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Topics - Jubal

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Chances are, if you have read anything about medieval castles, you have probably heard that newel staircases in medieval castles were intentionally nearly always designed in the form of a clockwise spiral to give the most space to the right-handed defenders at the top of the stairs to draw and swing their swords while simultaneously restricting the space given to the right-handed attackers attempting to ascend the staircase.

This is something that tour guides often tell people visiting castles. It is also one of those “fun facts” that are often repeated on the internet. Unfortunately, for reasons I am about to explain, it is also almost certainly wrong; there is actually no good reason to believe that medieval staircases were intentionally designed this way for this reason and, in fact, there is a great deal of evidence that indicates that they were probably not...


I found this really interesting and can honestly say I'd never questioned this piece of trivia enough before. It's a really interesting one. To summarise the article: not all castle staircases had the standard spiral, someone coming up the stairs has a huge advantage far beyond that given by the arm room of being able to go for someone's legs well before that person can get in range of their arm, a lot of the staircases are too thin to swing swords in anyway, and also once your castle gates were breached you were basically dead regardless. Which seems a fair argument to me. Any thoughts?

The Sun before the Storm - A Day in Perchtoldsdorf, In Photos

So, just before lockdown and the storm of Covid-19 closing in on us stopped me being able to, I went to Perchtoldsdorfer Heide, a grassland area just southwest of Vienna with some nice woods around it. As such, here are some of the flowers and wildlife I found there!

These are Adonises, yellow pheasants'-eye - they were very common in the grassland areas, and are a striking, really very large flower. It's somewhat related to buttercups, but feels like it's a couple of pokemon evolutions upward from being one. It contains cardiostimulant compounds and forms a crucial part of Bekhterev's mixture, a sedative often used to calm the central nervous system and treat severe panic disorders or neurological movement problems.

This, though, was the real treat of the trip. Perchtoldsdorfer Heide is one of the few places in Austria that still have sousliks, the European ground squirrel species (closely related to something like a prairie dog in the US). They're very smol and do a lot of standing up to look for predators - the burrows are in a small fenced off area to avoid intrusions. They're not difficult to see there at the right time of day - they're too large to do what e.g. a mouse would and rely on cover, instead relying on high visibility to be able to spot predator approaches, so they prefer areas of medium to short grass where they can get good visibility. I think this population are probably also a bit over-used to humans - as you can see from the next picture I was able to get fairly close to them at some points.

European sousliks are found across the Czech Republic, the Hungarian plain, and in Bulgaria and Romania; attempts are being made to reintroduce them into Poland, and there used to be populations in Germany as well. There are several more species found further northeast and into Asia. They're similarly sized to a rat or red squirrel, and make whistling noises when predators are spotted (interestingly, not something I heard, perhaps indicating that they don't treat humans in that category; Perchtoldsdorfer Heide does however have a healthy population of kestrels, which I've no doubt would take at least young sousliks very happily).

This is a liverleaf, or Hepatica, a very pretty woodland flower. Its English name comes from the fact that its leaves have three lobes, like a liver. It was sometimes used to treat liver problems as a result - and apparently does have some diuretic effect.

Violets, with Vienna distantly in the background. In Vienna these are sometimes eaten sugared as a delicacy. They are known to have been favoured by Empress Sisi, the famous late Habsburg Empress who has been reinvented in Austrian popular culture as the centre of almost cult-like obsession around her supposedly fairytale princess lifestyle. The truth is rather different, and Sisi was by all accounts a melancholic woman who was deeply unhappy with the rigidity and expectations of court life, maintained her famed beauty regimen to the point of obsession, and ultimately devoted herself to travelling after never recovering from the probable murder-suicide of her only son. I've never particularly seen the culinary attraction of violets, but the flowers are nice nonetheless.

Violets - also available in colours other than violet!

These are pasque flowers, Pulsatilla, another big grassland flower like the Adonis. They are so named because they flower around Easter time - ultimately rooted to pasakh, Hebrew for passover. People used to say that pasque flowers grew from the blood of dead vikings or other ancient warriors. This myth almost certainly arose because, as flowers of dry grasslands, old burial mounds often made perfect habitat for them and are places where they would have been commonly found.

I'm not really sure why someone made this weird snail-shell spiral, but I hope they're enjoying life with whatever tiny Austrian hill spirit they managed to summon as a result.

A long-tailed tit, common across Europe, through a wide band of Russia, and into Japan. The ones I grew up with had more pink and a doubled dark stripe on the head - this however is the "snowball" colour variant seen across Northern and Eastern Europe and into Asia. We get both sorts here in Vienna, and this bird was part of a mixed flock.

Another of the snowballs, looking suitably cute. Long-tailed tits, as I know from my father being an ornithologist, are abbreviated to LOTI in many databases. As a result I've always known them as lotties, and I feel the name somewhat fits :)

This was pretty - apparently a penny-cress, related to the edible cress that we often grow.

One of the less usual birds of the trip, and one I had to look up when a flock of them arrived. This is a brambling, a small finch closely related to the chaffinch. This is a female.

This meanwhile is a chiffchaff, a small warbler - unlike the finches with their heavy seed-cracking beaks, warblers are insectivores, and this one will have been poking through the leaf canopy of the tree looking for invertebrates to eat.

Far more distinctively coloured than the female brambling, here's the male, with a striking and noticeable black head. The brambling breeds up in Scandinavia and Russia, so this group may well have been passing through on their way further north to where they'll eventually settle down for the summer.

This small fly-catching bird is a black redstart - so named for the red under its tail which appears as a visible flash of colour when the bird takes off.

Here we have more pasque flowers - on the nodding one you can see that the outside of the petals are somewhat furry, which is a fairly characteristic feature (though so far as I know there aren't many big low-growing purple flowers one could easily confuse them with). Pasque flowers are highly toxic and can slow human heart rate: they've been used in traditional medicine in a number of places to make things like sedatives and abortifacients.

As I was walking back to leave, I heard a very small peeping sound from a nearby blackthorn (or similar, my plant ID isn't fantastic), and thought "gosh that's a small noise". So I peered into the bush for a while, craning my neck as other confused walkers headed past me along the path, until I saw a shape moving right at the back of the bush, and thought "gosh, that's a tiny bird". I'd just been seeing a blue-tit, which is about at the small end of the bird range for Europe and may be familiar to readers - well, this was noticeably and obviously smaller. So a certain amount of cat and mouse ensued as I hopped around the outside of the little tree trying to get a photo of the tiny fast-moving object, and this was my best result. It's my absolute pleasure to thus introduce you to the goldcrest, the smallest European bird species (along with its orange-crested close relative, the firecrest).

An old myth recorded by Pliny and Aristotle makes the goldcrest the King of the Birds: there was a competition for the title with the winner being the one who could fly the highest, and the eagle did so - but the goldcrest, as the smallest bird, had hitched a lift in the eagle's tail feathers, and was able to fly just a tiny bit higher when the eagle finally tired. This myth is also told about the wren, but given the golden crest of the goldcrest it seems a more likely originator for the story.

A grape hyacinth, notable for being neither a grape nor a hyacinth, though they are quite pretty.

This is a shrubby milkwort - "wort" in a plant name frequently implies that traditionally the plant had some sort of medicinal or veterinary function, and in this case the belief (which as far as I'm aware is unfounded) was that feeding milkwort to cows got them to produce more milk. Their scientific name, Polygala (=Greek for "many milk") also refers to this.

