Thursday, 20 April 2017

Get Rock

(apparently there's a 200 word RPG challenge so I am listlessly clawing my way onto the bandwagon.)

Get Rock.

Game is - have best rock.
How to know?

Big rule is - all word say is all one thing.
All word say true for all till Get Rock done.

Small rule is – make say like this.
No long word. No time word. No if word. No maybe word.
Only now word. Only do word.

Look into enemy eye and make scared.
Think about own rock big own rock strong!
Other rock small other rock weak!
Go one two three.
On three make shape with hand.
Choose. Make leaf? Make knife? Make rock?
Is big think on this.

Leaf wrap rock - leaf win.
Knife cut leaf - knife win.
Rock blunt knife - rock win!

Leaf win? How rock not stronger?
Make good say why other rock weak!

Knife win? You smart. Them dumb. Not use rock!
Now make clever say why am smart other dumb - why not have rock?

Rock win? Is good! Rock strong!
Now make big rock boast how own rock best!

Both same? Throw all rock away! All new rock. All new word.

Done say? Go again!

Get Rock done when one say you rock best or both can make no say.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Process as Item

"Old English fyr "fire, a fire," from Proto-Germanic *fur-i- (source also of Old Saxon fiur, Old Frisian fiur, Old Norse fürr, Middle Dutch and Dutch vuur, Old High German fiur, German Feuer "fire"), from PIE *perjos, from root *pa?wr- "fire" (source also of Armenian hur "fire, torch," Czech pyr "hot ashes," Greek pyr, Umbrian pir, Sanskrit pu, Hittite pahhur "fire"). Current spelling is attested as early as 1200, but did not fully displace Middle English fier (preserved in fiery) until c. 1600.

PIE apparently had two roots for fire: *paewr- and *egni- (source of Latin ignis). The former was "inanimate," referring to fire as a substance, and the latter was "animate," referring to it as a living force (compare water (n.1))."

- from etymology online, a really excellent site and useful resource.

The pleasing idea of a process as an item comes, perhaps, from its already half-magical or numinous state. A process bound is already a little bit more interesting than an inanimate thing. We can see this in magic items, to show their magic; they live. The sword burns like a brand the jewel glows like a lamp. The cloak moves in an unfelt wind. The picture talks.

But even without that, a process bound, carried and sustained is slightly magical, it exemplifies power over an ever-changing nature, not just tool-use but bound process control. The common bindings break down quite neatly by classical element;

Fire is the big one. The key thing here is that it's not a magic lantern or a magic torch, but a magic fire. It is the fire you carry and preserve, not the means of its propagation (though you will need that as well).

The nature of the thing puts hard limits on how you deal with it or transport it. Fire is hard to carry and keep going, all kinds of common circumstances and opponent action could put it out. You need to keep finding fuel for it. Perhaps a particular kind of fuel. Magical fires could feed on human hair, the bark of certain trees, polished coals or fossils. It's easy to imagine someone carrying one, in a lantern, a brazier or something, but hard to imagine them carrying two or more in anything other than special circumstances. The nature of fire means that you will tend to adopt a ritualistic attitude to taking care of it, which embeds a principal ritual from the human lifeworld into the game. Because its very hard to deal with you can make it situationaly very powerful, PC's have to invest resources and through into how to sustain this powerful but delicate tool.

As well as it already being useful, it does so many things, there's a whole range of extra stuff you can do with it, shine its light on someone, breath in its smoke, let it's smoke 'write' on a piece of paper, burn things in it, cook things with it, forge things with its heat, let it cast shadows, burn yourself with it, see things in it.

Fire likes to get out of control though so this is a big difference to any other kind of 'item', and a D&D PC is going to want to let EVERYTHING BURN so then you have SUPER-POWERFUL fire. So some limitation of this has to be built into the thing. Maybe as a fire gets bigger and more powerful it becomes more intelligent, starts developing it's own ideas like a runaway AI or a bound daemon, starts using its powers for itself rather than for the PC's. And of course, few fires really want to stop burning.

Perhaps the fires are ancient daemons or angels. It makes a neat sense that primal demiurgic beings would be incarnated as natural processes. The idea of God making kinetic and other kinds of energy from, essentially, minced-up angels, seems legit. If you could catch a fragment of that Pure Fire from before they got all mixed up, and keep it going and preserve it, then you might have a little piece of divine magic that did a particular thing.

Is there anything that relates to moving water the same way? I mean not just that it interacts with water but that it needs water to activate it, to make it live.

A mill-wheel might work, difficult to consider carrying it about, though the idea of an adventurer or NPC with a giant fucking wheel on their back is interesting, mendicant mill-monks.

A portable water-clock seems like an edge-case, too mechanical.

Rain, the water that drips from an umbrella having special qualities. It would have to be natural rain, not just stuff you poured on there because it is the process that brings it alive. Maybe it would tell you things about the rain, perhaps heal you of mental disorders, curses or shame or simply help you forget.

Those lantern-boats that float downstream might also work, carrying things away or summoning them back. Water ghosts, creatures from the past or those lost.

I think it was Keats (or maybe Shelly?) who's epitaph was that his name was writ in water. Perhaps writing someone’s name in water causes someone, somewhere in the world to forget that name. You can perform mass-attacks on someone’s fame and reputation by gathering hundreds of cultists by the shores of a still lake and having them all write the same name on its surface. The name attacks must inevitably affect the cultists as well as everyone else so every now and then some of them must forget the name they are writing and have to look over at the guy on the left and right to see what name they are erasing. If this carries on for long enough, everyone in the world might forget someone's name except for the people writing it on the surface of the lake, and even they don't really remember why they are writing it, only that they were really pissed off with whoever it was.

A Chinese Whispers effect could mean that even people with a similar name suffer some effects of the attack.

