Friday, September 14, 2018

Public Domain Art - Warwick Gobels "Folk-Tales of Bengal"

More art from Warwick Gobel. This time images from Lal Behari Day's Folk-Tales of Bengal.
   
She rushed out of the palace
and came to the upper world.
     
The Suo queen went to the door
with a handful of rice.
     
The prince revived,
and, walking about,
saw a human figure near the gate.
   
She took up the jewel in her hand,
left the palace,
and successfully reached the upper world.
     
He rushed out of his hiding-place
and killed the serpent.
     
Instead of sweetmeats,
about a score of demons.
     
At the door of which stood a lady of exquisite beauty.
     
In a trice she woke up,
sat up in bed,
and eyeing the stranger,
inquired who he was.
     
The girl of the Wall-Amirah.
     
On a sudden,
an elephant, gorgeously caparisoned,
shot across his path.
     
They then set out on their journey.
     
A monstrous bird comes out,
apparently from the castle.
     
Hundreds of peacocks of gorgeous plumes
came to the embankment to eat the khai.
     
You would adorn the palace
of the mightiest sovereign.
     
He saw a beautiful woman
coming out of the palace.
     
Husband, take up all this large quantity of gold
and these precious stones.
     
They ran away in great fear,
leaving behind them the money and jewels.
     
The camel-driver alighted,
tied the camel to the tree on the spot,
and began smoking.
     
How is it that you have returned so soon?
     
At dawn he used to cull flowers in the forest.
     
The Brahman's wife had occasion to go to the tank,
and as she went she brushed by a Sankchinni.
     
The moment the first stroke was given,
a great many ghosts rushed toward the Brahman.
     
The lady, king, and hiraman
all reached the king's capital safe and sound.
     
What princess ever puts
only one ruby in her hair?
     
Coming up to the surface,
they climbed into the boat.
     
The jackal opened his bundle of betel-leaves,
put some into his mouth,
and began chewing them.
     
A bright light,
like that of the moon,
was seen shining on his forehead.
     
The six queens
tried to comfort him.
     
Now, barber,
I am going to destroy you.
Who will protect you?
     
They approached
a magnificent pile of buildings.
     
Thus the princess
was deserted.
     
When she got out of the water,
what a change was seen in her!
     

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Joanna Russ' and Samuel Delaney's Game I Want to Play - Vlet

Vlet is a fictional boardgame. It doesn't really exist. It first appeared in Joanna Russ' short story "A Game of Vlet," and then appeared again in Samuel Delaney's novel Trouble on Triton.
 
Vlet is a vaguely chess-like game with two sides defined by color, a board divided into squares, pieces that are named for medieval occupations. It also seems chess-like in that it's supposed to be a game with deep strategy, one that novices can play but poorly, and that enthralls its master players with its complexity. Delaney's version also reminds me of contemporary boardgames, with its ornate gameboard and pieces, its supplemental second board, its cards and stretch-goal upgraded meeples.
 
 
The quotes below are taken from chapters 2 and 4 of Triton. I've edited the text to remove everything except the games-playing. In the first scene, Bron, Sam, and Lawrence are playing vlet in the common room of their apartment building. Delaney had his characters debating various ideas while they played, so the actual book contains a paragraph of dialogue, a sentence of vlet, followed by another soliloquy, etc. I've reduced it down to just a description of them playing the game. (I should also note, the last dice the game uses isn't a dodecahedron, it's an icosahedron, known D&D players as a d20. The book also includes an elaborate math equation for calculating the score. I had no way to reproduce it, and it isn't really important. It's only meant to impress you with how complex the game must be to include such an equation.)
 
"Bronze clasps, cast as clawing beasts, snapped back under Lawrence's wrinkled thumb. Lawrence opened out the meter-wide case. The case's wooden back, inlaid with ivory and walnut, clacked to the common-room's baize table. He gazed over the board: within the teak rim, in three dimensions, the landscape spread, mountains to the left, ocean to the right. The jungle between was cut here by a narrow, double-rutted road, there by a mazey river. A tongue of desert wound from behind the steeper crags, alongside the ragged quarry. Drifting in from the border, small waves inched the glassy sea till, near shore, they broke, foaming. Alongside the beach, wrinkling spume slid up and out, up and out. The river's silver, leaving the mountains, poured over a little waterfall, bright as falling mica. A darker green blush crossed the jungle: a micro-breeze, disturbing the tops of micro-trees."
 
"Lawrence assembled the astral cube: the six six-by-six plastic squares, stacked on brass stilts, made a three dimensional, transparent playing space to the right of the main board, on which all demonic, mythical, magical, and astral battles were enacted."
 
" 'There: that's all together. Would you get the cards out of the side drawer, please?' "
 
"Bron looked around the side of the vlet case, pulled out the long, narrow drawer. He picked up the tooled leather dice-cup; the five dice clicked hollowly. Thrown, three would be black with white pips, one would be transparent with diamond pips, and the fifth, not cubic, but scarlet and dodecahedral, had seven faces blank (usually benign in play, occasionally they could prove, if you threw one at the wrong time, disastrous); the others showed thirteen alien constellations, picked out in black and gold."
 
"Bron set the cup down and fingered up the thick pack. He unwrapped the blue silk cloth from around it. Along the napkin's edge, gold threads embroidered the rather difficult modulus by which the even more difficult scoring system (Lawrence had not taught him that yet; he knew only that O was a measurement of strategic angles of attack [over different sorts of terrain N, M, and A] and that small ones netted more points than large ones) proceeded. As he pulled back the blue corner, two cards slid to the table. He picked them up - the Wizard of Rocks and the Child Empress - and squared them with the deck."
 
"Lawrence opened the drawer on the other side of the case and took out a handful of the small, mirrored and transparent screens (some etched with the same, alien constellations, some with different), set them upright beside the board, then reached back in for the playing pieces: carved foot soldiers, mounted men, model army-encampments; and, from this same drawer, two miniature cities, with their tiny streets, squares, and markets; one of these he put in its place in the mountains, the second he set by the shore. Lawrence took up one red foot soldier, one green one, sat back in his chair, put the pieces behind his back. Lawrence brought his fists together above the mountains. 'Choose-' "
 
"Bron tapped Lawrence's left fist."
 
"The fist turned over, opened: a scarlet foot soldier."
 
" 'Thank you,' Lawrence said."
 
"Bron took the piece, looked around at the other side of the case, and began to pick the scarlet pieces from the green velvet drawer. He stopped with the piece called the Beast between his thumb and forefinger, regarded it: the miniature, hulking figure, with its metal claws and plastic eyes. During certain gambits, the speaker grill beside the dice-cup drawer would yield up the creature's roar, as well as the terrified shouts of its attackers. Bron turned it in his fingers, pondering, smiling, wondering."
 
" 'Anybody winning?' Sam came down the narrow, iron steps. 'How've you been going along since I left?' "
 
" 'He's getting pretty good,' Lawrence said. 'Bron's got quite a feel for vlet, I think. You'll have to try some to catch up with him from where you were last time.' "
 
" 'I'm still not in the same league with Lawrence there.' "
 
"What Lawrence had laid out on the green baize table was the vlet game."
 
"Sam said: 'Can you play this one with the grid-' And lowered an eyebrow at Bron- 'or are you beyond that now?' "
 
"Bron said: 'Well, I don't know if-' "
 
"But Lawrence reached for one of the toggles in the card drawer. Across the landscape, pin-points of light picked out a squared pattern, thirty-three by thirty-three. 'Bron could do with a few more gridded games I expect-' For advanced players (Lawrence had explained two weeks ago when Sam was last in) the grid was only used for the final scoring, to decide who had taken exactly what territory. In the actual play, however, elementary players found it helpful in judging those all-important O's. Bron had been contemplating suggesting that they omit it this game. But there it was; and the cities had been placed, the encampments had been deployed. The plastic Sea Serpent had been put, bobbing, into the sea. The Beast leered from its lair; Lawrence's soldiers were set up along the river bank, his peasants in their fields, his royalty gathered behind the lines, his magicians in their caves."
 
"Bron said: 'Sam, why don't you play this one. I mean I've had the last two weeks to practice.' "
 
" 'No,' Sam said. 'No, I want to watch. I've forgotten half the moves since Lawrence explained them to me anyway. Go on.' He took a meditative step backward and moved around to view the board from Bron's side."
 
"Bron picked up the deck and shuffled, thinking."
    
"The hand Bron dealt himself was good. Carefully, he arranged the cards."
   
"Lawrence rolled the dice over the desert to begin play, bid five-royal, melded the Juggler with the Poet, discarded the three of Jewels and moved two of his cargo vessels out of the harbor into open waters."
    
"Bron's own throw yielded him a double six, a diamond three, with the three-eyed visage of Yildrith showing on the dodecahedron. He covered Lawrence's meld with the seven, eight, and nine of Storms, set the tiny mirrored screen, with the grinning face of Yildrith etched on it, four spaces ahead of Lawrence's lead cargo ship, bid seven-common to cover Lawrence's six-royal, discarded the Page of Dawn and took Lawrence's three of Jewels with the Ace of Flames; his own caravan began the trek upriver toward the mountain pass at the Vale of K'hiri, where, due to the presence of a green Witch, all points scored there would be doubled."
   