All those little glowy bits on the ground? That's the evening sun shining through pasque flower hairs, which gives you an idea of just how many of these things there were. The Adonis and the pasque flowers are not particularly common in either case, but they were both very dominant and common species here. Long may they remain so!

Final bonus souslik!

Many grateful acknoweldgements go to my parents for helping with the biological ID for this piece, especially to my Ma for the plant ID which I'd be utterly lost with on my own. Hope you enjoyed the read!

Stories and AARs / The Tales of the Ytrair: A War of Realms AAR
« on: March 29, 2020, 02:05:47 PM »
Randomly did a new War of Realms AAR recently, in the form of a pseudo-chronicle. Hope you enjoy it!

The Tales of the Ytrair

These are the tales of the Ytrair, as were collected in the time of the Republic of our Cities, by Syesh the Writer, grandson of Kyv who was the first leader of the Republic and the first woman to rule the Ytrair. It has come to me to set these tales down upon parchment, so that it should not be forgotten what passed in the time of the Kings and how the Republic came into being, and so they should learn from so as to rule prudently and in harmonious accordance with our world as we have come to find it. In this duty I have spoken to the oldest who remember my grandmother’s time and the voyages of the great explorers, so that my account should not be found wanting and should be true in all its details, being written from the memories of those closest to the events. If my meagre pen should be nonetheless unfit to the task, I can plead only that no other pen has been set to this duty in such a way, and that it falls to me by merit not of my virtues but of my duties that I should be commanded by the sea and the open plain, the words of the oracles and the memory of the Kings, to write these tales, as they were passed down to me. And if there are things here unsaid, it is because they have been lost to the fast-flowing river, time, that pulls us all toward the open water.

The First Tales

And first it was said: we wandered alone on the plain of Yian. There were no people we knew but ourselves, and the wild ox, and the high-soaring eagle, and the ground-squirrel that comes when the days are warm. It is said that we could talk to the creatures of the earth then, for we had not yet come behind stone walls, which they shun, and we did not yet know the ways of wisdom, which the creatures of the earth have not.

These things the river taught us, that is called the Isa, for the river knew that we were more than beasts. At its mouth we raised buildings at Ysrin, which has ever after been our chiefest place, and even now holds the gathering of the leaders of the cities.

From that place the Ytrair chiefs gathered, and they were four, and they quarrelled. And the river told them to depart from each other, and be at peace. And one chief went west down the river, and came to Yldhin with his people, and made his dwelling there. Another went south across the plain of Yian, and came to the lake of Sylam, and he planted crops and took that place for his own. The third went to Snusam, which sits at the bay’s peak, stone-walled Snusam where the wild oxen roam, and he built stout houses there for his people. The fourth remained in Ysrin, and his name was Tepka, and the others of the chiefs acknowledged him as King. And he ordered roads built across the plain, and channels dug so that we should be the river’s teacher, and not the river ours, and the days of wandering ended, and the time of the Kings began.

Of when the Ytrair were first a Kingdom

When the days of the kingdom rose, the Estelians came to Yian, and did often threaten and bargain, and they came with great score of men to the lands of the Ytrair. They came with rock-throwers and horsemen, with beasts of war and men of iron, and the Ytrair stood afore them and taught them the making of coin, and the ways of the gods, and the making of ink and parchment, for they had no steel, but only their knowings.

The Ytrair were known for they had an oracle of great wisdom, who gave them the words of the gods and brought contentment to the people. Those dissatisfied were made content, and those content were made happy, those with anger were soothed and those with melancholy were cheered, for they walked among the knowings of the Gods.

The Ytrair sages gave the Estelians more and more wisdom, until their brutish natures became atamed, and they no longer spoke of threats and spears but of friendship and amity. The Ytrair were not deceived by these fine words, but gave them promises of victory over their enemies and friendship likewise. So they were left in peace.

They did not then have the sea-knowing, but they built a great chapel in their foremost city, and the people rejoiced at this and saw that it was good. And they turned their minds to coin and books, for these things seemed good to them, and the spear rested upon the rack, and harsh words went unspoken.

The Estelians returned eventually, with lance and armoured men, but they did not make either peace or war, at that time. And raiders came upon the coast in great strength, and the wild forests of the coast were full of fierce men at arms, but the gates of the cities were shut to them, and they could not pass through. This was in the time of Syesh who was King.


The Time of Yska, the brother of Syesh

Then it was the time of Yska, who became King, for he was the brother of Syesh who had no son. And Yska had a great longing for the sea that beat upon the shore by Ysrin, and watched the fishermen there, and he chose that the Ytraian folk should take wood from the forest and learn the ways of building boats with it, of keel-shaping and carving the small gods of the prows, and should learn to sail upon the salt ocean.

And the leader of the men who had come into the north forests was captured, and they paid for his ransom in gold, for their men had come to the gates of the cities and found that the Ytrair had sharp spears and cold stone awaiting them, and they had fled, leaving their leader, who sorely lamented at his fate, purchased back by his ailing people with gold.

Gold too they had aplenty from trade, for the Ytrair bought and sold money itself, and they made silks, and fine things, which were the jealousy of their foes, and which brought them great favours in the markets of Leress, and Tyend, and Mosene, and all the Estelian cities that lay beyond the plain and beyond the swamps.

And they built vessels to sail upon the salt ocean, but nothing did they find out to the far seas. Yska called to him his men, and he said to them “who will go hither and tell to me what the sea has to bring me”. Many of them were afraid, for they had heard of boats wrecked on the seas, but he found men, and Chaska led them, who sailed south along the shores of other lands, and saw islands with unfamiliar cities upon them.

Chaska fell in the following way, that they came to a land whose flags were golden, and who sailed deep-bottomed ships, and one of the two ships that he had with him came upon one of their ships, and harsh words being said, sank it beneath the sea. But the men with the golden flags took their ships, and they had many, and they destroyed all the vessels that Chaska had, and this story was told only by some few traders who had heard it from far-off peoples who knew of such things. And that was the tale of Chaska, who died because he could not keep his men from quarrelling.

And that was the time of Yska. And Yska also commanded that a town be built upon the hill of Aydhram, and that was where they buried him, so that his grave looked to the open sea.

The Time of Ilhyn, Yska’s son

Yska’s son was called Ilhyr, and Ilhyr became King. And Ilhyr saw that Estelian men with strange helmets and great halberds walked in his land, and he saw that the Elantians, who lived south of the Estelians, spat upon the Ytrair, and he became wroth. He commanded that the noble men of the Ytrair should come to battle, and they obeyed, though with heavy heart, for it was in the counting of gold, and the silks and wines of the cities, that they had their greater pleasure, not in the rough sport of spear and wild place that Ilhyr demanded.

Ilhyr sent men to an isle of the Elantians, which they called Bhyrsin Kyistir, for Kyistir in their tongue is an old word for a fortress, and they had such a place on the island. And Ilhyr’s men were slain, so he sent more men in their place, under Kyvar. And Kyvar stood upon a hill at the south of that island, and he fought many and slew many, but they had spears as sharp as his and they slew him also. And know this of the Elantians: that they had a way of pouring air upwards, so that it could pull a whole vessel up into the sky, and they destroyed a third ship of Ilhyr’s with one of these sky-vessels, for they could pour rocks and fire down upon it from a great height. And Ilhyr was enraged by this, but his rage brought no spearman back from the cold river, nor any horse back from the shedding of its blood.

