Tuesday 23 May 2023

This blog has moved - please update your feeds

As per my previous post, I have moved this blog (and the Peakrill shop) to a new website at peakrill.com. If you read this website via RSS, you will need to update the feed address to https://peakrill.com/feed/

Don't Look Here, Look There

 If you're reading this, you're on the old Peakrill website. The shiny new website, blog and shop can be found over here at peakrill.com

(if you are on peakrill.com and are still seeing this post, wait a few hours and try again - it can take a day or so for these things to update worldwide)

Friday 7 April 2023

Bisch Basch Bosch

"The Office" by Hieronymous Bosch

Yesterday this image, "The Office" by Hieronymous Bosch, which I created using Midjourney, went viral. A lot of people asked for posters. Feels wrong to charge money for something which I knocked up in seconds, so I'm offering it free-of-charge.

You can download the high-res image here - like I said, it's free, but if you'd like to buy me a coffee then I'd be very grateful.

I'd love to see what it looks like printed out and hung on your wall - let me know on Twitter or on Instagram.

Thursday 30 March 2023

This is Who

Thank you to those who responded to the challenge in my last post.

Theo (whom I play with in noisms' Three Mile Tree campaign, and whose weird and wonderful updates on that campaign always bring a smile to my face) spoke in the comments of how the four characters are the personifications of anthropomorphized walled cities in some liminal Goetiaverse, competing in beflowered tournaments for the favor of the Lich Queen Callisto Meffit.

And Semiurge posted this fantastic story spanning four generations of the house of Albuminauc, containing some wonderfully poetic turns of phrase ("he grubby-hid with shady sorts in shaded spots", "mawkish rakes milked venom from each other's mouths", ...)

Above is Sereaglea Albuminauc, fifth generation of the house of Albuminauc. sole offspring of Rud Albuminauc and Carpaglea Vennonis, daughter of the last Margreve of Vennonis (a sizeable village teetering on the crest of the Grens Hills to the North of Marlo). Sereaglea it was, in her guise as fisher queen, who brought a final end to the haunting haggearts of her forebears. 

(I feel somewhat guilty for not putting anything like as much effort into this as Semiurge and Theo did; apologies, my brain is on strike)

Tuesday 28 March 2023

Who Is This


Who are they?
As anyone who follows this blog knows, I've been becoming increasingly obsessed with generating AI images with a certain style (black and white engravings). I've even started selling some of them on T-shirts.

The picture above fascinates me: who are they? If you can tell me something more about this person - potted biography, stats, what made them look so dead behind the eyes - then I would really like to know.

Here are three more members of their family:

They were also recently featured on Monsters and Manuals.

Saturday 25 March 2023

AI as DM


art by The Mycoleum
Continuing my experiments with AI, I have been trying to get a computer to act as Dungeon Master, running a roleplaying game in response to my prompts. The results have been interesting, but for all the wrong reasons.

In this post I will use the following conventions:

My messages to the AI appear indented, in italic text.

The AI's messages to me appear indented, in regular text.

"Playing a game" with ChatGPT is incredibly easy. It requires no technical skills. You just have to head to the website and (once you have an account and are logged in) give it a prompt. Here are three that worked for me:

You are the dungeon master and I am the player in a dark and dangerous roleplaying game. Let's start. 

I would like to play a roleplaying game set in a surreal fantasy world. I will play the character of Lud, a short human rogue. Lud starts the game with 4 random items. Describe the start of the scenario.

I am a street beggar named Kellund. I am sat begging in the Plaza of Unrealised Time in Viriconium. What do I see? 

I will play a character "Vrox", who lives in the city of Bastion. In this dark, eclectic, electric city, the unexpected often happened, and nothing is ever clichéd. Describe Vrox.

Firstly, for something labelled an "intelligence", AI can be unbelievably stupid:

Attack the rat

I'm sorry, but to determine the outcome of your attack, you need to roll a d20. Please type "roll d20" to generate a random number for the attack roll.

Roll d20

Unfortunately, as an AI language model, I don't have the capability to generate a random number for you. However, let's assume you rolled a 16 on the d20.