"Twenty minutes into the play, the red Courier was trapped between two mirrored screens (with the horned head of Zamtyl, and the many-tongued Arkrol, reflected back and forth to infinity); the scarlet Hero offered some help but was, basically, blocked with a transparent screen. On the dice a diamond two glittered amidst black ones and fives, and Lawrence was a point away from his bid; which meant an astral battle."
   
"As they turned their attention to the three-dimensional board which dominated higher decisions (and each of the seven markers which they played there bore the frowning face of a god), Bron turned to make some comment-"
   
"Sam was not at his shoulder. Sam sat at one of the readers, in the niche."
   
"-when the common room lamps dropped to quarter-brightness. (Lawrence's wrinkled chin, the tips of his fingers, and the base of the green Magician he was about to place, glowed above the vlet board's light.)"
   
"The lamps flickered once, then went out completely."
   
...
   
"Somehow, twenty minutes after that, the pieces had been rearranged on the vlet board."
    
"He lost the astral battle seven to one."
    
" 'What,' Lawrence said, sitting back in his chair, 'were you ever thinking of?' "
    
"Bron reached out and removed his own, overturned scarlet Assassin and slid Lawrence's green Duchess into the square by the waterfall's bank, to threaten the caravan preparing to cross the river less than three squares to the East. With the pieces still in his fist (he could feel its nubs and corners), he picked up his cards and surveyed his depleted points. Only one meld was possible and he was three away from his most recent bid."
    
"Lawrence returned his eyes to the board: in the Mountains of Norhia a situation had been developing for some time that Bron had hoped would turn to his advantage, if Lawrence would only keep the transparent screens of Egoth and Dartor out of it: the Mountains of Norhia were where Lawrence was looking."
    
"Bron's frown dropped to the micro-mountains, the miniscule trees, the shore where tiny waves lapped the bright, barbaric sands."
    
"Lawrence said: "I do believe it's your move.' "
    
" 'What do you think I should do, Lawrence?' "
    
" 'Whatever you think you should do. You might try playing the game- hello, Sam!' who had come up to the table. 'Say, why don't you two play together against me. Bron's gone quite mushy. It's shot his concentration all to hell. Come on, Sam. Sit down and give him a hand.' "
    
"On the point of spluttering protest, Bron made room on the couch. Sam asked something about his meld strategy and, when Bron explained, gave a complimentary whistle. At least Bron thought it was complimentary."
    
"They played. Tides turned. So did the score. By the time they adjourned for the evening (elementary players, Lawrence had explained, shouldn't even hope to play a game to completion for the first six months), Bron and Sam were pounding each other's shoulders and laughing and congratulating Lawrence and, of course, they would all get together tomorrow evening and take up where they'd left off."
    
...
    
" 'You want to continue from where we left off?' Sam put the case up on the table and sat. 'Lawrence said to set up the pieces as best we remembered, and he'd come down in ten minutes and make corrections.' Sam thumbed back brass claws, opened out the board."
    
"Between them micro-waves lapped, micro-breezes blew, micro-trees bent, and micro-torrents plashed and whispered down micro-rocks."
    
"Bron opened the case's side drawer, removed the transparent plates of the astral cube and began to assemble them on their brass stilts. When he did glance up, Sam was regarding him seriously, the cards in his dark fingers halted in midshuffle. A corner of the White Novice showed."
    
"Bron pulled out the other side drawer of velvet-cradled ships, warriors, horsemen, herdsmen, and hunters. He picked up the screen showing the horned head of Aolyon (cheeks puffed with hurricane winds) and set it, on its tiny base, upon the waters - which immediately darkened about it; green troughs and frothing crowns rolled about the little stretch of sea."
    
"Sam put down the pack, reached into the control drawer and turned a survey knob. From the side-speaker came a crack and crackle over rushing wind, followed by a mumbling as of crumbled boulders. 'That's quite a storm ... were there any sea-monsters in here? I don't remember-' "
    
"Bron picked up his own scarlet Beast and set it on the rocky ledge, where it lowered over at the narrow trail winding the chasm below. Sam sat back to watch Bron set out the tiny figures. Bron picked up green pieces and set them by river, rock, and road. Sam was turning a transparent die between dark forefinger and thumb. Sam came forward again, to set scarlet's caravan, one piece after the other, on the jungle trail. Bron fished the last cargo ship from the drawer and positioned it at the edge of the storm - immediately it began to doff and roll. Sam began to place the screens."
    
"Lawrence's voice came loudly and cheerfully from the middle of the room. Bron and Sam looked up. Lawrence came over. Lawrence grunted and sat next to Sam, who moved over for him."
    
"Lawrence turned a switch; the grid flickered over the board. Lawrence reached out and adjusted two Queens. 'I think those were there, actually. Otherwise, the two of you seem to have done pretty well. All right, now- Get away from me! Get away-! You're both playing against me now- don't think by sidling up like that you'll get any advantages.' Sam changed his seat."
   
"Lawrence picked up the pack and dealt. Sam fanned the cards. Bron looked at their joint hand, reached over and reversed two of the cards. Sam, still looking at the cards, had that mocking smile. Bron reached over and pulled out the four-card meld in the high Flames Sam had overlooked; which, for the first half hour of play, at any rate, gave them a decided advantage - before Lawrence, by adroit manipulation of all the gods and astral powers, regained his customary edge."
   
   
In the next scene, Bron and Sam are on a business trip together. They observe a couple other passengers playing vlet en route, and then play against the pair.
   
"Bron spent a lot of time 'down' in the dimly-lit free-fall chamber, looking through a window there at the stars."
    
" 'Hey,' Sam called to him. 'Come up here a minute. You have to see this.' "
    
"Bron emerged into the weighted chamber - an odd experience, having your head, then your shoulders, then your arms and chest go all heavy - and came up by the pool."
    
" 'Come on, take a look at this.' Sam doffed a drink in one hand, guiding Bron's shoulder with the other. 'Come on.' "
    
"By the poolside, at one of the wall tables, sat the redhead; across from him sat an oriental woman with irregularly-clipped, black hair. Between them was a vlet board. It was only a quarter the size of Lawrence's. (A small traveling version?) The landscape was simply a laminated 3-D photograph, not Lawrence's animated holographic surface. The pieces were not carefully carved and painted but merely raised symbols on red and green plastic markers. The astral cube did not have its own stand. But Bron could see, in the deployment of the gods, the detritus of a vicious astral battle that green (the red-head's side) had evidently won."
    
"Five melds were already down."
    
"The woman threw the dice and, in a rather surprising way (a rather clever one too, Bron though as soon as the move was completed), managed to bring her Guards in from the right, just as green's caravan crossed the forge, to pull it out of the influence of the scarlet Magician, substantially multiplied by three reflecting screens."
    
"The redhead tossed the dice, discarded a low Flame, dispersed the screens to the corners of the board in one move (which left Bron, among the game's half-donzen spectators, frowning) and turned to rearrange a matrix on the astral board. That's clever! Bron thought. The woman would have to answer it, pulling some of her powers from the Real World, which would leave some of her strongest pieces unprotected."
    
"The edge of the playing board, the table, and the woman's cheek flickered with reflections off the pool."
    
"Sam nudged Bron and grinned. 'I was thinking we might challenge them to a game of doubles, you and me. But I guess they're a little out of our league.' "
    
"The woman won the battle in three moves."
    
"Some time later they did play a game of doubles - and were wiped off the board in twenty minutes. While Sam was saying, 'Well, we may not have won, but I bet we've learned something! Lawrence better watch out when we get back, hey Bron?' Bron, smiling, nodding, retired down into the free-fall chamber."
 
 
Russ' short story, "A Game of Vlet," as its title implies, contains only a single game of vlet. It's played between a revolutionary magician and a politician's mistress. She initially appears to play very poorly, although later the magician realizes he doesn't understand her goal for the game.
   
"Now it is often said that in Vlet experienced players lose sight of everything but the game itself, and so passionate is this intellectual haze that they forget to eat or drink, sometimes even to breathe in the intensity of their concentration, but never before had such a thing actually happened to the Lady. As she touched the first piece - it was a black one - all the sounds in the hall died away, and everything there faded and dissolved into mist. Only she herself existed, she and the board of Vlet, the pieces of Vlet, which stood before her in unnatural distinctness, as if she were looking down from a mountain at the camps of two opposing armies. One army was red and one was black, and on the other side of the great smoky plains sat the magician, himself the size of a mountain or a god. He held in one hand a piece of Red. He looked over the board as if he looked into an abyss."
 
" 'You are playing for your life,' she said, 'for I declare myself to be the Government.' "
 
" 'I play,' said he, 'as myself and for the Revolution.' "
 
"And he moved his first piece."
 
"She moved all her Common Persons at once, which was a popular way to open the game. They move one square at a time."
 