A brush that, if used to write on a waterfall or the surface of a river, or even on a wave in the ocean, you can summon or control the power of those things. Perhaps the symbol for 'Horse' on a waterfall creates a charging steed of white foam that can only race downhill and which ends each ride by diving and exploding into the river or the earth, writing it on a river creates a tireless horse, but one which can only ever move at the speed of the river itself, whether fast or slow and writing one on a wave creates a titanic and powerful horse that can charge along the coastline, but not beyond it, plus getting in position to write on a wave as it breaks effectively makes you a surfing wizard?

Between water and air we have the sailing ship. Perhaps a sail that when it runs directly before a headwind and pulls a ship to full speed, can breach the barriers between planes, like a sailing DeLorean. The precise direction of the wind affects which plane you go to and you have no way to control it other than to have it up or not.

This brings us into air. Kites are probably the closest equivalent to torches and lanterns. Maybe a kite that, once you get it flying, transforms you into a bird until you touch the ground. Perhaps if you land on water you can stay as a bird until you reach the shore so people passing through never know if the ducks and swans are kite-monks in disguise or what.

Pin-Wheels. Even breath could activate them but they are incredibly delicate and easily damaged and destroyed, hard to cart around for a long time without them being crushed, so that provides a nice limiting element. Perhaps they have to be activated by natural wind rather than breath, the idea of a brawny adventurer running about with a pin-wheel is a nice one. Perhaps the breath of certain creatures or type of person is needed to activate the rare ones, a virgin, a holy person, a seventh son, a blind man.

There is the lightning-charged device of course. We would have to work on ways to make it more interesting than just a lightning capacitor. Perhaps, at the moment you catch the lighting you gain the speed *of* lightning, you can race anywhere but as soon as you stop the lighting is grounded. You also have to be careful not to interact with anything touching the ground, you may be drawn towards metal objects and end up accidentally hurling yourself on a drawn sword 300 miles away at the speed of sound.

Monks who wait under trees in autumn with special brushes. They train until they are able to write upon a falling leaf before it hits the ground, touching it only with the tip of the brush. That would require huge study and skill to use. Perhaps you could use this to travel through time like a leaf falling.

Stone is a process too, but one so slow that I don’t think it could be contained into a pseudo-object by human beings.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The History of the Veins of the Earth

EDIT: So it is live, click the image to go to the LotFP site to purchase.

If you want the PDF on it's own you can get that HERE.

For anyone unfamiliar with the idea of 'Veins of the Earth' or who thinks its either that computer game that comes up when you google the phrase, or just the original quote from The Tempest, here is what it is.

This is a book that has been in production a looooog time. Longer than any other work I have done. Investigating its origins takes us way back to near the dawn of this blog. To illustrate this, here's a brief rundown of my publishing history;

August 2011 - I get my first laptop and, within a few days, create False Machine.

16th October 2012 - In a comment below this post we see the first public mention of the idea in a conversation with David.

18th October 2012 - I accept Davids Challenge, he will create what ends up being Yoon-Suin and I will write Veins and we will RACE TO THE FINISH LINE.

December 2012 - January 2013 - many of the Veins monsters were created in this period. If you check out the tag 'Veins' in the sidebar, or just click through to the period in question you can still see them there.

9th February 2013 -

21st June 2013 - Zak first contacts me to propose the thing that eventually becomes Maze of the Blue Medusa.

3rd October 2013 - Zzarchov Kowalski first contacts me to propose the thing that eventually becomes Deep Carbon Observatory. Another guy with a 'Z' name, interesting.

26th October 2013 - The first Maze of the Blue Medusa draft is finished.

6th June 2014 - The first Veins of the Earth test print is created. I have never actually seen a copy of this print since, when I created it, I couldn't afford to buy myself a copy. I think everyone else in the production got one though.

24th June 2014 - Fire of the Velvet Horizon first proposed, as I remember as a 'simple' project to do after DCO. It turned out to be about five times as large.

8th July 2014 - Deep Carbon Observatory released.

5th March 2015 - Yoon-Suin released to universal acclaim. David CRUSHES ME LIKE THE ANT I AM. VICTORY IS HIS. He loses the $10 he bet on me to win.

8th March 2015 - Fire on the Velvet Horizon released. The world cries out; "Will there be a PDF?" and "I can't read this" to which we reply NO THERE FUCKING WON'T and I'M GENUINELY SORRY ABOUT THAT respectively

23rd September 2015 - Veins final edited  and multiply proof-read text is locked.

30th June 2016 - Maze of the Blue Medusa is released.

14th April 2017
- (the future) BOOM. Finally. You can now order Veins of the Earth. It's still going to take ten days to send as James forgot to order the packing materials.

So the times from conception to completion are;

  • VotE - 4 years, 6 months.
  • MotBM - 3 years.
  • DCO - 1 year, 9 months.
  • FotVH - 9 months!
So you can see, in a way, Veins is my first book, it's just the last one to come out.



Relive it or not it actually started off as an attempt to 'Vornheim' the Underdark, to provide a way to simulate complex underground spaces during play, so that you could adventure in them, in the same way that Vornheim helped you to do that for cities.

What it ended up as was my attempt to 'Vornheim' the Underdark encrusted with loads and loads and loads of extra stuff. So if your response to reading this blog is;

"My God I wish he would shut up and get to the point", then this might not be for you. If your response was "I would like more of that, with someone having gone over the prose a few times then packed the lot of it up with some really excellent and savage illustrations with high production values, and I'd like enough of it that, if I smacked someone in the face with it, I could break their nose, and I don't mind paying for it"


"Wow I really liked DCO but I wanted to go down that big chain at the end and I also wanted a whole world waiting for me down there, and I don't mind paying for it".

Then CONGRATULATIONS! This might be the thing for you!

