“Maybe I’m a-mazed at the way you love me all the time…”


(Supremely creepy poster art by Polish artist Wieslaw Walkuski)

Worldbuilding Wednesday 12/25/19: The Best of
xxxxTwittersnips (Spells II)

Mornaieus Unholy Heart, when cast by an evil cleric, corrupts even the noblest Paladin.

I know it is Christmas and therefore this list should be something related to that. OTOH, who can resist a bunch of weird spells culled from my daily Twitter feed through 2019?


Magic Spells II

Honoyin’s Screaming Toad: Makes an ordinary toad emit a loud scream when some event occurs (trespassers enter, a fire is lit, etc.)

Prudent Path: Enables the caster to choose the safest way through an area if given a choice of several trails.

Teriffaden’s Dirty Fire: A magical fire that burns dirt instead of wood. The flames are brown in color.

Persuasive Raiment: Changes the caster’s clothing so they can blend easily into a crowd.

Mornaieu’s Unholy Heart: When cast on a cleric of good alignment, this spell inches them gradually toward chaotic evil.

Sightcount: Allows the user to count items with a single glance. The most powerful version allows them to sightcount up to 100,000.

Gem of Random Shapechanging: Disguises a valuable gem as a small, worthless item like pebble, matchstick, corn kernel, etc. varying the form throughout the duration of the spell.

Closet of Interdimensional Terror: Turns an ordinary closet into a torture chamber that reduces victims to gibbering fright-filled idiots.

Muncie’s Fanged Mummy: Gives any undead mummy poisonous fangs and a +2 to strike.

Mortal Debridement: Cleanses the soul of past sins, but at great pain to the recipient. (Clerical spell)


Santa’s Strange Appetite

HO-HO-HO  no.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 12/18/19: The Best of
xxxxTwittersnips (Spells I)

This situation calls for… EYES OF THE SQUID!

The fun of creating randomly generated magic spells derives from trying to figure out what they do from two or three words. Sometimes it’s self-evident: Robe of the Gymnast. Other times, I need to think a little: Aelart’s Fairy Feet. This was inspired by a scene in the Angelina Jolie fantasy movie Maleficent, where one of the three guardian fairies, transforming back to her fairy form from a large, clumsy humans, chirps how happy she is that her feet are back to normal.

I culled these magic spells out of all those posted by me on Twitter from 2017 to 2019. Bon appetit!


Magic Spells I

Eyes of the Squid: Enables the caster to see clearly in deep water or abyssal canyons.

Terramite’s Muddy Iron: Causes any single iron item (not an alloy) to become as soft and sticky as mud.

Fingers of the Spider: Bestows high-level pickpocket skills on a character who is not a thief.

Aeleart’s Fairy Feet: Makes the caster’s feet appear as small and dainty as those of a fairy, and step as lightly.

Legs of the Brawler: Enables the caster to brace themselves, kick, and dart as well as any street fighter during combat, no matter what their class.

Corallandra’s Silver Voice: Makes the user’s voice pleasing to the ear and adds a +3 to Charisma checks.

Speechburst: Enables the caster to speak five times as quickly as they normally would, with no loss of comprehension to listeners.

Seltysse’s Internal Pressure: Causes the victim to simultaneously belch and fart, expelling foul-smelling gas.

Cry of the Dolphin: Causes the recipient to emit a loud, squeaky shriek which causes momentary disorientation to all who hear it. If used underwater, it can echolocate.

Ograthan’s Imaginary Vitality: Makes the recipient feel stronger and more energetic than they really are. Must be used with caution.


Oh, Deer.

One of the most bizarre Christmas decorations I’ve ever seen. Who would make this? Who would buy it?


Reading Lolita in Tehran
[Reading Challenge 2019]

Reading Lolita in Tehran:
A Memoir in Books

by Azar Nafisi
Random House, 2004

[Challenge # 48: A book mentioned or discussed inside another book.]