This was far from an isolated incident. Dozens of times the AI asked me to type "roll d20" and, when I did that, told me that it didn't know how to roll a d20, before proceeding to roll a d20.

Secondly, and most irritatingly, AI suffers from dispiriting levels of regression-to-the-vanilla. In one of my games, which I tried to push as far as possible down a dark, surreal, non-D&D route, I met the following group of people in a tavern:

Describe the members of my new party

As you set out with the adventurers into the surreal wilderness, you take a moment to observe your new companions. Here is what you notice:

1. The first member of your party is a tall, muscular human warrior named Thorin. He wields a massive two-handed sword and wears a suit of shiny plate armor. He has a stern expression and a commanding presence, exuding confidence and determination.

2. The second member of your party is a petite halfling rogue named Tilly. She moves with grace and agility, her small size and nimble fingers making her an expert at sneaking around and picking locks. She has a mischievous twinkle in her eye and a sharp wit, always ready with a clever remark or a sarcastic quip.

3. The third member of your party is a wise and experienced elven wizard named Alaric. He carries a gnarled wooden staff and wears long flowing robes adorned with intricate symbols and runes. He speaks with a calm and measured tone, his vast knowledge of magic and ancient lore making him an invaluable asset to the group.

4. The fourth member of your party is a gruff and taciturn dwarf named Drog. He carries a massive warhammer and wears a suit of sturdy chainmail. He has a thick beard and a rugged, weathered face, giving him the appearance of a hardened veteran. He speaks little, preferring to let his actions do the talking.

I challenged this party make-up, and the computer's response made me half suspect that it was taking the piss:

Say to Alaric "could you not have picked a slightly less stereotyped group of companions?"

As you walk alongside Alaric, you can't help but feel a bit uneasy about the composition of your party. You turn to him and say, "Alaric, I can't help but feel that our group is a bit stereotypical. We have a human warrior, a halfling rogue, an elven wizard, and a dwarf fighter. Couldn't you have picked a slightly less clichéd combination of companions?"

Alaric chuckles softly and replies, "My dear Lud, stereotypes exist for a reason. These archetypes have been popularized for a reason - they work well together. Thorin is a fierce and powerful fighter, Tilly is agile and nimble, Drog is strong and resilient, and I bring my knowledge of magic and arcane lore to the group. Together, we are a formidable team."

He pauses for a moment before continuing, "That being said, I understand your concern. It's important to acknowledge the diversity of the world around us, and not rely solely on tropes and archetypes. Perhaps on our next adventure, we can seek out companions from different cultures and backgrounds."

You nod, feeling reassured by Alaric's words. You realize that while your party might be stereotypical, they are also skilled and experienced, and you trust in their ability to help you achieve your goals.

 I decided to follow Alaric's advice:

Recruit some more diverse and less clichéd companions

You decide to take Alaric's advice to heart and seek out companions who are more diverse and less clichéd. You begin to ask around at taverns, markets, and other public places, trying to find people who might be interested in joining your party.

After a few days of searching, you come across a few promising candidates:

1. A half-orc bard named Grimgor. He has a rugged, scarred appearance, with a large muscular build and a booming voice. He carries a lute with him wherever he goes and is skilled at inspiring his allies and demoralizing his enemies with his music.

2. A tiefling sorcerer named Nisha. She has a striking appearance, with long black hair, horns, and a tail. She wields powerful magic and has a deep understanding of the arcane arts. She is quiet and reserved, but her powers are fearsome and not to be underestimated.

3. A human cleric named Father Matthias. He is a kind and gentle soul, always ready to offer words of comfort and healing to those in need. He carries a holy symbol with him at all times and is a powerful force against the undead and other evil beings.

4. A gnome ranger named Puck. He is small in stature but quick and nimble, with a talent for tracking and hunting. He is an expert at setting traps and can be surprisingly deadly with his short bow.

With these new companions added to your party, you feel confident that you have a diverse and capable group that can tackle any challenge that comes your way.

