Shared posts

10 Dec 18:28

stickybeak: Word of the Day

stickybeak: a busybody; meddler.
10 Dec 18:27

UI Change

I know they said this change is permanent, but surely when they hear how much we're complaining someone will find a way to change things back.
10 Dec 18:24

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Irrational


I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry.

New comic!
Today's News:
10 Dec 18:20

An Old Reader Reader Testifies


Recently, we asked you to drop an email to telling us a little about why you use RSS, how long you’ve been using the Old Reader, and 5 feeds that you think other people in our community will love. We’ve gotten a ton of great feedback, and as promised, here’s one of our readers, talking about how the Old Reader fits her life. So, without any more windup, here is Lindsey Hoffman, who blogs at and explains why the Old Reader is important to her.

Back in the early days of the blogosphere,  I used to maintain a bookmarked list of blogs and webcomics to click on every week. As a librarian and an insatiably curious human, I found far more sites of interest than I could keep track of this way. RSS came to my rescue, first in the form of Bloglines (probably around 2004), then Google Reader. The collapse of GReader was the end of an era for me, and I still miss the camaraderie I found there. But after carefully examining my options, I concluded The Old Reader did the best job of replacing the functionality I had come to rely on, and I’m still very happy with it.

RSS gives me information in a way that is easy to manage and personalize. Where social media like Facebook and Tumblr provide an endless chaotic flow of input of dubious validity, RSS allows me to curate my reading around things that matter to me, and organize it in such a way that I can go directly to serious matter or fun fluff, depending on what I have energy for. The Old Reader makes this organization easy, and I find it pairs nicely with Instapaper when I want to read a long article in a friendlier font.

I’m no longer a librarian, but I’m still insatiably curious. I use RSS to keep up with blogs and Tumblrs of friends far and near, tech news, Etsy shops, music, FDA recalls, authors I admire, PostSecret, social justice issues, and doings in my former home of Portland, Oregon… and a lot more. Anytime I want to learn more about something – tiny houses, intentional communities, healthy cooking, Ubuntu Linux, the perspectives of people different from myself – I find myself a blog or two, plug it into The Old Reader, and get informed at a pace that works for me.

Not everyone experiences the internet in the same way. For me, it’s all about the words, about finding and sharing ideas through good writing. If you’re a word person too, here are five feeds you might enjoy:


Prague Race -
A beautifully drawn, wonderfully strange Finnish fantasy webcomic by Petra Erika Nordlund.



Said the Gramophone -
An old-skool MP3blog from 2003, StG offers MP3s of diverse genres, along with writing inspired by the music. I came for the free music and stayed for the writing, which inspires me to think about and experience music in different ways.



Project 562 Blog -
Matika Wilbur, a photographer of Swinomish and Tulalip heritage, is documenting all 562 Native tribes of the United States. Her interviews, articles, photos, and video provide a glimpse into the pride, beauty, struggles, and vision of this often-stereotyped population.



Idle Words -
Maciej Cegłowski (founder of travels around the world having amazing adventures and misadventures. Occasionally, he posts very long essays about his experiences, which are always packed with fascinating facts, dry wit, and a little whining. I usually start them thinking “I can’t believe how long this is,” and finish them thinking “Wow, I’m so glad I read that!”



Ursula K. Le Guin: New on the Website -
We are lucky to have sci-fi and fantasy author Ursula Le Guin still among us. This venerable Portlander still blogs intermittently, though her posts are fewer these days due to health issues. Her site is managed by someone else, and the mechanics of its feed are a little wonky and indirect, but it’s worth it to get updates on and from this literary legend.


07 Dec 23:32

mansuetude: Word of the Day

mansuetude: mildness; gentleness.
06 Dec 21:50

campanology: Word of the Day

campanology: the principles or art of making bells, bell ringing, etc.
29 Nov 13:46

toggery: Word of the Day

toggery: clothes; garments; togs.
27 Nov 14:20

heartsease: Word of the Day

heartsease: peace of mind.
26 Nov 01:01

The Second Coming – Part II By TeraS

by TeraS

Continuing on my October/Halloween story today… You can find Part One here on the Tale if you’d like to catch up on things…

The perception of good—or evil, for that matter—can be very dependent on what one’s perspective is. Horns, tails, and so on aren’t always what they represent. Sometimes they are, however. The thing that is the most difficult is being able to tell the difference when it matters. Beyond that, sometimes the choice made matters more, even if one cannot see it at the time.


The Second Coming
Part II
By TeraS


There are some that say getting there is half the fun, that the journey is more important than the destination. In fact, there are a lot of sayings which refer to the important aspects of traveling and that one should remember them fondly. As the airplane touched down on the runway, Cleo found herself mulling those thoughts over in her mind, if for no other reason than to distract herself from the flight she had shared with Mandy, time spent being more intimate with her than anyone Cleo had ever been with before. Save for … him.

His words still haunted her dreams sometimes. Damn him to hell, even if he was there already.

She shivered at the unbidden thoughts and looked across the aisle to where Mandy was sleeping, the screech of the tires not waking her up, nor the roar of the engines as they slowed the jet down. Reflecting on the past hours and what happened between them, Cleo didn’t quite understand exactly what pushed Mandy, why she felt this was the time to say what she did, what had made her say those three words:

“I love you.”

Cleo knew this, had known it for a long time, if she was being honest with herself. But she also had to be honest in other ways. Mandy was much younger, or perhaps it was better to say that Cleo was far older. The difference would make any real relationship awkward at best, impossible at worst.

Mandy remained blissfully unaware of Cleo’s thoughts. She curled up under a thin blanket, laying across some folded down seats in an impromptu bed of sorts. Cleo smiled a bit at the angelic expression that her apprentice showed as she cuddled around a pillow.

She wasn’t quite an angel on the flight over. No, that wasn’t the right thing to say. Nor was what Cleo had to explain to Mandy:

“You need someone better than me.”

It wasn’t the truth. She knew that. Mandy did, as well, she suspected, because it didn’t stop Mandy from what happened in the middle of the night, somewhere over the Atlantic.

Thank God for small mercies.

Looking at the sealed case which had accompanied her, as it rested on the floor, the question was if she’d be able to make good on her bravado and contain the succubus. Hopefully the answers were in the case.

The lights of the taxiway streamed by, flashing on and off as Cleo looked out the window. Was she ready for this? Could she do what was necessary? A cough from Mandy crystallized her thoughts.

Yes, because there was no other way.

Rubbing sleep from her eyes, Mandy mumbled: “Hey.”

“Sleep okay?”

“Oh … good enough.” The red head—when did her hair get so red?—waved her pillow: “Need a better pillow, though.”

She knew what was coming next, but fell into the trap anyway: “Too lumpy.”

“I like your lumps.”

Turning away, Cleo started to gather her things, trying to hide a light blush as she did so. Mandy had pressed herself against the window and was regarding the scene outside: “So, where to first?”

“Need to pay respects to officials in the diocese that reported this. Then we should go and talk to the pastor involved before getting to … her.”

The plane came to a stop, the engines spooling down in the next moment as the main door was opened from the outside. Mandy considered things, but then offered: “How about you go and deal with the diocese and I’ll go and talk to the pastor. I’ll meet you at the hotel after.”

“Any particular reason?”

Mandy’s answer was to point at her T-shirt: “I’m not exactly dressed for the occasion. You, however, look boring, and I’m sure they’ll love that.”

Cleo peered through her glasses: “Probably right; they’re not expecting you either.”

Mandy smiled.

“But you’re only going to see the pastor, nothing else; right?”