He made his people build deeper ships, so that they could take more men to the islands and coasts far to the south, and they did so. And some went back to the hill on which Kyvar fell, and fortified themselves there, but they were not enough in number or strength to take the city below them. And pirates came, and sank their ships, and tore them from that hill. Others sought to attack from sea the small place that the Elantians named Ouerhyn, but these too were defeated and all aboard those ships were lost.

The Tale Of Syva

When Ilhyr was an old man, there came Syva, and Syva was a man from stone-walled Snusam, which sits at the old bay’s peak. Syva was granted three things. One was a shining face which all agreed was fine to look upon; one was a staff of ash, tall and slender and polished; and one was a wanderlust with feet that could never halt. His paths could lead through mountain peak or swamp without faltering, so long as he planted his staff in front when he walked.

It came to be that Syva wandered beyond the hills of Snusam, to where there is a plain to the east, and he saw Leress, and he saw Atep, two great cities of the Estelians. And Atep sits at the edge of the great forest in which the Estelian cities are, so he went into the forest, down to the swamps at a place called Yeryos, and on until he reached a great shore where he could not see but for sea, and he was surprised, for none had yet found the sea beyond the Estelian cities. And that bay they call the Syvadheryn, Syva’s bay, for it was first seen by Syva.

He passed through more dark swamps at the head of the bay, and passed beyond the great river Setyr that runs through the swamp-woods there, and came by Mosene, the southern market of the Estelians, where they buy the silk from Snusam. The people of Mosene told him of a city with dark red towers, called Kampyan, and he went to see it, but it was occupied by the Elantians, and upon hearing that he was a Ytrair by birth they spat upon him, and sent him away. He did not go back to his home country though, but wandered through the Elantian lands, and hid from their mail-armoured warriors and their great machines of siegecraft and their long-speared followers.

None came and attacked him, for he was cunning and stayed in abandoned places, in swamps and in forests, so none saw his path, and the lords of their cities of Myrthyn, Herspyrd, and Bylil knew nothing of him, though he saw the walls and gates of each. The lord of Herspyrd saw him not for he hid deep in the forests: the lord of Myrthyn saw him not although he camped on the plain outside, for he could not imagine that any foe alone would do such a thing. And the lord of Bylil was facing the anger of his people, for that was a time when the cities of the Elantians were full of anger at the misdeeds of their lords.

At last Syva came to the deep forests north of the great cities of the Elantians, upon the coasts where Ilhyr often sent his ships, and he came to Ouerhyn, which was a small place with trees to its landward side and only the open sea around, although the coast there was treacherous. But the Elantians of Ouerhyn were not to be found, at least none who were loyal to their lords far to the south and beyond the forests. There were no bright spears or cold machines of war in Ouerhyn that day. So Syva entered the city, and used the third of his gifts, which was his shining face, and told the people that they should leave the Estelian lords and come to serve the king of the Ytrair, and they saw that he spoke fair and looked fair, and they agreed, and came that way to serve the Ytrair.

Syva took to sea, and began to explore the coasts, and the rest of his tale is told elsewhere.

The Tale of Tarkyn, the Sunrise Walker

There was in the time of Ilhyn a man of Snusam named Tarkyn, and he heard of the deeds of Syva and he decided that he wanted to do more than Syva had done. So he left to try and walk to where the sun rises in the furthest east.

He went to Leress first, and asked them where the sun rose and how to walk there. But they told him that to the east was only sea, and that he would have to go south first. So he went to Atep, and then went east past the dark forests where the Estelian cities lie and the great river Setyr flows ever on.

He came to the cities of the Terils, who said that they did not know where the sun rose. The chief men of the Terils spoke together, for they were ill used to seeing a stranger in their midst and did not know what to make of him, and they said “we must tell the lords of his people that he is to return home.” So they sent an emissary to Ilhyn, and Ilhyn was an old man but he was still King of the Ytrair, and he sent the command to Tarkyn who returned home to Snusam. So Tarkyn’s first voyage ended.

On his second voyage, which was in the time of Yteyr, he went to the swamp town of Yeryos, where the ground lies wet and low, and he passed by it, going further south. There he found a people whose banners were gold, and they were the people who had sunk the ship of Chaska in the times of their grandfathers. And they called themselves Yrrsh, and they spoke a strange tongue. But Tarkyn made a peace with those people, whose cities were large, with Malwin being the name of the largest, and who inhabited a wide plain. He came further to a city called Pumpu, and its people were called the Moutani, and he made peace with them as well. He tried to pass by a city of the Yrrsh, which they called Unusyrin, but they did not wish him to go that way, and bade him leave. So ended the second voyage of Tarkyn.

Upon his third voyage, he went again to the Teril lands. This time, though, he did not pay heed when they tried to expel him, and there was much bad blood ever after from the Terils towards all the Ytrair because of his deeds. And he came to Yngen, one of their cities, and hid in the mountains to its north, for Teril men had come upon him with swords and he was sorely wounded. Many months he lived in a cave, until he met some strange green-garbed men. They were the men of Nurelon, a kingdom in that land, and they were fierce. Tarkyn gave them knowledge from the Ytrair lands, and promised them much gold if they helped him live, which they did.
It was at that time that Syva, the hero of three gifts, the deliverer of Ouerhyn, was sailing the far seas. He had come around the far Yrrsh shorelines, and he too found Nurelon, and was told of another Ytrair man who had a great debt promised to them. Syva arranged for most of the debt to be cancelled, in exchange for a promise of Ytrair swords if ever the Moutani were to threaten those lands. Thus the Moutani became the enemies of the Ytrair, for no good reason but to protect a lost wanderer’s life. And Syva sailed further around the land of Nurelon until he came to where the mountains meet the sea. And there he sang an old song from Snusam, and Tarkyn came running from his cave.

They sailed west, and it is said that Tarkyn never did find the farthest eastern sea, or see the place where the sun rose. A traveller will find both friends and enemies who are far from what he seeks.

The Time of Yteyr, Ilhyn’s son

Yteyr was the son of Ilhyn, and he was of like mind to his father, and preferred the hunt and the chase to the book and the school. It was late in his father’s reign when Ouerhyn came into the hands of the Ytrair, andmuch of his early reign was spent building its defence. He kept sending men to fight the Elantians, for now that Ouerhyn was his, he cherished it like a jewel, and it would never be safe as long as the Elantians ruled those lands, for they sent men through the thick forests to try and achieve its capture. These were always defeated, for Yteyr built thick walls and brought swords together in that place.

Yteyr’s men at last captured Bhyrsin Kyistir, for he had many men, more than Ilhyn his father had done, and with spear and deep-bottomed ship they took that place, threw down its gates and port and temples, and took it for their own, whence they could build it as they pleased. This was Yteyr’s great victory.

But the people of the cities were tired of the war-making of Yteyr and Ilhyn, and had lost faith that a ruler like Yska could be found again. So they talked amongst themselves, especially the men of Ysrin, the chiefest city, and those of Yldhin, the great port, and those of Sylam by the lake. And they said to themselves “we can have a king who pleases us, if we so choose: for we are many and the king’s men are few, and all of them have gone to fight the wars”.

And then another thing happened: Yteyr died. A boar took him whilst he was hunting, and tore him, and so those who had been speaking against him got louder, and Yteyr’s son Urha let them shout, for he was but a child, and they let him leave for Estelia where he lived away from the Ytrair.