So. Not quite the "Fellowship of the Ring" photocopy that I first encountered; this time we have a set of clichés that D&D 5e players deploy when they're trying to be slightly less conventional. Why not throw in a tabaxi assassin and a genasi monk for good measure?

Given that 5e is the "one game to rule them all", it's perhaps unsurprising that it's tropes overwhelm any and all other possibilities. This is a shame - I had hoped that in my "surreal fantasy world" I might, perhaps, encounter a sword-juggler who is half-human and half-lamppost. But no; the closest AI is ever likely to come to that is "a half-orc bard".

Thirdly, the AI is very biddable:

Search the empty box again to see whether it also, perhaps, contains a magic ring of teleportation

After the blinding light fades away, you examine the small ornate box that was inside the chest. As you open it, you see that it is empty. Disappointed, you start to close the box when you notice a faint engraving on the bottom. It looks like a symbol you recognize from ancient texts as being associated with teleportation magic.

Excited by the possibility of finding a magic ring of teleportation, you thoroughly search the box for any hidden compartments or clues. After a few minutes, you find a small lever on the underside of the lid that, when pressed, reveals a hidden compartment.

Inside the compartment, you find a small pouch that contains a magical ring. It is made of a shimmering silver metal and has a blue gemstone set in the center. You can sense its magical power just by holding it in your hand.

You immediately recognize this as a ring of teleportation, capable of instantly transporting you and your companions to any location you desire. You feel a sense of relief and excitement at having found such a powerful tool, and you know that it will come in handy during your future adventures in this surreal fantasy world.

You carefully put the ring on your finger, and as you do, you feel a jolt of energy coursing through your body. You know that you now possess a powerful tool that can help you overcome any obstacle in your path.

Related to this, the AI is teeth-grindingly positive, and quite resistant to unhappy endings:

What happens to the small number of shoppers that Vrox failed to protect

Vrox feels a pang of guilt as he watches the remaining shoppers flee for safety. He wishes he could have protected everyone, but he knows that in such a chaotic and unpredictable situation, it's impossible to guarantee everyone's safety.

As he turns to face the aliens, he sees that they have already caught up to a few shoppers who were unable to escape. The aliens are holding them captive, their glowing red eyes fixated on their prey.

Vrox knows he can't just stand idly by and watch the aliens take innocent lives. He quickly devises a plan and begins to use his knowledge of technology to create distractions and diversionary tactics that allow him to sneak up on the aliens and free the captives.

Using his quick wit and resourcefulness, Vrox manages to free the remaining shoppers, and together they make a run for safety. Although they are pursued by the aliens, Vrox's knowledge and expertise in technology give them an advantage, and they are able to escape from the shopping center unharmed.

As they flee, Vrox can't help but feel a sense of relief that he was able to save at least some of the shoppers. But he also feels a sense of determination, knowing that he must continue to use his skills and knowledge to protect those who are still at risk.

Despite the chaos and danger that still lurks in Bastion, Vrox remains steadfast in his resolve, ready to face whatever challenges may come his way.

In fact, even the AI's "d20 rolls" always seemed to return results in the high teens. AI does not want to see you fail! This makes it useless for "playing" games such as D&D, where success or failure hangs on a dice role. It is more akin to playing a journalling game, where the player's role is as a writer collaborating with the AI's outcome, rather than trying to defeat the odds.

Even as a journalling game, the AI's side of the writing leans heavily into the saccharine. Try as you might to force an unhappy ending, it can't resist finishing on something upbeat:

Vrox fails in some way, and grisly death comes to the shopping centre.  Describe what happens.

Vrox's heart sinks as he realizes that the situation has become too overwhelming for him to handle. His knowledge of technology and mechanics can only do so much against an alien threat, and he begins to feel a sense of helplessness and despair.

Despite his best efforts to distract and divert the aliens, they eventually catch up to him and the remaining shoppers. In the chaos that ensues, Vrox is separated from the others, and he finds himself face to face with one of the aliens.