“Of course.”

“Miranda …”

She rolled her eyes: “Fine. I promise I won’t go and do something stupid.”

Nodding, for really there was nothing else that she could do, Cleo gathered her things and left the plane a moment later. Mandy watched from the airplane window as Cleo was driven off to her meeting.

As Cleo’s car vanished out of sight, the cockpit door opened and one of the pilots asked: “Need anything, Miss?”

Mandy had the oddest look as she slung her backpack over her shoulder and made her way out: “Oh, lots of things. But I’m working on them.”

The pilot watched her walking towards the terminal building until she was called by the other pilot about an issue. By the time she looked back, Mandy had vanished.

The drive to the diocesan office was uneventful. Cleo really not paying much attention as she looked through the file and reminded herself, several times, that she was here to make friends and influence enemies. The sigh at not having Miranda there was a long one. Like most bureaucracies, the diocese ran on its own schedule, and she found herself sitting in a reasonably comfortable waiting room for her turn to pay respects and get her marching orders. While she had left many of her things with the driver, she had retained the sealed case with her in case she needed it.

Pushing her glasses up into place, she hoped not to.

“Sister? If you would?”

Moments later Cleo had been ushered in and found herself on the other side of a dark oak desk being stared at.

“Hello, your Grace.”

“We find ourselves in a trying time, Sister. If what this seems to be is correct, it must not be allowed to become public knowledge.”

As if that was the real problem here. “Of course. I shall endeavour to be discreet.”

“Do you require anything?”

Prayers would be nice. Some divine help even better. “I have what I need. What remains is finding where she is, confronting her and putting an end to this.”

“I see. Should you have need of something, contact me directly.” In other words, don’t call me unless it’s dire.

“As you wish, your Grace. Is there any new information you can give me?”

He gestured to a small stack of papers: “That is all we know about the possessed herself. There are some new photographs—shocking. She remains attached to the apartment building.”

As Cleo looked through the papers, her mind reviewed what she had been told was to be her fate so long ago. To build a nest, fill it with devoted lemmings, then use them to open the gates and draw … that … to the Earth.

It seemed like the succubus was starting the process, but she didn’t have everything she needed. Thankfully, that wasn’t going to happen; the nun had left what the incubus had gathered in the catacombs.

But it could still be a trap, and she was the one going into it.

Cleo half-listened to the bishop going on, but her focus was on the photograph of a young woman attached to a summary of her life—Miss Ordinary more than anything else. She seemed nice, all things considered. The diocesan staff had managed to come up with a lot of detail on her: from a small town, small family, no relationships known of, excelled in college—was interested in archaeology, no less—and was working as an assistant to the National Museum before this all happened.

Cleo pursed her lips as she turned the page over and looked at what she had become: “Damn.”


Cleo’s eyes broke from the page: “Sorry, your Grace. Just … surprised as to her transformation.”

“It is … severe.”

You mean that she’s attractive. “Yes.”

Cleo looked at the succubus: “Not my type Thank God.” Stuffing the papers into her case, her eyes returned to her: “Is there anything else, your Grace?”

“No, I think we’re done here. Please keep me informed.”

She gathered her belongings: “Of course.”

Soon after, Cleo was on her way to the hotel to meet Miranda, hoping against hope that her apprentice didn’t do something stupid.

It had taken Mandy some time to locate the pastor involved. She had even taken the time to make herself look more presentable along the way, trading in her tempting look for Cléophée for something somewhat less sexy. While the jeans weren’t riding so low on her hips and there wasn’t any tummy being shown, the T-shirt still had a saying on it: “Give me cuddles”.

The church was, truly, one of the most beautiful places Mandy had ever seen. Lovely grounds; she especially loved the rose bushes dotted about the landscaping. There was a warmth, a joy that she felt the further she walked into this domain. The redhead, her hair in a scrunchie, had loved the little sign near the walkway leading towards her destination: “He could walk on water. Please walk on the grass.” So, of course, Mandy did so with delight. She had just reached the steps leading to the main building when her attention was diverted.

“Welcome! What brings you here on this fine day?”

Mandy turned towards the person greeting her and found herself in the presence of a kind gentleman with sparkling blue eyes.

“I’m looking for the pastor.”

“It would seem you have found him.”

He offered his hand in greeting and she didn’t hesitate to shake it, even with the gardening gloves he was wearing: “It’s good to meet you! I’m Sister Miranda and …” The handshake turned into a warm affectionate hug which Mandy enjoyed to the fullest. There were so few she had encountered that she liked at first blush, fewer still whom she felt had the wisdom of God within them.

There was no doubt that he was this and far more.

“Oh! Forgive me! I was going to tend to our roses! I’m sorry!”

Her laugh was sweet and unconcerned: “Please, don’t stop on my account … and I don’t mind the dirt. I work in dusty places all of the time.”

He peered at her through his glasses: “Dusty?”

“Yes. I’m … involved in the catacombs of the Synodical antiquities library. I’m Sister Cléophée’s assistant.”

A spark of recognition appeared: “Ah, yes! How is she? I haven’t seen her for years! Is she doing well? I trust she’s looking after herself?”

Mandy shrugged: “Bit stressed, but okay, thank you, Father.” Then she considered him: “How is it you know her?”

He nodded in the direction of one of the larger rose bushes: “Come, please? We can talk while I tend to things.”

Mandy found a small rock to perch herself upon as he began to trim: “I met Cléophée … oh … it must be just about 1999 or so. I was on sabbatical, working on some papers I was intending to publish. Found myself needing access to things that weren’t normally available, and so …”

“So you went to visit her?”

“More like came to odds with her. She’s very protective of her charges.”

Mandy just laughed: “Yes, well … that’s Cléophée.”

He continued trimming for a moment, then: “Well, if you know what sort of chocolate she likes, and where to get it …”

They both laughed over that revelation, both knowing instinctively that each had used that particular temptation on Cleo in the past.

He placed some clippings aside, regarding her: “So, what brings you here to visit?”

Mandy considered this for a moment, contemplating how to say something without saying it: “I’m here to … look into something Cléophée was made aware of by the diocese. About a certain woman who has … a very high sexual appetite.”

He was in the midst of clipping off a dried-out branch and paused: “She’s … been sent here?”

“No, we’ve been sent here. Well, in reality the church only knows about her, I’m … working in the background.”

His voice was a whisper: “If you are close to Cléophée … You’ll know her one secret.”

Mandy stood up and walked to him, placing her lips close to his ear: “All Hallow’s Eve … the catacombs, the sealed up section …” She paused, considering, then added: … an incubus, wanting her as his succubus.”

The sigh was telling even if Mandy didn’t see his eyes: “Yes.”

He remained kneeling as Mandy stood next to him, a hand gently lying upon his shoulder.

“Cleo wouldn’t talk about it much; said she came within a soul’s breath of being a succubus.”

He nodded: “Yes.”

The realization hit Mandy and she dropped to her knees beside him: “You … You were there.”

He nodded again, not saying anything.

“What happened?”

His focus was on a single rose, partly turned black: “It was All Hallow’s Eve, 2001. I was looking for what was rumoured to be some tablets telling of the earliest days of the church. She had started her work on cataloguing everything there, and she suggested we have a look in the deepest annex. We … didn’t find what we expected.” He picked up the shears and cut off the dying rose: “We found dark things that never should be touched. We were … lucky.”

She nodded: “Lucky enough that Cléophée was saved, the place was sealed and that would be the end of it.”

“Now it seems that someone found the missing link in the chain, has been possessed by it.”

