I interviewed noisms, who blogs as Monsters and Manuals, publishes noisms games, and is best known for his fantasy game setting Yoon Suin, the Purple Land. Right now he’a running a Kickstarter for
The Corridor of the Seventh Green Magic User The Hall of the Third Blue Wizard, a zine featuring high-quality commissioned RPG modules and short stories. Although I fucking hate acronyms, for sanity’s sake I’m sure I’ll be referring to it as THOTTBW or THotTBW or THot3■W by the end of this post, however dirty that makes me feel.
Here are audio and video versions of the interview, and below them are a summary of what we talked about with LOTS of notes and links and other good stuff.
Apologies for my many interruptions (in my defence, even face-to-face it’s a struggle working out who gets to speak-when. Over Zoom, on a dodgy internet connection, with NOISY FUCKING BIRDS in the background. Fucking nightmare).
All of the books mentioned below include affiliate links to my bookshop.org shop, a site which helps independent bookshops. If about 20 of you click through and buy the books then I might be able to afford a new book myself. There are also affiliate links for that other site at the bottom of the post, in case you want to help Jeff Bezos build a stockade with a pyramid in it.
On to the contents of our conversation. After establishing that we can hear one another, we move on to:
- Which is the best midge repellent, Smidge or Skin So Soft? Probably Smidge.
- Living in County Durham
- Thinking Digital Conference, held in Gateshead every May. Previous speakers include this guy from DARPA talking about how they’ve got people flying jet planes via brain implants. It’s worth checking out some of the other mind-boggling videos on their channel, including Imogen Heap on her Mi.Mu gloves, and cyborg dancer Moon Ribas on the implants in her feet which sense global seismic activity.
- William Gibson, predicting the future, by typewriting Neuromancer
- How The Matrix killed off my planned novel; keeping the unemployed pleasured in virtual reality Skinner boxes
- Programming AI for RPGs – which I have blogged about recently and as has noisms, twice.
- Which language is best for writing AIs?
- Homer Simpson goes to college
- Hackers with potties and pizzas (I might trademark Potties & Pizzas™ for a future game)
9 minutes in we finally, briefly, discuss noisms’ work:
- his weekly Three Mile Tree campaign, which I play in along with Patrick, Solomon VK, Theo (start a blog, Theo!), and Her Christmas Knight
- How much of the Three Mile Tree has actually been written?
- Well, the first level at least, which was the prize in the draw Laren Dar in his ridiculous clobber competition
- How the actions of players help create an emergent world in OSR games
- …which makes the GM’s job of preparation between sessions much easier (which noisms has blogged about)
- At this point, my internet connectivity wavered, and I introduced my motto “The fucking internet is shitting me” (Does anyone want to design me a coat-of-arms with this on it?)
|my motto, a 50th birthday present from Erika MP.
This was also once a T-shirt
At 14:35 we talked about the origins of the name “The Hall of the Third Blue Wizard”, leading us on to:
- Tolkien lore and the History of (and songs about) Middle Earth, specifically the books the Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and Children of Húrin
- Who is writing the stuff for Hall of the Third Blue Wizard? Mostly not noisms, it turns out.
At 17:30 we talked about stretch goal, additional Yoon Suin material, Leading into…
- The sadly never-was supergroup, McGrogan, Stuart, McDowall & Ryder, the Emerson, Lake & Palmer of the RPG world
- How David got to know Patrick, and the sadly-never-recorded sitcom that was Patrick’s game for the teens
- McGrogan, Stuart, McDowall & Ryder’s plans for an RPG set in an alternate greater-Merseyside region
- Other alternate Britain settings, including noisms’ plans for a fantasy Suffolk coast
- Books about Suffolk: WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, and MR James
- Orford Ness, which is not the place where the bell tolls undersea, but it’s nearby
- My alternate British fantasy set in the Peak District: Peakrill
- The joy of maps! Including an apocalyptic Play by Mail game whose name I forget, where players’ territories are a square of Ordnance Survey map
- The large scale DEFRA map of Britain
- English village names, including Bat-and-ball, Fingringhoe, Slaggyford, and Eals
- My English village name generator, which spits out things like…
|Burnt Thouchesterhead et al
Back onto noisms’ work at around 26:50, with some of his past and future projects:
- His earlier magazine, Peridot
- The Fixed World, Orbis Immobilis
- An RPG set in pre-Japonic northern Japan starring Natagi were-bears and written in tanka verse form
- A “Northumberland Yoon Suin” which is already written, and awaiting art
- Peridot 2?