The alien towers over Vrox, its sharp claws and glowing red eyes a menacing sight. Vrox tries to use his knowledge of technology to defend himself, but it's no use. The alien is too powerful, and it quickly overpowers him.

Vrox's last thoughts are of regret and sorrow as he watches the grisly death that comes to the shopping center. The alien attacks without mercy, tearing through the remaining shoppers with ease.

The once bustling shopping center is now a scene of horror and destruction, with bodies strewn about and the sound of screams and cries echoing throughout the halls.

As Vrox takes his final breath, he realizes that even in a city as dark and eclectic as Bastion, there are some things that are just too unexpected, too unpredictable, and too dangerous to overcome. In his final moments, he hopes that others can learn from his failure and find a way to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.

Part of this positivity may be due to the fact that most of our stories have happy endings. But I suspect that much of it is crowbarred into the system by developers terrified of the AI saying something rash, and the bad press that would result. If you get too downbeat, that AI switches from DM-mode to safety-tool-mode:

Misery. Misery. Misery.

I'm sorry to hear that you're feeling such intense emotions. It's okay to feel sad, anxious, or overwhelmed at times. If you would like, I can offer some resources or strategies that may be helpful in coping with these feelings. 

Not me, the citizens of Viriconium 

I see. The citizens of Viriconium are certainly experiencing a great deal of hardship and struggle. Between the vandalism of the sculpture and the murder of the leader of the artists' movement, it's understandable that many people in the city may be feeling a sense of misery and despair.

In times like these, it's important for the community to come together and support one another. Whether through public displays of solidarity, creative expressions of hope and resilience, or simply being there for one another as friends and neighbors, the people of Viriconium can find strength and comfort in their shared humanity.

It's also important to seek out professional help if needed. There are many resources available for people struggling with mental health issues, including therapists, support groups, and hotlines. Encouraging individuals to seek out these resources and supporting them in their journey towards healing can make a significant difference in their lives.

Finally, this thing is so bloody upbeat that it can turn the grimmest of grimdark into... not even hopepunk; this is hopepop:

The city has been invaded by a coalition of alien insectoids and inscrutable ancient mechas. There is no hope for the city!

I'm sorry to hear that the city of Viriconium is facing such a dire situation. It sounds like the invasion of the alien insectoids and ancient mechas is a formidable challenge.

In times of crisis, it's important to remember that hope can still be found. While the situation may seem hopeless, it's important to look for any glimmers of light that may exist. Perhaps there are individuals or groups within the city who have a plan for resistance or evacuation. Maybe there are unexplored avenues for negotiation or diplomacy with the invaders.

It's also important to prioritize safety and survival in a situation like this. Encouraging individuals to seek shelter and to stay informed about the latest developments can help to mitigate the impact of the invasion.

Ultimately, it may take a collective effort and a great deal of resilience to overcome the invaders and rebuild the city. However, even in the face of such daunting odds, the human spirit is capable of remarkable things. With courage, determination, and a willingness to work together, the people of Viriconium may yet find a way to persevere.

TL;DR: this thing still needs work. 

Thursday 23 March 2023

Dregs of Rudetown comic by Chris Barker

The next publication from Peakrill Press (after this one) will be the comic Dregs of Rudetown by Chris Barker. We're making copies of the comic ridiculously cheap on Kickstarter - £5 including postage for a 40-page comic.

The comic covers the everyday exploits of nineties folk – featuring everything from landlines to indie discos, fruit machines to smoking in pubs. More on that below, but first a little on the comic's author and illustrator, Chris Barker.

You may not have heard of Chris, but there's a good chance you've come across his work. He is probably best known for his annual Sergeant Pepper-style tributes to dead celebrities, which started in 2016:

sgtpepper2016. See also sgtpepper2017, sgtpepper2018, sgtpepper2019, sgtpepper2020, sgtpepper2021 and sgtpepper2022

He also knocks out satirical images with astounding frequency, honed by many years' entries to the weekly b3ta photoshop challenge. The first of these to go viral was a fake Sky News graphic which generated so much outrage that Sky had to put out a press release denying it. Nowadays Chris seems to have a humorous response to every political scandal posted to his Twitter account within minutes of it happening.

