2017 – Top demos & EPs

The order is alphabetic.

Blooming Carrions – Sparkling Rotten Dreams (Demo)

Finnish death metal from beyond the grave, thick and sepulchral, with almost subsonic growling vocals and a hazy atmosphere. The subterranean guitar sound is an absolute win. Grotesque, pulsating music for Lovecraftian rituals, with a very matching cover art.


Chevalier – A Call to Arms (EP)

Epic speed metal holocaust steeped in the ‘80s. The guitars are just unable to stop their quicksilvery cascades, the choruses are akin to frenetic marches, and some Mercyful Fate occult vibes cross wands with pure Maiden galloping. One of the best classic metal releases of the year.


Cult Of Fire – Untitled (EP)

Apparently these Czechs are not in a hurry of releasing another full-length – they seem to have found their momentum in short EP releases. “Untitled” is their third one in 4 years and it continues an amazing streak of quality. Tightly packed black metal with beautiful leads and atmosphere that would not seem amiss in a mid ‘90s Norwegian album. Ten minutes of pure black satisfaction. Download for free from the band’s site here.


Daeva – Pulsing Dark Absorptions (EP)

For all those craving Aura Noir-ish black/thrash with a hint of debut-era Impaled Nazarene. The exceptional frontman follows up the Masters’ commands (even down to emphatic rasping and incessant repeating of syllables), the drumming is pure tight chaos, and the guitars snake through with coiled poison. The envy of losers they piss on.


Expulsion – Nightmare Future (EP)

All-star project done right. This gathering of death metal/grind exemplars manage to showcase in seven tracks spanning something less than 14 minutes how Repulsion-style extreme metal is done right. Special attention to the leads and the maniacal song structures.


False – Hunger (EP)

2015’s “Untitled” debut was a stellar release of dark and cryptic US black metal. Two years later False return with a short (8 minutes long) EP of stormy BM on the same wavelength. Early Dimmu Borgir with a higher density comes into mind, as well as a more serpentine version of debut-era Borknagar.


Gnipahålan – I Blodets Kamp (EP)

Ancient Records could not be absent from this list. Gnipahålan’s EP is (unsurprisingly) a homage to the snow-covered mystical forests of the ‘90s. 12 minutes of nostalgic, atmospheric black metal excellently executed. In here lies and burns bright the core of what drew me to black metal many years ago – nature worship, mythology and the not-human.


Katakomb – Chained To A Wolf (Demo)

That was probably the biggest surprise of this list. Weird, drape-covered black metal from Sweden, with an almost collage articulation logic, combining noise and atmospheric passages, as well as traditional riffs and folk moments. The highly intriguing growling vocals are oscillating beneath the surface, while the guitars build up ritual madness. The cover art (a painting by the Belgian symbolist Auguste Levêque) is amazing and fits nicely with the tape concept of the lay-out. My personal list favourite.


Skaphe – Untitled (EP)

The follow up to the excellent “Skáphe²” is a 22-minute EP which keeps treading on the desolate path opened by its predecessor. More cavernous wanderings from the American-come-Iceland group, which seems to be one of the few dissonant artists worth following nowadays. The cover-art is just the crown on top of this very delicious release.


Ungesehen – Unaussprechliches Entsetzen (Demo)

Instrumental records is not something usually associated with black metal. Yet these Germans’ first demo is a 45-minute vocal-less exploration of atmosphere. A rather courageous decision, which ends up emphasizing the natural aspect of the hauntingly beautiful soundscapes. Silent wanderings in cold inexpressible horror.


Knowledge & Conversation of the Holy Guardian Owls

Ο σημαντικότερος ίσως στόχος του οικοδομήματος της Δυτικής Μαγείας (τουλάχιστον για όσους από εμάς δεν τον έχουμε πετύχει ήδη) είναι η επιτυχημένη σύνδεση με την αξιοπερίεργη οντότητα Holy Guardian Angel μας, διαδικασία γνωστή ως Knowledge & Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Ουσιαστικά μια επαφή με κάτι τελείως εκτός της συνείδησης: θεότητα, ανώτερος εαυτός, συμβουλάτορας υπάλληλος των Ακασσικών Αρχείων, μια έλλογη κύστη του γιουνγκιανού συλλογικού ασυνείδητου, η νοημοσύνη του υπέρ-οργανισμού του οποίου είμαστε κύτταρα, κουκουβάγιες, ή οτιδήποτε άλλο. Η οποία επαφή αυτή αλλάζει το μάγο ριζικά – ο Crowley θα έλεγε πως τον εναρμονίζει με το Πραγματικό Θέλημά του. Όχι μονάχα προνόμιο της δυτικής παράδοσης, η ρηξικέλευθη αυτή επαφή με μια διάνοια εκτός της συνείδησής, είναι λίγο πολύ στα θεμέλια κάθε μαγικής παράδοσης, από τον (δια των πνευμάτων) διαμελισμό και επανακατασκευή του σαμάνου ως τις μάχες υπέρβασης και κατακερματισμού του υπάρχοντος Εγώ στην ανατολή. Το τί γίνεται μετά την Συνομιλία, το πώς αλλάζει η μονάδα-μάγος, και κυρίως το πως κινείται και αλληλεπιδρά μέσα σε ένα κόσμο τον οποίο πλέον βιώνει διαφορετικά, είναι μια συνεχής πραγματική απορία μου, τουλάχιστον μέχρι να επιτύχω κι εγώ τη Γνώση και Συνομιλία.