"So did he."
 
"In back of her Common Persons she put her Strongbox, which is a very strong offensive piece but weak on defense; she moved her Archpriest - the sliding piece - in front of her Governor, who is the ultimate object of the game, and brought her Elephant to the side, keeping it in reserve. She went to move a set of Common Persons and discovered with a shock that she seemed to have no Common Persons at all and her opponent nothing else; then she saw that all her black Common Persons had fled to the other side of the board and that they had all turned red. In those days it was possible - depending on the direction from which your piece came - either to take an enemy's piece out of the game - 'kill it,' they said - or to convert it to your own use. One signaled this by standing the piece on its head. The Lady had occasionally lost a game to her own converted Vlet pieces, but never in her life before had she seen ones that literally changed color, or ones that slipped away by themselves when you were not looking, or pieces that made noise, for something across the board was making the oddest noise she had ever heard, like all the little Common Persons singing together. The Lady gasped and gripped the edge of the Vlet board, for that was exactly what was happening; across the board her enemy's little red pieces of Vlet, Common Persons all, were moving their miniature knees up and down and singing heartily:"
   
" 'The Pee-pul!' "
" 'The Pee-pul!' "
   
" 'An ancient verse,' said Rav, mountainous across the board. 'Make your move,' and she saw her own hand, huge as a giant's move down into the valley, where transparent buildings and streets seemed to spring up all over the board. She moved her Strongbox closer to the Governor, playing for time."
 
"He moved another set of Common Persons."
 
"Her Tax-Collector was caught."
 
"She moved her Archpriest, and in horror watched him shake his fist at her and stand sullenly grimacing in the square where she had put him; then, before she could stop him, he hopped two more squares, knocked flat a couple of commoners whose blood and intestines flowed tinily out onto the board, jeered at her, hopped two more, and killed a third man before she could get her fingers on him."
 
"So she picked up the squirming Archpriest, younger son of a younger son, stupid, spiteful, ambitious, and thrust him across the board, deep into enemy territory, where the Commons could pothook him to their hearts' content."
 
" 'We don't do things that way,' said Rav, his voice rolling godlike across the valley, across the towers and terraces, across the parties held on whitewashed roofs where ladies ate cherries and pelted gentlemen with flowers, where aristocratic persons played at darts, embroidered, smoked hemp, and behaved as nobles should. One couple was even playing - so tiny as to be almost invisible - a miniature game of Vlet."
 
" 'We play a clean game,' said Rav."
 
"Which is so difficult that only a Grandmaster of Grandmasters attempts it more than once a year. Pieces must be converted but not killed."
 
"Her Elephant, which she immobilized, and set her Nobles killing one another, which an inept player can actually do in Vlet. She threw away piece after piece, give him the opportunity for a Fool's Kill, which he did not take, exposed every piece. While Rav smiled pitifully, far away, out in the city suburbs, in the hovels of peasant freeholds that surrounded the real city, out in the real night she could hear a rumble, a rising voice, thunder; she finds herself surrounding the Red Governor, who wasn't a Governor but a Leader, a little piece with Rav's features and with the same smile."
 
" 'Check,' said the Lady, 'and Mate.' She did not want to do it. A guard in the room laughed. Out in the city all was quiet. Then, quite beside herself, a strange Lady in the black Gown of the Night, seeing a Red Assassin with her own features scream furiously from the other side of the board and dart violently across it, took the board in both hands and threw the game high into the air."
 
 
Russ' version of vlet seems pretty much like chess to me, with most of the same pieces - or very close analogs, like "Common Persons" and pawns. But there are clearly rules changes. You can choose to "capture" pieces by converting them to your side instead of "capturing" them by removing them from the board. You can move multiple pieces at once. It's possible for an incompetent player to kill one of their own pieces and remove it from the game. Pieces like the "Strongbox" sound like they might be related to chess pieces (the castle, the rook) but the analogy seems so imperfect, you start to wonder if it's a false cognate.
 
Delany actually addresses the velt-chess comparison directly. At one point on the business trip, Bron sees a couple people playing chess, and finds in baffling, in part because all the pieces have specific rules for how to move that he's heard before but can never remember. This suggests that in vlet, movement either has a general set of rules, or follows principles based on location on the board, but that all the pieces move more or less the same way. Vlet pieces then are distinguished based on what they do, not on how they move; whereas chess pieces all do the same thing - that is, capture other pieces by landing on them - and are distinguished by their unique movements. This is only true in Delay's version of vlet though; Russ clearly assigns specific movements to specific pieces.
 
Of the two authors, Delany does more to describe what it might look like to play vlet, in part, I think, because his version of the game exists pretty much for its own sake. It's set dressing, just something for his characters to do while they talk to each other. As such, it doesn't particularly carry any narrative burden. Bron plays vlet poorly and Lawrence plays it well, but mostly due to their respective levels of experience with the game. Unless I really missed it, nothing that happens on the velt-board is a metaphor for any of the social or political maneuvering that goes on in the novel. The way Bron plays isn't intended to be a metaphor for his overall psychological condition; he plays like a novice, but not in a way that reveals him to be an expatriate Martian living in a libertarian utopia on a Neptunian moon, who's unable to be happy because he's unable to cope with the absence of strict ritualized norms governing behavior. The game is detached from all that, and instead, it just gets to exist. What I guess I mean is, Russ narrates what happens inside the game, but Delany narrates what it feels like to be a player, manipulating a complex set of pieces, relying partly on luck, and trying to outsmart your friend who knows what he's doing much better than you.
 
Instead, Russ's big idea is that if you make an object in such a way that no one involved really looks at or touches any of the raw materials or finished products, then the first time someone uses that object, it will have one-time magical properties. Mine silver in complete darkness, smelt it blindfolded, and have blind craftsmen polish it into a mirror, and the first time someone looks into that mirror they can view any scene over any distance. Craft a virgin vlet-board in much the same way, and the players of the game can cause a people's revolution and the royal response to play out in real time. The parallels between the game and the revolution are very cool in Russ' original story, although of course you can't tell it from my abridged version here.
 
It would be difficult for me to recommend Triton as a novel, although I enjoyed Delaney's version of vlet the more than Russ's. In a society that emphasizes personal freedom, most of Delaney's characters are hobbyists - they're into things, that they mostly do in groups. One leads a troupe that performs pop-up flash-fiction street theater. There's a pseudo-religion of people who memorize hundred-syllable-long nonsense chants and march around town chanting it with their eyes closed. There's a philosophy that leads its adherent's to walk on all fours; to stop wearing clothes, bathing, or even speaking; to self-injure; and to assault anyone who attempts to speak to them. Most people are naked most of the time, and most choose to live in single-sex communes. The government has set up "photo booth" style kiosks where anyone can go in and watch a randomly-selected bit of security footage of themselves taken from the omnipresent state surveillance. Delaney's vision of freedom baffles me, especially since he contrasts it all favorably with the behavior of his protagonist, an off-worlder who can't navigate life in the absence of external constraints on his behavior, and who spends most of the novel attempting to sexually dominate and emotionally manipulate a woman who doesn't want to be in a relationship with him. Bron's behavior ranges from self-centered to gross, but honestly, the blind-nonsense-chanters and the people-trying-to-be-animals don't really seem to know what to do with their freedom either; they've just chosen to renounce freedom by submitting to an impersonal authority and an anti-humane code of behavior. So I'm not really sure what Delaney is trying to say. Maybe that freedom is better than tyranny, but that we shouldn't get our hopes up too high about how most people will make use of unlimited leisure? Anyway, this is off-topic. The generic idea of people organizing their lives around fandoms and hobbies rings true to me, although except for vlet and the street theater, I didn't especially care for the particular's of Delaney's vision on this one.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Two Blasphemous Guilds in Infinigrad

Michael Raston from The Lizard Man Diaries has a new book out, meant to generate guilds and guild-jobs for his Infinigrad setting. After my previous post generating a couple of Infinigrad neighborhoods, I was already thinking of generating a couple random guilds, and Michael sent me a free PDF of the book. It's based on the guild generator and the guild-job generator he previously posted to his blog, although a close reading might reveal differences. Luke Gearing from ANT-LERRR did the art and the layout, giving the whole thing a kind of punk-collage aesthetic that fits well with the content, and really elevates the visual experience of the book beyond the simple text of the original blog entries. A close reading of the text might reveal differences, but I think the blog and the book are basically the same. If you like the blog, your reasons for buying the book would be because you want to support Michael's writing, or you enjoy Luke's art, or your want to own the polished final product instead of the earlier draft.
  
Infinigrad, as its name implies, is an almost-infinite city, a city-plane like Ravnica ... and like Ravnica, it's full of powerful guilds that control basically every possible form of commerce. Although the guilds would like to war on each other endlessly, some powerful / magical law prevents any guild from acting directly against any other. Which is where the player characters come in. Players don't control guild members, they control unemployed vagrants that the guilds can use as patsies and cutouts and catspaws to attack one another indirectly. So the "guild jobs" that the generator creates aren't jobs for guild members, they're jobs the guilds want someone else to do for them. They aren't jobs that have anything to do with the guild's expertise - that's something they're perfectly capable of doing by themselves. These jobs are the only thing the guilds can't do, the only thing they need to hire someone else to do ... that is, they're cold war black ops.
  