At around 32 minutes, we talk randomly generated worlds such as Yoon Suin, and the tables from which they are created
- The influence of Kevin Crawford’s Stars Without Number and Red Tide
- The Viriconium books of M John Harrison, and how uncertainty and mutability produce infinite worlds
- Yet another of noisms plans, a randomly generated, infinitely long river
At 34:40, a quip about Heraclitus’s quote about how you never step into the same twice leads us to Greek philosophy and history:
- Reality by Peter Kingsley, on how Parmenides’ poem was misread by Aristotle, erasing Western philosophy’s mystical roots
- Neo-platonic philosophy in the Middle East
- Ancient long-distance routes of trade and influence: between Rome and China, and prehistoric travel between the British Isles and the Middle East
- Greek Kingdoms in Afghanistan and Northern India
- The Pontic Greeks of the Near East (I learned of these in Neal Ascherson’s Black Sea), and the persistence of culture (something I wrote about here)
- The diversity of cultures, and how nationhood can blind us to this (I recommend Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe by Norman Davis as an introduction to the fluidity of borders)
- The Histories of Herodotus
Herodotus, at around 40:10, led us onto questions of diet, beginning obviously with cannibalism
|Ladies and gentlemen, my kids
- Would I like to be eaten? Would I eat another human? Have I, in fact, perhaps already done so?
- Vegetarianism, and the switch to eating meat
- Paleo diets
- Just how bloody lovely is cheese?
- And BUTTER! Butter makes everything better. Mmmm, buuuuttter!
43:50 in, back on to the Hall of the Third Blue Wizard, and what’s in it:
- The magazine’s split between short fiction and adventures/modules/settings/whatever you want to call them.
- The crazy price of RPG publications (which Daniel Sell calculates should retail for around 10x what they cost to print; THot3■W retails for a lot less than that. Despite paying its contributors!)
- The increasing cost of everything
- Why you should call your zine a book if you don’t want to be taxed on it
- Knock – is it a magazine, is it a book?
The “magazine or book” question led us on a long literary meander from about 49:20, including
- Book-like literary magazines Granta and Semiotext(e)
- Jane Fonda’s Augmentation Mammoplasty by JG Ballard
- My own phenomenological piece of William S Burroughs-style creative non-fiction, From Pheasant to Faeces
- Heidigger’s Being and Time
- Serious books vs. fantasy fiction – is there any fantasy that’s actually worth reading? Or is it all mediocre world-building and heroes’ journeys?
- Jack Vance
- Gene Wolfe (whose book The Claw of the Conciliator David reviwed recently). And his Soldier in the Mist books, which may actually be really good, but who can tell?
- Appendix N: The Eldritch Roots of Dungeons & Dragons, from the really-rather-good Strange Attractor Press
- “Fantasy Before Orcs”: the words of Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith
- …and William Morris’s fantasy fiction, The Well at the World’s End
We’re 58 minutes and 30 seconds in and onto William Morris, whom there’s something about in THot3■W, but it still takes us another couple of minutes to get around to it
- Fin de Siecle fantasy art, such as Sidney H Sime whom I wrote about recently, and Arthur Rackham. Fantasy worldbuilding I can get behind!