Ξαναείδα τις τελευταίες εβδομάδες τις δύο παλιές σεζόν του Twin Peaks, έχοντας στο μυαλό μου ένα ποστ φίλου στο οποίο ανέφερε πως αυτό που κάνει τον Agent Cooper τόσο απολαυστικό και συμπαθή χαρακτήρα είναι το ότι πρόκειται για έναν ενήλικο που έχει αποκτήσει Σοφία, κι έπειτα, οπλισμένος με αυτή, έχει επανέλθει σε μια παιδική θέαση/θεώρηση του κόσμου (worldview – επίσης δεν υπάρχει καμία αρνητική χροιά στη λέξη «παιδική» εδώ). Οπλισμένος με τη σειρά μου με το πρίσμα του εν λόγω ποστ, συνειδητοποίησα, από τα αρχικά επεισόδια της πρώτης σεζόν ακόμη, πως ο αγαπητός Dale Cooper απεικονίζει θεσπέσια το πως μπορεί ένα ενήλικο άτομο να κυριαρχείται από τον παιδικό τρόπο αντίληψης και αντίδρασης – έναν κατεξοχήν μαγικό τρόπο, σίγουρα διάφορο του αμιγώς ορθολογιστικού – και συνάμα να μην φαντάζει γκροτέσκο ή αστείο, αλλά απλά αξιοζήλευτο.

Ο Cooper, πέρα από την εκπαίδευση και την έως τώρα εμπειρία του, εμπιστεύεται τα όνειρά του και τη μαντική τέχνη όσον αφορά την πορεία του τόσο εντός της ζωής όσο και των υποθέσεων που καλείται να εξιχνιάσει. Και αποκομίζει το όφελος αυτής της εμπιστοσύνης, καθώς η πραγματικότητα γύρω του ανταποκρίνεται, υπακούοντας στους οιωνούς και αλλοιώνοντας τους θεωρούμενους ως άθραυστους φυσικούς νόμους του κυρίαρχου παραδείγματος – όπως ακριβώς βλέπει τον κόσμο ένα παιδί, ειδικά στα νεότατα χρόνια του. Ο Cooper δείχνει μια παντελή έλλειψη κυνισμού, σαρκασμού και ειρωνείας, τούτων των τοξικότατων αποσκευών της ενήλικης ζωής. Ένας Cooper που βυθίζεται με όλο του το είναι στην απόλαυση μιας μηλόπιτας (δίχως να σνομπάρει τις φαινοτυπικές αντιδράσεις της απόλαυσής του) και εξωτερικεύει με σχεδόν απίθανη ειλικρίνεια τα συναισθήματά του. Κάτι το ιδιαιτέρως αναζωογονητικό εν μέσω ενός ίντερνετ που έχει τοτεμοποιήσει λατρευτικά το μηδενισμό, το σκεπτικισμό και την αποστασιοποίηση από τον αγνό ενθουσιασμό. Και το μαγικό στοιχείο με όλο αυτό είναι το προαναφερθέν: δε δείχνει γκροτέσκος, ή ηλίθιος, όπως είθισται να θεωρείται όποιο άτομο δε συμβαδίζει συμπεριφορικά με τον αποδεκτό για την ηλικία του τρόπο σκέψης (ειδικά αν ολισθαίνει προς τα πίσω στον ηλικιακό άξονα). Σε αυτό βοηθάει σίγουρα το γεγονός πως ο Cooper πατάει γερά τα πόδια του και στις δυο όψεις του κόσμου (μαγική και κυρίαρχη), και δεν ξεχνάει τις περισσότερες από τις κοινωνικές ή επαγγελματικές συμβάσεις, τουλάχιστον όταν πραγματικά αυτές χρειάζονται.

Μια παρατήρηση εδώ: αναγνωρίζω πως η ανοχή της συμπεριφοράς του Agent Cooper έχει σίγουρα να κάνει και με την προνομιούχα θέση του, ως πράκτορα του FBI και ως λευκού άνδρα. Ειδικά το πρώτο έχει μεγάλη βαρύτητα, τουλάχιστον εντός του law enforcement κύκλου στον οποίο κινείται κατά τη διάρκεια των ερευνών – έχει την εξουσία να προτείνει και να επιβάλλει τις ανορθόδοξες μεθόδους του (και φυσικά η δεκτικότητα τόσο του Deputy Hawk όσο και του Sheriff Truman ως προς το υπερφυσικό τον βοηθούν). Σε άλλη περίπτωση θα μπορούσε κάλλιστα να είχε καταλήξει σε ψυχιατρείο, ως αντικείμενο χλεύης, ή ως κάτι το ακίνδυνα αξιοπερίεργο, ένας τρελός του χωριού, μια Log Lady.