I'm going to generate two random guilds and two random guild jobs. Since all the guilds are embroiled in a war of each-versus-all, I'm going to go ahead and assume that each of the two guilds' jobs are targeting one another. So that means that I'll learn more about each guild from the job its enemy wants done to it than I will from the job it wants done to its enemy.
  
  
First Guild - The Cackling Embrace
  
expertise 10/2/3, forename 10/2/1, modus 7/3/2, aftname 7/3/6
   
expertise: god killers
modus operandi: work is intended to be used in a netlike fashion

   
target 3/2, action 3/5, location 2/4, danger 1/10, reward 2/1
   
target: a device that moves the world around it, a person who causes reactions in others with silence and stealth
action: clean, erase, or otherwise erode target
location: wizardly places, magical laboratories, golem factories, portal mazes, and the like
danger: entire location is an obscene death trap, a torturer's wet dream
reward: a guild-specific blessing

  
The guild: The Cackling Embrace weave giant nets that look like spidersilk webs strung with dew. They use these nets to catch gods, plucking them from the sky and imprisoning them in glass display cases. Some they keep alive in a zoological garden, others they taxidermy and kill, others are never seen again. Once a god is caught in one of the Cackling Embrace's nets, it's cut off from its followers, unable anymore to empower relics or answer prayers. So far, the largest god they've ever caught was an enraged tree spirit the size of a train car, but at the moment they're weaving a new net to catch their largest god ever - an astral leviathan, a god whale.
  
The origin of the Cackling Embrace's nets are a closely guarded secret, but their enemies have recently learned that the "dew-drops" that bedeck each strand are mothers' tears of joy. When a mother learns that her sick baby will live, that it will remain here on earth with her rather than passing on to the afterlife, she laughs and cries, and her tears help bind gods to the world, cutting off their connection to the Spirit Realm, even as the nets bind them physically. The aquarium tanks where the Embrace display their most prized gods aren't filled with ordinary water, but with the same mothers' joyful tears.
  
The job: The Cackling Embrace aim to strike a decisive deathblow against Ambulator Vicis by using glistening net-silk ropes to bind and stifle their central mechanism, the Infinite Orrery. The existence of the Orrery and even its location are no secret - they're in the central chamber of Ambulator Vicis' guild stronghold. But reaching the chamber through any direct route would mean fighting off an army of Vicis guards, battering down doors meant to withstand the crumbling of the world itself.
  
Better to sneak in along the maintenance shafts and utility conduits that connect the Orrery to the bedrock of Infinigrad. Of course, navigating that route means winding a path through a maze of circle-shaped rooms with only one door, that rotate to connect with their four tangent neighbors. Innumerable of these rooms are death-traps, and only one safe route through the maze exists. The Embrace has learned that Vicis calls this route "the knight's tour" but beyond that little more is known. What information they can give you comes from a handful of survivors who only escaped by accident, finding their way by chance to one of the exits rather than the center of the maze. These scarred souls tell of friends crushed beneath rolling wheels, ground up in mills, broken on torturer's wheels, drowned in water wheels, cursed by wheels of fortune.
  
The Embrace will supply the rope to trap the Orrery. Fed into the mechanism as it spins, the rope will wind around and around it, creating a tangle that can never be untied, made from a material that can never be cut. Despite the dangers, they've had no dearth of volunteers, for the prize is a god of the victor's choice, any god from among the Cackling Embrace's collections.
  
  
Second Guild - Ambulator Vicis
  
expertise 7/3/3, forename 7/3/3, modus 6/4/4, aftname 6/4/2
  
expertise: wheeled transportation
modus operandi: work achieves the opposite effect of what is normally expected from expertise
  
target 2/3, action 2/10, location 1/6, danger 3/1, reward 1/1
  
target: someone or something taken for granted but vital and important, most see right through target
action: desanctify or otherwise corrupt target
location: heaving and overpopulated tenements, teeming with conflict
danger: an abundance of light, nowhere to hide
reward: thanks in the form of basic guild-specific service

  
The guild: Ambulator Vicis controls the Infinite Orrery, and with it, the very layout of Infinigrad. Underpinning every neighborhood in the city are gears and wheels, axles, shafts, and pistons - and they all connect back to the Infinite Orrery. Ambulator Vicis doesn't transport goods or people (although supply may be connected to demand through their aid), Vicis moves entire neighborhoods, reshuffling the streets of Infinigrad to push and pull, weave and shift.
  
Sometimes they simply relocate a single neighborhood, shoving its new neighbors aside to make room. Sometimes they do transpositions, switching two neighborhoods' places with a minimum of disruption to anyone intervening. Sometimes their work is more arcane, reshaping whole swaths of the city by reordering the residents according to some unknown or occult streetmap - maybe working for a wealthy client, maybe obeying the demands of the stars in their infinite gyre. Most commonly two neighborhoods in the same region of the city are made direct neighbors, or a divorce is finalized by relocating the sectarians deeper in their new home territory, far from the disputed border.
  
Either at the behest of a hidden client, or perhaps out of civic pride, Vicis has been making moves recently to relocate and contain a disaster site within the city limits, a foundry that exploded like a volcano, trapped in a bubble of slow-time, a problem that seems beyond the scope of any power in the city to address. Never directly, but always as part of some other job, Vicis has begun moving the disaster site, begun reshuffling which neighborhoods border it. They must be planning to contain or control the explosion, mustn't they? Or to contain it by surrounding the site with other derelicts and wrecks? Surely they can't be arranging their enemies to be repositioned en masse? Surely they can't be preparing to surround the site with their foes before releasing the explosion back to real time?
  
The job: How did the war between Ambulator Vicis and the Cackling Embrace begin? Does the Vicis take on gods as clients or retain them as counselors? Is the Embrace's hidden net-works facility somehow sensitive to the movement of the city? However the war started, Ambulator Vicis wants to end it. By studying the net-strands brought into their facilities by would-be saboteurs, Vicis has learned the secret of the mothers' thankful tears. By means unknown, they have discovered the Embrace's greatest collector, a human doctor known as the Angel of Infantile Mercy, who visits the slums and tenements whenever plague wracks them or illness runs floor to floor. The Angel of Infantile Mercy! Whom all the poor mothers pray to! Whom all the poor places beg to appear! Whenever the sickness comes, they beg her to arrive in time, before the dying starts. The Angel of Infantile Mercy saves them all, or most anyway, and collects no payment, only tears of joy and relief, only mothers' grateful tears.
  
The Angel of Infantile Mercy does as much work as dozens of other collectors. Without the Angel, the Embrace could not string their nets, could not fill their tanks. Ambulator Vicis wants the Angel gone. They want the Angel discredited, defamed. They have already planned the blasphemy, that the Angel only goes where the Angel has already been, that the Angel always travels to first to spread sickness, then returns to treat it, that all the children the Angel "saves" were only endangered because of her in the first place. Is it a lie? No one will want to believe it. Charges so serious, if credibly made, will mobilize the Fourth Estate to evaluate and judge. Any frame-up will have to be iron-clad to survive such scrutiny. Every witness will have to be paid, every track and trace swept away. The public would prefer to believe that the accuser tells lies, so any accuser must be prepared to weather the withering gaze of every investigating eye in Infinigrad. But if the charges stick, if the Angel can be blasphemed, then the Cackling Embrace may not survive the revelation of their association with someone so scorned.
  
In return, Ambulator Vicis will move the victor's home neighborhood anywhere they please, will let them choose their immediate neighbors, and agree to forego any job that would upset this arrangement.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Two Neighborhoods in Umberwell

Jack Shear from Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque is writing a book for his Umberwell campaign setting, which will likely be similar to his Krevborna book. I've played in Jack's Umberwell campaign, and recently, I had the opportunity to preview a random neighborhood generator he's written for it.
    
So here are two random Umberwell neighborhoods, built using the generator, and my idea for the seed of an adventure you could have there.
    
    
Neighborhood purpose: artist's quarter
Neighborhood aesthetic: maze-like
Noteworthy neighborhood feature: monument

    
1 - The Cubist's Quartet: 
Filled with art students all slowly driving themselves mad, streets are so sharp-angled they're nearly non-Euclidean, uncanny resemblance between local streetmap/architecture and the output of the local artists, here cubism is realism, dozens gather daily to sketch beside the quarter's most famous statue - the 20' tall "Portrait of the Artist Descending the Stairs".
    
Why would you adventure here? The streets aren't just maze-like, they are a maze. And the purpose of this maze is to hide from the world a single house and the unwilling occupant kept prisoner there. A recent gallery opening provides three clues - the same artist has a painting of the house, a portrait of the prisoner, and an abstract rendering of half the maze. A patron in the position to recognize what the paintings show has hired you to obtain the artist's sketchbooks and to navigate the maze, find the house, and visit the prisoner, to kill, free, or relocate them.
    