The Time of Kyv

Kyv was a woman of Ysrin, and her father was Lierm, and her mother was Ayair of Snusam, sister of three-gifted Syva. And she came to the men who and said “I will be your leader. For my ways are not of war, but I know the art of shepherding coin, and the ways of the wayfarer, and the laws that are just: and these are the things that a ruler should know. And you shall send noble and good men and women, one from each of the lesser cities and three from the greater ones, and these fourteen shall advise me and see that I do right.” And they heard her words and found them good, and so they ended the line of the kings.

And many thought that they had done wrong at first, for there was turmoil in the cities, and people did not know who gave the laws now that there was no king. And things went ill for the Ytrair in the far regions, for bringing mighty siege engines, the Elantians broke the gates of Ouerhyn and entered that place in triumph. And Kyv sent men to take it back, but the Elantians were waiting in the forest with cruel arrows, and killed them.

But Kyv also ended the feud with the Terils that was begun by the trespasses of Tarkyn, for she sent a caravan with much wine and goods to their city of Kueryn, and made a peace with them that way. And she spent much upon the enjoyments of the people in the cities, and they loved her rule greatly, for it was peaceable and did not take too much from them, neither their young men nor their coin, for the fighting of the wars.



Update: The project has now started, but we can fit in one or two extra people, so if you still want to sign up, you can do so until Sunday 12.

Exilian chain writing: plague special! As something to get people through quarantine, we are as they say "back".

You can find the wrapup announcement for the last chainwriting project, from 2018, and links to the three stories we produced, here.

People signed up: 26

What is chain writing? It's where a bunch of people write a collaborative story! Rather than of the bizarre mess of the three word story, this is an actual writing thing, and will be done in 250 word chunks. Once we've written some stories they'll all be released and it'll be great and stuff! Read on for the rules and how to sign up:

  • You will have up to five (5) days to write up to two hundred and fifty (250) words of story - no more (unless you're the last person of the eight on a chain, in which case you'll get up to 350 if and only if you need additional room to tie up loose ends).
  • There will be eight people in a standard chain, for a total of a bit over 2000 words for a tale.
  • When it's your turn, you will be emailed (by, the chain as it currently stands. You won't be told who else is on the chain. Once you're done, you will then email the whole thing, with your additions, back to me.
  • Time limits are strict. If you don't get something back to me within five days, it gets passed on to the next person.
  • There's no lower word limit. If your contribution is fifty words, that's absolutely fine.
  • Editing or changing the previous text in any way is forbidden. If you think two previous parts clash or have a major hole, we can do things about that but ask first rather than doing it unilaterally.

  • Sign up by posting below, OR by emailing
  • Sign ups are open until April 05. On April 06 the chain starters will be told who they are and given their tasks. EDIT: Chains are now set, but late sign ups will be permitted until Sunday 12.
  • When you sign up, please state the following:.
    • What name/username you want to be credited by when the final stories are released.
    • What sort of chain you want to be on: REALISM, HISTORY, SCI FI AND FANTASY, or MISC/NO PREFERENCE. I won't necessarily be able to run chains of all four types; generally it tends to be the case that things will take SFF twists if they have enough people writing on them, so if a lot of people want to have a realistic chain I'll try and put them all together as priority. If you absolutely don't want to be involved if you can't do a chain in a rough genre area, let me know - of course I won't necessarily be able to accommodate that but it helps me to know in advance.
    • If you have timing requirements (aka you'd rather do it in April, towards the first half of the chain, or in May towards the end. I can't promise to be able to accommodate requirements of this sort but I'll do my best).

You can use this thread at any point whilst this project is running to discuss what's going on, ask general questions, get advice from other writers, etc, though please refrain from posting actual snippets or discussing direct plot details of ongoing chains.

Thanks, and I look forward to seeing many signups and much writing!

Discussion and Debate - The Philosopher's Plaza / World elections
« on: February 23, 2020, 08:28:58 PM »
I thought it would make sense to start an onrunning thread for stuff about international elections for countries that don't have their own thread (at time of writing, US, UK and Austria). This should keep electoral politics and the wider In The News thread a bit more separated. So here is that thread, which I'll post something else in next time there's an interesting electoral result that catches my attention someplace :)

Exilian Articles / Exilian Interviews: Kate Madison and Neil Oseman!
« on: February 22, 2020, 11:10:02 PM »
A Conversation With: Kate Madison and Neil Oseman!
Your Interviewer: Jubal

The fantasy webseries Ren is currently nearing the end of its Kickstarter for a second season - the team were guests at two of our three conventions to date, and are long standing friends of ours here, besides being awesome creators of great fantasy worlds. As such, of course we sent Jubal into the wildernesses of Ren's home kingdom of Alathia to find Kate Madison, the show's award-winning director and showrunner, and Neil Oseman, their (also award-winning) Director of Photography, to find out a bit more about what goes into a fantasy webseries and what we can expect from Season Two. After a couple of scrapes with the Kah'Nath and a few daring escapes through the forest, he finally caught up with them...

  Ren, portrayed by Sophie Skelton in Season 1. A new actress will play her in Season 2.
Jubal: So, for any readers who don’t know, can you give us a bit of a starting pitch as to what Ren is and what it’s about?

Kate: Ren: The Girl with the Mark is an independent short-form fantasy series about a young woman whose life changes forever when she is “marked” by an ancient Mahri spirit. Now a fugitive from her world’s ruling order, she is forced to flee the village she has lived in all her life, and journey across the land in the company of the outlaw Hunter to find the meaning of the mark she bears.

Jubal: Ren’s first series has been very successful both in terms of YouTube views and awards – how have you both found the response to it since it came out in 2016?

Kate: I always hope when I create something that people will watch and enjoy it but it never ceases to amaze me the snowball effect that can happen when one person discovers something they love and shares it with others.  I hoped for Ren to do well online and for people to love it but I never imagined that an original independent fantasy series would get millions of views as it has done.  I also decided to enter the show into festivals as I wanted the cast and crew who did such an amazing job, to have the chance to be recognised for their achievements but the whirlwind world tour and multiple awards the show has received was still a surprise.

Neil: When we were getting ready to release the first season, a friend of mine told us about the “long tail” phenomenon, where internet content builds an audience over time rather than petering out rapidly after the release like a traditional film or TV show. I didn’t really believe it at the time, but it was absolutely true for Ren. Thousands of new people are discovering the series every day. It’s extremely gratifying and it’s exactly why we want to make more, to carry on that story for all those people who’ve enjoyed it so far.

Jubal: You’re now of course kickstarting Series Two. We last saw Ren riding out of her home village of Lyngarth with a hail of flaming arrows behind her – will we be exploring more parts of her world in the new series?

Neil: Yes, the plan was always to move away from the village and mirror Ren’s figurative journey of discovery about herself and the Mahri spirit within her with a literal journey across the land to find the people and places that hold answers for her. I’m looking forward to putting some new locations on camera.

Kate: We plan to continue from where we left off, following Ren as she’s pursued by the Kah’Nath while dealing with being wrenched from everything familiar.  As she begins to come to terms with the circumstances she finds herself in, she will start to explore not only the physical world around her but the very fabric of society and the truths she has always been taught.

The Kah'Nath soldiers prepare a volley of flaming arrows...
Jubal: And will we be seeing many familiar faces in the next stage of Ren’s travels, or mostly new ones?

Kate: Ren was torn away from her friends and family at the end of last season but that doesn’t mean we’ll never see them again, even if Ren herself may struggle to reconnect with some of them. Many of the main characters in season one play an important role in Ren’s journey so although we will be focusing on Ren we will also learn the fates of others as we move forward. We even have some new characters to introduce as the story continues, some may be fleeting but others may become significant players in Ren’s story. 