Εικάζω πως η κοσμοθεώρηση του Cooper και η εκπορεύουσα εξ αυτής συμπεριφορά είναι μια πολύ πιθανή εκδοχή του πώς μπορεί να είναι ένα άτομο μετά την Knowledge & Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Επανάκτηση της μαγικής θεώρησης της παιδικής ηλικίας, ενισχυμένης με την εμπειρία και σοφία της έως τώρα πορείας, με αποτέλεσμα ένα κράμα που σχεδόν εκπέμπει φως κανονικό φως, σε φάση να σε ζεσταίνει και να σε φωτίζει λίγο. Μέσα από αυτή τη θεώρηση η μαγεία αρχίζει να λειτουργεί – οι οιωνοί του Cooper είναι ολόσωστοι και η μαντική τελετή πετυχαίνει θριαμβευτικά, το δαχτυλίδι του πράγματι εξαφανίζεται στην κατοχή του Γίγαντα έως τη στιγμή που πρέπει, κ.ο.κ. Και αυτό το κλικ του μαγικού διακόπτη δεν είναι ακριβώς θέμα πεισματικής πίστης, αλλά κυρίως ριζικής αλλαγής οπτικής, μια μετάβαση από ένα νοητικό «Πιστεύω ή δεν πιστεύω ή θα ήθελα να πιστεύω πως ο κόσμος λειτουργεί έτσι» σε ένα ολόσωμο και ολοπνεύματο «Ξέρω και πάντα ήξερα πως έτσι λειτουργούσε, έστω κι αν κάποτε ξέχασα για ένα διάστημα». Στο βιβλίο “The Re-enchantment of the World” ο Morris Berman καταλήγει στο προσωπικό συμπέρασμα πως κατά το Μεσαίωνα (ή γενικότερα προ Διαφωτισμού) όταν οι άνθρωποι έβλεπαν μάγισσες να πετάνε, το μόλυβδο να μετατρέπεται σε χρυσό, τα πνεύματα των δέντρων να μιλάνε, αυτά τα φαινόμενα όντως συνέβαιναν γιατί η μαγική κοσμοθεωρία έχει τα εργαλεία για να τα αντιληφθεί. Έτσι και η Knowledge & Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel του σήμερα θα μπορούσε κάλλιστα να είναι ένας τρόπος επανάκτησης του τρόπου θέασης μιας άλλης οργάνωσης της πραγματικότητας.

Τέλος μια προβολή της πορείας του Cooper στην ανοδική πορεία του μάγου επί του Καβαλιστικού Δέντρου της Ζωής: Αν κατά την ανάβαση του Δέντρου η Knowledge & Conversation βρίσκεται στο Τίφαρεθ, το έκτο Σέφιροθ, και αν πρέπει να προηγηθεί αυτής η Dark Night of the Soul, τότε πολύ πιθανώς η Γνώση & Συνομιλία να έλαβε χώρα κάπου μετά τον τραυματισμό του Cooper από τον πρώην συνάδελφό του, Windom Earle, κάποια χρόνια πριν έρθει στο Twin Peaks. Από την άλλη, η ανάβαση στο Δέντρο δε σταματάει στο Τίφαρεθ. Η άβυσσος παρεμβάλλεται ανάμεσα στην «κάτω» επτάδα και την ανώτερη σεφιροθική τριάδα. Το Black Lodge κάλλιστα θα μπορούσε να είναι αυτή η άβυσσος, την οποία πρέπει να διασχίσει η οντότητα στην πορεία προς την ανώτερη τριάδα του Δέντρου. Και στα 25 χρόνια που παραμένει στην άβυσσο διασχίζοντάς την ο Dale Cooper, το κλιφοθικό του είδωλο αφήνει μαλλί και αποκτά ένα γούστο για τα δερμάτινα καθώς οργώνει τον απάνω κόσμο.

The Nacirema people


The life of the Nacirema people of North America, a tribe with a surprisingly developed market economy, is characterized by rituals and practices that we would consider alien, barbarous, and even going contrary to the self-preservation instincts. The late anthropologist Horace Miner’s extensive studies of the tribe culminated in the “Body Ritual among the Nacirema” paper*, originally published in 1958. Let’s take a look at a few selected parts, the first of them concerned with the ritual visits of the tribesmen to a member of a sacerdotal order:

In addition to the private mouth–rite, the people [of the Nacirema tribe] seek out a holy–mouth–man once or twice a year. These practitioners have an impressive set of paraphernalia, consisting of a variety of augers, awls, probes, and prods. The use of these objects in the exorcism of the evils of the mouth involves almost unbelievable ritual torture of the client. The holy–mouth–man opens the client’s mouth and, using the above mentioned tools, enlarges any holes which decay may have created in the teeth. Magical materials are put into these holes. If there are no naturally occurring holes in the teeth, large sections of one or more teeth are gouged out so that the supernatural substance can be applied. In the client’s view, the purpose of these ministrations is to arrest decay. The extremely sacred and traditional character of the rite is evident in the fact that the natives return to the holy–mouth–men year after year, despite the fact that their teeth continue to decay.