Half of it is monsters, the other half mechanics and lists.

All of the monsters are individually illustrated by Scrap Princess. They are designed to be as original as possible, for a lot of things I drew on the Science of cave exploration and advancements in genetics that have taken place since the 1970's. The Archeans in particular are a race based upon Archean bacteria. The Knotsmen are based on my feelings about working as a call centre operator in the debt industry for several years. The empire of the Endoliths is based on taking train journeys to work in winter mornings where the whole world is dark but a lamp or a house-light burning in the distance encompasses a fragile globe of existance that seems to drift like a bubble on a dark sea, and on actual endoltihs.

The back end has rules for the creation of large scale underground maps, large cave complexes and smaller cave systems. There is a relatively novel and simple (one you do it a few times) method for creating small networks of caves as you play, for when players go off the map or just if you want to improv something.

There are rules for cannibalising your friends and a neat mechanic that unifies currency and light, giving you a sound reason to keep running around underground. 

And of course there are extensive rules for going insane. Also for getting mutated or 'altered' by your time beneath the earth. Oh and insanity itself is an actual psychic monster that hunts you through the dark, that's on top of all the other kinds of insanity.
I'll just show the contents page again.

It's about 100,000 words over more than 350 pages of A5. Scrap has art on nearly every double-page spread so it's an art book as well, some of it in black and white, some of it in colour. A few of her 'Cave Scenes' are amongst some of my favourite works that she has ever done.

Taken as a whole it's a pretty concentrated and intense wedge of culture. If it works it should be like a Stanley knife held to your eye.



Here's some of the books I have on record and that I can remember reading. The Richard Fortey books in particluar were a big influence on both this and on DCO.

  • De Animantibus Subterraneis by Georgius Agricola (first translated by Herbert Hoover, the U.S. President).
  • The Town Below Ground by Jan-Andrew Henderson.
  • London Under by Peter Ackroyd.
  • Tales From The Underground by David W. Wolfe.
  • Climbing Fit by Martyn Hurn & Pat Ingle.
  • Sand, A Journey Through Science and the Imagination by Michael Welland.
  • Subnature, Architectures Other Environments by David Gissen.
  • Cave Passages, Roaming the Underground Wilderness by Michael Ray Taylor.
  • Rabid, A Cultural History of the Worlds Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik & Monica Murphy.
  • Bound for Canaan, The Underground Railroad by Fergus M. Bordewich.
  • The Smoky God Willis Georger Emerson.
  • Underground Warfare 1914-1918 by Simon Jones.
  • The Underground Atlas by John Middleton & Tony Walthan.
  • The Descent by Jeff Long (an Airport novel gone bonkers).
  • The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide by Douglas Niles (my copy of this was chewed by rabbits).
  • Beneath Flanders Field by Peter Barton, Peter Doyle & Johan Vanderville.
  • Subterranean Worlds Inside Earth by Timothy Green Beckley (a great book THE dErO ARE REAL!!!!).
  • The Climbers Handbook by Garth Hattingh.
  • Periodic Tales, The Curious Lives of the Elements by Hugh Aldersey-Williams.
  • La Place de La Concorde Suisse by John McPhee.
  • Underground Worlds by Donald Dale Jackson (this is a lovely book if you can get your hands on it).
  • Blind Descent by James M. Tabor (factual but in prose style, utter glorious bullshit).
  • Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution by Richard Fortey.
  • The Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey.


With luck this will be the last time I have to whore this out or include the 'Veins' tag in something. Those of you who have been following the progress of BFR will be happy to hear that it has reached the stage where even if I hang myself there is enough there for someone to produce a completed product so that will actually come out at some point.

If this does well (no idea if it will) we might one day go back underground. Right now I'm thinking either an Isles of the Imprisoned Moon book or a dErO book. But both of those will be SHORT. I am not making any more long RPG books for a good while. They drive me mad.

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Real Forgotten Realms

Thinking about Mentzers (EDIT, it's Greenwood, I was reading his interviews ond for some insane reason put Mentzers name in there? Just dumb I guess.) Forgotten Realms, its origins and what seems to be a sad descent, and imagining a version of that imbued with what I take to be the power and beauty of its first conception, lead me to think about our actual forgotten realms.

Nations on the edge of memory. The "oh really?" places. Burgundy, Novogrod, the Quara-Khitai, the Indus Valley Civilisation, the Cahokia Mounds in the United States, the Khazaria, the green Sahara, the tower of the Ghorids. There are so many. The thing about a lost nation or a lost memory is not that it is lost but that it is in the act of being lost, an object becoming a process, showing us the existence of time. What is truly lost, we know nothing of, what we call lost or forgotten is only half-lost and half-forgotten. Just enough remains to let us know that something was there. So when we talk about forgotten realms, we are talking about occluded realms, cast into shadows by time, where we can see times action, where we can see the event horizon of entropy that will ultimately consume us.

Perhaps I see only one side. Our real forgotten realms were not just forgotten, but recalled, re-discovered and found again. Resurrected with research and archaeology. Perhaps the important thing about the real forgotten realms is not that they were forgotten but that we are reaching for them. This sense of new-old or freshly ancient history has its place in our schema of creation. It's not just that this place disappeared, never to be recalled, it's that we are going into it and finding out more about it. The genre may want to be a tragedy but the story is an adventure. The D&D 'story' in particular, finds the future in the past.

(Of course there is a conversation to be had somewhere about what counts as a 'Real' Forgotten Realm and what is merely history. Opinions will differ.)