Jubal: Moving on to stuff behind the camera, how did you both end up working together on fantasy webseries projects?

Kate: I’ve always been drawn to the more fantastical, and telling stories we can relate to or that inspire us but that are not set in our ‘real’ world really appeal to me.  I also love the aesthetics of a historical type feel and for me fantasy works perfectly.  You can shake off any expectations or restrictions that you’d have with a ‘real’ setting and can put your characters into any situation you can think of. I made my Lord of the Rings feature Born of Hope with hardly any filmmaking experience and have continued to enjoy boosting the quality of this genre.

Neil: In 2013 I shot The First Musketeer, a web series by Harriet Sams, and I really enjoyed it, so I was actively looking out for more web series to work on. I knew Kate a bit from Born of Hope, so that’s how I got into the running for the director of photography position on Ren. After filming I felt so invested in the project and so keen for it to continue that I stayed on as a postproduction supervisor and even ended up on the writing team for the new episodes.

Jubal: Neil, as director of photography you’re often more literally behind the camera. What makes working on fantasy projects like this particularly of interest for you?

Neil: I love the creative challenge of working with just fire, daylight and moonlight as the supposed light sources. At the same time you can create a more stylised image because you’re not working in the real world. I’m a sucker for a nice shaft of light through a window, and with fantasy that’s pretty much a requirement! I also like all the texture in the sets, locations and costumes. The modern world can be a little smooth and bland sometimes, but old stone walls, heavy embroidered fabrics and weathered wood are much more interesting. I find creating a sense of tactility and three-dimensionality on camera very satisfying, and these textured surfaces have a lot of scope for that.

The one thing Kah'Nath soldiers obey above even the Master - Kate with a clapper board.
Jubal:  And what’s the shot or cinematic trick you were most proud of in Series 1?

Neil: I’m most proud of the scene in Karn’s house in the first episode. It was a beautiful set made of real twisted willow, and I was able to shine a big arc light through the roof of interlocking branches to create a dappled sunlight effect. In combination with smoke to bring out the fingers of light, it made for a very magical atmosphere.

Jubal: Kate – you’ve been the driving force behind Ren as director, writer, and showrunner. What’s the most important thing for you about Ren’s story and what most drives you to want to make more of it?

Kate: I started Ren to create something for an online community of fantasy fans who, at least at the time, didn’t have a whole lot of shows being made for them. This was our way to work independently from the Hollywood system and make high quality entertainment directly for our community who could help influence the story through their comments and interactions.  It is a fan supported and creator distributed model. Ren was always intended to be an episodic story and there is so much to the world that we’ve created, some has been hinted at but others have not yet been explored at all.  It would be a real shame to not finish Ren’s story. 

Jubal: In Born of Hope, you acted as well as directed, and your Ren co-writer Christopher Dane played Karn in series one: might we see you in front of the camera again at any point?

Kate: I would really love to play a role in Ren, it’s just finding the right one that works for the story as I don’t want to just crowbar one in.   Interestingly in season one, although you don’t really see me I am there.  I’m a hand double for Ren, the voice of broom lady and even Dalia’s singing voice!

Jubal: How much planning and effort has had to go into the current Kickstarter beforehand? Have you both been involved throughout that process?

Neil: Yes. We spent a year preparing for the Kickstarter, building a mailing list of supporters, building social media momentum, and of course writing the new episodes at the same time. There are a couple of other writers involved - Ash Maharaj and Claire Finn - but most of it was just Kate and I ploughing away! As we got closer we brought in Ben Dobyns of Zombie Orpheus Entertainment as our crowdfunding consultant. His input into the rewards, budgeting and the mailing list has been invaluable.

The mysterious woodsman Karn teaches Ren archery in S1 Ep 1.
Jubal: Have you had many fan creations in response to Ren – writing, art, and so on? And how do you feel about the idea of other people wanting to do expansions of the world you’ve created?

Kate: We have seen a number of wonderful pieces of fan art and even a piece of creative writing.  I’m always delighted to inspire other people to be creative even if it doesn’t specifically become canon.

Jubal: Finally, if all the above has been exciting, where can our readers find out more?

Neil: Our Kickstarter page has plenty of info about the show, an embedded video of the complete first season, and all the details of the exciting rewards we’re offering for backers.

Kate: If you’d also like to learn more about Ren, the world and making season one you can find all that on our website!

Thanks again to Kate and Neil for chatting to us! You can follow Kate Madison on @actorsatwork on social media or check out and you can find Neil Oseman on @neiloseman and We hope to see more of Ren and Alathia soon - so a final reminder to back the Ren kickstarter, with just one week to go at the time of posting! If you've somehow been imprisoned by evil overlords for the last few years and not seen Series One yet, fear not, it's available on Youtube.

You can also discuss Ren on the forum, and contribute to the ongoing Wiki project for it.
Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Mods, Maps & Game Add-Ons - The Bazaar / Experiments with Djinni
« on: February 17, 2020, 11:45:13 PM »
I've been briefly playing around with djinni, the Witcher 1's editor mode, since I'm not feeling up to doing much actually useful today. It's mostly frustrating and badly documented, so I'm not sure why I'm doing this, but I am. So here's a thread for what I'm doing and for making notes.

The Project
The project is entitled  "A Mountain Tale": don't hold your breath for its release, I'm not expecting to finish it. In it, Geralt of Rivia ends up in Pipkieti, a small mountainous kingdom with a great love of wine, and must navigate the strange people and creatures of this land and an ancient blacksmiths' legend that seems to be taking shape in reality.

So far, I still haven't worked out the basics of the editor. I can make creatures spawn, but not in the place or number I want, some of them randomly turn out to lack animations for reasons unknown. I was hoping to have some sort of ongoing fighting between the Pipkietian militia and their enemies up the valley from the start location, but I can't seem to get them to actually fight for love nor money. I'm doing better with other aspects. I've got three areas the player can move between - outdoors, the castle, and the main underground city - and I've made a couple of NPCs with short conversations, and the town's little market has townsfolk who spawn and wander around talking standard inane videogame chat at you, with three salesfolk open so far. Khachapuri has naturally been implemented, but the editor doesn't seem to be able to find it when I want to add it to shops which is very curious.

Useful Notes

FAQ style notes:
My lights in my cave/indoor area keep going off.
It turns out you need to give the area the indoor or underground description flags. Not sure which of these fixes it, but giving it both definitely works.

Exilian Articles / Characters and Why They Work: Warhammer Fantasy
« on: February 16, 2020, 06:27:50 PM »
Characters and Why They Work: Warhammer Fantasy
By Jubal

So, I came up with the idea for this article a while back and thought I'd finally get to writing it. I've not played Warhammer Fantasy since I was at school, I've never been the greatest lore expert (though I did make a fairly large game mod based on the setting), but nonetheless some characters from that game have really, really stuck with me, whilst others have been largely overwritten or are "yeah, that guy" memories that pale next to more exciting characters who I've encountered since. As such, here's an exploration of seven of the characters that I found most memorable, and what I think you can take from them when designing and writing similar ones. These are mostly the sorts of characters I'd expect as antagonists in most settings, but I think that's fairly inherent to Warhammer - most people in that setting are objectively horrible, and as it's a wargame most characters are really meant to be generals and power figures rather than solo adventurers. So let's see how some of them shape up:

Richter Kreugar

The cursed company, via Lexicanum.
The tragic tale of Richter Kreugar, a gold-grabbing mercenary who betrayed his necromancer patron and was then cursed to roam the earth fighting for all eternity with a band of those he cut down while doing so, is… basically just absolutely fantastic.