       
Neighborhood purpose: landfill
Neighborhood aesthetic: floral decoration
Noteworthy neighborhood feature: rooftop farms
    
2 - Rose Hill Reclamation:
(This was a really tough one!) Once a botanical garden, then rezoned as a dump after being flooded with sewage, specializes in chamberpots and other broken crockery, the red clay tiles on the original surrounding wall were all stamped with a rose motif before being fired, the ground is like gravel made of shattered pottery, the roofs of the original exhibition buildings now grow wild with feral Queen's Roses possessed of animal intellect.
     
Why would you adventure here? A mysterious group calling themselves "the Reclaimers" have taken credit for a half dozen assassinations, all using Queen's Roses as the murder weapon. The dump seems like an obvious place to start looking for them, but no one seems to be present on-site during the day. Climb the red tile wall at night though, and you'll see a handful of campfires arrayed in a loose circle. Investigate the center of the circle during the day, and you'll find what you were unlikely to notice before, that someone is excavating the dump, peeling away layers of soil and pottery with the thoroughness of an archaeologist. They're obviously looking for something specific.
    
    
The aesthetic seems to be more important in my first adventure seed, but it might inform what the Reclaimers are looking for in the second. I hope I caught the feel of Umberwell in both neighborhoods and adventurer-starts. The seeds are deliberately a bit light on detail to leave the important decisions to the individual referee. As I said, Jack offered me the chance to preview part of his book (after reading my previous random neighborhood post, actually) and I thought it would be fun to put his procedure to the test. I will say that unless you're a very fast thinker, this is probably better to use to prep beforehand, rather than trying to use at the table during play.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Two Chromatic Neighborhoods in Infinigrad

The Lizard Man Diaries has posted a generator for creating fantasy city neighborhoods. Le Chaudron Chromatique has a new fantasy building generator. Let's combine that with Lizard Man Diaries' fantasy building generator, and create a couple fantasy neighborhoods, as well as a landmark building for each neighborhood. In one neighborhood, we'll use the "fantasypunk megacity" generator to provide extra information about the neighborhood itself, and in the other, we'll use it to provide more detail about the landmark.
 
 
Neighborhood 1 - The Fountain District
 
Okay, so our random table tells us that this neighborhood's prevalent architecture is something to do with water transport - canals, pipes, sewers. There's engraved script that winds along the streets, and that script communicates some kind of message. Finally, the neighborhood is somehow existentially committed to being ethereal, vaporous, twisting, flowing, or floating. We can work with that.
 
Now let's add in extra detail from the other generator. The neighborhood has feral, makeshift, or jury-rigged architecture, made from repurposed materials, and seemingly on the verge of collapse. Despite its appearance, it actually required great expense in its construction. Meanwhile, the residents of the neighborhood are stoic or silent, and they dislike visitors.
 
Finally, the landmark building. It's a productive building of some kind and/or has something to do with food - a barn, farm, store, granary, greenhouse, mill, workshop or factory. Its special feature is that the building is made out of or connected to a giant fruit, vegetable, mushroom or tree.
 
Infinigrad: prevalent architecture 24, what's going on 85, atmospheric mutation 14 
Fantasypunk megacity: raceoid base 6, physical quirk 2/3, mental quirk 4/4
Fantasy house: trait 1, type 3, special 8
 
"To everyone else in the city, the Fountain District is a joke, but despite the place's whimsical appearance, the locals in the Fountain are all grim and serious. The whole neighborhood is filled with pipes, the entire apparatus above-ground, looking like something from a Dr Seuss book or a Rube Goldberg diagram. Pipes as densely packed as bamboo in a jungle, rising 10 feet, 20 feet in the air, vaulting over the streets, passing through buildings at eye level though open windows. The layout is more or less permanent, but it looks like it was built yesterday and ought to collapse tomorrow. The pipes wind and meander, merge and split, diameters stepping up and down, water pressure rising and falling, joints and valves and gauges everywhere you look. At any given time, half the water in the neighborhood is in the air, which is how the Fountain District gets its name. Every spray looks like an accident, a leak, but there are thousands of them on every block, and every one of them gets caught by a funnel or basin or drain, perfectly placed despite looking for all the world like a haphazard mistake. The locals shuffle around all day, taking pressure gauge readings, carrying wrenches, tightening here, loosening there, grafting on new pipes that look just as accidental as the old."
 
"What the residents know, but won't tell outsiders, is that the pipes in the Fountain District perfectly match the blood vessels, organs, lymph nodes, and glands of an Astral Leviathan. Anyone who's studied marine astrobiology will notice the similarities immediately. The daily routines of the locals involve a great deal of turning on faucets, filling basins, drinking and washing and bathing - and somehow, they believe, their activities don't just copy the natural biological functions of the leviathan, they cause them. Every day for the locals is a 16-hour choreographed routine that sustains the life of their Whale God. If directed with the right orchestration, they could seize control of the great beast, summon it to the mortal plane. For now though, their goal is just to keep the Leviathan alive on the Astral Sea, and they treat this responsibility as a sacred trust."
 
"Unfortunately, with all that water, it was inevitable that something would start to grow. First it was rust-colored lichen growing along the pipes, then precise lines of moss forming living shadow of the whole apparatus on the ground. Then came the ultramarine snozzberries, growing on winding vines that gripped where the lichen and moss already took hold. The locals tried ripping it all up, but it just grew back, and vermicious wasps began attacking anyone who tried. Now a giant peach has grown up right in the south-central park, right where the Leviathan's womb should be. The wasps have chewed away the peach's interior, carving it like the cliffs of Petra. It seems to serve as a cafeteria of sorts for them, perhaps a boarding house as well."
 
"The locals have two theories about their newest landmark. One faction thinks the God Whale has cancer and the peach is the earthly manifestation of its tumor. The other faction thinks the God Whale is pregnant and the peach represents is offspring. Obviously opinions differ about what should be done with the peach, but both sides agree the stakes are very high. Just recently a peacemaker seems to have convinced both factions that the only way to decide is to summon the Leviathan itself to the city, and perhaps to let it cure itself by destroying the worldly embodiment of its disease. The ceremony is currently being planned..."
 
 
Neighborhood 2 - Old Foundry
 
According to the neighborhood generator, this one's dominant architecture are ancient factories, oil wells, and fire pits. It's also a maze of teleportation portals, and might not even be physically connected to the rest of the city. The atmospheric mutation causes everything to be frozen, preserved, or caught. Okay, I think I'm getting a sense of what this place is like.
 
Next up, the landmark building. This one is a combination of two building types. It's somehow both a small house and a theater, arena, music hall, agora, or forum.
 
Let's see where it came from. The building was built by whisker men, so it's got low ceilings, tunnels instead of hallways, and the whole thing feels claustrophobically cramped to surface dwellers. The weather directly over the building is different from the weather in the rest of the neighborhood, and the building has been somehow partially destroyed by caustic liquid or boiling lava. Maybe something like the output of all those foundries?
 
Infinigrad: prevalent architecture 52, what's going on 19, atmospheric mutation 11
Fantasy house: trait 5, type 7/5, special 9
Fantasypunk megacity: raceoid base 3, physical quirk 1/8, mental quirk 2/9
 
"Old Foundry is a catastrophic industrial accident in slow motion, quite literally. In the hundred years since the final redundancy failed, perhaps 1½ seconds have passed. The cataclysm is still happening, still threatening to wipe out all life in every neighborhood that touches Old Foundry, and in every neighborhood that touches one of them. You can still hear the alarm bells ringing, a low bronze note that hums like thunder and never wavers."
 
"The old founders must have triggered one final failsafe to slow down the disaster so that someone could fix it before it was too late, and surely someone will, but not today, and probably not for another hundred years. For now, it's much cheaper, much more profitable to redevelop other boroughs, places where the sky isn't black and the air doesn't reek of sulfur and there aren't 10-story-tall crucibles midway though tumbling over, no tidal waves of molten iron hanging over the ground waiting to finish splashing down. The cleanup is going to be a logistical nightmare, and frankly, no organization exists within the city with enough employees and enough expertise to handle a problem on this scale. No one even comes close, no one is even in the right order of magnitude. So the problem waits for another day."
 
"The old founders sealed off the Foundry when they pushed the final button. All roads leading in or out of it are dead ends. From the outside, you might not notice that the buildings along one edge of your neighborhood form an impassible wall, but from the inside, it's obvious that Old Foundry is inside a sphere of black. Every factory and forge in the city has a secret entrance to the Foundry hidden in it somewhere, and if you aren't careful to go back exactly the way you came, you could end up halfway across town when you return. The whiskerers maintain their own network of entrances, as they do with most things, and it links up in innumerable ways to their larger network of underground tunnels."
 
