Story of the Eye

What to do when you’ve been rewriting the same three hundred words over and over for five days? Why, skive off and read roleplaying supplements, of course.

Dreamhounds of Paris so far suits my artistic sensibility and sense of what a roleplaying game should be it’s actually slightly frightening. The real question is whether I’d most want to play Antonin Artaud or Georges Bataille. Or “Sex Hitler” (p115). There’s no way I’d be able to resist the impulse to introduce the Chance and Resolution cards from Itras By into the Dreamlands.

Work and childcare commitments meant that we were obliged to suspend our Bookhounds of London campaign until one of our number is able to return but I’m hoping to get back to Trail of Cthulhu at some point. Until then, my yearning to enter the shared imagined space of the Dreamlands exists only as a not-space of abysmal negation. Dialling up otherworldly assistance is probably a bad idea.




Her head, with its handsome and austere mask teetering ponderously on the bull-like pillar of her neck, was as big and as black as Marx’ head in Highgate Cemetery; her face had the stern, democratic beauty of a figure on a pediment in the provincial square of a people’s republic and she wore a false beard of crisp, black curls like the false beard Queen Hatshepsut of the Two Kingdoms had worn. She was fully clothed in obscene nakedness; she was breasted like a sow – she possessed two tiers of nipples, the result (Sophia would tell me, to my squeamish horror) of a strenuous programme of grafting, so that, in theory, she could suckle four babies at one time. And how gigantic her limbs were! Her ponderous feet were heavy enough to serve as illustrations of gravity, her hands, the shape of giant fig leaves, lay at rest on the bolsters of her knees. Her skin, wrinkled like the skin of a black olive, rucked like a Greek peasant’s goatskin bottle, looked as rich as though it might contain within itself the source of a marvellous, dark, revivifying river, as if she herself were the only oasis in this desert and her crack the source of all the life-giving water in the world.

Her statuesque and perfect immobility implied the willed repose of the greatest imaginable physical strength. The sweetness of her regard implied such wisdom that I knew, at first sight, there was no way in which I could show her my virility that would astonish her. Before this overwhelming woman, the instrument that dangled from my belly was useless. It was nothing but a decorative appendage attached there in a spirit of frivolity by the nature whose terrestrial representation she had, of her own free will, become. Since I had no notion how to approach her with it, she rendered it insignificant; I must deal with her on her own terms. Although her arms were the paradigm of mothering, the offered me no refuge; that women are consolation is a man’s dream. Her fringe of breasts allowed me no place where I could lay my head – they were not meant for my comfort, only for nourishment, and was I not a full-grown man?

And in that belly, rich as a thousand harvests, there was no treacherous oblivion for me for, at birth, I’d lost all right of re-entry into the womb. I was exiled from Nirvana forever, and, faced with the concrete essence of woman, I was at my wit’s end how to behave. I could not imagine what giant being might couple with her; she was a piece of pure nature, she was earth, she was fructification.

I had reached journey’s end as a man. I knew, then, that I was among the Mothers; I experienced the pure terror of Faust.

And she had made herself! Yes, made herself! She was her own mythological artefact; she had reconstructed her flesh painfully, with knives and with needles, into a transcendental form as an emblem, as an example, and flung a patchwork quilt stitched from her daughters’ breasts over the cathedral of her interior, the cave within the cave.

I was at a shrine.

She spoke.

Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve (1977)


Dog-Faced Boy

They arrived at Itra-Troll on a tandem bicycle.

Dog-faced boy Rex Barker drew Mysterious Data, which manifested as a large bullfrog narrating a string of words concerning secret assignations with cat-people. Bowler-hatted accountant Algernon McGinty, meanwhile, drew Dead Lover, whereupon ex-wife Dolores appeared complete with imprecations at the gloom. The pair electrocuted Prokor Lem, fought The Archaeomancer, Pamela and fled from wooden robot Varvara-6 before drawing Bisociation for the collective dream of the Scientific Order of Itra-Troll, followed by Pseudoscience (4: Psychosexuality) and Ferrous Brocade, thereby discovering that the scientists were fuelling the research station’s dreaming machines by furious orgiastic confabulation. Algernon made good his escape by revealing (from under his hat) the only remaining piece of ingenuity left to him by the Machine God’s creativity-sapping lamp-posts. Rex remained on the station to help Varvara-6 with her efforts. He does not regret his choice.