- The Well at the World’s End – an essay by by Roger Giner-Sorolla in THot3■W about the William Morris book of the same name, and how to use it to inform old school play
- Random tables in RPGs (again) and how they can also be used as prompts for writing fiction (something I discovered while playing Solitary Defilement, a solo adaptation of Mörk Borg, and which I’ve continued to explore by writing Yoon Suin fan-fiction)
This lead, at around 1:01:20 in, to a discussion about the importance of editing.
- Writing advice from… Stephen King? Raymond Carver? Anyway: wherever your story starts, it ought to start later
- Cut, cut, cut. Always be cutting
- The forthcoming thriller novel 17, by my friend John Brownlow, which is fucking excellent (“the must-read book of 2022 according to its publishers, Hodder & Stoughton) and you should pre-order it now. I wrote a short review of it here
- Why directors’ cuts are always worse than the original film
- We’re looking at you Peter Jackson
- The Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films, which actually started off quite good, and got worse. And worse. And worse. And worse.
- Peter Jackson’s other films, which are generally very good. Especially that World War I thing, The Lovely Bones, Heavenly Creatures, and his directorial debut, a fucking hilarious mould-breaking gorefest of a zombie film.
Running out of time, at 1:06:50 we finally get around to the question on everyone’s lips: WHEN IS THE SECOND EDITION OF YOON SUIN COMING OUT?
- And what new things are going to be in it?
- Quite a lot, it turns out
- Including a generator for types of coin (David has made two of them before)
- I (inspired by Luke Gearing’s &&&&& Treasure) have also made a treasury of coins with special abilities
- What can adventurers actually do with money, once they’ve got a stockade with a pyramid in it?
- In many ways, 5th-level adventurers are a bit like Jeff Bezos
- My daughter’s plans to save the world
- My bot Deity Galaxy
- The utopian community at Damanhur (which I learned from David Bramwell’s book The Number 9 Bus to Utopia is the only utopian community worth joining), who have build the eighth wonder of the world. I got to visit Damanhur in 2019 on a trip documented in Damanhur: Social Alchemy, Magical Temples and the Superindividual by Jeff Merrifield (AKA The Sage with Onions, in the Pilgrim’s Tarot). Jeff’s is the definitive book about Damanhur
- How my bot is making it exponentially harder for the Damanhurians to save the universe, by spouting out gods faster than they can worship them
- And finally, how every good cult should have a cocktail bar, and every good cocktail bar a good negroni
Things we didn’t talk about but I wish we had:
- Monsters & Manuals and it’s phenomenal, always interesting 14-year history
- Reading and reviewing a lot of books
- Books that changed your life
- A Gaming Podcast About Nothing
- Playing your own work – run any Yoon Suin campaigns? Fixed World?
- Behind Gently Smiling Jaws – how could I forget about the FUCKING CROCODILE and its MIND PALACE as a setting for a campaign!?! This was the first thing I ever read about of Monsters & Manuals, and I cannot even imagine what something like that would look like.
- Anything else I missed?
- How the fuck do you find the time? blogging, running a game, reading & reviewing heavy-duty books, THot3■W, Yoon Suin, Fixed World, … all on top of having a family and a fairly demanding job.
All those books again via the Bezos Stockade & Pyramid Fund:
- Neuromancer by William Gibson
- The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien
- Unfinished Tales by JRR Tolkien
- Children of Húrin by JRR Tolkien
- The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald
- MR James
- Viriconium by M John Harrison
- Reality by Peter Kingsley
- Black Sea by Neal Ascherton
- Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe by Norman Davis
- The Histories by Herodotus
- 17: Last Man Standing by John Brownlow
- Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe
- Being and Time by Heidigger
- Lord Dunsany
- Clark Ashton Smith
- Well at the World’s End by William Morris
- The Number 9 Bus to Utopia by David Bramwell
- Damanhur: Social Alchemy, Magical Temples and the Superindividual: The Social Alchemy, the Magical Temples and the Superindividual by Jeff Merrifield