"The whiskerers don't mind the dark, they like the warmth of the place, and time being near frozen doesn't seem to bother them much, they move so slowly anyhow. The only thing that would bother them is the dry, but recently they solved that too. The whiskerers have built a shanty town in Old Foundry right underneath one of the fire control stations. An entire water tower is slowly falling onto them, most days just enough lands to make a heavy mist, occasionally they get a light rain."
 
"The whole slum is centered around the Sensatorium, a kind of museum / performance art space. It's maintained by an onsite caretaker, who tends the tactile portraits and the haptic displays. The museum is filled with slow-time objects with unusual textures and properties. The centerpiece is a fireplace surrounded by dozens of sconces. The fireplace is the door to an industrial oven that was blown off in the disaster, with a blob of lava that landed right in its center just as time came to a halt. The sconces are dozes of pieces of ever-burning metal."
 
"The whiskerers collect dead bodies too, all the original workers, they carry them off somewhere. But unlike the Sensatorium - their pride - they share the location of the dead with no outsiders."

Thursday, August 2, 2018

D&D Cosmology & the DC Universe

In some ways, the Forgotten Realms setting of contemporary D&D is a very vanilla fantasy realm (and the Golarion of Pathfinder is pretty much the same, except maybe more high fantasy and with slightly more fantasy types represented amongst its own "realms"). But in other ways, the setting of D&D is weird.
  
The weirdest stuff is mostly the stuff WotC reserves as "product identity," the non-open game content that lets them maintain their trademarks (or whatever). The beholder, the mindflayers, the slaad, the tanar'ri, the yuan'ti, the gith... You can see it in Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque's "Let's Read Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes" series, where, for example, you see a "loving, good" elf god who damns his followers / children to unending torment via infinite reincarnation and nightly visions of elf-hell for the "sin" of wanting physical bodies and stable gender. (Yes, in D&D, the elven epitome of goodness is a vengeful genderqueer/non-binary entity who will never forgive the elves for wanting to be men and women. And somewhere, I'm sure, there are right-wing D&D fans who are deeply offended by how "progressive" they imagine this story to be.)
  
In my opinion, the stuff that seems "weirdest" in D&D is the stuff that has no precedent in genre fiction. While "Appendix N literature" famously inspired a lot of the setting and mechanics of the original D&D game, and Tolkien's writing is arguably as big an influence on later D&D as it is on all post-Tolkien fantasy, there are some things that are basically unique to D&D, or that only show up in literary fantasy when the authors are modeling their books to be more like D&D. In particular, the weirdest stuff is the stuff that's to do with "the planes." It's not like D&D invented the idea of traveling to "other worlds", but it's almost unique in terms of its detailed and well-documented interdimensional cosmos. (I think D&D is also fairly unique in its insistence on an expansive polytheism of living, interventionist gods, but I don't plan to expand on that here.)
  
Fig. 1 - The Great Wheel from D&D 3.0 Manual of Planes
    
Fig. 2 - The Outer Planes from D&D 3.0 Manual of Planes
   
I say it's almost unique, because I can think of one literary source that has a fantasy cosmology that's not only as systematic and as rigorously cataloged as D&D's, but that sort of mirrors the structure of D&D's cosmology in some interesting ways. One fascinating thing about the similarities between these two interdimensional cosmoses is that I don't think (although I could be wrong) that the similarity is the result of copying. As far as I know, this other cosmos was built up over time, as enterprising and/or obsessive authors insisted on taking idiosyncratic elements of fiction and turning them into the building blocks of an orderly, logical, systematic, internally consistent fictional universe.
   
I'm talking, of course, about the multiverse of DC Comics.
  
Fig. 3 - Map of the Multiverse from DC's Multiversity
    
Fig. 4 - Some worlds of the post-Convergence multiverse from DC's Convergence
    
Fig. 5 - More worlds of the mutiverse
   
In both D&D and DC, there is a core reality - "the Prime Material Plane" in D&D and "Earth-1" in DC Comics - that is surrounded by the rest of the multiverse. In both cosmologies, that core reality floats around a bit like an island in some medium - called "the Astral Sea" in D&D and "the Bleed" (apparently) in DC Comics - surrounded by other islands, some near, some far, and all organized in a fairly predictable way.
 
In D&D there are two groups of "Inner Planes" - the Positive and Negative Energy Planes, and the Elemental Planes of Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. The Inner Planes are essentially made up of whatever form of matter/energy they're named for, and the planes themselves are supposed to be the ultimate source of each of those substances. (In some settings, there are also a bunch of "demi-elemental" and "quasi-elemental" planes, but these are the core ones. In 5e, I believe that "the Feywild" and "the Shadowfell" have replaced the positive and negative energy planes, although I may be mistaken about the relationship between them.) 
   
Although they aren't shown on the diagram above, DC Comics also has a number of elemental-type forces that are grouped logically as well. There are the various life forces represented by "The Black", "The Green", and "The Red" (which are definitely actually planes), and there are the various color-emotion pairings of "The Emotional Electromagnetic Spectrum" (which may exist just as elemental forces, rather than as places you can visit, although I won't be surprised if that changes in the future).
 
D&D also has "Outer Planes" which embody philosophies and ideologies the same way the "Inner Planes" embody various powers, forces, and energies. D&D has an extensive list of "Outer Planes", eight perfectly embodying the possible combinations of Law/Neutrality/Chaos and Good/Neutral/Evil, plus another seven existing in between each adjacent pair of those, and one more embodying True Neutrality at the center of "The Great Wheel" formed by arraying those planes like directions on a compass. So, for example, you don't just have the perfectly Lawful Neutral plane "The Clockwork Nirvana of Mechanus", the perfectly Lawful Good plane "The Seven Mounting Heavens of Celestia", and the perfectly Neutral Good plane "The Blessed Fields of Elysium," you also have "The Peaceable Kingdom of Arcadia" which exists halfway between Lawful Neutral and Lawful Good, and you have "The Twin Paradises of Bytopia" that exists halfway between Lawful Good and Neutral Good. In addition to being the multiversal font and source of each philosophy, each Outer Plane is the home of a race of beings who embody and defend the philosophy, and also serves as the afterlife for souls who followed that philosophy. (That's right, in D&D, your afterlife isn't determined by the god you worship, but on the very precise moral philosophy your life followed. You and your spouse both worshiped a Lawful Good god and you were looking forward to your souls spending eternity together? Well tough shit, pal, because you two appreciated slightly different things about that god, so now you're going to Arcadia and they're off to Bytopia, and you'll never see each other again. Don't worry though, I'm sure that you and the accidentally-slightly-good worshipers of the Lawful Neutral clock god who also got separated from their spouses for eternity will all get along just fine.)
   
DC has two sets of worlds that I see as analogous to the Outer Planes. The first analogy I thought of - the one that helped solidify my being convinced that the D&D and DC cosmologies are similar - is "the 52 Earths". In addition to Earth-1, there are 51 other earths. None of them are as tightly tied to any single concept as the "alignment worlds" of D&D's Outer Planes, but most of them are "opposites" of Earth-1 in some way, or else they embody a particular time-period or aesthetic, which is quite similar in its ultimate effect. According to that multiversal map thingy DC made, there are also paired worlds that more similar to D&D's Outer Planes, including standing in an after-lifey-type relationship to the various earths. The most famous pair is "Apokolips & New Genesis", but there's also "Heaven & Hell", "Dream & Nightmare", and a few more.
 
(I will confess, before continuing, that I have somewhat good knowledge of D&D's planes and their history, and more like a casual fan's knowledge of DC Comics and the storyline trajectories that led to the multiverse they have today. So if I may get some details wrong. My larger point is that these two fictional universes / franchises share some interesting similarities in terms of their fictional multiverse, and that those similarities are all the more interesting because they are pretty much entirely unlike how any other genre fiction imagines other dimensions. So if I get any details wrong, I'm sorry, but try not to let that make you lose sight of the larger point here, which is that these two universes are weird and they are similar to each other in almost precisely the ways they are different from everything else.)
   
Inner Planes - The Black, The Green, and The Red
DC's first set of Inner Planes are depicted as both places, kingdoms with parliaments and avatars, and types of life energy. I see them as roughly analogous to D&D's Positive Energy Plane and Negative Energy Plane. "The Black" is the source of death, rot, and decay; "The Green" is the source of plant life-energy; and "The Red" is the source of animal life. They were first introduced as planes in New 52 Animal Man and Swamp Thing (I think, although it's possible they were described earlier.)
 
Each plane, when it appears in the comics, is depicted as being a sort of endless panorama of life. "The Red" for example, which seems a bit like Xor, is depicted as a ground made of meat, with rivers of blood and clouds of blood droplets, where internal organs grow like plants grow on Earth, and amalgams of every kind of animal life wander the plains. It's creepy, gross, utterly alien and utterly familiar, and it looks like an awesome place for a D&D character to travel while I eat a salad or something to avoid thinking too much about my own tongue. The other two are similar, just, you know, for plants and death.
 
Fig. 6 - Animal Man traveled to The Red, where he was alternately portrayed as himself, an animalistic version of himself, a skeleton in a body made of blood gelatin aspic, and a walking mass of blood vessels.
   