Then add to that the mood and feel of Greenwoods original, as seen through the stories he told about it in interviews. The feeling of that is elegiac. It's about warmth and friendship and adventure. It's a summery aesthetic. Its a world based on the feeling you get on your summer holidays, where time seems to wheel away without hours and, in Greendwoods case, where you were hanging out with your friends in the woods, pretending to be in another world, and I bet if you were there for a while it did feel like you were almost in another world. (In my case these months were spent indoors, alone, reading bad fantasy novels and playing Baldurs Gate, but whatever).

We do tend to see forgotten kingdoms in an elegiac way. Nobody considers the Quara-Khitai and thinks "Wow, I bet they had to skull-fuck a bunch of people to build that", although they probably did. If the kingdom itself was forgotten then the truculent minority that kingdom was dicking around is twice forgotten.

It brings to mind the idea of a kind of civilisational Elysium where all of the worlds forgotten realms go to exist in the summer of their power and in their best possible selves like Kennedy's Camelot, and Forgotten Realms, when related through Greenwoodss stories about it, does remind me of Ray Bradbury and Louise Bogan and Kennedy on Cinefilm.

The fact that you are playing you is important becasue it's not just about this other world,  it's this other world compared to your original world, the world of release compared to the world of constraint.

An aspect of the Summer Realms is that bad things are generally done by villains and are not an inextricable part of the world. It's not that horror doesn't exist, it's that it is defeatable, resolvable and impermanent like summer storms, and that when it is removed an already-existing harmony is restored, a world where it is visible that history does truly arc towards justice, where evil is a mistake, and not part of the design.

But, if there were summer realms there must be winter realms as well, where there is only work, where you spend your time with whom you're told to, where you do not decide what you do, where you are indoors, where you do not see nature or move within it
and where there is no romance, only need.

Maybe the difference between romance and need is between a desire that enjoys its own expression and hopes that it will be returned and a desire that loathes its own expression and believes it will not be returned.

Not a great post, but I got shit to do.

Friday, 7 April 2017

A Review of the Nightmares Underneath by Johnstone Metzger

TLDR; It's James Raggi and Vincent Baker yin-yanging each other on top of a giant pile of every interesting rules development from the last seven years.


The Nightmares Underneath is Johnstone Metzgers capacious, comprehensive and very fat game. It's a system and a world. The system draws most heavily from various old-school D&D variants but has a huge, and wide, range of influences, making it very much its own thing. It may or may not be a heartbreaker.

There's a really interesting list at the front of the the book which includes several different versions of D&D (but not 5th? even though advantage/disadvantage is used?) and a bunch of storygame stuff. (Chris McDowall you are there, you not reading this is punishment for not obsessively reading my blog.)

The setting is a quasi-Islamic medieval world, one based slightly more on real history than fantasy archetypes. It has the usual modern liberal fantasy-synthesis  in which societal and political structures, social codes and specific aesthetics are yanked from the past with the patriarchy, slavery and enthocentrism which, in reality, would justify, intermix with and often support those elements, turned waaaay down. (This is not a criticism of that synthesis, it's just my description).

I'll discuss the systems piece-by-piece as I go through the book. The general idea of the setting and aesthetic can be described more readily.


A rationalistic, scientific and lawful (in every sense) pseudo-Islamic society, threatened by, and at low-scale war with, a plane or reality of Nightmare which infiltrates the 'real world' in a manner similar to what I imagine the House of Leaves or a Thomas Ligotti story is like (I have read neither).

The nation is called the 'Kingdom of Dreams, so there's your theme. Dreams and Nightmares, or more specifically, Reason being corrupted by the Unconscious. A world where things work, but then a horror movie happens.

The rationalism, reasonableness and self-confidence of the society make a specific and deliberate contrast with the unusually squamous, chaotic and dreamlike incursions of the Nightmare Realm.

Metzger isn’t the first person to come up with the idea of Dungeons as the infiltration of another reality, Chris Tamm at Konsumterra in particular has his red-brick dungeon-dimension thing, it’s practically an emblematic Scrap Princess idea and I'm sure other people have brought it up as well. This is the first time I have seen a fully-realised game system built around it though.

The PC's are special in this setting because they are one of the few people who do not go instantly fucking nuts in a Nightmare incursion. Instead they go very slowly nuts, meaning they now have the duty/opportunity/legal requirement to fuck about in dungeons.

It is the purpose of the PC's to banish and collapse the reality of Nightmare Incursions, the fact that they are actually destroying the dungeon by raiding it is another big difference between this and standard lemniscate D&D setting. Our PC's restore order, they do not impose it on the frontier.

The cosmology is arranged in a way roughly similar to any medieval pseudo-platonic situation. Heaven on top. Earth in the Middle. Deep, dark stuff 'underneath'. The Nightmare Realm sends its tendrils up like a big squid and tries to hook onto our world.

This is very slightly different to Cosmic Horror. The Nightmare Realm isn't Lovecrafts (or later writers) horrifically-indifferent Outer Dark. It is related to us, concerned with us and shaped by us. The Outer Dark still exists, as does an inferred Hell with demons and devils, as do monsters of the material world, as does the realm of Fairie, with Seelie and Unseelie courts.

There is a slight tension between the primary engine of the game, based around the Nightmare incursions, and all the other stuff that might turn up alongside it. Nightmares are always the main band, but depending on the concert, they might come supported by scary fairies, classic monsters, lovecraftian-entities or just good old cults &' criminals. In the same way, there is an area of the imagined world described that is very much like a standard D&D borderland, a desert where an ancient empire once existed, now full of dungeons and snake people and whatever.

If Metzger had just kept it to the Nightmares he could have made this a shorter and more focused book. Clearly that isn't what he wanted. He's lost a little in clarity and drive but has perhaps gained in the ability to incorporate the setting and ideas into other D&D worlds, thereby making it more modular and useful.