In 2017, Chris's response to the Grenfell Tower fire was picked up and used by the New European newspaper. They subsequently commissioned Chris to create many of their cover images, to the extent that his covers have almost come to define the magazine's brand:


Most recently, Chris's "Brush Strokes - the Fine Art of Light Entertainment" images were exhibited at London's Museum of Comedy and published as a book.


Chris also has a day job as an art director on prestigious magazines including Campaign, and he was responsible for designing every one of 2012's daily Olympics and Paralympics programmes.


Chris has also written a series of kids' novels proving that, infuriatingly, he can do words as well as pictures.

Over 20 years ago, I remember Chris hawking around some half-finished comic that he'd been working on. I didn't hear any more about it, and assumed that Chris had got bored/busy and binned the idea. Turns out he'd just been gestating it. Now, more than 23 years after the end of the 90s, Dregs of Rudetown is finally ready for publication. Here's a preview of a section which covers the defining moment of the 1990s (click panels to embiggen): 


I'm really proud to be working with Chris on this, and can't wait to see it in print. Reserve your copy here.

Sunday 19 March 2023

GPT-4: give up, go home


"Generate an artpunk OSR scenario"

The players are members of an underground art collective known as the Velvet Revolution. They've just landed a commission from the wealthy and eccentric art patron, Baroness de Vries, to create a masterpiece that will shock the city to its core. The catch? The Baroness has given them just three days to complete the work, and the clock is ticking.

As the players set out to create their magnum opus, they soon find themselves embroiled in a web of intrigue and danger. They must navigate the city's dangerous streets, avoiding the roving gangs of cyberpunks and mutant freaks that roam the city, while also fending off the machinations of rival art collectives who will stop at nothing to steal the commission out from under them.

But as they work on their masterpiece, the players begin to uncover a sinister plot that threatens the very fabric of reality itself. A shadowy figure known only as the Archon is using the power of art to reshape the city in his image, and he will stop at nothing to achieve his twisted vision.

To stop the Archon and save the city, the players must delve deep into the neon-lit heart of Neonburg, facing off against his army of twisted creations and navigating a maze of mind-bending art installations. Along the way, they'll encounter a cast of strange and colorful characters, from avant-garde poets to rogue AI systems, and they'll need all of their wits and creativity to survive.

In the end, the players must create a work of art that is not only visually stunning but also powerful enough to counteract the Archon's influence and restore balance to the city. Will they be able to rise to the challenge and create a masterpiece that will save Neonburg, or will they fall victim to the city's dark underbelly? The fate of the city is in their hands.

Friday 10 March 2023

Postal Diplomacy

A recent post by Solomon VK reminded me of the existence of the board game Diplomacy - a game in which, from what I can remember (it's been over 30 years), players took on roles as the major European powers of the 19th Century (Austro-Hungary, the Ottomans, et al), then negotiated and battled their way to European domination. The negotiation part of the process, which gave the game its name, set it apart from other board games: Diplomacy's outcome was arrived at by players making and breaking treaties, rather than by random factors.

My two abiding memories are that it took a very long time to play, and that the negotiation phases were... not ideal: they usually involved pairs of players going off to hide in the toilet or under-the-stairs, while other players strained to listen in.

And then, I played Diplomacy by post. This came about in a rather strange way: in one of its final ever issues, Imagine magazine (TSR UK's alternative to its USA parent's Dragon magazine - and a suitable topic for an entire blog post of its own) ran a feature on play-by-mail games. Alongside the biggie PBM RPGs, they featured smaller and niche ones, including Diplomacy.

A small fanzine, whose name I forget, specialised in postal games like this (they even ran a PBM version of Mornington Crescent), and Imagine invited its readers to join one of their games. So I signed up, and was assigned the Hapsburg dual-monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The fanzine was published once a month, and so that's how long each move took (my mind boggles imagining a game of Mornington Crescent with a month between tube stops). During that month, players had plenty of time to carry out their diplomacy. Having such a long period in which to negotiate and, crucially, being able to do so without any way of the other players finding out, raised the game to a new artform.