“You knew immediately, didn’t you?”

“Yes. I … saw Cléophée, turned, on the way to being a succubus.”

Mandy’s mind reeled at the thought: her Cléophée a succubus? At the same time she found herself wondering what she looked like … and rehearsing some of her desires for Cléophée. “How do we stop this succubus?”

“I … don’t know. But I had to let someone know about this. They have to be stopped. Can you imagine the power they have?”

“I … have an idea.”

“No, you don’t. I hope you never do.”

He pushed the shears into the soil and turned to Mandy: “Whatever happens, don’t let her fall. Don’t leave her alone with the succubus.”

“She’s meeting with the diocese. I … offered to come here and talk to you. She didn’t exactly put up much of a fight over that idea.”

“She … probably never wants to have anything to do with me.”


Brushing his hands on his apron, he considered: “Would you want to be reminded about what happened? I still have nightmares about it.”

Mandy wasn’t satisfied with that answer: “Okay. You aren’t telling me the entire story. Out with it: what aren’t you saying?”

“I’ve spent my life trying to get over what happened. What we did to each other, how close things came to both of us losing our souls.” His eyes scanned the grounds: “I came here seeking solace for my sins. This is the only place I’ve found where I’ve been able to rest since that night.”


He turned to her once more: “When you crossed onto these hallowed grounds … what happened?”

Mandy didn’t hesitate: “There’s … a warmth here. Like …”

“Like Goddess herself was here with you?”

“You mean God?”

“We each see God out of our own experience and perceptions. Some see him, some her, some see something other. All are valid ways of seeing and seeking the Divine. Each of us has our own path.”

“So why ‘Goddess’ for you?”

He smiled: “That, my dear Sister Miranda, is a matter of faith … and of using a reference that the listener most appreciates. ‘Goddess’ seems to fit for you.”

Mandy was silent then, watching him return to his work. A soft buzz brought her attention to her phone: “Cléophée is on her way to the hotel. I should be going.”


“Yes, Father?”

“Do you call her ‘Cléophée’?”

“Only when we’re being very serious about something. She’s ‘Cleo.’”

“And you?”

“Mandy … most of the time.”

“Don’t lose her. If you need me …” he dug into a pocket and handed her a card, “… call me … anytime.”

She fingered the card, the only thing written on it a phone number: “You haven’t said your name.”

“No, I haven’t.”


“Names have power. Lesson one from the hell we unearthed.”

“I need to know more, a lot more.”

“You know everything you need to know; more than I did.”

“You’re speaking in riddles.”

“They do, as well.”

Mandy’s frustration came to a head: “Why aren’t you telling me what I want to know?”

“Because … I was the incubus to Cléophée’s succubus.”

The revelation made Mandy step back: “Stay away from me.”

His expression was hurt, almost to tears: “I was the host to the incubus. I was the one used. I was the one that fell and almost took Cléophée with me.”

He left the shears in the dirt, standing up: “If she falls, then I will. She will come for me. She’ll come for anyone she loves because that’s what gives them power. If she falls, she’s coming for you, too. Then all will be lost.”

“She’s never said she loves me!”

“But you love her … don’t you?”

Mandy covered her eyes, sobbing loudly: “Oh, dear Goddess …”

He didn’t answer her. When she could see again, he was gone, leaving only the shears embedded in the earth, a single red rose cut and laying at Mandy’s feet.

She ran.

“Damn you, Cleo, you’d better be waiting for me or I swear I’ll never forgive you.”

At that moment, Cleo was being driven towards their hotel, the car passing in front of a certain apartment building. A tenant within the building looked down as Cleo passed by, her long black fingernails leaving scratches as she drew her hand over the glass.

“Little foolish Cléophée. Run about, chase your tail.”

She pulled back from the window: “Now, as for you, slave, I have need of you.”

The shrieks of pleasure echoed down the concrete canyon in the wake of Cleo’s passing, she never hearing them … But, from within her sealed case, a faint red glow seeped past the edges, as if trying to escape before it faded away.

25 Nov 19:46

schlockmeister: Word of the Day

schlockmeister: a person who deals in or sells inferior or worthless goods; junk dealer.
23 Nov 23:39

savoir-faire: Word of the Day

savoir-faire: knowledge of just what to do in any situation; tact.
23 Nov 04:50

The half-life of caffeine.…is about 4 hours.The data...

The half-life of caffeine.

…is about 4 hours.

The data vary, but for a medium-sized adult you can probably expect half of the caffeine from that 3pm cup of coffee to still be doing half of its thing about 7pm, 4 hours later. Apparently smokers deal with caffeine quicker and caffeine sticks around in children much longer.

You can expect about 10 minutes before it first kicks-in which, I suppose, is why if you’re feeling tired while driving it’s a decent plan to take a break and drink a coffee, then have a 15 minute nap. See tiredness can kill sketchplanation. Once it starts to kick-in you might hit peak caffeine any time from 45 minutes to 2 hours later.

Caveat: that chart visualisation is extrapolated from reported data, so the shape is approximate only.

Some references say longer, and some say, from 3-9 hours or so. My source which seemed pretty comprehensive was:

Bertil B. Fredholm, Karl Bättig, Janet Holmén, Astrid Nehlig and Edwin E. Zvartau, Actions of Caffeine in the Brain with Special Reference to Factors That Contribute to Its Widespread Use, Pharmacological Reviews March 1999, 51 (1) 83-133;

22 Nov 14:10

Gwenhwyfar: The Cloud Who Would Be Queen. NAME:...

Gwenhwyfar: The Cloud Who Would Be Queen.

NAME: Gwenhwyfar. Also Gwenhwyvar, Guenievre, Guenhumara, Jenefer, Ginevra and Guinevere. The Welsh name comes from two words that means either White / Shining / or Holy and Cloud / Phantom / Shadow / or Smooth.

The best bet is either White Cloud or White Phantom but as others has speculated on the true meaning of the name what’s to stop you from mixing and matching with other interpretations?

SYMBOLS: Of the original Gwenhwyfar? That’s hard to say, the Guinevere that has come to us from all the retellings no doubt obscures most of that was the original Goddess.

I will hazard a guess and say, some of her symbols were such things as a cloud, crown, dog, and various symbols associated with triple goddesses.

IMAGE: A very fair skinned woman of preternatural beauty.

RELATIVES: Gogrvan or Ocvran or Ogrfan Gawr the Giant of Castell y Cnwclas (Father), Arthur {Artviros `Bear Man’} Husband, Gwendydd, Gwenith, Gwynith, Gwyneth, Gweneth, Gynath, Gandieda, Catherina, Catarina (Sisters) Loholt (Son, though some say the son of Arthur & Lionors) and two unnamed sons with Mordred Arthur’s son with his half-sister Morgan. And you thought the family relations on Angel were messed up.

SYNODEITIES: Goddess of Sovereignty (Britain), Eriu (Ireland)

DETAILS: No matter what has been made of Gwynhwfar over the years and she has passed through dozens if not hundreds of hands and minds.

At her start she was said to be a Goddess called White Cloud (or White Phantom, White Shadow, Shinning Cloud etc.) who was a mischievous shapeshifter, who from time to time found that she just could not help but incarnate as a human to mix in the affairs of mankind. She would do this by entering a womb and being born as a human.

While that does seem to indicated that she might not have had the most noble of motivations (from a human viewpoint at least) she was not however portrayed as the adulteress at best and adulteress traitor at worst that that we have today in her more well-known form of Queen Guinevere wife of King Arthur.

This view first came from the 12th century writer Chretien de Troyes who was also the inventor of Sir Lancelot.