The use of Dreams as a motif is an interesting trend in DIY D&D/OSR circles as well. They turn up a little in VotE, David McGrogan is writing his 'Gently Smiling Jaws' set inside a Crocodiles mind. We are pushing, collectively, against the borders of the kinds of places you can set D&D and it looks like the psychosphere is the next place that is going to get colonised.


The art is curious. Metzger has used almost entirely public-domain images ("written, illustrated and published by Johnstone Metzger") but he has done so in a novel and unique way.

Firstly, he must have become an expert in scavenging through the many varied places you can now get public-domain images. It’s a surprisingly tiring and un-fun job beachcombing the data-banks and he must have put a hell of a lot of time into it. That's effectively a skill of its own.

Then he's taken a range of images, largely from orientalist paintings and 19th century/early 20th century book illustrations and then changed them in a variety of ways, applying filters and adding layers, visual elements, re-drawing parts and bringing everything into line so it all expresses a particular aesthetic.

I can tell, most of the time when I'm looking at something that used to be an oil painting. A few are obvious, there is a theme of female portraits with what I'm sure is weapons and swords added, but for the rest of it I have no idea when I am looking at an illustration or which parts were added by Metzger either his own creation or cut & pasted from another image.

I can't emphasise what a huge and complex job this must have been and how fully and distinctly the art is integrated into the aesthetic as a whole. There is a lot of art.

Really you could write a full review on exactly what he's done, how he's done it and what that means for the aesthetic impact of the book and the relation of its world. I'm not really qualified to do that. Long story short - Apocalypse World + Orientalism + Golden Age of Illustration. The one thing I miss is colour. Islamic civilisation had a talent for luxury (orientalist I know, but probably true) and you feel it a lot less in black and white. That is a rather churlish complaint though, considering the scale of the achievement.

As well as the page-by-page full-bleed images there’s quite a lot of digital patterning and general layout stuff, tables, maps and informational layout.

Informational design by-page is within tolerances with a handful or telling spatial shifts made in order to keep particular informational clusters on single pages and on opposing-page spreads where possible.

Informational layout as a whole is more complex. There are a lot of highly interactive rules systems, many of them arranged to produce complex feedback responses across the play of the game. A more radical guy might have shoved rules and combat right at the front, since they will be references more regularly, buut it's always hard to tell considering the range of ways an RPG book has to work and the large interlocking scales and types of information. It has what looks like a full, and useful index, an index of spells and an index of tables, along with a full table of contents. Informational hierarchy by page is clear, broken by headings, sub-headings, bullet-points, page break lines, tables alter-tones by row, rules sections for the elements of fictional positioning and big chunky page numbers on opposing corners.

I might still disagree in some cases about the compiling of different elements of rule consequences and decision trees inside paragraphs. But that could be a taste thing.

Essentially, he's done a full publication job on a 400+ page book. For one guy its pretty impressive.


He uses ALLLLLLLL the rolls. This is perhaps a formalisation of the way any DIY D&D DM might play, yanking dice mechanics from pretty much everywhere, but here we have them listed. So this will all be blindingly intuitive for any hipster 'plugged in' to OSR rules development, but god knows what anyone else would make of it.

- A * in 6 d6 roll for chance events.

- A 2d6 + modifier roll for contests.

- A straight d* roll for damage. (Your Hit Die is your damage die here).

- An Apocalypse World roll for complex-outcome stuff.

- A d20 under attribute roll for unopposed task resolution (1 crits, 20 fails).

- A d20 under half (rounded down) attribute roll for unopposed task resolution where you don't have the skill or the stuff.

- A d20 + modifier over opponent attribute roll for opposed task resolution, including combat (20 crits, 1 fails).


- The advantage system from 5e, which can be applied to most of the above.

- Saves! This depends on the level of the threat. Your level or below means roll under attribute, higher means roll under half (rounded down) attribute.


You can lose attribute scores from a lot of attacks and effects so you better keep track of those, and your original score for when you heal up.

Now again, this is not a huge step away from what a lot of DM's might be doing already, but holy fuck that's a lot of decision methods. Your attitude to this will probably be a reflection of your attitude to the whole game, the rules are a distillation of the Metzger-ness of the whole thing. If you thought either "Cool, loads of stuff for me to use" or "Eh, I'll just do whatever the fuck I want" then read on. If you noped the fuck out then The Nightmares Beneath may not be for you.

I'm going to skip ahead through Char gen to combat because that interfaces most with the dice mechanics and because it also has some extreme examples of Metzgerfication. Not trying to put you off, just aiming to lay it all out.


A neat thing to begin with, Metzger directly tells you to draw a sketch map for combat, which I and a lot of people already do, but I think this is the first time I can remember seeing it formally advised. I like that he said that.

Ok, so, STATS;

Charisma - is now Charisma.

Dexterity - is now Dexterity.

Strength - is now Ferocity, less physically-related and a little broader and more abstract but works in combat a similar way.

Constitution - is now Health. Again, works in a similar sort of way but is now something similar to 'Flesh' in Wolf packs and Winter Snow and Logans rules.

Intelligence - is now Intelligence. This is often used as a perception stat instead of WIS.

Wisdom - is now Willpower, related to morale and generally going crazy.

Hit Points -  are now Disposition but they way it/they combine with Health is, again, more like Grit and Flesh. Disposition is re-rolled every day and can be re-rolled and come back between fights in some circumstances.


Well you might not know. The rules for when you do and don't re-roll disposition are a little bit blurry, first as to exactly when you do or don't have to re-roll and when you can re-roll;

Page 226 - You re-roll after a full nights sleep or after 4 hours rest with a proper meal.
               - After a "short rest" you may re-roll.

page 232 - After an hour resting, eating and re-hydrating. You can re-roll if you want unless you have already done "a full days work" (?)
               - When you sleep for 6 or more hours "depending on how exhausted you are" you *must* re-roll  disposition.

