Sunday, May 27, 2018

Galli As Character Class

I hate clerics, they make no sense. Or at least: they make no sense to me and pinning their magical abilities to level rather than faith doesn't make sense (since level is a measure of worldly experience not devotion). I also dislike that ecclesiastical hierarchy is implied by levels (why is the highest ranking in church hierarchy attained by adventuring? Why would an organized and established religion have mendicant priests going about doing odd jobs?). To rectify this:
  1. Clerics should be drawn from atypical religious practice 
  2. For religious reasons they are wandering around
  3. Their abilities should be mechanically linked to their adherence to religious behavior
  4. Their cult may be popular but being a traveling mystic is always somewhat strange
 I like the way several systems have you doing weirdo religious stuff so your god will listen to you (Logan Knight's homebrew mystic class, Mateo Diaz Torres' Pernicious Albion has Warlocks, The Cultist class in Johnstone Metzger's The Nightmares Underneath & Zzarchov Kowolski's Neoclassical Geek Revival Piety mechanic [as I understand it]). Having weird and powerful enough deity justifies following weird taboos and being a vagrant that tries to convert more worshipers to the fold. Exemplary of this are the Galli, as a historical curiosity (and occasional conversation piece in the 'is this a proto-trans population' debates): castrated followers of Attis the divine consort of Cybele.

[NB: I am taking a bunch of creative liberties to make this somewhat workable]

Who are they: castrated individuals[1] who dress in luxurious robes, attractive headgear (crowns, laurel wreathes, or Phrygian caps) and excessive makeup. Their hair is long and their features feminine. They have knives, bronze shields, and tympanum and dance ecstatically. They are preceded by frenzied music and wafts of heady incense. They bear a representation of their goddess atop a donkey. They perform for money. Because of the edict against castration of a citizen, they are drawn from the ranks of low born and foreigners. Sometimes they practice sacred prostitution. The object of equal measures of scorn and religious awe.

Why are they: they wander around and perform blessings (a shield dance over newborns, blessing crops to be fertile as Attis represents the life-death-rebirth cycle of crops) and tell fortunes. The actual operations of the cult are opaque (it is, after all, a mystery cult).

Domains: the boundary between life and death, the wild (particularly birds of prey and lions), frenzied dancing, mountains and stones in general. In chthonic ritual practice can contact an ancient race of smiths/magicians who can work metal, teach the secrets of mathematics and literacy and bestow magic; they will also witness oaths and bind them. 

Ways of winning divine favor: Convert followers to worship, observe the holy week of Attis being pledged to Cybele, being castrated, dying and being reborn, make a sacrifice of a ram to Attis (Criobolium) or a bull to Cybele (Taurbolium), ritually sacrifice the testicles of a potent animal, observe minor holidays organized around the import of Cybele's worship. Flagellation and frenzy demonstrating devotion. Give solid agricultural advice in line with the religious calendar.

What are their powers: Lions will not attack them (so long as they are playing divine music) and can potentially be commanded (birds of prey are the same), they can make things fertile, they can communicate with powers under the earth to learn the art of metallurgy, magic, mathematics or literacy, they can shape stone and commune with the dead. They can perform a shield dance and enter a battle frenzy.

How is one initiated: the only requirement is the devotion necessary to castrate oneself in a fit of divine madness during the 'Day of Blood' (March 24) in symbolic mourning for the temporary death of Attis. Then you become a mendicant priest and perform for the glory of Attis & Cybele.

