No-lah, or, A History Of The Golden City Of Monsters.

So there is a thread going around Twitter right now, in which an RPG designer looks at maps of New Orleans and lists all the things that he would find fault with if this were a map handed in by a freelance cartographer for a worldbook he was editing. All of these things, of course, have sensible explanations, which mostly boil down to “it’s the least terrible place to put a port near the mouth of a river that drains 1/3 of an entire continent, and the land has changed a lot due to us no longer letting the river wander back and forth across its delta”.

My opinion of this hot take on my home city? Don’t say that the place is too weird, too dense with complicated history to fit into your idea of a fantasyland formed by third-hand imitations of the maps in the endpapers of The Lord Of The Rings. Embrace the weirdness. Look at the reasons the city is and land is like it is; transform them into something magical, and use this as the basis of a far weirder city than you would have otherwise.

And then I decided to have a go at this myself.

Ages ago, the gods all died. This much we know. They fought amongst each other and laid much of the world to waste in their wake. We have only the faintest rumors of who they were and why they fought, spun from the shredded memories of generations busy scraping out a living in the lands that escaped the worst of their wrath.

Six centuries ago, the Elvish explorer Lemoy-ville followed the many rivers of the fertile North to the place where they join into one mighty torrent and drain into the Gulf of Monsters. Legend says the Gulf was formed by the three overlapping imprints of the Foot of the Thunderer, as she crushed the Worm of the Stars before surrendering to its venom; all we really can say for sure is that the Gulf of Monsters is full to bursting with strange bones and stranger objects, many of which have found surprising uses in modern hands.¹

Lemoy-ville planted a golden flag at the closest to the Gulf she dared set up a semi-permanent camp. But by the time prospectors followed in her wake, drawn by her tales of the ink-black beauty of the Gulf, the rich bounty of strange beasts, and the handful of iridescent crystals oozing more puissance machicx than any found in the North, the miasma that drifted in off the Gulf every winter had tarnished it to a sort of greenish-purplish iridescence. And thus was the seed that grew into the city of No-lah².

Over the decades, No-lah grew. From a tiny camp of thrillseekers and fortunehunters, to a small town of inns and shops for those, to a place sprawling past the borders of the benevolent influence of the clear waters of the mighty River ‘Tchafallayall⁴, to a bustling city of the descendants of fortune-seekers both failed and successful, refugees from the wars of the North, and outcasts. Its architecture came to incorporate strange hints of the buildings of the vanished gods, drawn from treasures found further and further out in the muck of the Gulf of Monsters, built in part with the puissance machicx cracked from the bones of the Serpent Gods who perished in the god wars.

Despite the regular intrusions of strange gibbering beasts that crawled out of the Gulf, No-Lah became a successful, lazy city.

And then, three hundred years after Lemoy-ville stuck a flag into a benighted hump of land near the Gulf of Monsters, the man who would be known as the Weather Witch-Lord came into possession of the Heart of the Star-Worm. Pulled from the middle of the Gulf, somewhere along a four hundred mile long coiling underwater rise, it drew the dark syrupy liquid of the Gulf up the ‘Tchafallayall with it. Rendered into powder and sprinkled along the banks of the ‘Tchafallayall, it stopped the river’s wandering far better than any previous efforts. And most notably, after much effort and pain, after cracking it open and learning the secrets of its center, it… it summoned something, a nameless, seemingly-mindless shape that rose up from the river and mirrored its Gulf-tainted curves, its head high in the sky above No-lah, its tail fading out somewhere over the Gulf it came from.

We called it Katrice. Or, more precisely, Nashro’ber, the Weather Witch-Lord of No-lah called it Katrice, and everyone who wished to remain on his good side did the same. Other city-states making tentative footholds around other parts of the Gulf of Monsters called it other things: the Devistaciour⁵, the Skrt’t’xa⁶, and, well, within a decade pretty much everyone within three week’s ride around the Gulf was calling it Katrice, and regularly paying tribute to the Imperial City of No-lah, because that was better than what happened when Nashro’ber decided you were insufficiently respectful. Mine towers sprung up in the Gulf, digging for more of the Heart of the Star-Worm, and whatever other miracles they could find along the way. The banks of the ‘Tchafallayall between No-lah and the Gulf became armored walls, sprinkled every year with freshly-powdered Wormheart mixed with the blood of some of that tribute. Every year, Katrice grew thicker and darker in the sky; every year, the city celebrated with a party that grew along with the ghost of a god that moved to the city’s bidding.