Secondly as consequence of that, the difference between a game where you roll Disposition when you wake up, so you know exactly how tough you are feeling that day, and one where you roll just before a fight, so you have no idea how tough you are before you need it, is pretty massive, especially at low levels where your fighty-guy might get a 1 or an 8 on the die.

I would personally go with not rolling disposition until combat or danger so players had to think more and didn't know how well they would fight, but since its not clear in the text, you will be deciding that largely yourself.


Hitting people is mercifully simple in hand-to-hand, at least to begin with. He has kept AC and it works the usual way (starting from 10 rather than Raggi's 12).

Shooting people, well;

There are three different classes of ranged attack, with multiple different fictional positioning mechanic alterations each depending on target speed, cover and time spent aiming.

- Firearms & heavy Crossbows. Roll under your own DEX.

- 'Regular' Missile attacks. d20 + modifiers against AC.

- Thrown items (not knives & axes made for throwing) Roll under DEX or half DEX depending on circumstance.
               >Unless they are dodging, in which case roll d20 against their DEX & try to get over.

I'm summarising a lot here.

Now, as above, I actually like a lot of these rules when taken on their own. I noted specifically that I intended stealing them when I was reading the book. I like that gunpowder feels different mechanically to arrows. But, again, holy fuck Metzger that's a lot of situations and a lot of mechanics.

People can dodge, grapple and run around. In a neat move, closing with someone with a longer-ranged weapon gives them a free attack, which I like, there's also an effective overwatch shot for firearms and prepped ranged weapons, which I also like.

Rules I don't like, even on their own;

Rolling your HD for damage - not fond of this.

Oh and Fighters do damage on a miss, which I think is a bullshit rule.


There is a Hit Location table, and not the simplest version possible either, which I would consider to be this;

  2   3
 4     5
  6   7
 8     9

There's a d6 column for close combat, a d20 version for ranged attacks and a second column in the first table for specific areas of the head. and face.

Shields can be splintered and helmets can be splintered if your head is hit but there are no head-specific doom options. There is a roll-under mechanic for when you lose health. Unlike Into the Odd, this applies to the area hit not your whole self, so if you get hit in the head, lose health and fail to roll under I suppose that puts you out. That's never stated explicitly though. There are rules for bleeding and rules for shock.

There is a 2d6 roll for whether you can heal, but when it comes to how long it takes to heal we get this;

"Injuries heal as they would in real life. You can look it up yourself, this is a game, not a medical textbook."

Dude, you created a location-specific detailed damage system in a game where you included rules for what happens if you come into contact with a chaotic good apothecary, you couldn't do a chart for this?

There is a really good boxed-text description of the effects of crippled characters which I like a great deal. I'll just reproduce a small part here;

"In this game, you should be describing and modelling your fictional world with words, not with numbers. The numbers are there to add the elements of chance, risk and uncertainty - the game part of a role-playing game. They are not meant to model physics or to create some kind of realistic world. They exist to create an interactive experience and to add weight to the choices you make within the framework of what this game concerns itself with."

Ok, now we are gonna roll allll the way back to;


So, we have; Assassins, Bards, Champions, Cultists, Fighters, Scholars, Thieves aaand Wizards.

These are called 'Professions' not classes, which doesn't quite fit with the idea of 'Fighters' but whatever. And I'm not sure if 'Wizard' is a profession, don't know how you pay taxes on that one. Self-employed?

Champions are kinda-Paladins and Cultists are effectively-Clerics. Cultists sounds much better than Cleric anyway. Scholars are healy, theify magicy people.

The picture of the Bard here looks like exactly the kind of Bard Zak would most like to stab, and the description backs that up;

"A bard is the soul of any company. What fighting force could maintain its morale, if it lacked such inspiration? A world without music and laughter, or the fire of oratory, is a dull, greyish hell that few could stand for long. But with a bard behind him, a man feels like he could take on the world, if he wanted to!"


This uses an attribute-increase roll very similar to ItO, except, with more rules and specifications and special circumstances. I think the end result is that PC's are going to advance their 'core' attributes quite quickly to the mid range and above. I'm really not sure how I feel about this. I'm sure it makes sense according to the system of the game but I have spoken in the past in favour of uneven or out of place attributes and how they can create discontinuities and difficulties that can lead to real role playing opportunities.

There is a motivation table to help you work out why you are an adventurer, I liked it. There are also social-class based equipment tables.  You roll gold as per normal and you can buy stuff as usual or roll on this thing. It's tremendous fun and anarchic, if you are a worthless untouchable you can get a laser gun at level one.

Right next to this example of Metzger writing well and with flair, or at least high energy, we get a pretty good example of the other side of his writing persona, he has a tendency to ticker-tape prose common mostly with American fantasy writers; repetitive, redundant, with repeating re-statements, low regular runs of sound and rueful euphony. Over-description. Or as Metzger would write;

"The author indulges systematically in over-describing elements in the text. This is a process whereby items, rules artefacts or playing concepts are depicted or related via written words, which appear as type (black regular marks on a white page or screen which convey sound fragments as part of a written language) even through their content and meaning might be considered blindingly obvious both to any intelligent reader, and even, in some cases, to an unintelligent reader via the simple accumulations of context from previously described elements."

The description for runaway;

"Runaway: This person was a serf, servant or slave but they left that position."

No shit.

It isn't all like this and he is good a fair amount of the time, but it's an element.

Another thing I dislike is the extra XP you get for having a core attribute for your class within a certain range. So for a thief if your DEX is 16+ you get an extra 1 per cent XP. I'm not sure why I hate it. It smacks of old Gygaxian bullshit where you corrall people into playing the right class for their stats. The only reason people aren't going to be doing that is if they either have shit stats or if they are deliberately playing against type and trying to be interesting in which case why fucking punish them?

