Ruairidh’s gory cubes: a tool for finding horror

Horror is a remarkably difficult emotion to bring about organically.  Games and improvised narratives especially tend towards the easier to promote terror when attempting to develop fright.

What follows is a tool you can use to create horrific images on the fly.

rory-s-story-cubes-classic-dice-game

  1. Take some form of oracle system that randomly produces images and ideas.  You may have a set of such dice lying around, you might use Tarot cards…
  2. Choose one aspect of that image / idea.  For example, a lightbulb could offer its luminescence, its filament, its transparency.
  3. Select a part of something else to be used in the narrative.  For example, glance at the nearest person; settle on the first limb / feature you spot.
  4. Grant the feature from the random oracle to the aspect of the desired element.  For example, the nails on someone’s hand might be glassy and transparent; their breath gives off a faint glow in the shadow of the glade.

If you’d rather this as a motto:

Assign, refine, combine.

Some examples, applied to a newly discovered corpse:

  • Rather than a circle, one pupil looks like a keyhole.
  • It takes a great deal of effort to stop looking at the corpse’s face, almost as if it were magnetic to sight.
  • From its palm grows a single reed, though this vanishes when the arm is moved.  It was as if the palm itself was a crossing to the pond where it was found.
Ruairidh’s gory cubes: a tool for finding horror

Exuviae: A Mother’s Interest 

There’s a secret scratching beneath the surface of this town.  A secret that Annie Bishop and “Big Al” Halifax are going to split open for the whole world to see.  A secret powered by my completed EXUVIAE rules, within two and a half hours and with no preparation whatsoever.

Annie Bishop works the taxidermy store at the top of town.  It’s a stuffy job, but she’s got the stomach for the work and the intermittent deliveries of Big Al.  So, Big Al pulls up outside her house one morning, having “hit something” on the freeway again, but there’s something up with this moose.  Intricate patterns have been carved into its skin — though clearly not by any knife or claw that Al’s familiar with.  He hauls the carcass into her house — the symbols are weirdly familiar both to south American ancient cultures, but also European and Asian paganism too — though what’s less than familiar is the fact the moose’s liver has calcified into a lump of granite.

The two are both hot up on their conspiracies — Annie reads a ton of occult books and their authors tend to take too much seriously, and Al is a regular listener of those radio stations where you’re allowed to speak out against the vampire lizards.  This stoneliver is clearly a sign: and probably tied to the fact that the florist opposite Annie’s taxidermy shop was broken into a few days back, but still no cops have turned up to turn the place over.

So the two hit up the florist: Al taking his usual subtlety with a heavy kick to the door.  Inside is dark, and the place stinks of rotting lilies and bloating flesh.  There’s a body on the floor and someone rooting through the pockets, but this guy stands up and holds his hands into the air.

But then, see, the body on the floor, it sits bolt upright.  Al spooks, throws his wrench at the guy with his hands up — guy whose head snaps back with a flailing proboscis.  Annie flees the scene, but is barged to the floor by some heavy who steps into the doorway.

The clearly-not-a-corpse has gotten to its feet by this point and grabbed Al, who stares transfixed at the empty eye sockets of the thing.  By the time he breaks free, a steady stream of mosquitoes pour from the sockets, and Annie’s looking through Al’s truck for something to lever open the nearby hydrant.

Except that she sees someone over the road and is promptly interrupted by her mother, who’s not only clearly friends with the brute who knocked Annie to the floor, but also friends with Al’s ex-wife who also crosses the road.  The brute grabs Annie, Big Al runs into the brute’s mate out the back of the shop, and the pair wake up tied to chairs in a dockside warehouse.

This first act of the game led to the players uncovering almost half as many truths as they needed to win: and after escaping the warehouse and resting up at Al’s contact, they researched an abandoned truck-stop at the edge of town.  Eventually leaving that in flames and with the corpse of a hybrid human insect in the back of a truck, the pair fled along the coast road to Annie’s father, where they eventually learned the truth of her mother’s involvement…

seanspade2

EXUVIAE is currently in the run-up to a Kickstarter later this year.  I’m organising artwork, layout, printing, &c.  However, if you want to get access to the beta reader rules then send me an email at SEANatBOOKSEANSMITHdotCOdotUK.

 

Exuviae: A Mother’s Interest 

Le Roi en Jaune (fragment)

This has been translated from a French collection of lays. Originally written in a freeform structure, I’ve taken the liberty of corralling it into rime royal. The second half is lost.

