as much Pratchett or Gemmell in book shops anymore. They are dead, so there won't be any new books written by them, which is why they aren't presented as options anymore.

In a way, The Blade Itself is what 60 years of cultural incest looks like. The good genes authors like Tolkien provided diluted over time into something that lacks in every capacity. And that The Hype Machine (tm) never looks back and compares, well, looking at D&D 5e we know what that looks like. Reviewers want free shit and money, they don't really care what they are hustling. Or even what they are saying, most of the time. It's only always just about pushing the next hype in order to milk it.

And it needs to happen fast, too. Good example for that was the finale of Game of Thrones the tv show. You could see what disregarding quality in order to keep the pace HBO deemed necessary lead to: a total train wreck, with the author of the book series not even having a say in how it's going down nor getting a chance to have his final book in the series published.

See what I mean? You can't take 4 years to write a book. You need to have published at least 2 books a year to get a chance.

Those cycles are so fast right now, the only thing still working properly in recognizing something worthwhile is time combined with the experience to sniff out bullshit before buying it. Most of the time that means taking a step or two back from what's happening in book shops and forums, and branching off from titles you know instead. What did authors like who wrote books you liked? What did they recommend? Find opinions you can trust (actually one of the original functions of booksellers, believe it or not), go it from there.

That's at least what I'm doing ... Even so, every now and then you'll encounter a stinker like The Blade Itself. Which is okay, as long as you learn from it and adapt. In this case, I really hope Abercrombie got better in his later books, but I won't find out until some very compelling evidence emerges that it's not all unjustified hype. Same goes for Brandon Sanderson, btw. Another highly overrated fantasy author I won't touch anymore after reading one of his abysmal books.

Sanderson is also bad memories ... [source]
You might wonder at this point what has me so riled up, so here are some highlights. All the characters are one dimensional, there is no development at all, there is no growth or interaction. A character is one thing, and that's what they are throughout. Since they are all "dark" in addition to being flat, you'll end up only getting the superficial trifle of unlikable people.

The world building is atrocious. You have pseudo Scandinavians in the north, pseudo Renaissance in the middle and pseudo Persian in the south, all of them portrayed as their worse cliches and with a bit of magic mixed in to cut even more corners. No variety, no color, no depth just arrogantly uneducated surface perceptions. Not only is it a very low resolution understanding of history, it is also in almost all cases the most boring choice of world building imaginable (a modicum of research would have rectified that, but even that seemed too much effort).

The story is so flat, it can be summarized in two sentences. Instead it is spread over more than 500 pages. And nothing happens. If something interesting happens, it does so between chapters. Example: There's a big fight scene, built up for over two hundred pages ... and it is skipped. What we get, as far as combat goes, is uninspired at best. The dialogue is lacking as well. And all of it is riddled with stupid cliches. The king is fat and unable to function, so others do his job, but they are corrupt meanies ... Oh, also no relevant female characters worth mentioning.

And don't get me started with the "monsters" this book tries to establish. One is introduced in the first chapter, the so-called "flatheads". But they are neither described nor distinguishable from humans and we learn only some 400 pages later that they are supposed to be the creation of some evil wizard back when ... So they are something like orcs. But actually, they are not established beyond being a MacGuffin. No culture, no color, no details ... you get my drift.

As for being "delightfully evil" as the Guardian seems to put it (and whatever that is supposed to mean, btw), I couldn't agree less. Nothing in this book is "evil". I've seen evil (listen to her story, for instance ... the part with the dog? that's pure evil), this ain't it, and I actually despise people that try to make "evil" look "cool". Who wouldn't after seeing what evil does?

It is an awful book. Not recommended, and people doing so should be regarded with suspicion, imho.

Concessions ...

Let me be clear: I don't regret one word I wrote about The Sword Itself. It is a bad book, published in a cruel marketing scheme that aims for quantity before quality, that wants you to buy, not necessarily to read or even think and compare, and is feeding a whole industry that is more about looking good while standing in front of a wall of books than about actually talking shop.

Customers are fucked with this scheme, and usually you won't have more than one in five people not going along with anything like this and being open about it. 20% will just drink the cool aid, 60% will not challenge it, and 20% will be really pissed when falling for books like that or the hype surrounding them.

That said, I do recognize that hyped books like this are one way to motivate newbies into looking for other books in the same genre, which will, which MUST lead to better options sooner or later. So if you don't know better and ended up liking the book, not all is lost.

I'll also concede that taste is an evolving phenomenon. The more you read, the more refined your taste will end up being. Not sure I could stomach some of the books I liked, say, 30 years ago, and I might, after rereading some, change my opinion on others. All part of the process. For sure.