There are more than a few versions of the story of Arthur & Guinevere, with Welsh, British, Irish, German, French & modern takes on the story, the above is just one of them.

Today most think it is just the tale of a king and his queen and all that knights in shining armor stuff.

However the myth from which that story grew is far older than that. Taking place long before there were knights.

For one thing it was believed that Arthur had three queens, all of them named Guinevere (or variations of that name) that this points to a Celtic triple Goddess is a pretty easy conclusion to reach.

A good guess is that she is much like the other Goddess of Sovereignty found in Celtic myth, without whom a God-King cannot reach true power.

So just how did a fun loving shapeshifter out for just a bit of a lark among the humans becomes the embodiment of adulterous females?

I would guess that White Cloud is perhaps the true original origin of her name.

And like those who looks at clouds and see bunnies, or monsters depending, not on the shape of the cloud but on the shape of their mind, the Guinevere that was born from that Gwynhwfar of long ago is still laughing at the things we human get up to based on the smallest of things.

19 Nov 22:35

Consolation Prized – DORK TOWER 17.11.16

by John Kovalic


18 Nov 17:52

sycophant: Word of the Day

sycophant: a self-seeking, servile flatterer; fawning parasite.
18 Nov 17:52

pleonasm: Word of the Day

pleonasm: the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea; redundancy.
16 Nov 14:16

A Field of Red for Remembrance Day

by TeraS

It is tradition that at this hour, on this day, there is a moment of reflection and remembrance for those that are honoured today. The telling of words, to express, no matter how poorly, the loss of these souls and the promise we give for their sacrifice.
Candle of Remembrance


A Field of Red
by TeraS


A new day dawns
A soft breeze rises
Dust upon the field
Small bits of lives past
Smidgens of souls

The blooms are red
Swaying with the wind
Bending towards light
Air is cold and still
Light warming all

Zephyrs swirling
Dirt captured in clouds
Held in the sunshine
Shadows on the field
Past impressions

Flashes of light
Rumbles of thunder
The cries of spirits
Actions tracked in dirt
Love is rehearsed

Poppies vibrant
Reflections on lives
Souls joined in mourning
Telling of the past
Dawning for all

The gathered pause
Life waits a short time
The clock ticks away
A mournful cry comes
As life moves on

Memories honoured
Lives are spoken of
The young asking “Why?”
The old share stories
‘Til comfort comes

The time is past
Fields silent once more
Those recalling leave
Watching lives go on
Separate again
But ghosts remain

But the memories
Still need to be shared
By voices to tell
By ears to listen
Bringing forward

The very old
The not old enough
Surrounded by dust
Telling the stories
On fields of red

13 Nov 02:43

bathos: Word of the Day

bathos: insincere pathos; sentimentality; mawkishness.
13 Nov 02:40

doc-avalon: November 9th Chaos Never Dies Day is celebrated...


November 9th

Chaos Never Dies Day is celebrated (however they never say just WHERE it is celebrated) on November 9th of each year and recognizes the turmoil in modern, everyday life.

The origin of this holiday is unknown.

13 Nov 02:36

November 2016

Once you've done this, make a note of how old they were. Then, when their age reaches double that, show them this chart again.
13 Nov 02:33

The golden ratio.The proportions of the golden ratio pop-up in...

The golden ratio.

The proportions of the golden ratio pop-up in all sorts of places in Nature and man-made things since early times and are a handy shortcut to make something we seem to find pleasingly proportioned. In photography, art, Nature, violins, or the Parthenon, we just keep being drawn to it. It has a pleasing equation too where the ratio of the long over the short dimension is the same as both added together over the long dimension. Why not browse some golden ration examples. Even Trump.

13 Nov 02:24

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - The Star Trek Problem


I'm a doctor, not a nihilist!

New comic!
Today's News:
13 Nov 02:07

The Counter-Text

by Zak Sabbath
So: Counter-texts.

A counter-text is a description of a way to read an existing work so that it has more--or at least other--ideas in it. For gaming, the counter-text should ideally be a short high-concept thing that readily and quickly presents an alternate interpretation of many elements of the original text. It is neither a reskin nor a rewrite nor a list of small changes--it's a clear set of ideas that immediately opens up a pandora's box of reskins, rewrites and small changes.

Here's a simple one: Stonehell dungeon has no floors. That's five words but it does a pretty good job of making the dungeon more interesting:
Not only does, for example, Room 8 immediately become a lot spookier and more tactically complicated--the cadavers must be hanging from the ceiling on hooks--it goes a long way toward explaining why Stonehell is full of different monsters so close to each other--they have a rough time getting around.

A more complex example is Ken Hite's recent Dracula module--which posits that the Impaler is still around and that the novel Dracula is an expurgated version of an after-action report about the British secret service trying to recruit a vampire as an agent.

Usually, the ideal game counter-text is somewhere between the two of those examples: simple enough to offer an obvious transformation of any boring, annoying, or underdeveloped part of the original text but complex enough to generate a variety of different ideas.

Sometimes one text can be the counter-text to another... Keep on the Borderlands is well-designed but pretty dull in terms of color and wonder at least until you get past the tribes of humanoids crowded together. However if you mash it up it with the colorful but poorly-designed Seclusium of Orphone...

Ok, so Caves of Chaos is still a bunch of goblins and hobgoblins and gnolls hanging out in a bunch of rooms--but the rooms are a decayed wizard's tower, with lots of tricks, traps, oddities and experiments still intact. The inhabitants are probably still busy poking and prodding them to see what they can take advantage of. That explains why there's an owlbear (a wizard did it) and a medusa (consort?) and why the evil priests are digging deep into the caves in search of secrets. It gives you an excuse to put more interesting things in each room pretty much randomly, and explains why some of it might not have been looted yet. It also explains why these different competitive humanoid tribes are here--they all came to pick it over once word got out the wizard was gone.

It also makes the Keep (where the humans dwell) itself more interesting--all those NPC guys aren't just in a castle, they're occupying another decrepit wizard tower so the goblins and jerks don't take it over...

Or: Carcosa is just a hex map of post-war Eberron. Instantly all those random robots are left-over warforged, the rainbow-colored men can be the Eberron races, the sci-fi weapons are just magitech.

The potential importance of counter-texts in games stems from a few basic facts about games as they stand in 2016:

-There are a great number of RPG texts
-They are often easily available and in many cases their major outlines are well-known to many GMs and sometimes players
-This familiarity is helpful in creating the kinds of shared imaginative spaces helpful in tabletop
-The texts are, by-and-large, fairly detailed and internally consistent
-This detail and internal consistency is useful and time-consuming to reproduce
-The texts mostly suck short, the hobby of gaming comes bundled with a lot of terrible but helpfully familiar software. By injecting the right counter-text, the inherited junk ceases to be junk and becomes a genuine asset.

I'd like to think counter-texts could get more ambitious than anything I've discussed here. Maybe there's a killer idea that can make Undermountain or Castle Greyhawk worth playing, or even turn whole useless games and systems into something worth sinking your teeth into.
13 Nov 02:06

Fatalistic Shadowrun and the Elision of Gore (Thought Eater)

by Zak Sabbath
Here are some more entires for ROUND THREE of the Thought Eater Writin' About Games Tournament.

These are not by me, they are by two anonymous contestants, vote for which you like better.

The theme for this round is to describe the significance of something that's missing from an RPG text.

Here is the first essay, if you like it best, send an email to zakzsmith AT hawtmayle with the subject line "LIH" and nothing else.