[1] Galli are in various sources referred to with masculine pronouns, feminine pronouns and 3rd gender pronouns sometimes pegged to if they have castrated themselves.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Cult of Aesthete Assassins

"People begin to see that something more goes to the composition of a fine murder than two blockheads to kill and be killed—a knife—a purse—and a dark lane. Design, gentleman, grouping, light and shade, poetry, sentiment, are now deemed indispensable to attempts of this nature.... To sketch the history of the art, and to examine its principles critically, now remains as a duty for the connoisseur"
—Thomas de Quincey, "On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts"
 
The Cult of Aesthete Assassins is the vulgar way of referring to The Society for Exquisite Excision. They are less a cohesive artistic school—let alone a guild of assassins as it is generally understoodthan an assortment of artistically inclined individuals—including theorists, critics and patrons—who view murder as a legitimate compliment/component to the other fine arts. A common confusion is that they only commit murder for hire; rather, there are as many rationales as there are methods of dispatch. Among the variegated rationales are:
  •  the aesthetic contemplation of the act of murder
  • the attempt to beautify the world as an act of aesthetic philanthropy 
  • to preserve the legacy of an artist by killing them 
  • an attempt to intuit some transcendent principle or experience through the act of murder
  •  the use of body as medium for artistic expression
  • a means of experiencing the sublime
  • the scandalous/audacious (and importantly, attention grabbing) nature of murder as art
  • an expression of criticism
  • ennui
  • debt
  • inspiration
  • establishing a legacy
  • showmanship
  • pursuit of arete  
Despite their sanguinary pursuits, the primarily concerns are artistic debate, discussion, criticism, curation, manifesto writing, squabbling, feuding and cultivating the artist-as-product to accrue patronage. 

The cost to acquire the services of one is extremely variable and prone to numerous whims including if the artist is concerned with working on a particular type of person (only Countess' of a certain age, Men on the night of their wedding, ornithologists, philosophers, the beautiful) or with a particularly expensive medium in addition to the cost of having them produce the body (marble, gold, ivory, jade, porcelain, rare pigments [ultramarine blue, annatto, cochineal, Dragon's Blood, etc.] and so on) and fueling the vices and muses of the artist necessary for inspired work. 

Hiring one is as simple as joining their salon circle, getting their attention, and convincing them to take you on as a patron—it helps if they have a masterpiece they need more money to finish or they have creditors on their heels. It also sometimes helps to get them intoxicated first. It also helps if you suggest you have received a bid from their more successful rival.

What is a typical Aesthete Assassin Like?
There are no typical Aesthete Assassins, the work of art is a singular production. It is hyperbolic to claim there is nothing that can be generalized about Aesthete Assassins but they are extravagant (both in cost and final product) and the extravagance is part of their individual charm.

Almost Insentient, Almost Divine: regardless of the aesthetic principles embraced, as a rule Aesthete Assassins are always without fail very intentionally dressed. They may adopt some strange minimalism of wearing all black and painting their face chalk white—but in that case they spent hours perfecting the shade. They may appear disheveled but there are hours in front of a mirror capturing the exact ways in which they appear unkempt. They may wear impractical, expensive and gaudy fashions but they will often wear it only once because otherwise it loses its impact. The same goes for their personal appearance: regardless of what they have decided is the properly embodied aesthetic for them (perfect muscular symmetry, scarification to highlight portions of their body, elaborate tattooing, intentionally marring their appearance for juxtaposition) it is the product of studious contemplation and the relentless application of cosmetics, management of diet and exercise and selective use of whatever enhancement is available. The artist is an integral part of the work of art. This is reflected not only by their embodiment but also by their commitment to conspicuous consumption.

[consult Elizabeth Amann's Dandyism in the Age of Revolution: The Art of the Cut for inspiration if you like, or just look at weird avant garde fashions].

The fortuitous encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table: Aesthete Assassins have, functionally, subsumed all moral questions as questions of aesthetics and therefore spend most of their time contemplating aesthetics, debating the meaning and value of art with each other, justifying the enormous cost of their masterpiece and pursuing an extremely personal commitment to the aesthetic. To anyone outside of the system of aesthetic considerations guiding their behavior, they often seem arbitrary, addled and chaotic—what possible justification is there for bejeweling a tortoise to death? to mutilating the wings of 27 peacocks to create an exacting tableaux before setting them ablaze? to throwing expensive bottles of champagne into the ocean? 