Reading Lolita in Tehran is a book I remember seeing heavily promoted in past years, but I never thought to read it myself. It’s not often that I read a book club kind of book. Not that I have nothing against book clubs; they serve a useful and pleasurable social function. I’m just not that social and scheduled in my reading. Oddly enough, Reading Lolita features one of those book clubs, and it was one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. I got the feel of a club without the time commitment.

Reading Lolita is a book about ideas, and a book about the power of literature in people’s lives. Four other books, Pride and Prejudice, Daisy Miller, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and The Great Gatsby are referenced in the text, making the novel my choice for the 2019 Challenge’s “Matryoshka” category (Matryoshkas being those Russian nesting dolls that sit inside of each other and get progressively smaller and less detailed as they are screwed apart.)  But having read the books is not a prerequisite for reading the novel. I myself did not read either Lolita or Daisy Miller, was familiar with The Great Gatsby, and only slightly familiar with Pride and Prejudice, and I and enjoyed the novel no less.

Reading Lolita is that odd beast, a fictionalized memoir, and I liked it much, much more than I thought I would. It’s divided into four parts each dealing with a period in the narrator’s life. It’s not a linear recounting.  We start in what the author refers to as present (1990) then leap back to the late 1960s and 1970s, then into the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war, and then past the present of the first part, to a conclusion where the narrator and the women’s reading group she founded break up as many of them leave war-torn, problematic Iran to continue their lives elsewhere. The same characters recur throughout: the narrator, her family, and the members, many of whom she met as students while teaching at the University of Iran.

In the first part, Nabokov’s Lolita is discussed as the young women meet every week at the narrator’s home, then we flash back to the campus turbulence of the late 1960s and early 1970s when the narrator returns to Iran from studying in the US carrying the revolutionary ideals of that era. This section implies radical ideologies wielded naively lead to disaster when they are applied to real life, leading to an Iran divided and soon under the thumb of an oppressive religious dictatorship. The Great Gatsby is the novel cited here, the students of the narrator’s class even putting it on trial for what they think is its pro-American bias. This was my favorite part of the book. It’s both funny and tragic. It’s not too often a baby boomer admits their youthful politics were badly misguided.

During the war with Iraq Pride and Prejudice is discussed as rights for everyone, but especially women, are restricted, and finally Daisy Miller and her American-bred courage at the end.

All of this was written informally yet sumptuously. It also involved some back and forthing through the book on my part, just to keep the principle characters straight… Sanaz the modern girl, Mahsid the straight-laced Muslim, etc. But I managed.

The book was mainly discussion and memoir, there were no spine-tingling escapes in the night or passionate love affairs. But I was mesmerized by it, sinking thoroughly into the world the author portrays. Her love for Iran and Persian culture, even with its flaws, shines through. The Iranian people she writes of, even the “bad guys,” like a smug male student who lectures her on what is politically right and politically wrong, are fully realized, three-dimensional portrayels.  They are all human with lives torn by political disruption, war, and extremism. They are all victims. Iran itself is not a monolithic, one-note culture as some in the US think it is. There are shades of light and dark in it, but it’s mostly shades of gray.

I also loved the language the narrator employed and her stylistic decisions, such as not directly quoting most dialogue between characters. I could see reading the book again for this alone. Even a visit to a local ice cream parlor was a finely tuned, expertly worded adventure. I could read this book multiple times and sink again and again into this world. It also did that rare miracle of inspiring me to read more of the classics, even hated snoozefest Pride and Prejudice.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 12/11/19: Christmas Scents

No gingerbread men were harmed in the baking of these cookies.

This time of year holiday scents abound. There’s the usual Pine and Balsam, Gingerbread, and Sugar Cookie. But to really move sweet-smelling merchandise, novelty is required. Yankee Candles has one scent I like in particular called After Sledding. The name is memorable and brings up memories of playing in the snow, while the smell is a combo of sawed wood, fresh air, chocolate, and Christmas spices. If the candle had just been called Winter Fun, I might not have been attracted to it as much.