I'm also willing to concede that taste is a spectrum. To a degree, and with the constraints, that "popular" doesn't mean "good" and that cultural standards are necessary to get some evolution going, even only to have that evolution challenge the standards. Same goes for opinions, while we are at it, as it is easy to see why you would not just trust anyone, and instead hope that the standards you have for opinions actually bring good results in your everyday life. You wouldn't trust a six year old with their opinion on what car to buy, for instance. 

Which has nothing to do with Abercrombie's writing here, as that's just unacceptable all around. 


Anyway, enough of this. You wanna see why this is a bad book, and mine or Eric's take aren't enough, check out the one star reviews over at good reads. They seem to sum it up well. I'd rather end this with something more productive and positive! Hence ...

My Appendix N

It is always fun to learn what inspires others, so I decided to share what works inspire my writing and game design (as far as I'm aware of it). It is also in the hope that others will do the same. I'm sure it has been an OSR trend at some point in the past. Even so, remind me then, why not?

A few caveats: I'll go with "inspirational and educational" first, so this might end up including creators of movies and music instead of "just" authors. I'm reluctant to share works I know to be only available in German, or at least not in English, because what would be the point of you knowing I liked something that is completely out of reach for you? If you are interested in that, say so in the comments and I will oblige.

I'll also order it alphabetically within different groupings and I'll spare you recommendations for Tolkien, Herbert and K. Le Guin, authors you'll still easily find in well sorted book shops anyway (and if I end up recommending another classic, then I liked it more, hehe). No hierarchy is intended, nor do I believe that this trumps the original Appendix N (which is very much its own thing). I think it is a fun thing to do, with a good chance of being informational for people*.


Richard Adams -  Watership Down is one of the great adventure stories out there. A must read, imo.

Peter S. Beagle - Mainly for The Last Unicorn. He caught magic in a bottle there.

Glen Cook - While all his other work is very well worth checking out, the Garrett P. I. books are what brought me joy for decades (I'm a sucker for "fantasy noir" that is also funny). Great world, great voice, fantastic characters, and funny as well.

Warren Ellis - Transmetropolitan (comic) is the ultimate cyberpunk story, imho. And he did way more great work than that. Wrote some really weird and funny books, too: check out Crooked Little Vein for a wild ride.

Steven Erikson - Malazan Book of the Fallen ... this series had me laughing and crying and thinking. And binge reading hundreds of pages in sleepless nights (to be young again ...). Such impressive world building, mixed in with epic battles and complex characters. Can't recommend enough.

Philip José Farmer - Have yet to read a book penned by him I didn't enjoy. So many great ideas through all genres.

Neil Gaiman - Great comics, great books. My favorites are: Neverwhere (proper dungeon under London), Stardust (great story, made for a great movie, too!) and The Graveyard Book (a child growing up among the ghosts of a graveyard ... what's not to like?!).

David Gemmell - Start with Knights of Dark Renown, his second novel, and the Drenai Saga ... go from there. His last books are so well written, it is a marvel to behold.

William Gibson - Such an unique and innovative voice ... All his books are demanding and fun experiences.

Katharine Kerr - I immensely enjoyed here Celtic fantasy series about reincarnating souls, the Deverry Cycle ... very unique way of telling stories. And she's rpg nobility, too! Co-wrote an AD&D module and some Pendragon adventures, among other things (check out her wiki ...).

Michael de Larrabeiti - The Borribles is one of the more obscure titles in this list, but still a great trilogy. As far as adventure stories go, I'd rank it up there with Watership Down, actually.

Garth Nix - The Abhorsen Books (Old Kingdom) are why I wanted him on this list. It is among the best world building out there (alternate steampunk UK with old magic and zombies). And he wrote a lot more than that ...

Mervyn Peake - Gormenghast is poetic and funny and weird ... believe people telling you those books are among the best out there. They are.

Terry Pratchett - His Discworld books are among the best fantasy you can read. Funny, humane, stimulating ... and full of great characters. But I guess everyone knows that (still had to make the list).

Joel Rosenberg - The Guardian of the Flame is a series of books about a group of role-playing gamers that magically gets transported to the world of their gamemaster and into the bodies of their characters. If that doesn't sell you for the books, it's well written, too.

James Stoddard - The three books that make the Evenmere series are an alternate take to the idea of an endlessly sprawling dungeon world (a mansion so big, it has kingdoms in the lower levels). Fantastic world building and storytelling.