Fig. 7 - The Black is like a much more visceral version of the usually bloodless Negative Energy Plane, while the Positive Energy Plane is sort of divided between The Green (which looks more or less like the Feywild) and The Red (which looks like Xor and/or David Cronenberg's vision of heaven.)
   
These planes were never DC's original plan for their characters. They emerged over time from writers seeing multiple characters with vaguely similar powers and deciding that those powers must emanate from a common source. As humans, we notice patterns, and we crave order, and when we apply logic to our own unruly, diverse storytelling traditions, we are often tempted to impose order by systematizing, categorizing, lumping things together and sorting them into orderly piles. It's almost like entropy in reverse, and it follows the same times-arrow - once done, it cannot be easily undone by future storytellers.
   
It's like how the original Flash was just a man who could run fast. Later versions of the Flash (and other super-fast people, of whom there are so many they essentially have a character class, "speedster") - later versions of the Flash aren't men who are able to run fast because the ability resides inside them, they're men who can tap into a kind of extradimensional energy that comes from its own "Inner Plane", the Speed Force, which (fortunately) stands alone and apart from any additional systematizing.
 
I'm of two minds about this process. On the one hand, imposing a system can serve as a spur to future creativity. Decide that all your heroes with animal-type powers are drawing on a common source of power, call it "The Red", make it a place, and suddenly you can go there, visualize new sights, have adventures that would have been impossible before. But the system imposes limits. Whatever logic there is to how "The Red" works means that some forms of animal superpower are now off limits, because they would break rules that didn't exist before. And the system demands completion. Which means that there are areas that demand to be filled in, whether anyone has a good idea of what to fill them in with or not. D&D's writers had a good idea of what Heaven should look like, and a clear image of Elysium. In contrast, Bytopia mostly seems to exist because it had to. It's a check-box, pro forma afterlife, there because the logic of the system demanded that something be there, and no one felt inspired enough to come up with anything better. And now that it is there, we're stuck with it. Even if someone comes up with a brilliant, mythologically-inspired vision of the LG/NG afterlife, they can only write it into an official D&D product if they can still call it "Bytopia" and still make it compatible with the handful of established facts about that place.
   
Fig. 8 - Unfortunately, the logic of unlimited systematization means that in addition to the neat tripartite division between The Black, The Green, and The Red, there also exists The Clear, The Grey, The White, The Metal, The Melt, and The Divided. Fortunately, these seem to be mostly unused, just briefly mentioned. The Divided (which is like The Red, except for bacteria) looks pretty cool though.
   
Fig. 9 - New 52 Earth-2 Green Lantern took a special class feature option and channels The Green instead of the green/will light of the Emotional Electromagnetic Spectrum. Here he is inside Earth-2's The Grey, which is associated with fungi and zombie Solomon Grundy and is different enough from The Black to justify its separate existence in the following way: ???
   
Inner Planes - The Emotional Electromagnetic Spectrum
DC's other "Inner Planes" are the color/emotion combinations that make up the Emotional Electromagnetic Spectrum. Red light is associated with anger, orange light with greed, yellow light with fear, green light with willpower, blue light with hope, indigo light with compassion, violet light with love, black light with death (no, I don't understand this one), and white light with life. I see these as being analogous to D&D's Elemental Planes. So, for example, just as The Elemental Plane of Fire is the ultimate source of all the fire in the Material Plane, and all the fire in the Material Plane is connected back to the Elemental Plane, both all green light and all emotional willpower have the same source in the Green/Will section of the Emotional Electromagnetic Spectrum.
 
I don't think that these have ever been depicted as actual planes, that is, as actual places someone could go. As far as I know, they're just portrayed as being types of energy - it's just that the same type of energy manifests as a particular emotion when it's being channeled through a living being, and as a color when it's just manifesting as visible light. I believe there's also an implication that if you see enough of the right color of light, it will cause you to feel the associated emotion. (So far as I know, DC has never implied that someone feeling an emotion strongly enough causes them to spontaneously emit light!) Each color of light is directly channeled into our universe by giant lanterns. (It's not clear to me if these lanterns are supposed to be the originating source of the light - such that, if a lantern were destroyed, that color would cease to exist in the universe - or if the lanterns just channel the light into our universe from some extradimensional source. It's also not clear to me if someone built the lanterns, or if they just exist because the colors exist and need something to channel them.)
 
I'm not sure entire planes dominated by a single color-emotion pairing would make for very good comic-book adventure settings, but they might make pretty good destinations for planes-hopping D&D adventures, especially for occult planes-hopping D&D adventures. They'd certainly provide a milieu for roleplaying being overtaken by emotion, and they'd make for a setting where players would frequently have to succeed saving throws vs bad decisions. Having these planes be dominated by color-emotion pairings feels suitably weird, moreso than color-only or emotion-only planes would be, and at least as interesting as planes made up entirely of water or rock (as Into the Odd points out "There's a reason people think of the City of Brass straight away when discussing the Plane of Fire.")
   
Fig. 10 - The Emotional Electromagnetic Spectrum, and its representatives. Apparently, within the DC Universe, it's axiomatic that if there is a color of light, there is a lantern that projects it, and if there is a lantern projecting light, there are clerics Lantern Corps members channeling it.
   
Fig. 11 - If anyone did visit the color-emotion pairing planes, I imagine it would be like visiting one of the color-coded alternate universes in Farscape 1x17 "Through the Looking Glass", where each plane is inimical to human life in an annoying but short-term survivable way.
   
In small doses, systematizing can act as a spur to creativity. Deciding that the classic characters of Green Lantern, Sinestro, and Star Sapphire don't just coincidentally have similar magic rings, that they have essentially identical magical rings, just drawing on different power sources, and that like Green Lantern, Sinestro and Star Sapphire need to feel certain emotions to make their rings work ... well, I don't know, perhaps it inspires storylines or ways for the characters to fight that you couldn't have written before. Maybe it makes you want to come up with other color-emotion pairings for other characters to use. Just like the idea that Kryptonite that is always drawn as green makes Superman weak, perhaps it's because that's "green Kryprtonite", and perhaps there are other colors of Kryptonite that affect him in different ways.
   
There are two pitfalls here though, and they both come from systematizing too much. The first is this desire to exhaust all possibilities. To list out every emotion-color pairing, to describe an entire rainbow of Kryptonite colors, to catalog every possible demi- and para- and pseudo- elemental plane. For some of those, the exercise will spur your creativity, but for others, you're just not going to have any good ideas, and so you'll make placeholders, and they'll be bland, and the logic of preserving trademarks and monetizing intellectual properties will mean that you can never get rid of them. The second danger is the allure of creating a grand unified theory. Rather than forcing yourself to create too much, you combine similar things until everything's the same. It might be interesting to think that all the animal heroes get their powers from The Red, or all the plant villains get their powers from The Green ... right up until it starts meaning that you're just giving them the same powers because they come from same source. Worse is when you decide that maybe the green/will light is connected to The Green is somehow associated with green Kryptonite is secretly related to Green Arrow just because he has the word "green" in his name ... you connect and combine until eventually everything becomes identical, becomes bland. Part of the charm and weirdness of old comics is that everything's idiosyncratic, everything's unique. Like Max Weber once observed, out-of-control systematization is a one-way process, it locks us in an iron cage of rationalization, it leeches the magic out of everything.
   
Outer Planes - The 52 Earths
The first set of DC's "Outer Planes" are its many alternate earths. Earth-1 is the home of DC's Silver Age universe. Earth-2 has their Golden Age universe, and having it allowed the characters there to age, get married, have children, pass on their legacy to successors they mentored. For characters like the Green Lantern and the Flash, having Earth-2 meant that the Alan Scott and Jay Garrick versions got to still exist, while for characters like Batman and Superman, it mostly meant that they got to become elderly. Earth-3 is like Star Trek's Mirror Universe, it's a place where (officially) all of morality is inverted. In practice, this means it's a crapsack world full of petty, quarrelsome people ruled over by a Crime Syndicate of Ultra-man, Super-woman, and Owl-man (evil Mirror versions of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman.) Earth-5, also called Earth-S is home to Captain Marvel Shazam, and Earth-10, also called Earth-X, is an Earth where the Nazis won World War II and heroes like Black Condor and Doll Man fight different evil versions of DC heroes like Over-Man (Superman) and Blitzkrieg (Flash).
   
More recently, DC decided to set a hard limit on how many alternate earths there are, and assigned numbers and specific identities to most of them. I didn't really think the original 52 marketing event was all that successful, but somehow DC decided the number 52 is their brand identity, so the next time they rewrote their own continuity, they called it New 52, and when they decided to systematize their alternate earths, they decided there are 52 of them. Go figure. So now Bizarro World isn't just some weird planet in space, it's Earth-29. There's are other opposite-type worlds, like the earth where everyone's gender is different than on Earth-1, and there are lots of other era-type worlds, like a Victorian earth, a Wild West earth, a pirate earth, etc. And they all have their own numbers and encyclopedia entries. (I think there are even two different earths populated by parodies of Marvel Comics characters, and two different earths full of talking animals where the Superman doppelganger is a rabbit. Why two of each? For the following excellent reason: ???)
   