[…]One has but to watch the gleam in the eye of a holy–mouth–man, as he jabs an awl into an exposed nerve, to suspect that a certain amount of sadism is involved. If this can be established, a very interesting pattern emerges, for most of the population shows definite masochistic tendencies. It was to these that Professor Linton referred in discussing a distinctive part of the daily body ritual which is performed only by men. This part of the rite involves scraping and lacerating the surface of the face with a sharp instrument.”

Upon reading this excerpt for the first time, an image that came into my mind was that of a sacred mountainous retreat (namely the seat of power of the holy men) and a winding, narrow path, upon which the tribesmen traveled each year on their pilgrimage to the holy-mouth-men. Though never mentioned inside the text, a mountain (or at least a hilltop) is a somewhat obvious locale for the temple: in the text it is strongly implied that the people of the tribe consider the holy men keepers of power and somewhat apart and above them; it is also implied that the Nacirema travel to visit the holy-mouth-men in a sort of yearly pilgrimage; “the people seek out a holy–mouth–man once or twice a year” – “seek out” has a tone of the adventurous, of a quest for something that is not readily available, something or someone outside the daily-life plateau. Even the “naturally occurring holes in the teeth” evoke images of caves and rock formations. As for the sadism and masochistic aspects of Nacimera, they are already established via the horrendous practices mentioned above.

The following excerpt concerns ceremonies taking place in specialized temples named latipso:

The latipso ceremonies are so harsh that it is phenomenal that a fair proportion of the really sick natives who enter the temple ever recover. Small children whose indoctrination is still incomplete have been known to resist attempts to take them to the temple because “that is where you go to die.” Despite this fact, sick adults are not only willing but eager to undergo the protracted ritual purification, if they can afford to do so. No matter how ill the supplicant or how grave the emergency, the guardians of many temples will not admit a client if he cannot give a rich gift to the custodian. Even after one has gained admission and survived the ceremonies, the guardians will not permit the neophyte to leave until he makes still another gift.

The supplicant entering the temple is first stripped of all his or her clothes. In everyday life the Nacirema avoids exposure of his body and its natural functions. Bathing and excretory acts are performed only in the secrecy of the household shrine, where they are ritualized as part of the body–rites. Psychological shock results from the fact that body secrecy is suddenly lost upon entry into the latipso . A man, whose own wife has never seen him in an excretory act, suddenly finds himself naked and assisted by a vestal maiden while he performs his natural functions into a sacred vessel. This sort of ceremonial treatment is necessitated by the fact that the excreta are used by a diviner to ascertain the course and nature of the client’s sickness.[…] From time to time the medicine men come to their clients and jab magically treated needles into their flesh. The fact that these temple ceremonies may not cure, and may even kill the neophyte, in no way decreases the people’s faith in the medicine men.

A place closer to the underworld (“that is where you go to die”), an occult temple of a rich religious elite which must be gorged in gifts. Even the removal of the clothes is reminiscent of cthonic mythology (for instance Ishtar’s descent to the Underworld involves the gradual discarding of her clothes and ornaments).

The fact that the Nacirema in everyday life avoid exposure of their bodies and their natural functions (i.e. excretory acts), if taken into account along with their earlier mentioned obsession with the extraction of teeth and the scraping of the face, leads to the image of a tribe that has demonized the body. It considers it shameful and glorifies pain inflicted upon it as purificatory. Note also the largely patriarchal nature of the latipso temple clergy: the vestal maidens assist, while the medicine men are those having a substantial, energetic, leading role in the healing rituals.

The final excerpt refers to the tribe’s reproductive taboos:

Reference has already been made to the fact that excretory functions are ritualized, routinised, and relegated to secrecy. Natural reproductive functions are similarly distorted. Intercourse is taboo as a topic and scheduled as an act. Efforts are made to avoid pregnancy by the use of magical materials or by limiting intercourse to certain phases of the moon. Conception is actually very infrequent. When pregnant, women dress so as to hide their condition. Parturition takes place in secret, without friends or relatives to assist, and the majority of women do not nurse their infants.

As with the other bodily functions, intercourse is taboo among the Nacirema – it is obvious that these people have a deeply instilled fear and abhorrence of their bodies. All things coming out of the body are shameful, even infants, which are born in secrecy and are not even nursed by their mothers in most cases. See also how intercourse is limited by the lunar phases, a clear indication of its ritualized nature.