[À rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans has some excellent ideas about interior decoration and personal aesthetic vision].

Luxury Problems: Aesthete Assassins would rather starve than consume an inferior meal, freeze to death rather than wear an unfashionable coat and have a tendency towards expensive addictionsespecially ones that increase aesthetic appreciation. Common addictions include: hashish, opium, absinthe (with active wormwood), mandrake, nightshade, belladonna, nicotine, snuff and whatever is currently the most fashionable and new substance. Periodic reminder that for real there was a whole heroin chic thing around having tuberculosis, like it was considered a romantic disease (run with that).

Art is Hard: Aesthete Assassins struggle with the doubled vexation of wishing to be widely recognized for their craft, while also maintaining the quality of their works. Many rely on a host of interns and assistants [think Damien Hirst]. They also go through creative slumps, feel uninspired, feel required to exceed their last great work, or struggle with being hired on by provincial clients whose tastes are dull and pedestrian. This is why they have salons, in order to both vent about the narrow vision of their employers and criticize each other to even greater heights—also there is usually free food and drink.

The Medium is the Message (or some suggestions for Aesthetic Assassin mediums)
"whilst the portrait painter often has to complain of too much torpor in his subject, the artist, in our line, is generally embarrassed by too much animation"

Ceramics: Bone china can be produced using the target, possibly make them witness the conversion of their favorite hand into a teacup. Then utilize it in an elaborate tea service (the tea is poisoned; the poisons timed to the service).

Gastronomy: Obviously one can prepare and cook another human being in a variety of ways. On top of Hannibal, I would suggest The Cannibal's Guide to Ethical Living (Mykle Hansen) for a completely different take on the aesthete cannibal. Preparing a meal out of someone—even a sumptuous meal—can get repetitive. Gourmand Assassins also specialize in making foods that highlights being poisoned and still are irresistible (Fugu, Ackee, Cassava are all poisonous and popularly eaten).

Music: The obvious answer is using human derived catgut to string any number of instruments (a harp, violin, cello, etc.)—obvious answers are boring [gut strings are also used in some tennis racquets]. There are a lot of contemporary musicians that use bone derived instruments: Eraldo Bernocci [Obake/BLACKWOOD], Adel Souto [156], Christopher Juul [Heilung], and Michael DeWitt [Zero Kama]. Historically the Kangling (Tibetan horn made from a human femur) is used in ritual practice, Damaru (a kind of two headed drum) have been made from human skulls, there is a pretty cool Lyre made from antelope horns and a human skull in the Met.

Additional Arts (because otherwise this will go on forever): bodies can be taxadermied (including with flensed elements for aesthetic appreciation; think paintings by Bacon) which can also translate into an art installation or be inventively posed for depiction in another medium, skin can be tattooed, flayed off and made into a garment or canvas, the act of murder can be a performance (utilizing elements of mime, theater of cruelty, theater of the absurd, etc.). You can almost certainly do various sorts of printmaking using a human corpse. Various sorts of bone carving are among the earliest forms of art, scrimshaw is a very particular style. Andres Serrano (among many others) used a wide variety of bodily fluids in his compositions ["Piss Christ" is just well known]. These all can be done in conjunction.

There are probably many more I am not thinking of.

Suggested Reading:
Thomas de Quincey, "On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts"
Patrick Suskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Hannibal (TV series)
Maria Tatar, Lustmord: Sexual Murder in Wiemar Germany
Marcel Duchamp, "The Creative Act" 
T.S. Eliot, "Tradition and Individual Talent"
Ina Blom, "Boredom and Oblivion"
Johnathan Harris, Art, Money, Parties: New Institutions in the Political Economy of Contemporary Art 
Anything by Antonin Artaud, Georges Bataille, Gilles Deleuze.
Anything about the Vienna Actionists.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Frostbitten and Mutilated: An Assortment of Hot Takes

This was originally a text document I was dumping hot takes in and I realized how 
tedious it would be to actually copy and paste everything. I probably will write a real 
review sometime (and I couldn't help myself and responded to some of my own 
Goofus-y hot takes).