Fig. 12 - The protagonists of Earth-2 and Earth-3, post New 52, from Multiversity
    
Fig. 13 - Protagonists from Earth-11 and Earth-12.
     
As I understand it, most of these "other earths" came about because DC Comics kept buying up other comic book companies and their characters. In some cases, they just immediately brought the new characters over into the main DC universe, but for whatever reason, in other cases, they kept the characters in their own separate fictional "universe" within the larger DC multiverse. Earth 5, for example is pretty much just the Fawcett Comics universe, and Earth X is pretty much just Quality Comics.
   
The other big source of "other earths" seems to be DC's own Elseworlds stories. I think these are pretty similar to Marvel's What If? stories, and like Marvel, DC seems to have decided that these aren't just non-continuity stories told using re-imaginings of their characters; they're alternate universe continuity stories told using alternate universe versions of their characters. (It also seems like they kept changing their minds a lot, bringing things together only to blow them back apart, only to bring them back together, only to separate them yet again.)
   
Fig. 14 - Protagonists from Earth-18 and Earth-19.
    
Fig. 15 - Protagonists from Superman: Red Sun Earth-30.
    
This is what I mean when I say the D&D and DC cosmologies are weird. Yes, Star Trek has a Mirror Universe, but that's just it, it has a Mirror Universe, it doesn't have four dozen of them. Captain Kirk once found a planet where a human had recreated the Nazi aesthetics and regime in spaaace, and when he passed through the Guardian of Forever, he briefly accidentally changed history so that his own earth was dominated by Nazis ... but he never found an entire alternate dimension where an alternate earth was being conquered by Nazis forever (and where, I guess, there would be a Nazi planet Vulcan, and a Nazi Klingon homeworld, etc). Countless religions imagine some kind of positive and negative afterlives, but none of them imagine seventeen afterlives, each coded to very fine-grained distinctions between neighboring moral philosophies, and certainly none of them imagine that each afterlife is not just a place, but a source of its own moral philosophy, that radiates, for example, a philosophy exactly halfway between Lawful-Good and Neutral-Good-ness across everything the same way the sun radiates sunlight onto the earth. Basically no other fantasy that's not directly inspired by D&D's or DC's cosmology spontaneously arrived at a similar vision of other dimensions. Which, I guess, is part of why it's so fascinating that the two are so similar to each other, especially since, as far as I know, neither company was consciously trying to imitate the other.
   
Outer Planes - New Genesis, Apokolips, etc
DC's other "Outer Planes" are mostly similar to D&D's. There's the pairing of Heaven and Hell, the Christian afterlives, Skyland and Tartarus, which I guess are supposed to be the ancient Greek afterlives, and New Genesis and Apokolips, which came from a Jack Kirby miniseries, and have gained in importance over time. I think when he first wrote them, Kirby intended New Genesis and Apokolips to be alien planets located in normal space. Since then, they've gotten a promotion. Just like Bizarro World stopped being just a planet and got turned into Earth-29, New Genesis and Apokolips stopped being just alien planets hosting allegorical battles between good-ish and evil aliens and started being divine dimensions equivalent to Heaven and Hell themselves and host to literal battles between the pure physical embodiment of good and evil.
  
Fig. 16 - Jack Kirby's New Genesis.
    
Fig. 17 - Jack Kirby's Apokolips
   
I mean no disrespect to Jack Kirby when I say that his original limited series had a place in the milieu of the 1960s and 70s, where its aesthetics fit in with psychedelia and its plot resonated with the counter-culture's war with the establishment, and that perhaps characters with names like High Father, Mother Box, Glorious Godfrey, and Granny Goodness are not necessarily nearly as compatible with contemporary sensibilities. 
     
But this is the nature of comic book publishing. Nothing is allowed to simply exist in its original form. Every good story must be re-told and re-told and re-told until it becomes unbearable in its repetition. Not even retold. The same events must happen to the same characters who remember it happening to them last time over and over and over again. Jean Grey must become the Phoenix and die and be reborn and become the Phoenix and die and be reborn and become the Phoenix and die and be reborn. Kingpin must be dethroned and work his way back to the top and be dethroned and work his way back to the top and be dethroned and work his way back to the top. Superman must die fighting Doomsday and be resurrected and die fighting Doomsday and be resurrected and die fighting Doomsday. Darkseid must invade the earth and be repelled and invade the earth and be repelled and invade the earth and be repelled. We demand that our favorite characters be damned to the fates of Prometheus and Sisyphus.
   
Bonus Cosmology - The Dark Multiverse
When you consider how many of the 52 earths are full of "evil doppelgangers" for DC's superheroes, it seems almost redundant to have an entire extra multiverse full of even more evil doppelgangers, but here we are. The Dark Multiverse, I am given to understand, is entirely, ontologically evil in a way that even Earth-3 and Earth-X aren't. (I'm curious to know about the what the Dark Multiverse counterparts of the regular multiverses "dark counterparts" - is the Dark Multiverse version of Earth-3 one of the few good places? Or is it even more evil than the rest of the Dark Multiverse? What about their version of Apokolips or Hell?)
  
Fig. 18 - The Dark Multiverse is sometimes depicted with a color-inverted version of DC's official multiverse map. Apparently it was first introduced though, as just being the black underside of the map.
   
The "Outer Planes" of the Dark Multiverse are designated by a negative sign. This would work really well if DC didn't already use hyphens in their universe names. So like, "Earth -2" would be more instantly identifiable as being part of the Dark Multiverse if DC usually wrote "Earth 2" instead of "Earth-2".
   
Fig. 19 - Apparently everyone in the Dark Multiverse is Batman?
    
Fig. 20 - Also, Galactus is there for some reason. Also also, he's dead.
   
Bonus Systematization - Seanan McGuire's "Every Heart a Doorway" series
Seanan McGuire's "Every Heart a Doorway" and its companion novellas do something similar to D&D and DC by applying systematization to the fantasy worlds of classic portal-fantasy fiction. McGuire imagines that events like Dorothy travelling to Oz or the the Pevensie children traveling to Narnia happen with some frequency, and that the children who come back from trips to fantasy worlds need group therapy and to live in a special asylum to recover from their journeys and readjust to living in the real world.
   
So, obviously, McGuire is doing something a bit postmodern and metafictional, as Daryl Gregory does in "We Are All Completely Fine" where the survivors of common horror-movie plots form a support group to cope with their shared traumas. Most stories that have a portal to another world have one portal to one other world; McGuire concatenates dozens of returners from dozens of portals to dozens of worlds, and puts them in conversation with each other. And the other thing she's doing, is systematizing, in exactly the same way that D&D and DC Comics do. McGuire has her characters develop a typology of worlds that sounds suspiciously like D&D's alignment chart. The two "cardinal directions" in the array of worlds are the axis of Virtue vs Wickedness and the axis of Logic vs Nonsense. Or, as Gary Gygax called the same ideas, Good vs Evil and Law vs Chaos. The one big difference here is that instead of imagining all her "Outer Planes" as equidistant from the earth in a Great Wheel as Gygax does, she allows that they may be closer to or further from the earth along their axes. (Although in practice, nearly every character she talks about visited a "High Nonsense" or "High Logic" world, so the distinction is mostly academic, and also mostly a way to talk about the dichotomies without referencing neutrality.)
  
Fig. 21 - Tor.com commissioned a map of portal-fantasy story worlds that uses McGuire's terminology to systematize a whole host of fiction.
    
Bonus Bonus
Because I am slow, in between when I started writing this and when I actually posted it, io9 wrote about weird planes in Marvel and DC comics. I weirdly feel like I got scooped.
   
There's a whole cavalcade of different dimensions I didn't mention in this post, but the thing is, most of them are idiosyncratic. They're unique, they stand alone and have no relationship to the other planes out there. You enter each one in a different way. Want to go to the Mirror Dimension? You'll need a mirror and a special ray-gun. Want to go to DC's Microverse or Marvel's Quantum Realm? Just shrink real small. Trapped in the Phantom Zone or Negative Zone? There's some special machine you'll need access to, plus time will have passed differently for you there. Also there's no way to travel from one of these places to any other.
   
These "weird" dimensions are actually more like Pathfinder's revisions to the D&D plane-scape. They're planes that exist pre-systematization. Each one was invented by a different creator, to serve as an adventuring site for a different hero. Each one has its own method of ingress and egress. None of them are connected. They're certainly not laid out like coordinates on a grid. Looking over this list reminds me what's unique about D&D's multiverse, and about the parts of the DC multiverse I've talked about. Most other fictional alternate dimensions are stand-alones, they're messy, disorganized, almost organic, because they simply accrete facts over time as people write about them. What's unique about D&D's and DC's "multiverses" is that they have a logical system underlying them. They were (or appear to be) created whole-cloth, designed rather than accumulated. It is actually fairly unique for them to not be idiosyncratic.