Let’s change the subject: Palindromes are (among other things) words that read the same backwards as forward. Two of the most famous palindromes are the Byzantine “ΝΙΨΟΝ ΑΝΟΜΗΜΑΤΑ ΜΗ ΜΟΝΑΝ ΟΨΙΝ” and the Roman “SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS.” They usually offer a pleasant sense of fulfillment if someone discovers their palindrome nature on his own. (This paragraph contains a hint towards another layer of the Nacirema peoples)

*Body Ritual Among The Nacirema

Torment: Tides of Numenera


(Here be Spoilers)

Almost two years ago, just after finishing Pillars of Eternity (and its XP-less combat system) for the first time, I remember myself musing over the necessity of combat in cRPGs. For a long time I’ve considered combat to be one of the four main pillars of the genre, along with exploration, story, and character development. Pillars, by removing the XP reward factor (though not the treasure one) from the equation, gave us a glimpse of how one of these four pillars could be diminished without any impact on the whole structure’s stability. Torment: Tides of Numenera (T:TON from now on), the spiritual successor of 1999’s mythic Planescape Torment, takes a grand leap towards this direction, presenting us with a minimal amount of mandatory battles.

Let’s get some things out of the way: The game’s graphics are masterfully designed and materialised, full of wonder and a semi-scifi, semi-exotic-fantasy look. The Mere’s screen paintings are gorgeous. Those into isometric cRPGs will adore T:TON’s visual part, and at the end of the day this is what really matters, for this a game for them(us). The same goes for music amd sound, which nicely and very discreetly frame the environment. Voice acting is scarce, a thing about which I couldn’t care less.

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One of the Mere screens. The Meres are an innovative idea (perhaps implemented somewhat hastily), which are underlined by the question: If you had the power to alter another being’s life course without permission or knowledge, would you do it?

Concerning combat: It is easily avoided in most cases. The inclusion of combat in the super-category of Crisis tones down the former’s importance – it seems that RPGs can do away with it, though their image afterwards may well be different from what we now have in mind as virtual RPGs. Crises are situations which can be resolved by force, but also in one or several other ways. In general they require a bit of thinking, them being organized more as riddles and less as clickfests or optimization/micromanagement challenges (i.e. see the adventuresque Sticha lair). Each one is more or less carefully designed, far away from a random-encounter logic.

A brief look on some things that bothered me:

-There are secret timers on a few quests, which timers are tied to the party rest count (this could be considered an asset for a lot of people, and it does make the game world more realistic – though there is a journal bug for failed quests of this type).

-Its short duration (T:TON took me roughly 31 hours to finish on the first playthrough, without any walkthrough, and completing all the quests I could find. Several of the areas are underdeveloped, especially on the later half of the game – the Maze being one of them).

-Not being able to return to previous areas and deal with any unfinished quests.

-Several minor bugs.

-A game engine thing: when the camera is at a place of an area far from your party (and the PCs do not appear on the camera) and you click so as it starts moving towards this area, the camera forcibly resets back to the party.

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One of the Bloom’s Maws, a definite homage to Sigil’s portals

Moving on to the juiciest aspects of the game, I must stress here that T:TON is not a game for people who do not like reading (in games or otherwise). There are many thousand dialogue lines in here, with the word count reaching a whopping 800.000. If at some point you feel that you cannot read more, then don’t; better save and quit til your mind is clear (speaking from personal experience I wasted several conversations this way – on the bright side, more things to read on the second playthrough). Reading is the single most important player activity in T:TON – if you remove the dialogues from the game you’ll be left with a grotesque monstrosity, an incoherent collection of lovely graphics and slightly underdeveloped mechanics.

Protagonist-wise the story has a definite Gnostic hue. The whole Changing God and Castoffs plot is a catalyst for questions you may already have asked and dilemmas you may have faced if you ever had a brush with the occult idea of humans being the cells or experience accumulators or sensory organs of the Divine. In what ways can one’s individuality and the value of it be compared with that of a greater whole? Can a cell rebel against the organism it is part of? Is the modern human able to change his perception focus from the scale of person to another grander or more diminutive scale? There is much food for thought and contemplation in here, theological-, occult-, and social-wise.

Still, T:TON’s story is less about the protagonist (and this is why I can accept the almost complete absence of character creation cosmetic options – you only select the gender), and more about fragments of other characters’ (NPCs’) stories. The game is a Sensate’s (I could not resist including an obvious reference to my favourite Planescape faction) paradise, with tidbits all around to taste and immerse yourself in. It is like being thrown in the midst of an immensely varied banquet of lives and experiences, which you can sample. One could say that the Protagonist/Player is an Interface; this actually leads to the interesting thought that this may be what a being a god feels like – being an interface for a multitude of lives, fragments of which stay and are lived through you. A few such stories that particularly impressed and will stay with me are those concerning:

-A man who apprentices his young self.

-A special kind of adoption, in which the foster parents adopt children born centuries ago, reaching the current era through time portals.