Need a holiday scent? Here’s a randomgenned list.


Christmas Scents

Peppermint Champagne

Mrs. Claus’s Spice Cake

White Cardamom

Frosty Christmas Berries

Christmas Morning Coffee

Incense and Oranges


Midnight Toast

Exotic Berry

Golden Embers

Winter’s Hearth

Snowball Fight

Mischief Brewing

Green Christmas

Santa’s Brownies

Pink Cardamom

Winter Depth

Festive Homestead

Bough and Bonfire

Wintry Coast

Red Velvet Yule

Red Winter Coat

Sunrise Sleigh Ride

Honeyed Orange

Snowed In

Morning Cocoa

Chocolate Orange

Golden Pine

Horrible Christmas Album Covers

Croation pop singer Kićo makes a pretty glum Santa on the cover of this album, often cited as one of the worst Christmas album covers ever made. He doesn’t even convey the solemnity of a traditional Father Christmas. He’s just… there. Hungover, or wallowing in existential despair.  His version of “Jingle Bells” featuring a banjo isn’t much better, though I have to say his voice is very manly. Zvoncici, everybody!

Christmas with Kico – Jingle Bells


Santa travels to another planet in a spacesuit tailored to his needs. But though the little boy gets a rocket, the little girl has to make do with a mundane doll. Not fair! Still, the song is cute, with clever lyrics.

Space Age Santa Claus


I really don’t get Sufjan Stevens, beloved of hipsters. It’s petty of me, but he sounds like just another average white guy with a whiny voice. Plus he’s way too precious. I dislike this album cover too. It seems like a riff on mean-sounding holiday parody songs like “All I Want for Christmas is to Be Molested in the Shower.”

That Was the Worst Christmas Ever – Sufjan Stevens


Jeering at the Brady Bunch is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I’m going to do it anyway. Their voices are only average at best and their management was clearly capitilizing on their wholesome popularity with this release. Plus that damn dog isn’t even looking at the camera.

Oh Come All Ye Faithfull – The Brady Bunch


I never heard of these guys but they bring on the funk, as well as poising themselves for some sweet kung-fu moves.

Christmas Got Funky – Jimmy Jules and the Nuclear Soul System


This guy didn’t even bother to put on a beard! How lazy can a would-be Santa get? Plus, the poor little white poodle looks tragically butchered in the grooming department. He doesn’t have the fluffy topknot and shaggy ears of the other two and looks embarrassed about it. This really bothers me. Poodles should match, damn it!

Lenny Dee – Sleigh Ride


I don’t know a lot about Senor Tonto except he’s the Italian equivalent of Sufjan Stevens. He also does a mean version of “Hurray for Santy Claus” a little known Christmas song from the awful failed film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Worth a listen if only for the annoyance factor. One of the instruments used on it was a Texas Instruments Speak & Spell.

Hurray for Santy Claus – Senor Tonto


“Hello, Santa? The fighters have been scrambled and the nukes are coming in. You’ve got two minutes to make it to the bomb shelter.”

Electronic music compilations, mostly on the Moog, began to be widely released in the early 1970s. I think this was the first Christmas one. The songs are peppy, but bloodless.

Switched On Santa – Angels We Have Heard on High


I love the graphic design of this album cover. So clean and powerful with its limited shapes and color palette, it’s almost like a homage produced by an artist today. But the music is, well, weird.

The Singing Saw


Pinky and Perky are two English puppets beloved by Britishers of a certain age and hosts of a children’s TV show. After the success of Ross Bagdasarian’s Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas album, they, or rather the studio singers whose voices were sped up, entered the market, competing with other wannabe animal stars like The Grasshoppers, The Nutty Squirrels, The Busy Beavers, and Pepino the Italian Mouse. Fun fact: Ross Bagdasarian was the writer and sound engineer for the rockabilly hit “Witch Doctor” and later used the studio tricks for the voices of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore… who were named after three record label executives he knew. Meanwhile, Pinky and Perky ended up as Christmas ham.