Inside the palace crypt Cassilda sings
A mournful song of lost now in Carcosa,
Such as the recent passing of our kings
From living to the lake-side land Carcosa:
Beneath the baleful suns of far Carcosa.
Yet time upon our city now to mourn;
Bid patience ’til successor be inform’d.

Swiftly from the tomb Cassilda steals
And to the waiting arms of her Diego:
A close embrace then at her feet he kneels.
“Do tell me that Camilla does not know.”
“Neither of our love nor poison, no.
The secrets of his murder with him rest;
No need that talk of treason be suppress’d.”

Yet the late king’s illicit lover waits
And hears the dialogue admitting guilt:
Lucrezia stands hid behind crypt gates.
Initial thought of confrontation wilts
To better guard her safety ‘gainst swordhilt.
“I’ll shed the falsehood at the masquerade
And that the coronation might be stay’d.”

While edge of town a tattered stranger knocks
With vivid hand cowl’d under yellow shawl
And cover’d face as though to shield a pox.
The door opened by royal chef full tall
Who in but a breath is under stranger’s thrall.
The stranger he invites into his home.
Then feastly preparations to be done.

For now the lights are dim, the wine is set:
The guests arrive in rich excellence clad.
Despite disguise all as a king are met.
Among the throng the yellow robed nomad.
So look upon the dance as one near-mad
And hear the conversations overheard
Regardless of who took intended word.

Come midnight bell the call to then unmask
And all but one reveal smiling delight.
All but one — the stranger he — “I wear no mask.”
Camilla from him turns her face in fright
Surveys the scene all pallid in moonlight.
Cassilda from the room has turned and fled.
Camilla’s husband: lying, twitching; dead.

The nobles clutch their stomachs full of pain.
The stranger tall he stands amid the scene
Looks on while gore and bile from faces rain.
The toxin wine gone from decanter clean
Absence brighter than yellow tatters sheen.
Into the street fleeing Cassilda thrust:
“Not upon us, oh king! Not upon us!”

Le Roi en Jaune (fragment)

Service offered: Interactive Narrative Consultancy

This is something I’ve been doing off & on for a while, but realised it would be worth formalising the concept.

I would like to offer my services consulting on interactive & genre narratives.

“From experience, I can assure you that Sean has both a serious interest and a deep insight into game mechanics.”
Magnus Hedén of Spiritmask RPG

Whether you’ve got an RPG adventure you’re running or a ruleset you’re writing, whether you’re writing a horror novella or a sci-fi play, I could help you eke out the greatest narrative resonance from your story.

Who is this clown?

Well, I’m not actually a clown. But I am a magician.
That means I spend a lot of time thinking about what each audience might expect and how to achieve & manipulate that.
It means I’m used to thinking about objects & the interactions between them in different ways. No-one thinks about cards like a magician does.

I’m a writer: primarily speculative fiction, like cyberpunk or noir. I like building from and subverting genre expectations. I’ve written about the similarities between roleplaying and medieval oral culture.

I’m an interactive narrative & games designer, from building silly games to modules for published systems. I’ve consulted with mindreaders about card games for oracle cards, written specialist GM advice for indie behemoths and spoken on villainy & antagonism at a monthly videogames conference.

What can I do for you?

  • I can solve problems you have with interactive or static narratives.
  • I can help you understand the core conflict within your narrative.
  • I can highlight & clarify the emotions your game mechanics will promote.
  • I can simplify & refine unwieldy systems or stories.

What do I care about?

I like players & characters to have agency – the ability to visualise & enact narrative consequence.

I like brevity & clarity.

I like people to be social & to promote their ability to tell stories.

What is my fee?

I’m taking a leaf out of the book of someone I greatly admire. My standard initial consultation fee is the price of a cup of caffeine. Buy me a coffee & we’ll talk through your needs. If you envisage needing a longer conversation, you can buy me lunch. If you’re in a different country, we can do PayPal & Skype.

From there onwards, we can arrange further services according to your needs. But for many people, that little nugget of insight will be all you’ll need.

Email me today at SEAN at BOOKSEANSMITH dot CO dot UK & we can arrange a coffee.

What are people saying about this?