-A vehicle that crashed years ago, the guilt-ridden AI of which keeps alive the memory of the passengers that died in the crash by projecting holograms of them.



Sagus Cliffs, a city that will probably stay with me in almost the same way Sigil did

As in the original Torment, Numenera is characterized by the absence of an area with the essence of “home-base” throughout the game. Sagus cliffs serve as a sort of home town (or rather as the Only town, as Sigil was in PT’s first chapters, since the whole of the first part takes place in it (starting area aside)) but after leaving it there is no going back. This is true for almost all areas (apart from the Maze) – they are like beads on a string: once you pass one you cannot return. The Maze is a kind of home, you can visit it somewhat voluntarily, but it is not a place you can share with your companions (thus camaraderie is lost), and it also is never completely safe in the sense of the explored, mapped, and devoid of menace. This linear approach, akin to that of a strict narrative, deprives you of experiencing a place a-temporally, of having a city as home – for home is strongly characterized by its always being there, of being able to return to it, of never abandoning you, despite what you do. It would be nice to be able to see the consequences of your actions shaping a place, and not just see some old faces appear in new spaces.

In the end T:TON is a sprawling modular interactive narrative, a rough glimpse towards a possibility of what a combat-less cRPG could look like. I say rough because non-combat challenges could definitely be more challenging and not just depended on trivialized character skill checks; more challenge for the player (and not the characters) would be welcome. Where T:TON really shines is not in the framework but in the content department. This is a game to make you dream about its world and denizens, an artistic creation whose stories you may revisit in reveries, an entity that sows delicious seeds. A journey which may bring tears in your eyes and goosebumps on your skin, just as Planescape Torment did. From this point of view, Numenera is a worthy successor to what is one the most acclaimed RPGs of all times – though it would be best to let it carve a place of its own.

TidesOfNumenera 2017-03-03 00-08-27-80

Dragon Magazine rants 2 – Language


The second article of Dragon’s first issue, Languages, deals with in-game linguistics, with a slight emphasis on percentage statistics (mainly concerning the possibility of a random monster/being knowing a given language – I imagine that back in the day randomness was a big thing for DMs), and raises some pretty interesting issues and questions, both rule-wise and from in-game points of view.

Let’s take a look at language’s hard association with Intelligence. In the first edition of D&D (as well as in all other onwards, up to 3.5 – as for the fourth, I cannot comment, since I have no familiarity with it), the language ability is depended on the Intelligence attribute. In the article it is said that a human with an Intelligence score of 3 will only be able to speak one language (Common in this instance, since this is considered the default human language), and with a pretty limited vocabulary at this. This view perceives language as a purely mental activity, which could be conquered and enhanced via intellectual bravado alone – if one can memorize all the dictionary’s pages, one will be a master of that language.

The thing is, language is never detached from in-life experience and interaction with other users (persons) and carriers (texts and other written language forms or symbols) of it – something that they finally got right on the fifth edition, in which language at character creation is solely based on race and background (socio-cultural factors), and then on training, namely learning it via a tutor, spending time in order to interact with speakers and/or texts, etc – Intelligence is not central to it. Thus, instead of setting language upon a pedestal, as a prize protected by a riddle-ridden gauntlet, which is to be gained after a purely mental quest, it is best seen as a matter of entering into a network of interaction with entities that use it or carry it. A quote from Tim Ingold’s “The Perception of the Environment” is quite close to what I describe:

Language cannot properly be said to be handed down – it endures, but it endures as a continuous process of becoming. Individuals do not receive a ready-made language at all, rather, they enter upon the stream of verbal communication.”

To wrap this up, if languages had to be depended on an attribute, I propose that due to language learning’s deeply social nature Charisma (or even Wisdom, due to its more intuitive nature) would be a slightly more fitting candidate than Intelligence. Still, I think that fifth edition’s attribute-less, socio-cultural take on language is much more representative of language’s nature.

Onwards now to spells as speak with animals, plants, etc, with a quote from the article that I found somewhat hilarious: “I have encountered one character who took “Wall” as a language and attempted to interrogate dungeon walls as to what lay behind them. In my dungeon, the walls drunkenly replied, “I don’t know; I’m plastered.”” Apparently, there wasn’t a Stone Tell spell at the time, so the player’s choice to take “Wall” as bonus language was both amusing and innovative.

Now, casting a spell which bestows the “gift” of (our) speech on a creature not normally being able to speak it, seems straightforward enough: we seem to suppose that all beings are memory and experience containers, and thus, by bestowing upon them the gift of speech, we are able to tap into their informational reservoir; it would not be so amiss if I said that we see them as a multi-sensational sensors, which wait for an interface to appear, through which to communicate to us their experience – especially considering the spell description that the animal or the plant WILL provide the information (if existent), no ifs and buts. This approach however, takes for granted certain things, two of which are: the organisms’ willingness to cooperate with the caster (implying a charm of sorts) – all in all, a pretty anthropocentric view; the organisms’ ability to store their past (namely, their before-the-spell’s-casting) experience.