More Metzgerfication;

I thought not, it's not a story the Jedi would tell you.

- Metzger is really into alignment. We have Chaotic, Neutral and Lawful crossed with Good, Neutral and Evil. 

EDIT - It has been pointed out to me below that I got this wrong. Chaotic, Neutral, lawful, Evil and Good are all seperate alignments. They do not cross over. I find this a little odd conceptually. Evil means likes doing harm and Neutral is described as "maybe the most self-serving of all". The whole thing strikes me a little queer but perhaps it would work in play.

Alignment interacts a lot with some classes, opening up certain paths and abilities and closing others. Evil characters may not become Bards.

I'm going to skip ahead again

There are rules for what to do when you get back to your settlement with all your cash and these are largely interesting. There are rules for investing in or interacting with certain businesses, institutions and professions are broken down by importance and by alignment so you can have, for instance, an exceptional Lawful Geographical society, a notable evil druggist, a significant Chaotic necromancers guild and all of these will and won't do certain things.

"It's not a story a _neutral_ apothecary would tell you."

These all potentially intermix with some of the cities only slightly described in the opening spiel about the Kingdom of Dreams to make a really potentially quite interesting and odd city-based section of the game where you run around trying to find a chaotic neutral printer to print your screed against the lawful evil explorers guild.

There are rules for making contacts, making friends, living high, living low, having enemies and rules for character assassination. Lots of stuff on finding employees. Even a section on the kinds of inflation you will create when you try to dump your treasure in some shitty little village and drive up prices. There are rules for causing and reducing resentment in villages and towns and all the many and varied ways you can piss off the people around you.


There are 100 magic spells split up into 10 schools. Choices made in char gen open and close access to some schools for some classes. I think the spells were intended to be largely level-less, with effects and durations based upon caster level. Except they aren't because they have levels and lots of extra crap.

Description is dry and ticker-tapey - if you like that it shouldn't be a problem. They are generally within the range of standard expected D&D spells. I think these are based upon Wonder and Wickedness, or the idea of them being level-less is. W&W is better. Healing stuff is a school and not a separate thing.

I have never read a spell memorisation section without being so bored to shit that I blacked out & that is equally true now but that's not Metzgers fault, spell memorisation is just boring as shit.


Light, movement, traps, encounters, none exactly the same but all within the tolerances any old-schooler will be familiar with. If someone wants to do a deep dive on the details of encounter distance, light economy and whatever, they can probably give you better information on exactly how this is going to play out.

We see more traces of another Metzger thing; Dungeon level is very important. Much more than in most games I am familiar with. The difficulty of things in and out of the dungeon depends on level and if you are level 3 and in a level 4 dungeon part then you are in the shit because things are going to be much harder.


the Nightmare Curse table just reads like my Meyer-Briggs description. Abnormality, anomalous Sensation, Anti-Social Lust Parasite, Anything To Kill The Pain, Apostasy. It's really creepy, paranoid and fun. Mutual madnesses could serve to bind together a party over time as you will need your dungeon-bros around you to help ameliorate all the terrible mental shit you've got going on.


Orienteering - exactly as boring in this as it is in every other game. nearly as dull as researching spells. I nearly passed out reading this, not Metzgers fault, just dull unless you are doing it irl.

There is a weird/interesting storygame confession/flashback thing here that helps you lock places in your memory so you don't get lost on the way back from places. I didn’t really understand it at first reading but it meant to be part of another feedback system in the game. The Nightmare incursions feed off fear, so by finding out the secret fears of the PC's you can incorporate them into the Nightmare incursions. Another thing which makes them quite different from normal dungeons, as we shall see in the next section.

There's a very short section on seafaring, which doesn't seem fair since ultra-deep spaces and islands would both seem perfect places for Nightmare incursions.


This is the most original, interesting, difficult and storygamy part of the book. It's also where it swings the widest from being 'a bit like James Raggi or Chris McDowall' to 'a bit like Vincent Baker'.

First big difference is that these Nightmare Dungeons are built around a particular object that links them to the real world and allows them to exist. This is something like the cursed object from a horror movie, but it could be anything closely linked to negative human emotions for any reason.

For some reason I can't get the idea out of my head that this could be an evil sofa (which it theoretically could) but it could be anything.

So unlike most dungeon raids, you are not there for the money, you are there to get to the deepest Nightmare level, get the sofa and get out. As you leave the incursion should collapse behind you. The sofa is called the 'Anchor' and there are rules for creating one. Lets try to create a level 5 'Anchor'.

So it’s worth 600 'Cyphers' (Gold equivalent)
It's just one encumbrance to carry.
It's a tool or toy.
It's Austere
It's in an Abstract style.
It's gold.
And elegant.
It's covered.
It’s an axe?

Huh, so an abstract ceremonial axe held under a sheet of some kind. That sounds ok.
It's linked to an emotion off Grief, indicating nightmares related to amputation, melancholy and weight, death, suicidal ideation and undead, and the faces of those who have died coming back to haunt the living.

So I suppose winding sheets covering tottering corpses of the person who had the original axe, the sheets are all stained with blood, but if you pull the sheet off its just a superarachnid of severed limbs, and they all come together to form the giant severed-limb face of someone you know?

So that gives us some idea of what to make for our crown on level 5.

And this thing will be associated with a particular kind of Nightmare creature that will just keep re-generating so long as it is there. If I can get it out then they will go away and the incursion will be blocked off from this entry to the world and have to either retreat back to the Nightmare Zone like a big tentacle or try to latch on to a pre-existing incursion somewhere else. Yep, un-cleared 'lairs' can latch back onto the world in other places and you can encounter them elsewhere later on possibly.

And of course, to cover your costs for all this dicking around you will probably need to sell the cursed thingy in question to some weirdo, and there is an even chance another incursion may try to form around it, or that the weird in question will try to use its power to do just that, forming another gameplay loop.