There’s a strong sort of folk-horror vibe about Kreugar, and for my money he’s possibly the most horrifying character in WHFB. Sure, there are chaos horrors and spawn who lumber as horrendous balls of mutilated angry flesh, and there are great armies of zombies, but Richter and his band are worse for a couple of reasons. One of the key elements of horror is creatures that you don’t want to be like, as much as creatures who are viscerally frightening for one reason or other. There are lots of examples of that in Warhammer though – aforementioned undead or chaos spawn, for example. What makes it worse with Richter Kreugar is that he is sapient and moreover got his curse doing an arguably good act. (Sure, he may only have switched sides and murdered his paymaster because of the promise of a big pile of gold, but even if he had done it for good reasons, the result would’ve been the same.) In the Warhammer setting, life is sometimes just horrible to you.

Richter Kreugar is also really easy to mythologise, far more so than most other characters in WHFB generally. Sure, your dwarfs might speak in awe of Thorek Ironbrow’s runic talents, or your Brettonians might speak with hushed tones of the legends of the Fay Enchantress, but when it comes to telling tales in a smoky tavern late in the evening, Richter Kreugar provides a proper ghost story of the sort that’s curiously lacking elsewhere in a setting that manages to have two entire factions of undead in it. You could even write a traditional UK-style folk ballad about him without any problems, a point that I can prove on account of literally having done so whilst writing this article. As such, I think he's a fantastic example of how to make a horror character who works in a fantasy setting and adventuring setup whilst still being horrifying - that folk-horror borderline is a good place to find things along those lines.

Aenur, the Sword of Twilight

Elves often aren’t very exciting. There, I said it. And I didn’t just say it because I’m a dwarf fan. In most fantasy settings, elves are fairly predictable – they hang around in woods or mysterious ancient cities, they are snooty or otherworldly or sometimes just Mary-sue level good, etc.

Now sure, Aenur, the one elf character in original Mordheim is still snooty and standoffish. But taking the elf out of the forest and putting him into a ruined city suddenly makes him actually far more interesting, as does making him a singular special character in the whole game. Being able to suddenly dart from the shadows, carve up some evildoers with his longsword (still elven, but none of that dainty ethereal bow nonsense), and then vanish again makes him a fanastic swashbuckling man of mystery.

I think this says a lot of useful stuff about how to make elves interesting. Making them rarer definitely helps a great deal, so you get the “oh, shoot, that’s an *elf*” reaction appropriate for a dying cadre of superhumans rather than the usual groans you get when elves are just a slightly more annoying part of regular society. I’d even say there might be an advantage in cutting elves right down to the odd named character – you still get to display all the good stuff and it doesn’t get wearing so fast. The other thing Aenur shows is that there’s a lot of roles – in his case, ruined city’s swashbuckling mystery hero – that elves are really cinematically good at but don’t actually get put in that much because they’re all pigeonholed into being wizards or rangers. A solid character all round.

Borgut mini. Painted by Clover via CoolMiniOrNot.
Borgut Facebeater

Borgut is a good reminder that there’s a certain level of charismatic leadership that needs a functional subordinate to really function – in this case, that of Grimgor Ironhide, the mightiest Orc in the Warhammer setting. Borgut is his second in command and general tough, enforcer, herald, go-between, etc. The concept of a bodyguard doesn’t quite work for the greatest orc fighter of all time, but if Grimgor had one, it would be Borgut.

Borgut is a mighty warrior in his own right – savage in battle, tough as nails, brutally powerful – and, fundamentally, he’s an orc’s orc. By epitomising everything we think of as relating to orcs, he becomes the orc equivalent of an everyman character. In turn, then, Grimgor, despite in many ways being similar to Borgut in the role of “Orc turned up to eleven,” gets his differences to other orcs and orc society displayed in ways that would be impossible if Borgut wasn’t there. Borgut provides the layer and therefore the necessary distance between the practically worshipped figure of Grimgor and the ordinary greenskins of his horde, allowing the senior orc to seem further above his subordinates than would be the case otherwise. Grimgor’s cunning and mythical status are greatly accentuated by the fact that he is able to remain somewhat distant – doubly so in orc society, where ‘eadbutting your opponents into submission is a usual way of restoring order. Having someone powerful enough to do that all for you, who you have effective complete control over, is a power move beyond what orc social structures would usually allow.

Borgut is a really good example of how well written subordinates can really accentuate a leader’s personal features: the purpose of subordinates shouldn’t just be to be the weaker second challenge you take on first, it should be to underline who their leader is. By helping both prove Grimgor’s toughness through comparison to himself, and allowing Grimgor’s distancing from his horde and maintaining his mythos, Borgut Facebeater does that very well indeed.

Literally Any Blood Dragon Ever

Arguably it’s cheating that this isn’t an individual character, but the WHFB development of the vampiric bloodlines was genuinely, to my mind, very solid, and allowed them to explore different bits of the vampire archetype in a way that made some sense – the different lines had, passed down through them, different approaches to what it meant to be a vampire. The shady aristocratic Von Carsteins, the tragic ghoulish Strigoi, the mad magician Necrarchs, and so on.

And then there’s the blood dragons, who’ve worked out that there is a way to stop craving human blood – and that’s to drink the blood of a dragon. Now, the minus side of that is that it means killing a dragon, which isn’t easy to do. The plus side of that is that bam, character motivation for training to be immensely good in combat duly established, and coupled with the sort of warped knightly order style they adopt, this makes for a very good alternative take on vampires.

Blood dragons may be evil, but their primary motivation is to relieve themselves of the curse: they’re fighting you for the training challenge more than for domination or your blood. They can be given a sense of fair play that would be out of place with a Von Carstein/Dracula style vampire: if you’re going to die easily, there’s no point in fighting you to begin with, so a Blood Dragon will absolutely let you catch your breath and draw your sword before the combat starts. This also makes them antagonists who can be reasoned with – they have a deep inbuilt goal of their own which you might not necessarily just be there to hinder.

It’s an idea, the vampire as honour code driven monster slayer, that’s sufficiently non-standard that it works very well. One important thing I think we get from this is that secondary character goals shouldn’t always be either for, or opposed to, those of the protagonists: some of the most interesting evil characters aren’t those you obviously have to kill or be killed by, it’s the ones who have their own goals which will entangle with yours in interesting ways.

Lumpin Croop

Lumpin Croop's Fighting Cocks. As painted by Battleground Hobbies.
If you thought I was going to miss out the chance to talk about Lumpin Croop in this article, you have presumably either never met me or never heard of Lumpin Croop – and if you’re in the latter category, let’s change that fact. Lumpin Croop is a Halfling mercenary who leads a group of his species called the Fighting Cocks. Their banner is a weathervane, and they’re just wonderful to place as models on a gaming table in front of a usually suitably bemused opponent.

Lumpin’s backstory is as a poacher who, captured by a gang of gamekeepers, who got out of it by quickly spinning them yarns of adventure and a mercenary life, which they enthusiastically (and rather Tookishly) jumped at. Since then he’s been trying to give them the slip and run away home, but this only hones their by now expert tracking skills.