After two hundred and eighty-seven years of this, Nashro’ber, the Weather Witch-Lord of the Fourth Golden Empire⁷, died. The official record of his last words is lost; the rumor around the city is that they were, simply, “Run”.

Four and a half weeks after that, Katrice laid waste to fully two-thirds of No-lah. Half of the Weather Witch Corps perished before one desperate Witch tore the Heart of the Star-Worm from its resting place in the half-embalmed skull of Nashro’ber, stole a skiff, and vanished into the Gulf. Katrice scattered into a thousand thousand wisps of heartbreak-colored cloud, and has not been seen since. Nor has that heroic, unnamed Witch.

Surprisingly, none of the former client states of the Fourth Golden Empire came in to finish what Katrice started. They didn’t lift a finger to help rebuild, either. Not without demanding a heavy price first, at least. Not without laying claim to whatever prizes they desired from amongst the city’s richer refugees.

It is twelve years later. The city’s population is, at best, half of what it was. Some of it is changing, made strange by the backlash of the power beneath the Gulf. Some of it is still in ruins.

But Lemoy-ville’s flag still glistens purple, green, and gold in the center of the Elvish Quarter⁸. And we still throw one hell of a party every year, even though the riverwalls are mere rubble along the course the ‘Tchafallayall took before Katrice changed everything.

Welcome to No-lah, o adventurer. What wonders will you find?

1: As well as the fairly unsurprising use of fighting the numerous monsters that give the Gulf its modern name.

2: Literally, “Tranquil Rest”. Lemoy-ville and her Company participated in a long explorer’s tradition of giving the least hospitable places of the world inviting names with this one; unlike their name for the Gulf³, this one stuck.

3: Sigs-bee, lit. “Mirror-to-the-sky”.

4: corrupted from the language of the local wood-fey, our best guess is “Don’t drink that you idiot, can’t you see the god-rot not ten feet up the bank from here”; sadly, little of their oral tradition survived the Storm of the Horse and the subsequent “land reclamation” push that saw No-Lah triple in size.

5: Orkish, lit. “Rain of Filth”

6: Spinnerish, lit. “Opener of the Myriad Carapaces”

7: Much ink, blood, and ichor has been spilled on the tenuous connection, or lack thereof, of the Fourth Golden Empire to the previous three. For now, let it suffice to say that even the most ardent supporter of this claim would gleefully proclaim it to be “pretty complicated” before attempting to simplify the argument with the aid of such conceptual aids as a board with strategically-placed nails, or a godsrot-tarnished rapier.

8: Which is largely high-arched Draconate work, built after the Storm of the Melody razed the city for the first time.

two dream fragments

  1. I was reading some mystical philosophy kind of stuff. Supposedly it was by Beethoven. I was very definitely studying it, which is, to be quite honest, pretty foreign to my whole life. I’ve never been much for Studying in a formal fashion.
  2. The corner of Where Am I and How Did I Get Here. I was walking along reading a book on my phone and passed my destination. I looked up and saw a street sign that read “WHERE AM I”. What an odd name for a street, I thought. My phone’s screen was all smeared up, so I couldn’t use Maps to figure out where I was. I decided not to turn around and retrace my steps; I was curious as to where this oddly-named street would lead. Soon I’d gone through some sort of portal to another, utterly mundane world, and was in a van with some other people who were now also in the wrong world because of me doing this. There was a lot of traffic; driving was slow.

dailysnek: coffee smirk


So lately when I’ve been feeling unmotivated to work on the huge, complex backgrounds of Parallax, I’ve been trying to at least make myself open up Illustrator and do some drawings of my cobra character Kalinda. (Who is also sometimes an archaeopteryx, it’s complicated.) I have been referring to these drawings as “#dailysnek” even though they are not a thing I do every day.

Today, I went out to the Meowtropolitan (a coffee shop with a room full of very very jaded cats) with Nick. On the way I decided that it would be nice to work on a bit of design I need to do for Parallax but it was by no means necessary; if all I did was to do a color version of a Daily Snek, that would be perfectly fine. I’ve generally been sluggish and unproductive lately, and I figured actually finishing something would be a nice change from “slowly picking away at complex two-page spread backgrounds”.

Worth noting: the smoke coming off of her cup is one path, with a moderately complex Appearance stack on it.

The bottommost stroke has an asterisk next to its weight because it’s got a variable width profile applied to it.

And here are all of the #dailysnek doodles thus far. Will I keep doing these? I dunno. It’s been fun so far, and people seem to like them. Click them to embiggenate.

the is is the only one that involved looking at an actual photo of a real snake, I should do that more often to figure out how to properly pile up her coils.