You were born without papers, in the shadow of a government or corporate enclave, never allowed to enter. Maybe your parents were anarchists, criminals, or just too poor and powerless for anyone to give a damn about. You lived in a slum (where else?), in the refuse of the elite. Disease, violence, squalor, pollution, and despair killed or mutilated so many of your peers, no matter whether they were monsters or saints or hustlers. If you’re honest with yourself, you realize that you weren’t any different, just luckier, and, perhaps, more of a monster than most. What is the line between courageous and psychotic? Whatever that line is, you walk it. You are willing to risk your body, your mind, your soul, and those of others, in pursuit of an exit. You run, but the shadows always follow you. This is the escapist game we play, a game with no escape for its PCs.

The door begins to shut at character creation. The only way to acquire papers is to take the flaw “Sinner,” a reference to the SIN (System Identification Number), which marks someone as a citizen of state or corporation. The various versions of this flaw all force the shadowrunner to pay taxes and make runner easier to identify, especially in the aftermath of a run. The criminal version of it puts the runner at the mercy of the justice system (the runner is basically paroled), and the corporate version makes the runner a failed corporate stooge or a low-level lackey, with little or no actual power in the corporation but hated, to the point of being targeted for death, by many of the SIN-less, the people the runner has to deal with every day in order to accomplish runs. Worst of all, a runner with SIN tends to be cautious and boring since if the runner is caught, off to prison the runner goes, losing whatever small benefits they had, and exchanging their national or corporate SIN for a criminal SIN. SIN can be acquired during gameplay, but as a friend once explained to me, no sane corporation or state would give a SIN to a runner without first equipping said runner with a cortex bomb, or something similar.

Still, if a runner can’t have a real SIN, the runner still needs a fake one to do anything in society, even buy a soy taco. This is what most runners opt for. A fake SIN keeps a runner trapped since it can be detected during any transaction, depending on the security level of the device checking the SIN. A fast food restaurant will only give the SIN a cursory glance, but trying to get a lease for a fancy apartment will put the SIN and the runner under great scrutiny. And all of these transactions create a trail. Eventually, the runner’s luck runs out (or an angry decker simply hacks into the runner’s life and outs the runner’s fake SIN to the authorities), and the SIN evaporates, and the runner needs a new SIN and, essentially, a new public life.

You might think that having a lot of money would help, but that too is a trap.  Money in Shadowrun comes in two forms: credsticks, which are like cash, tied to no one but much more portable and much more easily stolen, and money tied to a SIN, like in a bank account. Due to the dangers of a SIN being found out and the ease with which credsticks can be stolen, runners have to live like tax evaders--always spending their money on something or hiding their money under their mattress (see note 1). Most opt for weapons, cyberware, or magic items -- tools of the trade. This is good for runs, but it keeps the runner in the shadows.

Is there any physical escape? If PCs travel too far outside their neighborhood, their relationship with their contacts will suffer. Also, area knowledge is a powerful thing, and constantly moving makes area knowledge a weapon to be used against the footloose PCs. PCs from the neighborhood, however, can make use of area knowledge. Finally, the PCs’ reputation and criminal record will eventually travel with them too, and sooner rather than later in a world with better-than-modern electronic communication as well as magical communication.

What about other worlds? There is a small box in the core rulebook (fifth edition) that admits to the possibility of mages and shamans visiting other planes of existence, but the only support for that kind of play is Aetherology, a short supplement (39 pages) with some evocative details but short of the specific details that many gamers expect, and that Shadowrun delivers for its core setting. A GM would have to design almost everything about the metaplanes himself or herself (or liberally steal from other sources such as D&D’s Planescape). What about outer space? The world is too broke for that, mostly, and it is a hostile place to mages and shamans, and there is little support, and what support it does have (in Target: Wastelands) makes it clear that magic won’t work in outer space. Nor should you expect some kind of people’s revolution. The corporations won, and they won big. Any one corporation might fall, but the system remains.

It is the system that even blocks social escape. Shadowrun actually has three such systems: Street Cred, Notoriety, and Public Awareness. These reflect its cyberpunk origins, since that genre is very concerned about reputation. In Shadowrun, a high Street Cred is a positive, but its only effect is to allow you to keep more of the successes that you roll on social skills where Street Cred would matter. Notoriety does not have a precise effect, and exists mostly to allow the GM to punish you for being obnoxious and to reduce your Street Cred. Public Awareness makes you better known, and at high levels, you might achieve the fame of outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde or Pablo Escobar. Their fame, ultimately, did not protect them, nor will it protect PCs. Instead it acts like a target painted on them.
What is left for the PCs to do but to act outside the law? For the most part, their very existence is illegal, and becoming legal is difficult to impossible, so the PCs might as well murder and steal, but Shadowrun points out that there are different ways to be an outlaw. In this world that is a maze with no exit, PCs can still choose what to do and why they do it, and yet, morality matters less, grand things matter less, and personal choices, impulses, loyalties, and the details of the world matter more. If you choose the evil corps as your target (and they make a great target with their wealth, arrogance, and 100% dedication to evil), criminal acts against it are mitigated and downgraded to the courageous mischief we see in caper films or even upgraded to the doomed heroism of samurai and gunslingers (a great ending for a campaign). But until that glorious end, your PC is still a criminal. The runners steal and murder, but they also save the day. Shadowrun’s seemingly shoddy construction allows for PCs who can be dastardly and heroic and have a grand time doing so, and, indeed, who have little choice but to both be part of the world and be gleeful, semi-heroic bastards.

Is it possible to play such characters in other games? Of course it is. There have been semi-heroic bastard PCs since the early days of roleplaying, and some adventuring parties in D&D, Rifts, and other games seem to consist of nothing but such PCs. They are a lot of fun to play. But there are other PCs too. Some PCs are unwilling to take a risk. Others are virtuous or villainous to a fault. Others don’t care about the consequences of their actions. Others are so powerful or competent that they make other PCs unnecessary. Others are depressed and angst-ridden (see Vampire) or very serious about their honor (see Legends of the Five Rings).

But by removing the escapes from the shadows, the Shadowrun rules and setting direct the GM and players to create a specific game experience that encourages PCs to be semi-heroic bastards by discouraging overly “good” or “evil” behavior since both can make runs more difficult, by encouraging players to build PCs who are specialized (basically, encouraging PCs to choose a class) and who thus will also have weaknesses so they must rely on their teammates, encouraging risk-taking, since doing nothing leads very quickly to poverty, and by keeping PCs focused on a narrow geographical area, players have an easier time becoming immersed in the setting. Again, it is possible to do all of this with other game systems, but this is the Shadowrun default.

By limiting or eliminating certain choices that are common to other games and settings, Shadowrun creates a distinct yet common gaming experience for its many players. D&D players can talk about the wonders of Planescape or the silliness of Castle Greyhawk or the survival-horror of Dark Sun or the dungeon they sacked. Vampire players can talk about their super-heroes with fangs or their cunning political schemes lasting centuries or their Near Dark style epic road trip across America. Rifts players can talk about their human-animal hybrid characters, or their power-armor characters, or fighting for or against the Coalition or traveling to completely different dimensions.  But in my experience, when I talk with others who have played Shadowrun, the topic is always the same: The run.


If Shadowrun had a dark satirical streak (ala Ray Winninger’s Underground), the most popular cybernetic enhancement would be a pouch in your body where you could easily hide and retrieve your credsticks: “Wait, wait, I gotta pull it out...there it is.”

Here is the first essay, if you like it best, send an email to zakzsmith AT hawtmayle with the subject line "SIR" and nothing else.