Pinky and Perky – It’s Christmas Eve


Despite their stilted poses these guys rock. ’nuff said!

HE5 – Silent Night

Worldbuilding Wednesday 12/4/19: Birth Signs

An Asian Zodiac adapted for Australian use, with Australian animals in place of the traditional Chinese ones. I’m a platypus.

One of the perks of worldbuilding is creating a zodiac, or set of birth signs, for your particular setting.

The Western Zodiac* is the most familiar model and is named for the path the sun, moon, and planets take through the constellations on their journey through the sky. The constellation the sun is in when it rises becomes the birth sign for those born on that day, but the constellations other heavenly bodies reside in have an influence too. Such influences, in ancient times, affected all aspects of civilized life: when to plant and harvest, get married, wage war.

But there are other systems. Asian cultures have birth signs delineated by year instead of month, as everyone who eats at a Chinese restaurant with a paper placemat knows. They also come in a cycle of 12, each year named after animals, and each year also receives an elemental designation from a list of five (earth, water, fire, metal, wood) so the whole forms a cycle of 60 years. A Fire Monkey person is likely to be dying as new Fire Monkeys are being born.

Mesoamerican birth signs are a little more complicated, based on four interlocking cycles, one a year cycle of 365 days, the other a 260 day sacred cycle in which each day has a unique name, a number from 1 – 13 and a day sign from a roster of twenty. The cycle repeats every 52 years, so in that period, the only people sharing the same birth sign are those born on the same day.

But, back to the birth signs. The fun thing about them is creating correlations. My Western Zodiac sign, Virgo, has as its gemstone the sapphire, the aster as its flower, the hummingbird as its bird, and the maiden as its symbol. According to various memes, my Disney princess is Belle, my bread is whole wheat, and my wakeup time is 3 AM, “but then goes back to sleep and wakes up at 12.”

Whatever system you design, it’s easy to create a bunch of correlations for its birth signs through random generation or the roll of some die. Here’s some samples.


Semutal the Boar

Color: Scarlet
Number: 7
Item of clothing: Stockings
Part of body: Feet, ankles, calves
Scent: Clover
Habitat: Wetlands
Foods: Salmon, figs, parsley
Metal: Copper
Element: Metal
Time of day: Dawn
Symbol: Three crossed spears
Characteristics: Confidant, teasing, fortunate, generous, self-indulgent

Goiox the Key

Color: Gold
Number: 5
Item of clothing: Gloves
Part of body: Hands
Scent: Tobacco
Habitat: Mountains
Foods: Chicken, turnip, onion, anise
Metal: Gold
Element: Ice
Time of day: Evening
Symbol: Key
Characteristics: Bold, righteous, energetic, stubborn

Acas the Young Doctor

Color: Gray
Number: 4
Item of clothing: Wig
Part of body: Hair and scalp
Scent: Hazelnut
Habitat: Urban
Foods: Lobster, bananas, lovage, nutmeg
Metal: Lead
Element: Earth
Time of day: Midnight
Symbol: Three interlocked cubes
Characteristics: Wise, faithful, inquisitive, detached

Shaajot the Wolf

Color: White
Number: 20
Item of clothing: Ribbons
Part of body: Neck
Scent: Spearmint
Habitat: Tundra
Foods: Eel, truffles, lemon
Metal: Iron
Element: Wood
Time of day: Evening
Symbol: A fang above a quarter moon
Characteristics: Determined, mysterious, passionate, intellectual

One could go on and on with this, including chord, state of matter, sexual position, drug, type of literature, compatability with other birth signs, etc.

* Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. To make things complicated, some consider Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer, a Zodiac sign also, bringing the count to 13.

Welcome, Winter.

An early 20th century representation of a Scandinavian frost giant, from the silent movie Conquest of the Pole  by French film pioneer Georges Méliès.  To me the creature looks more like a goofy Russian ventriloquist’s dummy.  Which is no less horrible than a bloodthirsty spirit to my eye, but probably not what the director intended.