Α look is on the order, at how deep is the effect of this humble first-level divination spell called Speak With Animals (same goes for Speak With Plants, and Stone Tell): The spell seems to attribute a symbolic mode of thought and communication to non-human entities, for that is exactly what language is. We are talking heavy magic here, changing the whole mode of thought, perception, and experience of a being, even for only its duration. It implements within their thought process:

a. the idea (and the acceptance of this idea) that particulars sounds correspond to particular meaning,

b. an understanding of time as perceived by us – so as to be able to communicate even basic concepts as “now,” “before,” and “after”

c. the sensoral ability to receive, process and emit linguistic information to and from another creature (be it telepathically, through vocal and auditory systems, etc).

I realize that now I am entering under the spell’s hood, something that I try to avoid as far as magic is concerned, but the ramifications and the scale of what a simple first level spell can do were far too inviting.

(Let’s also note here that with Speak To Plants or Animals, we imposes our mode of thought upon the entities affected by the spell, an action that could be even scrutinized from an ethical point of view.)

In the article there is also a mention of animal languages, focusing on the existence of common languages for wide taxonomic categories: is there an Equine language spoken by all Horses, Mules, Donkeys, Unicorns, etc? Once again we have a projection of our way of thinking to non-human entities. We tend to see species (another human invention) as “neighboring” by virtue of similarities that We find among them, as well as theorizing that since all humanoids in a fantasy world have a way of inter-species communication (the Common tongue), so it will probably be with all other similar species – never mind that this is a pure anthropocentric view of other beings. We obviously talk about an imaginary world, and since it is humans that play it, there is bound to be anthropocentrism, but it is interesting, I think, to see how this view is embedded inside the game world, for it could bring light to real-world human view of non-human entities.

Finally, the article also touches upon the subject of the language in which persons think, mainly in order to examine if it is possible to read the thoughts of a person whose language you do not speak – ending up in situations where one could take advantage of the obscurity of his native language in order to guard his thought from magic intrusions. Still, I think that reducing the thought process in pure language is something of a radical simplification. For it is not too usual to think without images, sensations, mental nudges, thought noise, and other things thrown around some words. It is unusual to think in pure language, even in cases where we need to put our thought into writing or speech.

Dragon Magazine rants 1 – Magic & Science


(For this (hopefully weekly) column I’ll be reading issues of the Dragon Magazine, starting from the first one, trying to find one or more articles in each worth of commentary/ranting. I kick off with Issue 1, and the first of the two articles which I found interesting in it.)

The first issue of the Dragon magazine, released on June 1976, is (not unexpectedly) somewhat underwhelming considering the magazine we knew during the ’90s and ’00s. Just 32 pages long, it still managed to cram inside: the first parts of 2 fiction stories, several small articles (dealing with both role-playing and strategy wargaming), many advertisements, and even a small piece of writing from Fritz Leiber (a very small gazetteer of Newhon).

Two articles are of particular interest to me here:

Magic & Science (Are they compatible in D&D) by James M. Ward

Languages (or, Could you repeat that in Auld Wormish?) by Lee Gold

The first one, Magic & Science, is trying to tackle a subject which apparently had already surfaced even back in the first days of role-playing, namely the role and (acceptable) level of science in a magical fantasy setting. The writer proposes a somewhat weird scenario, in which a particular culture has three types of “scientific” items: a hand-catapult discharging some spheres, categorized by colour, each colour having a spell-like effect; some other blue spheres that are somewhat autonomous, movement-wise, and can emit rays and force fields that emulate spells; and the anologic computers which can counter magic, analyze enemies, and emit an attack ray.

Firstly, there is no mention of how these items work; essentially they are stored, “delayed,” spells, camouflaged only on a surface levels as technological items. They could be paralleled to wand charges, since they are expendable. The fact that the “how” is nonexistent, makes the whole science point going astray. Since science is chiefly concerned with the “how” of things and events, the author here pulls a very thin camouflage-rug above what is considered magic in the game. But what is D&D’s magic really?

I consider science something that gives reliable and identical or similar results under repeatable occasions. In this light, D&D’s magic is a kind of science, due to its reliability. Being a wizard, if you know a spell, its gestures, vocalising, and have any necessary material ingredients, along with a suitable spell slot, then you can reliably cast the spell. Thus magic appears as something that can be rationally studied, analysed, and assimilated – something that more or less follows a scientific method. Sure, its effects can be beyond the reach of that cultural era’s science and technology, even beyond ours, but the method followed is deeply rational.