And then, having done this, I used the last half-hour of my Mac’s battery life to rough out a spaceship design for Parallax. Yay!

Still needs some work to turn it into something I can drop into Silo and use as reference to model. But there’s a good start there at the bottom, with some shapes that evoke assorted 70’s spaceships (mostly the Liberator from Blake’s 7, which always looked like it was going backwards, and maybe a little of the Vipers from Battlestar Galactica. Though I think I’ll try to downplay that as I work on them, as this is an eight-person shuttle with its own stardrive rather than a two-seat fighter that lives on a carrier.)

the dream of the very very abrupt ending

There never was any wheelchair. There never was any wheelchair. There never was any wheelchair. Everyone on the bus chanted this as it whirled around me, flashing between being a bus full of tourists and… other things; brief, half-second glimpses of bright lights and carnivals and who knows what. And then they were holding me, a skull coming in towards the armpit of my lifted-up arm. And then with a twist and a thump I was AWAKE, lying there in my bed. None of the slow drifting-to-awareness of my normal waking up; it was like I just fell back into my body and there I was. I lay there slightly stunned for a moment*, then got up, put on my robe, and went to the kitchen, pretty much on autopilot. After a brief encounter with Nick (it’s a sunny day today! also the Northgate mall is turning into offices! also there is a section in its wikipedia page about terrorists and serial killers!), I picked up my phone. Not because I wanted to use it – but because I wanted to see if it still worked, because I have noted that whenever I pull it out in a dream, I always get a clunky substitute cobbled together out of 1990s tech. It was, indeed, an early-21st-century device that worked as expected, so I guess I’m really awake.


The wheelchair that wasn’t? Oh, that was from before. I was in a rainy parking lot, and watched a man push a wheelchair through it, and suddenly collapse; I helped him up, and he went to his friends without a word to me. And then the wheelchair was gone and I was on the bus and that’s where we came in, isn’t it?


Previously there had been a fairly coherent narrative where I was some other guy, who had traveled a long way to seek the advice of a very Vegas sort of mystic at some kind of convention; he was looking for help with an entity that had been connected to him for long enough that he’d bothered this mystic’s father for help, as well. He was rejected once more, and watched sadly as other people looking for advice were tapped to be in some sort of forming coven; he ended up in a brightly-lit store, watching these other people troop in and acquire flashy new Magic Wands. (Me? I thought. I don’t need one of their wands. I have my own. And there it was in my hand, the plastic one full of water and glitter that I’ve had iRL for several years.) It was kinda sad.

Before that there was a bunch of the usual dream nonsense about trying to use a bathroom that was ridiculously impractical. Usually that involves me trying to pee in a toilet that’s overflowing, or has been removed, or something; this time it was a taking a shower with a showerhead attached to the wall right next to the toilet. At least the showerhead was on a hose, so it was almost usable. Until the point where that wall and toilet were in the middle of a fast fashion shop in a mall and it seemed more appropriate to deal with buying my stuff and getting out. Very much routine Dream Problems.


But damn, that ending. Never woke up like that before, feeling like I just fell into my body with a thunk and woke all the way up in an instant.

* I may have felt compelled to do a quick banishing before getting up, it was that weird

the dream of the classic comics shortcut

This morning, I woke from a dream about tracing complicated layouts from a superhero comic, which was a little infamous for itself being lifted from another one. I suspect this was in response to me going to bed sad because progress on Parallax is slow, due to the massive amounts of complex background stuff the story needs.

Nice try, brain. I wish this solution would work. But the problem is that I’ve got to invent the remnants of a whole culture, not that the layouts are hard.

the dream of what the fuck am i doing at PAX.

I dreamed I was hanging out with the Penny Arcade guys at some kind of giant convention. It was beyond super awkward. Way beyond. Also I kept on losing and finding polyhedral dice. Ultimately I ended up next to a tiny submarine sinking into a watery pit in the middle of some sand, which was just barely covering a whole bunch of dice. I am not sure I ever got my dice back but I sure ended up with a purse full of dice.

In reality, ECCC starts today and i am delighted to not be working it,

The Running of the Blades

Tonight I watched the “Final Cut” of Blade Runner. Last time I saw it was probably on a VHS tape; I’m not sure I ever saw it theatrically. Here are some assorted thoughts I started to type up into Mastodon and decided to move here instead.

Blade Runner depicts a used-up future in which every corner is full of junk, and white people are just another shade in the crowd. But their stories are the only ones that matter to us, it seems.

Every scene is full of smoke and dust. Polluted air, or legalized pot?