“Thanks for all of your advice, and your assistance. You’ve been a huge help, and it really helped me re-structure a lot of the rules, explanations, and organization of everything. Your feedback was invaluable.”
David Schirduan on Mythic Mortals

“I think these [ideas] are, no contest, the best feedback I could get from this project. Thanks :D” —Sangjun Park

Service offered: Interactive Narrative Consultancy

A Volunteer for Gustav May

Please take my hand, ascend the stage,
(The lights are warm, the platform bright)
You’ll help to shape our show tonight:
Allow your sight to wander cross the page.
A word will fix firm in your mind –
Just lock it there and hold it tight,
Against your limbs don’t try to fight
But let them seize as sockets start to grind.

Put yourself in my control and
Make a PRISON of your soul;
Sit still, I’ll fill your face with ants.
The Hive will take you in its fold
And nurture you, and make you old,
The Queen will hatch her children in your brain.

A Volunteer for Gustav May

Rejection, onwards!

Today, I received a letter from Black Static, the address written in my fair hand. Of course, the first response was a flutter in my chest and a quiet, upbeat, “Ooh!” The second response was to lever the edge of my keys under the flap and tear the aperture apart. I’m not sure if I directly expected the form rejection slip within, but I think part of me always did. (Another, more optimistic part, thought that the bulkiness of the envelope was caused by a lot of cheques rather than the advertising leaflet within.)

I’m not surprised, and I’m not saddened. I have read far too often that rejection is the most common bedfellow of the early writer. Conveniently, I seem to have internalised that straightforwardly enough – but I think I’ve always been oddly good at this: somehow mildy impervious to rejections from Oxford and UCL, much to the annoyance of my then lady.

There’s nothing more that can be done, so onwards.

Two paths beckon.

The first is the most simple. Keep on writing, keep on sending. Rejection slips are proof that work is getting finished and read. A readership of one is better than an unfinished manuscript, and I’d be more arrogant that I’d humbly admit if I expected 100% of my readers to enjoy my work. To that end, I need to finalise “Phage” and I need to actually write that steampunk Macbeth.

The second is a forked path, and where my dilemma lies: I could send “The Trees” and “Not a Bedtime Story” to another market and hope for publication and success. (I’ve been told by people whose readerly opinion I trust that they are of publishable quality, even if they’ve yet to be sold.) Or, I could save time submitting to markets that I’d need to find and spend that on new creation. Really that makes the most sense.

So what to do with these finished stories? I’m loath to let them rot in a digital fortress until they gain sentience and lose sanity. I don’t want to self-publish them, because I’d have to spend creativity time on making a good looking e-product. I had thought of combining a few of my similarly mythosed stories together. I still may.

The most likely option is to give them away, but the precise howness I have yet to decide. Really I ought to use the opportunity to gain a proper mailing list like Writing Magazine keeps telling me I should. That would require the software and the investment in actually writing a newsletter of sorts beyond the intermittance here. Is it worth it? Or shall I polish them into simple PDFs, put the download links here and elsewhere, with the links back to the site and the suggestion that people pass the e-papers onwards?

Either way, onwards.

Rejection, onwards!

Poet Tree

I have a terrible tendency for misspelling the words poetry (see above) or pome, which may or may not be inherited affectations from an English teacher. That being said, I am naturally drawn to creating humorous* misspellings surprisingly often.

What I am not so naturally drawn to creating is the aforementioned tree itself. I do not know why, particularly, considering that I have naturally created prose in sheathfulls. Maybe when most were going through that teenage phase of angsty pomes, I found myself writing gamebooks or variably complex systems for role playing games. Considering the numerical focus of my writings’ development at this time, it is perhaps unsurprising that I (may) have taken to poetry in the manner I seem to be at the moment.

I am currently reading Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, which has stared at me for from a variety of bookshelves, if never my own. I am now borrowing milady’s copy, and am sixty or so pages in – on the fifth exercise.

What I am enjoying most about it is the whittling craft of it, at least under Stephen’s tutelage. It is the shaping of meter** and the warping of words, and less the act of creation. It’s not the preconsidered product but the process.

I can only remember writing one poem off my own back. It’s called Pearl Hoard and came to me whilst I rode beside the North Sea. I don’t know if my future pomes will be similarly horror or else another genre. I like the idea of staying to a genre though – and sci-fi quite appeals.

Hmmm… A cyberpunk poem..?

* In my opinion, if not others’.

** As an archaist, I am in agreement with Fry’s preference.

Poet Tree