Next, Mystic Nigel’s Circular Time Tepee sets forth in DayTrippers.




Luke Cage

“Luke, I am your brother” may not have quite the same cultural resonance as “Luke, I am your father” but the former phrase, spoken to eponymous protagonist Luke Cage (Colter) in episode eight of this seminal Superhero series, performs a similar function to that of the famous line spoken by Darth Vader at the denouement of Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980): it exchanges the Inner Space and emotional turmoil of its protagonist for the society-wide threat posed by a dominant ideology too pernicious to be left unchecked. Both Lukes, Cage and Skywalker, must decipher the buried truths of their family set-ups in order to repair the deep-seated divisions in the culture to which they belong:-

Luke Cage





Intrepid Histories: Disease of the Heart

Gazing on such wonderful sights, we did not know what to say, or whether what appeared before us was real, for on one side, on the land, there were great cities, and in the lake ever so many more, and the lake itself was crowded with canoes, and in the Causeway were many bridges at intervals, and in front of us stood the great City of Mexico, and we – we did not number four hundred soldiers!

Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Conquistador

John Keyworth’s game Intrepid Histories is in external playtesting and it’s easy, graceful and rewarding to play.

First we created Divergences for the world in which our version of the Conquest of Mexico (1519-21) was set:-

  1. Animals have the gift of language.
  2. Aliens have previously visited the Aztecs.
  3. Birdpeople of the Mexican isthmus use the thermals of nearby volcanoes to fly.

We chose to add two characters each to the base characters of Hernán Cortés, Doña Marina and Montezuma – this is many more characters than a game of Intrepid Histories really needs, but we were going for the grand sweep of history and a large supporting cast – and narrated a vignette for each of the characters we introduced.

I added the historical character of Pedro de Alvarado – called ‘Tonatio’ or ‘He Who Brings the Day’ by the Mexica (Aztecs) for his shock of red hair – to the ranks of the Conquistadors and Tlillancalqui or ‘The Keeper of the House of Darkness’ to the notables of Tenochtitlan, a bird-priest with whom it very quickly emerged that Cortés had been exchanging secret messages. Simon introduced Geromino de Aguilar, a Conquistador from a previous expedition kept as a slave by local Maya since 1511, and “Il Dottore”, an alcoholic veterinarian from the Spanish colonies in the Italian peninsula. Space Monkey went for Father Sebastio de Huscalia, a pyromaniac priest who was Confessor to Cortés, and Antatechapachtli or “He Who Speaks with Ants”, a Mexican with enormous ears who acted as diplomat for Montezuma.

The game proceeded from here with hardly a break in the flow over about two hours for the three of us. Father Sebastio burned mutineers, heretics and passers-by with equal abandon, Doña Marina stabbed Geromino de Aguilar in the back for trying to warn the Tlaxcalans of Cortés’ forthcoming betrayal at a wedding feast and Antatechapachtli sent pictographic processions of ants back and forth in such a way as to cause the animals to intercede in the Conquest of Mexico. We were both enlivened by the history and utterly surprised by the outcome of the game. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Previous Drafts

I added four historical events to John’s four-act structure and, much as I’m emotionally attached to the events at Tlaxcala and Cholula during the real-world Conquest, I’ll very likely do away with those and bookend the scenario with the first and last events: Cortés burning his ships to put down a mutiny and the Siege of Tenochtitlan itself. Our siege ended with Aztecs and Conquistadors fighting back-to-back in a losing battle against the insurgency of the animals.

Next, onto the surreal landscapes of Itras By and DayTrippers.


Society Intact

The guys enjoyed Dream Askew. Once we’d accepted we were going to allude to rather than demonstrate some of the game’s deeper themes – one of us is bi, two of us are straight and we all identify our genders with our sex – and that the clear demarcation between “Situations” was a formality rather than a practice of play, we really got into the freeform nature of the game. Next time we play we’ll spend more time during set-up working up some strong motivations for our Characters.

Next, a playtest for John Keyworth’s Intrepid Histories.