Because these are horror-movie spaces, they don't need to look or be like normal dungeons and can move into horror-movie territory, the passages and rooms can be natural caves, crystal and glass, the insides of an infinite sinking ship, the same room repeated again and again, the inside of a modern tower block, whatever you want.

There are four main 'types of Nightmare Incursion

- death-trap dungeon (Tomb of Horrors style)
- heretic temples (Conspiracies & Cults)
- monster hordes (Classic)
- spawning pits (Extra Nightmares)

The way lairs and levels are described they are quite abstract so you could apply them to pre-existing dungeon maps or any kind of space. The arrangement can be linier, linked like a House of Leaves style, or as part of an above ground Zone, so Castlevania style.

The way the Anchor relates to human emotion, it seems to me that we are being shown one fragment of a larger game through an old-school prism. This could just as easily be an investigatory CoC game where you find out the tragic story of the object and try to do something about it, or maybe use your specific knowledge against the Nightmares using it to manifest, or it could be some hippy game where you do a similar thing but it’s all about coming to terms with your negative emotions and whatever. We are being shown a tactical solution to a problem with multiple potential solutions.

Again, even though you could technically put an Owlbear or an Orc in here, it's going to be a bit embarrassing for them if you do. It'll be like Peter Jackson wandering into a Werner Herzog film. Maybe if you make the Orc pale and hairless and a memory of a fathers abuse, or the Owlbear a giant stuffed toy full of children’s scalps, that might work.


Monster advice re each having a specific plus and weakness is kinda good but leads to slightly box-ticky stuff later on. Box-tickyness is arguably a flaw with the game, see the chaotic-evil apothecary stuff earlier on.

Some basic shit again on running dungeons but maybe the reader has never heard basic shit, "press down the clutch to change gear" is vital knowledge the first time you hear it

There are actually three kinds of encounter

- Fixed encounters, like a normal dungeon.

- Random encounters, again like a normal dungeon.

- Countdown-timer encounters. These are new. From the moment you start crossing boundaries the active nightmares in that zone start hunting you and they will turn up, and they can just appear out of thin air or in the reflection of a bathroom mirror, horror-movie style, so that's new.

- There are also some creatures with special encounters. One kind, even when you take them all out, as you go to leave the dungeon there is always one final one waiting on the threshold to stop you, because it's a horror movie.

A Strejcek-style 'overloaded encounter die' is also used to add stuff like enchantments and magic wearing off or the lap going out as the Nightmares eat your light.

Feedback in the hands of a subtle DM could be very useful/important if they get it right. The horror-movie and alter-reality aesthetic and imaginative structure opens up a lot of strange and novel potentials not usually available in dungeons.


The monsters range in quality. Many have some kind of recoverable ingredient or substance, I like that. The Dragons as failed Fey gods addicted to material stuff and developing mad obsessions works well. Sun-Court Fey have bronze muskets that fire wasps, will steal that.

There is no visual description for the monsters, which I quite like as the DM must look at the image and interpret it themselves.

There are player options, in case you couldn't tell that Metzger missed the 90's there is a god-damn 'Blade Dancer' class. You can play a fucking Hobbit or a fucking Elf if you really want to. More interestingly, you can play a Child, which sounds like fun.

At the end we get a range of tables of the 'Boring but Useful type.


It has, almost to a ridiculous degree, all of the good and bad aspects of a heartbreaker. It’s mainly good.

The concept is gold and if not entirely, absolutely original (what is?) in the wholeness of itself it is very original. The world of order and the infiltrating nightmares is a great idea. The creation and construction of the Nightmare infiltrations is a welcome new string to the bow. The concept of yanking out the sofa to collapse the dungeon is excellent,  as is the concept of the bits of the extra-dimensional dungeon searching around and trying to re-connect elsewhere. All the titting about in-town with printers and apothecaries and hotels is great fun, surprisingly great fun. The equipment tables. You got some elegant flows, or at least decent attempts at elegant flows in the feedback responses for the PC decaying brain state and the nightmares they have to fight.

It would work more perfectly in its current order/nightmares polarised imagined world state than in the more rambunctious standard D&D world, if you just started throwing in nightmare dungeons into your standard melange world then they will lose something, but every campaign has some tight-ass kingdom where things generally work, and you need shit to happen there, and this would work well there, the more tight-assed and self-confident the society the better the Nightmares will pop.

The Bad

It would take almost as much work to run it as-written as it took Johnstone to make it, except he made it slowly in his head, through play, where all the many, many decision trees and dice mechanics made sense because they grew from his experience, you will have to absorb all of this in one go.

There are a lot of highly-interacting rules systems, some of them quite abstracted (for an OSR game), many using entirely different dice mechanics, if you like highly cohesive systems I can see you liking this for its completeness and interconnectivity but also possibly hating it for its “irrational” design and the multiplicity of its parts.

It’s over-complicated, unless you like that, in which case it’s just capacious and detailed, or unless you were going to hack it anyway, in which case it’s just good fuel

The admirable.

It’s an impressive and well-created thing for even a publisher to make, for one guy it is truly a heroic effort.

The writing has a range of qualities, as stated above, but I found the good more than worth the bad.

The godamnn Lulu dust cover warps like the fucking Enterprise so I had to take it off to read it, but it still looks a bit classy and mysterious underneath so maybe the hot girl on the train will think you are reading experimental eastern European fiction. It nearly is experimental fiction.

Lulu won’t deliver to the UK from the UK storefront, but if you log into the US storefront you can order to a non-US address. You can also wait until you get a Lulu code to bring down the price.

Here is RPG.NOW

and here is LULU

Here is the whole thing (bar the illustrations) FREEEEEE