So, for this round of the contest we are to find something that our topic avoided, that the author is not aware it avoided, that the readers at large are not yet aware was avoided, and find interesting things that omission can tell us.   I've decided to take a look at Combat in gaming.

Love and Gore: the Sanitized Combat Experience

Roleplaying games across the spectrum are a form of reality emulator.  The open ended nature of actions in an RPG is one of the great features which let them mimic lived experience in a more dynamic way than other entertainments.  It even exaggerates the options for action beyond what is possible, into the realm of what is imaginable, so as to make the life inside the game way more fun than the real world.

Pretend fighting is one of those play activities inherent to mammals.  We find it fun so we have made Combat one of the mainstays of the RPG experience.   The emulators we use to make the reality of the game world are missing something essential to the experience of real fighting: trauma.

When you stab that goblin in the balls it isn't a traumatic experience, it's comedy. You don't hear his agonized screams ringing in your ears for the rest of living memory, his blood doesn't run over your hand staining it in your mind despite your compulsive attempts to wash them over and over for years thereafter.  If combat in the game even remotely resembled the real thing, it would not make for an enjoyable pastime.  It would be an emotionally tolling horror genre miserycrawl.

Even further removed from the combat in roleplaying games are the battles in tabletop wargames. The roots of roleplaying games were seeded here, and if you think about what wargames are it's kind of fucked up. It takes a deeply disturbing and psychologically scarring event: War, and turns it into a form of play where you push pieces around harmlessly on a map.   Even the idea of lining up your battalion of pieces that represent lines of soldiers, to knock other pieces over to mark them as dead, is a little bit cracked. The concept of "Soldier" is a cultural construct which serves to reduce the humanity of an individual so they are a killable thing.  Objectifying a living, feeling being crescendos to a disturbing logical conclusion when you represent a person who is dying as an abstract game piece on a board.

The wargame origins of the RPG genre might have biased the design process in the early game.  It could be the reason that fighting is so prevalent in most paper and dice games, as opposed to other parts of the human experience.   There are examples of another way to build an RPG experience.  In the King's Quest series of video games your obstacles are seldom combative in nature.  Exploration, collection, and puzzle solving play a much larger part of the experience than combat.  Character relationships, dialogue, and even romance occupy a larger portions of those adventures.

A cursory look at the design choices made in 4th Edition D&D will show you what the end result of the wargame bias can look like.   Combat is everything, the interesting powers all help you fight in some form or fashion.  The rate you use and regain your powers is largely measured by how often you rest between fights.  The rest of the varied experiences of life are condensed into a meager handful of skill checks.  The traumatic and visceral experience of fighting is codified into initiative turns, measured movement rates, and tidy dice rolls.  It quantifies something terrible and divides it out into safely experienced and knowable parts, so we can use it as a form of play that dominates the narrative.

If the play fighting in our RPGs more closely emulated violence in reality, combat would be the less attractive option for obstacle resolution.  We can also deconstruct the methods used to create tabletop combat and apply those systems to the other parts of the human experience in an effort to redress the imbalance. We might break the experience of romance down into its constituent actions.  Initiative rolls could be made for dilated pupils and raised hairs on an arm.  Stun saves could counteract the emotional paralysis between first base and second.  Encounter powers would activate when we engaged in a social bluff instead of a battle.  Carousing would get a d100 table.

I think that altering the balance between trauma and play in our game combat might be a useful tool for shaping a game's design, and in turn how we shape the imaginary lives lived at the table.
04 Nov 19:47

KAISER WILHELM(happy halloween from the flux machine!)

(happy halloween from the flux machine!)

04 Nov 19:30

Freeze lemons and limes.There always seem to be more than we...

Freeze lemons and limes.

There always seem to be more than we need in a bag. This is a nice end for them.

HT: Charlotte

04 Nov 19:20

Less is More, More or Less

by John Kovalic

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 11.06.33 AM

A couple of days ago, an off-handed Twitter conversation with my pal Ken Hite (I KNOW, RIGHT?) sparked an idea for Thursday’s DORK TOWER.

Thus being legally bound to draw it, I did.


Is this darker than most Dork Towers? Yes. Yes, it is. Though having Igor and Carson at the end lightened it jussssst enough, I thought.

More importantly, it amused me to have the Cap’n warbling a Gilbert and Sullivan HMS Pinafore sea shanty, almost as much as to have him gurgling a line from David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

But then I wondered, was the last line really necessary? Yes, it tied it in to Halloween (and, indeed, into Dork Tower).

I liked the strip as it stood, but thought that less, in this case, might be more. So I changed it to this:


I wasn’t totally happy with the timing (thought there should be more of a pause before the rise of Boo Berry), and then I wondered, were any lines really necessary?

Also, without Igor at the end, the Cap’ns tunes suddenly felts awfully sad.

Gilbert and Sullivan and Bowie were chopped, and the strip became this:



I don’t do “silent” strips often, but the idea intrigued me. It was something different, anyway, for me, and that’s part of the fun of the job. So I’d  stripped the strip of the three aspects that originally had me giggling (Igor’s presence, and the musical call-outs). But it was a clear choice: Less, in this case, was a lot more.

Anyway, that’s how you overthink a perfectly good cartoon. And how you make it up to people, by showing them the original iterations anyway.



PS: Apologies to all the overseas folks who didn’t “get” this Dork Tower at all. Cap’n Crunch and Boo Berry are popular US cereal brand mascots. Thus is the joke explained, thus is the joke no longer funny. You’re welcome!

04 Nov 18:59

Why do you RSS?


I became an RSS user when Google Reader came out in 2005. Like a lot of people, I got pretty obsessed with Twitter around 2007. By 2010 I still had accounts with Google Reader and Twitter and checked in on both maybe once a week. But somewhere along the line I started getting most of my information from Facebook. Let’s just say it wasn’t the same quality of information I was used to.  

By 2012, I closed my Facebook account for a few months and then in 2014 I closed it permanently. These days I rely on The Old Reader and Instagram on a daily basis and once every other week or so check in on Twitter. I stay informed and get inspired using The Old Reader and get that social fix on Instagram. 

My primary areas of focus on The Old Reader are Business and Technology, News, Culture, and Music. I follow a few other things as well like Food and Sports. The feeds that I follow are diverse, but all are a million times more effective at keeping me up to date than my old Facebook friends once were. On top of all that, I believe in The Open Web ( which doesn’t thrive in private social networks.  

The question I ask myself all the time is: why did I ever stop using an RSS reader?

What I’m really excited about is hearing why you guys use RSS. Feel free to leave a comment, but if you’re up for it, drop an email to telling us a little about yourself, why you use RSS, how long you’ve been using it, and 5 feeds that you think other people in our community will love. We’re hoping to feature one or two of you on our blog in the near future and also value the direct input we receive from each of you.

Thanks for using The Old Reader!

31 Oct 01:56

hallowed: Word of the Day

hallowed: regarded as holy; venerated; sacred.
29 Oct 21:44

Monocultural Dying Earth vs Anti-Medieval D&D (Thought Eater)

by Zak Sabbath
Here are some entires for ROUND THREE of the Thought Eater Writin' About Games Tournament.

These are not by me, they are by two anonymous contestants, vote for which you like better.

The theme for this round is to describe the significance of something that's missing from an RPG text.