Let’s take a look on a short elaboration on real-world occultism, from “The Varieties of Magical Experience”: “Important in the practice of magic, we have found, are intuition, imagination, and the emotions; rationality plays little part in magic because magic occurs when one lets go of rational thoughts. When the imagination is permitted full play there is room for a shift in the perception of reality. There can be a change in consciousness, so much so that physical boundaries and distinctions between real and unreal often dissolve. Such experiences are not able to be measured scientifically. Rather, the person might have a noticeable experience of deep inner change, or a knowing, or a sense that something significant has happened.” (my emphasis)

One more passage, this time from an article from the fantasy author N. K. Jemisin, on which I stumbled while writing this post, and which, though mostly concerned with magic in fantasy literature, has many points that I believe are relevant to the D&D case also (D&D is explicitly mentioned, and not in a good way): “Because this is magic we’re talking about. It’s supposed to go places science can’t, defy logic, wink at technology, fill us all with the sensawunda that comes of gazing upon a fictional world and seeing something truly different from our own. In most cultures of the world, magic is intimately connected with beliefs regarding life and death — things no one understands, and few expect to.

It is my opinion that magic, as loosely defined in the above passages, is what is somewhat missing from the game (or rather from its rules), not science, as the writer was complaining. Despite its enchanted cloak, if one gets down to the nuts and bolts of the magic system of almost any RPG, you have blueprints that are bound to work, like a very rationally designed mechanism.

If one takes a look at the wizard class, starting with a stat view, where Intelligence is the single most important stat, the class seems like a fantasy version of the modern scientist. Intelligence, or rather raw mental strength is what makes spells more effective. In the 5th editition’s Player’s Handbook it is written that “lntelligence measures mental acuity, accuracy of recall, and the ability to reason.” A description permeated aesthetically throughout with cold logic, with an aura of clinical precision.

Concerning D&D spells, most of them affect the physical world, which from a game-rules point of view is comprehensible. But most of the effects are things that could be replicated by a sort of advanced science. There is little of the esoteric, since it is obviously difficult to incorporate this in a game. The spells are certain to satisfy the players’ craving for powers beyond the norm, for their having abilities that are beyond the vast majority, their will for omnipotence, their lust for wonder. But it seems that D&D magic also reinforces a clinical, rational way of thinking, and presents a rather standarized image of magic, not much full of wonder.

Concluding, I again stress that it is quite understandable for a rules-driven game to structure its magic on a rational and not-so-enchanting way. This goes hand to hand with D&D’s focus on linear character progression and advancement (for more on this, see here). But the quest for a more magical magic system (or rather the complete absence of a system) is a worthy undertaking for an adventuring party or three.

Nefarious Spirit – Nefarious Spirit demo (Underground Soundscapes, 2016)


Can a band’s country (or a wider geographic area) of origin be surmised by its sound? During the early days of the second wave black metal I do think that this was a case – though not a simple one, and definitely not without exceptions. There was a characteristic Greek black metal sound (which if expanded a bit could be characterized as Mediterranean), and a Scandinavian one (mostly Norwegian and Swedish to be honest), as well as some smaller and not so easily defined other scenes’ sonic flavours. By the end of ’90s, however, the diffusion between the scenes was on a level that enabled bands from one country to sound like originating in another; the only thing left was useful (if a bit hazy) encyclopedic categories, like “the ’90s Norwegian sound.” Still, just before listening to a new band, I try by looking to their place of origin, to take a guess as to its style, or vice versa.

Onwards to the Nefarious Spirit demo, clocking just under 15 minutes, which was released by the Greek label Underground Soundscapes. This label is focused on distributing releases coming from the other side of the Atlantic, with a very strong emphasis on US (which stands for USA here, not Underground Soundscapes, just to be clear) bands. The same is true for the bands that it has released, almost all of which come from the US. Another thing that lured me towards America was the band’s name, since aesthetically Nefarious Spirit is something that could belong to the host of black metal groups that seethe deeply in the US underground soil – and a great name it is. Finally, the demo’s sound, though not easily geographically located, could come either from the vast US expanse, or some Scandinavian village that was isolated by the world since Aeternus “..And So The Night Became” was released.

Well, my surprise was not small when I saw that Nefarious Spirit were Greek. This is definitely not your typical Greek sound of old, but it’s also far from the occult black metal that seems to have gained much ground here during the past decade. Nefarious Spirit play instead a serpentine, cavernous (abyssal may be a better word) black metal, with growling, commanding vocals, and a deep and thick production, which easily combines underground spirit with listenability. The demo’s soundscape is like a seething subterranean sea, boiling with archaic riffs – which when floating above the surface, like in the middle of the opening track (“Thrones”) they graze this watery surface with impressive eloquence. Things are not complex here: well-played furious black metal, with a stubborn cantor during the blast-beat moments, which easily motivates you towards mania. When it decides to drop the speed a few notches, a nostalgic majesty comes into the front, and that is when the (old) Aeternus name clicks into place – the weight of eons and elder battles is evoked.

Coming out of nowhere, Nefarious Spirit were almost an apocalypse – their place of origin playing its part. This is high-caliber black metal, a demo that speaks tones of the band’s devotion to the black metal past. Their next release will be crucial, but I have pretty high hopes for this act.