The fun thing with Lumpin Croop is not that he’s a different take on a Halfling, it’s that he’s an absolutely standard take on a Halfling in a setting that otherwise isn’t sympathetic to that type of character at all. In a setting that pushes to a certain extreme, as classic Warhammer arguably does with pathetic-aesthetic horror and misery, being able to hold a character like Lumpin Croop up does two important things. Firstly, it holds a mirror up to the setting, and we can see how a relatively “ordinary” character survives in it. Secondly, it lightens the gloom. Both of these are important and good for helping maintain the connection between the user/player in the setting and the main body of the setting itself. We can imagine ourselves as Lumpin in a way that isn’t true of, say, Karl Franz or Archaon the Everchosen or Greasus Goldtooth, and that to some extent both exacerbates and relieves the world around him.

Skarsnik and Gobbla

The Night Goblin warboss par excellence is Skarsnik, warlord of the former Dwarf hold of Karak Eight Peaks, who inflicts repeated defeats on the tiny dwarf garrison and keeps them effectively holed up in a tiny remnant of their former hold. In the chaos of Greenskins society, Skarsnik’s rise from underling to the greatest goblin warlord the world has yet seen has been largely down to a mix of cunning and ruthlessness. Alongside him is a giant cave squig called Gobbla, who is his pet (for the uninitiated, squigs are large fungal bouncing balls of teeth which some particularly mad night goblins tame or even ride).

Gobbla is every bit as important as Skarsnik – and the lesson I’d take from this is that designing antagonist type characters as a team can really work. Gobbla tells us a huge amount about Skarsnik and about how he sees himself – this powerful warlord could have, say, an enslaved Black Orc, inverting the usual power divisions in Greenskin society. Or a giant underground spider, given a general creepiness feel (at least for most people – I find spiders cute, but I’m aware it’s a minority view). But no, Skarsnik has this unpredictable ball of vaguely fungal mass with huge, huge teeth which he somehow keeps under control by feeding it on pretty much. It’s that edge of psychedelic craziness that tells us a lot about Skarsnik: that he’s very willing to dabble in the unpredictable and horrifying,

The good take-away here I think is that the monster is hugely relevant to the boss. A cunning goblin warlord is, in and of itself, not a surprising thing – “cunning” is pretty much the first goblin warboss trait in the book. Gobbla however gives Skarsnik his edge of night goblin mania. He’s not a long term, calm strategist, he’s not a revolutionary, he’s directing the enraged, chaotic energy of his forces right in the moment with a skill and unpredictable frenzy that makes him the sort of character he is.

Borgio the Besieger

Absolutely hands down one of my favourite WHFB characters, and the one who inspired me to write this list. Borgio “the Besieger” of the northern Tilean city of Miragliano is a city-state general with a great expertise in siege warfare and a host of abilities making him difficult to kill. By and large a Renaissance Man on steroids apocryphally capable of riding and reading a book whilst technically asleep, and a general much beloved of his men, Borgio is an all round solid late-medieval-Italian archetype character, right down to finally eventually being killed in his bath with a poisoned toasting fork.

It’s Borgio’s mace that really gets to me as the thing that makes him a fantastic character, because it tells us so much about him. It’s reportedly made of a cannonball that Borgio was hit by, but survived. That’s a cool starting point of course, but you then realise that the meaning goes much deeper than Borgio being the tough that nails general that others aspire to be. The sort of person who gets hit by a cannonball and survives is one thing. The sort of person who has that cannonball forged into a mace, makes sure everyone knows the fact, and wields it very prominently, is someone who is concerned with actively building his own legend. Borgio the Besieger’s actual toughness stat is a decidedly just-above-average four. His legend, however, is significantly bigger.

I think the interest in Borgio and characters like him comes from the fact that that they encourage us to separate thinking about a character’s abilities from people’s perception of their abilities, and realise that both things genuinely matter. Much of being the “world’s greatest” at something is about being very good at it but also then promoting that very effectively. This is a trope about as old as history in some ways – most of Odysseus’ classic adventures with the cyclops and so on are narrated in the Odyssey by the eponymous character itself – and I think considering how heroes construct or help construct their own legend often helps to make particularly prominent characters more interesting and helps readers or players question what they think they know about them.

I hope you enjoyed this quick run-down of these characters - please comment below if you have further thoughts, found this useful, or would like to see more articles like this! As ever, if you have something you could write for us, just check out our submission guidelines and give us a shout.

Announcements! The Town Crier! / Cyril and Methodius Day!
« on: February 14, 2020, 10:19:26 AM »
Happy Cyril and Methodius Day!

It's February 14 and thus our first Cyril and Methodius Day of the 2020s - the day each year when Exilian has a festival of languages, learning and international friendship for everyone around the world to take part in! Involving more geekery than any other festivals people might celebrate today, and hopefully doing good for the world too - today's a day to finish that book you have sitting around, learn a new writing system or discover a new language, and talk to friends in other countries and reach out across borders, something we can always do with more of around the world. Today's also a great day to donate to international literacy charities and ensure that the immense joy and power that can be gained from the written word is available to more folk who need it around the globe. Enjoy the day, and do let us know what you get up to!

General Chatter - The Boozer / Cyril and Methodius Day 2020!
« on: February 14, 2020, 10:11:55 AM »
Our first Cyril & Methodius day of the 2020s! Here's a thread to tell you what this festival of languages, learning, and international friendship is about, and how to celebrate it if you want to! Use this thread to wish everyone a happy C&M day and all such similar chatter :)

If you want to donate to charity today, Room to Read's direct donation link here. Please donate to them, they're a very good cost efficient charity for supporting literacy in developing countries.

Here's a video I made way back in 2015 which explains some of the details:


What is Cyril and Methodius Day?
As celebrated by Exilians and many others, Cyril and Methodius Day is a festival of literature, learning, languages, and linguistics. It's an alternative or additional celebration to the feast day of Saint Valentine - not as an "anti-Valentine's" project, but providing people another choice of celebration for the day.

How do I celebrate it?
  • Read a book.
  • Hug a friendly linguist, and tell them how much you appreciate alphabets.
  • Tell other people it's Cyril and Methodius day. Spread the word!
  • Recommend good books to a friend. Make ALL the reading happen!
  • Celebrate and discover more about European, and particularly eastern European, culture, writing, food, arts, and more.
  • Do some work on learning a language.
  • Talk to your international friends from Europe (and beyond).
  • Do conlanging/make a new alphabet!
  • Donate to a reading-related charity

So, uh, why do this?
  • It's fun! It's that extra bit of excuse and motivation to get on and do the language learning you wanted, or finish that book chapter.
  • The world needs people learning about, and reaching out to, each other more than ever. Now is absolutely the time to do that.
  • For people who are alienated by the commercialisation of Feb 14, or otherwise don't want to or can't celebrate it, finding something else positive to do and celebrate is SO much better than just sitting around being glum.
  • It's inclusive: not everyone has or wants romantic partners for Feb 14, but just about everyone can communicate and learn.
  • It helps people. Raising money for charity has been a part of how we celebrate Cyril & Methodius day for some years now, and that's raised worthwhile sums to help spread education to those who need it most.
  • It shines a light on two really interesting historical characters who, whilst little known in many countries, had an impact that especially in the form of the Cyrillic alphabet, named after Cyril, is noticeable to this day.
  • Books really are just plain excellent.