Here is the first essay, if you like it best, send an email to zakzsmith AT hawtmayle with the subject line YEK and nothing else. It's about D&D-influencing author Jack Vance:

Jack Vance’s Dying Earth is basically a monoculture. Everywhere you go you get the same wildlife, the same wizards, the same measurements and money, the same aloof princesses and sociopathic adventurers, the same religious pedants and small-time conmen, the same backward villagers with stupid and dangerous traditions, the same card games, the same petty lords, the same conversations in the same bars. Even when someone goes a million years back in time there’s no sense that anything they see would be out of place on the earth they came from. Unlike Lyonesse, or every other fantasy epic, the Dying Earth doesn’t come with a map. It only has physical geography insofar as this is necessary to structure people’s adventures, and the same is true for cultural geography. It’s important for us to know that, in order to get the Silver Desert, Cugel has to cross the Mountains of Magnatz. And it’s important we know that in this little bullshit village they make you judge beauty contests and in that one they eat people’s fingers. But Vance is less interested in building up a coherent, inhabitable world than he is with leading us through a paratactic sequence of weird and memorable encounters. So it’s hard to lay down everything that happens on a chart in the same way that you can lay down everything that happens in Lyonesse, or its spiritual successor Game of Thrones. You can’t say that the guys who eat fingers are here and because of the placement of the river they would naturally come into conflict with the guys who regulate the sun. And these people all think the same way, anyway: they’re all literal, pedantic, hyper-rational and hateful small-minded pricks, like participants in the world’s worst internet argument. They all speak the same affected faux-courtly dialect and have the same basic approach to problem-solving. Even the monsters are like this. So what we lose is not a sense of place but rather a sense of distinction between places. It’s easy to visualise the Dying Earth, but it’s hard to think about how any one part of the Dying Earth is substantially different from any other part. Place-names abound, because Vance loves proper nouns, but wherever possible he avoids giving us a sense of context for them. He’s not interested in the relationships between them, or in fitting them into any kind of bigger picture, except insofar as it can be used to propel the story.

Here is a bit from Thomas Pynchon’s short story Entropy that explains what is going on here:

"Nevertheless," continued Callisto, "he found in entropy or the measure of disorganization for a closed system an adequate metaphor to apply to a certain phenomena in his own world… [he] envisioned a heat-death for his culture in which ideas, like heat-energy, would no longer be transferred, since each point in it would ultimately have the same quantity of energy; and intellectual motion would, accordingly, cease."

The Dying Earth is a closed thermodynamic system that has simmered down to equilibrium. Everything is the same because the world is ending and the energy it takes to differentiate things has run out.

This is also why it’s so hard for the characters in the Dying Earth to ever get anything done. It’s why The Eyes of The Overworld ends with Cugel returned to where he began, stranded on a frozen beach and condemned to repeat the exact same journey again in the sequel. It’s why the only people on the Dying Earth with anything resembling ambition are either wizards or eccentrics like Guyal of Sfere, all of whom ultimately aspire to escape the world on which they were born and on which the laws of physics themselves conspire against accomplishment. The beginning and end of a story are two distinct points, like two cities on a plain, and it takes energy to keep them separate. So Dying Earth stories inevitably tend to gravitate towards the picaresque, the kind of episodic narrative where nothing ever changes and the status quo is never seriously disturbed. A lot of people have written picaresques over the years and you’ll find many of them listed in Zak’s essay on the subject here, which I assume you have all read a bunch of times on account of how it’s foundational to the genre of games blogging. But what Vance does that, e.g., Jack Kerouac or the writers of superhero comics don’t do is make the story not just a picaresque but a commentary on the nature of picaresques, and write characters that are struggling against the limitations of the picaresque form. Pynchon is his buddy here. Entropy in Pynchon is an active force of destruction, waging tireless war against his characters’ motivations and memories, eroding their sense of self and making it impossible for them to remember what they’re supposed to be doing. Vance shows us a world in which this kind of entropy has almost totally won. The future does not exist, all human potential has been dramatically curtailed and the only remaining options are to flee to the stars or become a wandering hate machine like Cugel, with no real emotional register and no ability to care about anything beyond immediate survival.

This is not as obvious a choice as it might seem. Cugel is the archetypal murderhobo, and not having to worry about the future is the whole point of the murderhobo. We don’t necessarily want to see ourselves as the heroes of some grand narrative. We’re just as likely to see ourselves as people who have a few adventures and then get eaten by a grue. It’s funnier and there’s less pressure. Vance maintains the same kind of ironic distance from Cugel, never quite endorsing him but never quite condemning him, as we often do with the characters in our own games. On the one hand, he says, it would be depressing to actually be this guy. On the other hand, at least you wouldn’t have to go to work in the morning. And even the idea of the sun going out holds its own macabre charm. The Pynchon story ends with his heroes shattering the barrier between them and the rest of the world in order to embrace thermodynamic equilibrium, “a tonic of darkness and the final absence of all motion”. The perverse appeal entropy holds for them, half alienating and half welcoming, is the same kind of appeal the Dying Earth holds for us.

Here is the second essay, if you like it best, send an email to zakzsmith AT hawtmayle with the subject line LUA and nothing else. It's not about D&D-influencing author Jack Vance:

D&D is anti-medieval

You can be forgiven for thinking that OD&D is a medieval European fantasy game. After all, Gary Gygax himself says so. He describes the original D&D books as "Rules for Fantastic Medieval War Games" (on the cover) and "rules [for] designing your own fantastic-medieval campaign" (in the introduction). However, in the game itself, there's precious little to suggest feudalism, Europe, chivalry, a post-imperial dark age, or even the existence of a monarchy at all. Apart from the technology suggested by the weapon list, it could just as well be a simulation of the professional meritocracy of Byzantium, or the city-state sovereignty of Barsoomian Mars. (There's more explicit textual support in OD&D for Mars than there is for fantasy medieval Europe.) But neither of these strike the mark. OD&D's cultural details suggest a society original to Gygax - nonsensical as a medieval fantasy, but coherent and striking as an American fantasy of empowerment and upward mobility. It's an armor-clad repudiation of medieval feudalism, like Twain's Connecticut Yankee.

It's not feudal

The way you advance in a feudal society is to win glory in battle for your overlord. Then he grants you land, which is the main form of wealth. Unless you're a peasant. Then you can never advance at all.

That's not at all what happens in D&D. There is no overlord to grant you land. Land, instead of being a form of wealth, is completely free! ("At any time a player/character wishes he may select a portion of land (or a city lot) upon which to build his castle, tower, or whatever. The following illustrations are noted with the appropriate cost in Gold Pieces.") The cost of building a structure is merely the a la carte cost of all its architectural elements. It costs nothing at all to acquire the land to build on, even inside a city. 

Wealth in D&D is primarily in the form of coinage and jewels, not land and cattle, making the D&D economy more modern than medieval. Some have suggested that D&D takes place in a time of exploration and renaissance when coinage, and the middle class, is eclipsing the power of the nobility. I'll go further. There is no sign that there is any nobility to eclipse, even a waning one. 

If you build a castle in the "wilderness", you have to clear the area of monsters for 20 miles around. You then gain control of a handful of villages within this area. You don't have to compete against any other ruler or pay taxes to any overlord for these villages! This omission seems significant, since Gygax will always gleefully mention any relevant obstacle if it exists.

The people who live in villages are called either "villagers" or "inhabitants", not "peasants," "commoners" or "serfs." They pay you taxes. If you piss off the villagers, the DM is encouraged to annoy you with "angry villagers", "city watch", "militia", or "a Conan type." Notable in its absence is any local form of knighthood, gentry, nobility, or ruling class to oppose you.