Goofus Take: D&D is intrinsically colonialist, therefore Frostbitten & Mutilated 
(F&M) is a supplementthat expands the scope of colonial thinking within the 
OSR.

Rejoinder: Only if much of the actual content of colonialism (such as forcible religious 
conversion, the destruction of sacred sites, the construction of racial codes and laws 
delineating lesser and servile "rights" (if any) for the colonized; alongside the mass 
plunder of goods through compelled labor and enslavement) is disregarded?

Goofus Take: If not colonialist, the assumptions of the game are capitalist; these games 
promote acquiescence to capitalism!

Rejoinder: I don’t think anyone has really done complex economic modeling within RPGs 
(although Hot Springs Island does suggest the mass introduction of wealth into the world 
economy will have destabilizing effects). Prices are fixed (or sometimes there are 
adjustments for certain circumstances), goods are generic and relatively the same 
throughout the world, I don’t think that stock, credit, and complex financial mechanisms 
are either promoted or included in play because that would involve backending a lot of 
math? But also this is mistaking “gold/silver as xp mechanism and measure of 
accomplishment” with “gold/silver as intrinsic good.”

Goofus Take: Well black metal is a fascist genre so the game is fascist.

Rejoinder: Only if you go with a really particular read of Lords of Chaos and believe Varg/
Burzum is of singular importance to the existence of Black Metal. There is also quite a 
bit of Red and Anarchist Black Metal.

Goofus Refusal to Give Up: Varg has an RPG! Raggi said he would hire him! Burzum is
 darkness in Tolkien's old speech and this is somehow meaningful!

Rejoinder: Yeah, Varg is a colossal nerd with a non-OSR RPG that hasn’t picked up 
much of a fan base—although it sells as a curiosity the same way paintings by serial 
killers do. Fun fact (discovered by Claire): Burzum’s “Burzum (Dunkelheit)” straight up 
PLAGIARIZED the lines “When night falls, she cloaks the world in inpenetrable (sic) 
darkness. A chill rises from the soil and contaminates the air. Suddenly ‘breathtaking’ 
beauty has a new meaning” from Realm of Terror (1990) a Ravenloft supplement. 
NEVER have I wanted to bully an overrated musician more.

Goofus Take: ‘Amazons’ is cissexist because Zak does not rule on if trans women 
can be Amazons
&
Goofus Take: ‘Amazons’ is an attack on the reality of women because Zak doesn’t
 in text exclude trans women

Rejoinder: Maybe those rulings are best kept to the GM? I mean, Raggi defines a woman
in LotFP (if we take Vaginas Are Magic as word of god) as “someone (or something…) 
able to be impregnated and carry a child to term” (Raggi 2017, 6). This excludes 
adolescent, infertile and post-menopausal cis women as women (as a corollary that 
Raggi acknowledges). The follow up is that parasites qualify as pregnancy; so, yes, if 
yourun Alien everyone is a woman. Since rules are meant to be broken, disregarded and 
discarded: I assume Zak is leaving it up to individual GMs? He’s free to write an official 
ruling.

MOVING INTO THE ACTUAL BOOK

Goofus Take: The “Y” in “I Search the Body” blends into the r in “forgetting dust”; Zak 
clearly should surrender his awards because this is terrible design.

Goofus Take: Zak dedicates F&M to Cookie Corey and wrote about barbarian women; 
however, rather than promoting women, Zak is stealing the spotlight from women in 
RPGs

Rejoinder: There really should be more women making RPGs (I really liked “Gardens 
of Ynn” by Emmy Allen & it is probably the next thing I will write about when I am clear
of deadlines). It doesn’t follow that Zak is somehow stealing the spotlight by making
RPGs (and this claim is usually made by performatively left dudes who want 
their product to be fixated on?)