Visual theme: Eyes. So many close-ups of eyes on screens. Luminous owl eyes. And of course the scene where Batty pops Tyrell’s head and gouges Tyrell’s eyes out. I turned away during that one. Even when I was a teen boy I didn’t revel in gore like that, much less as a fortysomething lady.

Also holy crap the scene where Deckard comes on to Rachel is super rapey. Trap her against the wall, ignore her saying no, TELL her to say “kiss me”? This is not consent, no matter how much Vangelis wailing away on the synthosax tries to persuade us otherwise.

It is a movie full of Signifying Images that does not care to do more than vaguely hint at what these Significators may Signify. Blah blah unicorn blah blah replicant blah blah Deckard, okay sure, I can see that, mostly coming out of Gaff’s little match-man and his comments at the end. (Apparently Ridley Scott directed it with Replicant Deckard in mind, and apparently the sequel completely goes with Human Deckard.)

I feel like there is something going on with the Off-World Colonies Ad blimp. We see it several times over the course of the movie, with the Off-World Colonies ad slowly being replaced by an Asian lady saying something my English-only ears can’t even begin to comprehend. The last time we see it, it’s flashing its lights into the Bradbury Building as Deckard enters, on his way up to kill Pris: No new life awaits anyone in this movie any more.

It has very compelling set design. Which is helped by the fact that it’s a noir, and every scene is either in the rain at night, or dramatically lit by low-angle sunlight. This hides a lot of the edges of the world in shadow. And hides mistakes. I should remember that, it feels like a useful trick.

The “Final Cut” didn’t include the voice-overs of the original theatrical release. I didn’t miss them. I don’t think I’m going to pop in disc 2, which has two theatrical cuts (US and Europe) as well as the “Director’s Cut”. One version is enough. Especially when Wikipedia informs me the “Final” version is the only one lacking studio interference with the film Scott was trying to make…

the dream of the advertising larp

I dreamed I was taking part in some sort of LARP about murders in an advertising agency. It was high up atop a bridge, and was a lot of work to bicycle up to.

One of my co-workers from the Spumco/Nebulous days was there and dressing in borderline drag. Pringle looked astoundingly good in that green plaid lady’s coat. I’m not that surprised to have seen him; before falling asleep I distinctly recall pondering some old dreams about returning to the animation industry, where Gabe showed up.

I looked at a list of things that needed to be drawn to fill out the pretend agency’s gallery of previous work, and declined to spend time on any of them.

thoughts on transmitting one’s values to one’s kids

It is five in the morning and I am lying in bed thinking about cultural continuity. Specifically, I am thinking about the ways my parents communicated their culture and values to me without a single word: the books and magazines lying around the house. After I learnt to read, I started reading pretty much anything I could get my hands on – first the little shelf full of kid’s books they kept in the living room, but pretty soon there were visits to the library every week, and me picking up whatever was lying around. That stack of audio magazines my dad subscribed to? My mom’s subscription to New Yorker? Stuff off the lower reaches of their shelves in the back room? Anything I could reach was fair game. Sure, there was stuff that was specifically My Reading Material that they had no interest in, but and I sure wasn’t reading everything they did, but there was a lot of overlap. And a certain amount of my parents shaping me by what they chose to subscribe to for me, as well.

I consider my current reading habits: lots of stuff on the screen. If I had a kid, how much of my tastes would be transmitted to them? They wouldn’t have any magazines to read. Most of my books are in the Kindle app, except for the comics. They’d probably end up getting lost in the horrors of Deep Youtube, populated by people hollering racial slurs over video games, idiots narrating their lives, and corporate-owned characters getting kidnapped by evil dentists who bury them up to their necks in sand, or whatever the hell else The Algorithm has decided is Popular now.

It’s the same with music: no stack of records or tapes or CDs for a kid to browse and maybe fall in love with a few things. Especially not if I was one of the zillions of people who have apparently quit buying any music at all and stream it instead. No treasured DVDs of movies or games. Just… data.

I suppose there are Family Plans, ways to share a collection of licenses to media in the cloud with your spouse and kids. But those are never the first thing on anyone’s list of features to implement; things are solitary and siloed as a matter of course. And I’m not sure that’s really a good thing at all.

Raising a kid now must be pretty complicated and scary, given that there are literal Nazis out there hoping to recruit any lonely, bored people they can…

(and on the flip side I guess there’s all those queers out there happy to help validate a kid’s explorations and drag them down into that world, where gender is a construct and all those other horrible things? Kids get into weird shit, it’s part of growing up. I’m just wondering how much less of a grounding they have in their parents’ values now due to Ambient Media Lying Around The House.)