There are no knights

The word knight doesn't even appear in OD&D. But there is one group of people who act distinctly knight-like. The wilderness contains castles, ruled by fighters, magic-users, or clerics. The fighters will challenge players to a joust (using Chainmail rules), taking the loser's armor and offering hospitality to the winner. This has a sort of Arthurian chivalry to it, but Pendragon it is not. Gygax carefully avoids calling these folks "knights." They're fighting-men, with retainers (monstrous and human) and armies, looking very like the ones players can acquire. Furthermore, castle-owning fighting men are just as rare as castle-owning magic-users and clerics. The Outdoor Survival game board, which forms the default OD&D map, has a land area of 25,000 miles, half the size of England. There are about six castle-owning fighting-men in that area. In other words, castles of the wilderness aren't dominated by an analogue of a knightly order, leavened by a few fantastic spellcasters. It looks, rather, as if they were built by a small handful of adventurers, appearing in roughly the class proportions of a typical adventuring party. (Fighters are, if anything, under-represented.)

There are no vassals

Let's talk about how you gain followers. Gary says, "It is likely that players will be desirous of acquiring a regular entourage of various character types, monsters, and an army of some form." In a truly medieval game, there's a model for that: people swear themselves to your service in exchange for your protection. You raise an army by requiring service from peasants who live on your land. In other words, you gain vassals. D&D ignores this model, replacing it with one in which you pay retainers and specialists by the month. Loyalty is bought with a mixture of cash and charisma. You can hire armies, too, from Light Foot to Heavy Horsemen. (No knights.)

There are no kings 

There's no evidence of a monarchy. You never have to declare fealty to anyone. While you can create a barony, there is no way to level up and become a duke or King. There are no rules for controlling territory more than a day's ride from your castle. In the hostile emptiness of OD&D's wilderness, power doesn't travel well. 

The only mention of kings in the little brown books is in the descriptions of humanoid monsters, e.g. in a goblin lair "the 'goblin king'" will be found. (Gygax quotes the term "goblin king".) It seems unlikely that the term implies a crown, a system of divine right, inheritance laws, etc. Since a goblin king leads a single lair of 40-400 goblins, he's probably just the local boss, just like the less evocatively named "leader/protector type" who rules every 30-300 orcs. 

There is no lost empire

There certainly seems to be a power vacuum in the world of OD&D, ready for the player/characters to exploit. What used to fill that vacuum?

There's no evidence for (or against) the idea that OD&D takes place in a dark age after a fallen Roman Empire analogue or during the death throes of a feudal kingdom. Sure, someone built those "huge ruined piles" under which lie the dungeons. But based on the treasures to be found there, the dungeon builders were part of a coinage economy just like the current one. There hasn't even been significant inflation or deflation since the dungeons were built. The richest dungeon treasure hoard, on level 13 and deeper, averages out to about 10,000 GP in coin. That's as much as a baron can earn from a year's worth of taxes: not an insignificant sum to sock away in a dungeon, but not kingly or imperial either. This doesn't suggest that dungeons are relics of a far richer past. It seems rather that things used to be like they are right now. 

There are few European details

The monster descriptions of "men", "elves", and "dwarves" don't suggest that the game is set in a European culture. The types of "men" are Bandits, Berserkers, Brigands, Dervishes, Nomads, Buccaneers, Pirates, Cave Men, and (perhaps) Mermen. Berserkers are a little Nordic in flavor, but are balanced out by Dervishes and Nomads from the "desert or steppes". 

The government suggested by the player's "barony" is almost completely a-cultural. A player builds a stronghold, and then they can extort money from the surrounding people. This is the structure of every non-nomadic human society. The only European element is the technology level of your stronghold: it has merlons, barbicans, etc.

The D&D weapon list has a medieval feel to it, but partly that's just because that's what we're expecting to find. In fact, it's a sort of survey of (mostly) pre-gunpowder weapons. Most of the weapons and armor appear in ancient Europe and in Asia as well as in medieval Europe. Partial exceptions:  Composite bows are mostly non-European, while longbows are associated with Europe. The halberd is basically a Renaissance weapon, and the two-handed sword appears in medieval Europe, India, and Japan, but not the ancient world. No one knows what "plate mail" is supposed to be. 

If not medieval, what?

All over, the D&D rules seem to be explicitly eschewing a medieval, feudal model in favor of a cash-based economy, a nonexistent or powerless government, and a social-classless society in a sparsely inhabited, unforgiving world. 

If the OD&D rules suggest any government at all, it is a meritocracy, or more precisely, a levelocracy. Creatures with more XP and hit dice rule lower-level ones, from settled barons and goblin kings to wandering bandits and nomads. This is not only non-medieval, it is anti-feudalistic and anti-aristocratic. Level requirements for baronies are at odds with the hereditary gloss added to D&D in nearly every subsequent setting. 

OD&D also exhibits an obsession with money-gathering for its own sake that is suggestive of mercantilism or capitalism. 

D&D is not "fantastic-medieval." It's not even "fantastic renaissance" or "fantastic-post-apocalyptic." It's "fantastic American history." 

How did Gygax set out to write a fantastic-medieval game and end up writing an American one?

OD&D is meant to be setting-free. The game's referee is to create his or her own campaign, ranging in milieu from the "prehistoric to the imagined future" (with emphasis on the medieval, especially for beginners). In the later 1e Dungeon Masters Guide, Gygax further explains, "There are dozens of possible government forms, each of which will have varying social classes, ranks, or castes. Which sort you choose for your milieu is strictly your own prerogative. While this game is loosely based on Feudal European technology, history and myth, it also contains elements from the Ancient Period, parts of more modern myth, and the mythos of many authors as well. Within its boundaries all sorts of societies and cultures can exist, and there is nothing to dictate that their needs be Feudal European."

But it is very difficult to write a document with no cultural assumptions at all. Gygax consciously excluded the trappings of a medieval society, and filled that vacuum with "real life" American details. Gygax wrote D&D in a country where, 100 years before, frontier land was considered free for the taking. (19th century propaganda depicted the land's original Native American inhabitants as inimical savages, like orcs). At the same period, the success of America's industrialist "robber barons" taught the country that birth and family weren't the keys to American power; the American keys were self-reliance, ability, and the ruthless accumulation of money. 

While it's possible that D&D's modern details slipped into the game unobserved,
Gygax may have been quite aware of his game's implicit setting. After all, his original pre-publication Greyhawk campaign drew heavily from his own American experience. It took place on a United States map with Greyhawk at Chicago, and Dyvers at Milwaukee. His buddy Don Kaye's Greyhawk character, Murlynd, was a gunslinger from Boot Hill. I think it's quite likely that Gygax intentionally gave his game a New World spin. 

Intentional or not, OD&D represents a milestone in American fantasy - and maybe the last un-muddled example of the genre it inspired. Most of D&D's thousands of imitators, in game and fiction, preserve the game's democratic bones (cash economy, guns for hire, rags to riches stories) while overlaying a medieval-European skin. The combination is not fortunate. Gygaxian levelocracy, where a villager can rise to become a baron or a "Conan type", is fundamentally incompatible with the European fantasy typified by Lord of the Rings, in which no fellowship can alter the fact that Sam is by birth a servant, Frodo a gentleman, Strider a king, and Gandalf a wizard. 

OD&D's American strain of fantasy didn't even last within TSR. In 1980, Gygax himself reworked the World of Greyhawk into what looks, from its cover, like a supplement about Arthurian Knights:

But it's worth taking a step back from the medieval-fantasy cliches that overran later D&D publications, and playing the original, more coherent setting: A swords-and-sorcery world, empty of government, where anyone can pick up a sword, become a hero, and live the American dream.