Goofus Take: Zak makes a joke about the cultural appropriation of Nordic cultures; 
clearly this is because he thinks cultural appropriation is a joke.

Goofus take: The background (pg 8) and the culture of the Amazons implies that 
Zak believes without men, women are incapable of culture.

Rejoinder: I probably am not the person to answer this because I’m into Monique 
Wittig and the Amazons society is appealing to me.

Goofus Take: The GM advice promotes adversarial GMing.

Rejoinder: Challenge =/= adversarial; if an area is supposed to be a howling white waste 
full of deadly things it makes no sense to play it soft? (also half the advice is don’t be a 
jackass at the table? But sure selective reading works?)

Goofus Take: The “Appendix N” doesn’t feature enough female fronted bands!

Rejoinder: Female fronted isn’t a genre? I would probably make a mix of Lotus Thief, 
Myrkur, Bolt Thrower, Mares of Thrace, and Wolves in the Throne Room (or Boreal, 
Leech, or similar) maybe some Ash Borer, Oathbreaker or Harakiri for the Sky. YMMV, 
but I think it is a solid list? (and my choices are def not all black metal let alone TRVE).

Goofus Take: some of the pagination (ex pg 16) gets lost by the artwork and shows 
sloppy copy-editing, it is unprofessional!

Goofus Take: Everything in this book would kill my PCs! Zak clearly likes his creations
too much & wants them to destroy your PCs party!

Rejoinder: Git Gud

Goofus Take: It is unclear if you need to kill all five heads of Nidhoggr or if killing one is 
sufficient

Goofus Take: Many species of owls (17% to be exact) are endangered (and 11% of 
species are near threatened, 2% are extinct); the description of owls as linguistic 
parasites encourages the harm of an endangered species.

Goofus Take: The Pearlholders are the thing Zak does where he snipes at critics (like the 
Cannibal Critics in Maze of the Blue Medusa) which is petty.

Goofus Take: Zak’s fascination with snakes evidences that he is a Scaly (and some
weird conjecture from there that implies this is inherently evil).

Goofus Take: Snow Leopards were only recently moved from “endangered” to 
“threatened” and Zak seeks to encourage PCs to murder them (in real life) with his
bestiary entry.

Goofus Take: The witches (Frost, Thorn, Dread) are recycled from Zak’s 2009 one shot 
dungeon Wolves in the Throne Room [and the three Perfect Sisters from Maze of the 
Blue Medusa]; Zak is coasting and/or lazy.

Goofus Take: Wolves are an important part of ecosystems and largely endangered or 
extirpated and Zak encourages killing them (and probably supports shooting them from 
aerial observation).

Goofus Take: Worms is formatted so Speed: Negligible / Armor: 10 appears as Speed/  
Negligible Armor: 10 and I am too stupid to figure out how this should be understood
despite writing this hot take.

Goofus Take: The “Groundhog Day” conceit is railroading and anti-sandbox design.

Goofus Take: The Dim Fortress is too linear.

Rejoinder: Tack some extra rooms on and mess with the floor plan but not the order? I 
think the ostensible point is that the Dungeon is a hugely foreboding place that is 
absolutely not supposed to be a megadungeon because of the ticking clock and the fact
that every combat in the damn place is pretty deadly so why bother with spreading it 
thin?

Goofus Take: The Sevenfold Tower is some narrativist indie game bullshit—it is totally 
designed for the sort of people who would rather act than face challenges.

Goofus Take: The Witch and Amazon classes are just repeats of the Alice class from
Red and Pleasant Land; Zak is a contemptuously lazy one trick pony who thinks repeating
the same design over and over again entitles him to celebrity and awards.

Works Cited:
Raggi IV, James Edward. 2017. Vaginas are Magic. Lamentations of the Flame Princess. 
Finland.

Smith, Zak. 2018. Frostbitten & Mutilated. Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Finland.