Jack Vance - The only author I learned about through the original Appendix N (the rest I had heard about through other channels), but such a great discovery. I have yet to read a book by Vance I didn't like. All of it fascinating and entertaining, not only the Dying Earth books.

T. H. White - The Once and Future King is another classic series that made the list. Although the first one is the most famous (for the obvious reason that Disney made an animated version of it), I loved all four books (if for different reasons, as each change tone as Arthur ages).

Roger Zelazny - The Chronicles of Amber books ... I binged an omnibus of the first five books of this series when I was 13. A great and epic story about powerful plane shifting nobles fighting The Court of Chaos.


Charles Bukowski - So much talent, always a great read.

Kinky Friedman - Surreal crime fiction, very drug induced, pretty weird, always funny.

Harper Lee - I loved To Kill a Mockingbird, so it made the list.

Elmore Leonard - Among the best writing out there. Good reading, all of it (and some great movies and TV series as well!)

Chuck Palahniuk - Everyone knows Fight Club, the movie. He wrote the book and you could guess by that alone that he's as weird an author as they come. I love him for it. No book is like the other and they all are wild rides into the unknown and unthought.  Funny, too.


Ken Webster - The Vertical Plane is the over four decades old account of a "haunting" that hasn't been debunked yet. No one reads this (or looks into this) that doesn't go away thinking "This might actually have happened ... but what the fuck would that mean for our understanding of reality!?". One of the best books I ever read, I kid you not.

Jeffrey John Kripal - Authors of the Impossible is another one of those books that pushes the boundaries of reality. Highly recommended.

Truddi Chase - When Rabbit Howls is a book written as the collaborative effort of the roughly 100 souls of Trudi Chase, a very well documented case of multiple personality disorder. And a very tough read that is VERY hard to stomach, but all the same endlessly fascinating.


Lao Tse - The Tao Te Ching introduced me to a new and different way of thinking compared to what I was used to, growing up in 90s Germany. I still read and re-read it (different translations, different languages ... stuff like that) and it inspires my thinking to this day.

Chuang Tse - If you read the Tao Te Ching, checking out Zhuangzi is the next logical step. And also, for me at least, a life-long exercise.

I Ching - Basically the shamanistic roots of the Taoist books quoted above, and a great oracle (in my experience). You want to play around with it, check it out here.

The Edda - The older I get, the more I appreciate that these old stories are attempts to describe a long gone reality, and as such they are immensely precious. The Edda especially so, since it is about the pre-history of Europe and as such of great interest to me.


Wes Anderson - A director with such a distinct and beautiful voice that he had to make the list. Movies I grew up with, so to say. some are outright perfect, all of them have something magical (personal favorites right now are Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch).

David Lynch - Yeah, he pushes all the buttons. I love Twin Peaks. All of it (third season was ... not what anyone expected, which is what Lynch aimed for). Dune is a piece of art (and one wonders what he'd done with it if the studio hadn't interferred!). Blue Velvet was the movie I shouldn't have seen as a kid ... Mulholland Drive is such a trip. I love it all.

Shinichirō Watanabe - The original Cowboy Bebop (not the live-action atrocity that is on Netflix) and Samurai Champloo are fan favorites everyone should have seen. But all his anime series are fantastic for one reason or another, and I have a special weak spot for the genius that is Space Dandy. So much fun.


Edvard Grieg - Norwegian Composer, mostly know for his Peer Gynt Suite. Such a great entry point for learning about classic music.

Tom Waits - I discovered him late in his career and worked my way through all of it. A great musician, of course, but where he always gets me is the lyrics. So inspirational. Favorites of all time are the albums Alice, Blood Money and Real Gone.

Gautier Serre (IGORRR) - Strangest for last, I guess. A weird mix of all musical genres I like. Always fresh, always different, very complex ... fun all around! Here, check it out.

So this is where it ends, the strange tour through what inspired me for the last decades. I'm pretty sure I missed something and it'll come to me later ... It's also part of a journey I'm still on, of course. My reading list is HUGE, and I'm bound to discover more gems like the above (at least I hope so). I already mentioned my approach: look closer at what you like and follow the bread crumbs.

Either way, 37 entries that should keep one busy for a long time. I hope you all found something you didn't know but is interesting enough to follow up on. I definitely had fun with all of it. Just one more thing before I wrap this up: I'm sure all the people linked above had their flaws. I just don't care. What I shared here is in appreciation of their art, of the positive marks they left on the world. Everything else is just noise. 

So what's your guys' Appendix N? What did you find here that intrigues you?

* Monkey Business and ORWELL both feature lists like that to help readers getting an idea where I'm coming from, same is the case for be67 (as shown here).