Is religion important here?
We've claimed Cyril and Methodius' Day in an entirely non-denominational fashion, as has happened to many other Saints' Days, so there is no religious prerequisite for celebrating it. Cyril and Methodius were of course Christians, as were almost all people in their cultural place and context, but their work included many fields combined with or outside purely religious functions including diplomacy, law, and languages. We of course respect that these saints do have a particular religious context and function for people in some traditions, but we think it's possible to celebrate some of the ethos of the things for which they are patrons without being disrespectful to those contexts.

You've got the date wrong!
Cyril and Methodius' Day is celebrated on Feb 14 in the Catholic and Anglican traditions - the Orthodox church and others celebrate their feast at other times of year.

Why can't you just celebrate Valentine's Day?
Not everyone wants to, for all sorts of reasons. Valentine's Day tends to involve heavy commercial promotion of a certain type of romantic relationship that just doesn't suit everyone - some people are happy being single, or indeed are aromantic, or asexual, have other reasons for not wanting to celebrate, or just don't want to define their relationships and celebrate them in the way that Valentine's Day now has a tradition of promoting. Other people may just decide that Europe, reading, and languages are something they value and want to celebrate more than the alternatives. Cyril and Methodius day offers a choice of festival that embraces this and can give people a fun and interesting rationale for something different to do on Feb 14.

Who were Cyril and Methodius?
Cyril and Methodius, apostles to the Slavs, were Greek saints in the ninth century AD. They're primarily known for the creation of the Glagolitic alphabet, the first alphabet designed specifically for slavic-family languages, and the ancestor of the modern Cyrillic (which is named after Cyril). They accomplished numerous missions on behalf of the Byzantines, including to the north of the Black Sea, though most famously to Moravia (modern Slovakia). There they worked to create and spread a uniquely Slavic Christian tradition, drawing on both the Latin and Greek traditions of learning but with many unique elements. Despite Moravia moving into the Latin sphere after their deaths, their followers moved to other Slavic nations, especially Bulgaria, from which their work influenced many eastern Europeans to this day. They are patron saints of Europe in the Catholic church.

I thought this was super interesting:


Fifty-thousand years ago, a Neanderthal living in Northwestern Europe put sticky birch tar on the back side of a sharp flint flake to make the tool easier to grip. Eventually, that tool washed down the Rhine or Meuse Rivers and out into the North Sea. In the 21st century, dredging ships scooped it up along with tons of sand, other stone tools, and fossilized bones, then dumped the whole pile on Zandmotor Beach in the Netherlands.

Despite all of that, the birch tar still clung to the flake, and it provides evidence that Neanderthals used a complex set of technology to make elaborate tools.


Fandom Discussion - The Secret Garden / Alice Grove
« on: February 03, 2020, 05:33:32 PM »

I came across this webcomic today, and enjoyed it a lot, so I thought I'd share. It's by Jeph Jacques, best known for the sitcom comic Questionable Content which is a regular slice-of-life strip about 20 and 30 somethings in a slightly sci-fi future US (QC has got sapient AIs in it, and at one point an emu with invisibility powers, etc, but for the most part the focus is on people living their lives and working at slightly hipster coffee shops and things). This comic, Alice Grove, is a shorter (much shorter, QC is a very long-running comic) and much more fully sci-fi story, and was dedicated to the memory of Ian Banks. It contains fun with nanotechnology, a blue guy with a tail who turns up from space, and some interesting plot twists as it goes along.

You can read the whole comic here: each long page has a link to the next, each webpage has about 50 book-pages on it, and there's only four of them: I read the whole thing in under an hour.

Example page (selected so as to be one that doesn't really involve any spoilers):

Questions and Suggestions - The High Court / Text colours
« on: February 03, 2020, 05:23:16 PM »
So, for me, some of the standard text colours in the BBCode are really hard to read with our standard dark theme (and I don't think many people use the Exilian Light theme, though I should probably try and work on making that more accessible at some point).

For the record, here are the standard colours:
lime green

I'm wondering if it would be worth lightening the blue, purple, red, and possibly also brown to make them more readable and thus useable? I don't know how easy that is, but presumably there's a BBCode definitions file somewhere that one can tweak. What do people think?

Writing, Poems, AARs, and Stories - The Storyteller's Hall / Producing plot
« on: February 02, 2020, 11:13:07 PM »
So, I thought I'd open a bit of a discussion for writer-y types as I've struggled with this a lot lately.

It feels like plot is something I find really difficult to produce when writing fiction: I can do it, but I often find that my plots don't hang together as well as I'd like, and take ages to come up with, unless they're really very simple.

I feel like part of my problem is that I think quite mechanically about plot, but organically about themes: I'm usually writing toward some sort of aesthetic, image, or scene I had in my head as the core element, and the plot then forms to give me a way to explore that. I intuitively understand fairytale and folklore plots best, since they operate by simple, memorable rulesets by and large, but I worry those can be plodding when I want to write good SFF that's actually interesting to adults.

So how do you go about writing plot, or if you're not a writer, which writers do you feel produce plot best and why?

Here we go again...

There are as of now six or seven vaguely serious candidates running to be POTUS: updates will be made as the contest develops.

In the Red corner, the presumptive Republican nominee is of course incumbent president Donald Trump. A few primary challengers have declared: Businessman and perennial presidential candidate Rocky de la Fuente of California, former Massachussetts governor and former libertarian VP nominee Bill Weld, and talk radio host Joe Walsh, but they are not expected to mount any serious challenge and some states have even cancelled their nominating contests.

The Democrats meanwhile have a serious contest underway, with the first contest being the Iowa Caucuses on Monday. The most serious remaining candidates are centrist former vice-president Joe Biden, progressive-wing senator Elizabeth Warren, democratic socialist senator Bernie Sanders, and centrist mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigeig. Also still worth noting are Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, a moderate, Tom Steyer, a lefty billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, former NYC mayor and centrist billionaire, and Andrew Yang, a tech entrepreneur and Universal Basic Income advocate. Bloomberg may weirdly start featuring later in the race - he's skipping the early states and chucking money at ads in states that vote in March, which is... an interesting play and we'll see how it works out for him, as the meme goes.

From smaller parties, no major independent challengers have declared. The Libertarian nominee will be decided at the main party convention later this year in Texas, not by primary voters - the only one so far, in New Hampshire, managed to give the state's support to Vermin Supreme, a man with a boot on his head who presumably will not get nominated, but who knows. More plausible Libertarian nominees are former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, only state-level Libertarian legislator Max Abramson of New Hampshire, and John MacAfee of antivirus software and running away from Caribbean states' police forces fame.

For the Greens, co-founder of the party Howie Hawkins of New York seems by far the most likely nominee, though Dario Hunter, an activist from Youngstown, OH, will challenge him, along with possibly some other candidates: Hawkins seems to have significantly out-fundraised his opponents though.

The only other party with notable ballot access as far as my limited research has found is the Constitution Party, a hard-right party who seem likely to run former coal exec Don Blankenship, a man whose "controversies" Wikipedia article section is half the page and includes the death of 29 of his miners through negligence, as their candidate in 14 states.

Also of course there are things going on beyond the presidential race, including Senate and House elections. Democrats will need to flip the Senate to actually get anything done, but they have precious few good targets available beyond Maine and Colorado, and are likely to lose their seat in Alabama - they need to gain four net seats to flip the chamber, or three if they gain the presidency (vice-president gets the casting vote). They'll also be looking to hold their 2018 House gains, which should mostly be do-able, but it depends on the political climate in November a lot.

So, buckle in and we'll see where we end up!

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