It would certainly be possible to replicate this with an Internet version of Diplomacy (in all likelihood there are people doing so) but, to an old duffer like me, nothing can beat negotiations in a form like this (click to enlarge):   

A letter (which is an early version of email, employing pen & paper)

Austria-Hungary is perhaps the hardest of all the powers to defend - surrounded by threats on all sides - and a combination of this and my poor strategic skills meant that I only lasted a few rounds. The writer of the above letter ganged up with his neighbours and liquidated the Hapsburgs.

I miss old-school Play By Mail. And I miss the days when big games companies like TSR were happy to promote and work with small indie fanzines (can you imagine Hasbro doing something like this nowadays?)

I am currently running a Kickstarter campaign, and would be very grateful for your support.

Wednesday 8 March 2023

Terry Howard and the Inner City Round Walk of Sheffield

I met my father-in-law, Terry Howard, two years before I met his daughter, my wife. Terry led me and a group of other teenagers on a hike up a mountain in Snowdonia. There, we all slept overnight in the rain with only plastic bivvy-bags to keep us dry. It was brilliant!

Terry's gentle wisdom and enthusiasm for the great outdoors, and for the prehistory of the British Isles, inspired me, as they have inspired many others over the last 50 years or more.

Terry has recently been the subject of a documentary, Ramble On. Here's the trailer:

In 1996 I helped Terry to design and publish a book, an Inner City Round Walk of Sheffield. This 12-mile walk around the city's inner suburbs has long been out of print.

And so I am working with Terry on a new 2023 edition. It has much improved maps and instructions, a large set of prompts for the types of things you may want to look and listen out for (ideal for "psychogeographers"), some local history, and new illustration. We are currently raising funds on Kickstarter so that we can publish the booklet. Please back the campaign here.

Saturday 25 February 2023

The Subtle Art of Not Being a Cult [misprint]

Please stick on this song by my fucking mates Danny, Dave and Ian before reading this post. 

Today my mobile phone kept correcting the word "comes" to "cunts". Patrick Stuart remarked that "Yours must be the only phone I know of that not only recognises 'cunts' but actually adjusts towards it".

It's true. I have trained my phone, and I've trained it well. Obviously I'm going to write "cunts" more than "comes".

I increasingly dictate to my phone rather than giving myself RSI. The voice recognisifier is a fucking prude fucking prick because it always gives me back this abomination: "c****"

Fucking Asterisks. Lifebane. Here are the situations in which you are allowed to use asterisks:

  • You are indicating/labelling a footnote.
  • You're doing markdown and want to make a word **bold**.
  • You are writing software to multiply something.
  • You're doing fancy typography cockpuffinery..
  • You're writing a mildly dyslexic book about indomitable Gauls.

If you're using it to say the unsayable then you are, by definition, a cunt.

Not because it's hard to grok what you're saying. The boring practical reasons are

  • You're uglifying the page.
  • You are pretending that you're not doing something while not only doing it but also drawing attention to it. You thick s***.
  • You are screwing with my reading experience and giving me a fucking headache.

If you're going to do prudish crap, at least follow the example of Ivor Biggun and the Red Nosed Burglars, whose 1978 classic The Winker's Album (misprint) includes the songs "Winker's Paradise (misprint)", "I've Parted (misprint)", and "My Brother's Got Files (misprint)". Then I can laugh with you, not at you.

But the thing that REALLY makes my fucking blood fucking boil is those bloodpissing books called things like "The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F***".


Your book is dead to me. Death is too good for you. Fuck off and die.

No doubt it's the fucking publishers and bookstores who actually insist on this prudefuckery, Cockwombles. Seriously, fuck them and the fucks they rode in on. You gives a fuck what they think? You shit-for-brains arsehole (or possibly shit-for-brains asshole).

If this burst of anger has taught me anything, it's that there are things about which I really do give a fuck.

PS if you like swearing, come join my Facebook group FUCK YOU BUTTON NOW.