Saturday, February 13, 2021

Artpunk Dungeon Poem: Skychasm

Summary: This is my submission for Patrick Stuart's Artpunk Dungeon Poem Challenge. "The general concept is; Artpunk plus functional. So original ideas preferred, as pretentious as you like, but minimal text, shaved right down, and functional as a dungeon for players without any extra context. But as much as possible, honed for beauty, interest and strangeness."

This is not couched in any published setting, nor in the real world. It has an interwar tech level.


Skychasm is a temple inside the sacred peak of a mountain. Its postglacial crags ring with thunder all day and night.

For more context, see Appendix A: Skychasm Way


Barbarous men guard the way with poleguns of the Affidavit tribe; fully automatic pistols loading 5’ magazines set with spirals, serpents, siege towers, shrike trees. The guns are clad in gold, bronze, jade, jet. Each man has a pair of spare magazines hanging about his neck by a gold chain. The magazines can be used as war clubs or nunchaku. Mustard gas grenades hang primed from shoulder straps, ears or nipples. The warriors are tattooed head to foot with eschatological, sacerdotal, anthropocosmic and ouroboric mythico-ritual symbology.

If it becomes clear that Skychasm is under attack, the Chasmites will smash small glass vials of a powerful mountain spirit into their skins. Normally this spirit is imbibed, but they wish to see the Godplane as fast as possible. This batch has been measure-made to do a particular thing: to bring them into the ancestral memory of their father god’s puberty rites. As such, each warrior will enter a mad battle-rage and a spiritual overlay will descend upon his perceptions, turning the cavern into Ysgardian battle-glade, friend into brother-god and foe into demonic serpent-spider.

The Chasmites don’t normally engage in cannibalism, but if they have all blooded their vial-spirits then defeated partymembers will be eaten and their heads offered to the Urn-Horse, the Preyfather, who watches over Skychasm from a nearby peak.
The party can witness heads being taken to the Preyfather during their approach, his manifold form lit by lightning on a nearby peak, upright and expectant. He has a mane of horns running down his horselike neck from a dark, shrouded head, where electric violet eyes stab out from infallible darkness. He has dozens of limbs in alternating sets of hooves and claws.

This hall has a sumptuous rug of human hair. The soft golden locks run pleasantly across your feet. Women and children wearing beards carry great glossy oystershells heaped with luminous, igneous sugar-whipped fat from a storeroom to the left down a hallway to the right. They rejoice as they walk, singing and laughing but they freeze like surprised cats when they see you, glopping fat onto the cobblestones.


There is a great stone snake passing between the walls here. It is stained with blood from many sides of mutton, goat, ibex and elk which are draped from it. In the center of the snake is a statue of a malicious infant reaching up and to the snake, which is giving it suck. The infant is standing on a rostrum of the type reserved for bandit tribe chieftains.

There is a rendering pit in which several Chasmites are merrily whipping fat using great beaters. They are completely nude except for twine belts holstering knives or pistols. A woman is standing next to the pit evenly pouring a sack of mixed sugar, incense and rosemary into it.


A nook here contains a contiguous statue of a beautiful, voluptuous woman and some kind of scrivener on both his knees before her. She is laughing haughtily and sharpening a lancet, her body turned half away from him. He is bent over with his nose almost touching the stone, gritting his teeth and, on close inspection, he is teary-eyed. He is clutching a number of scrolls and a protractor to his chest. She has not yet touched him with the lancet.
This is a Chasmite goddess.


When the Chasmites fell away from their tribes, a tunnel was bored here for quicker access to the depths of the temple.

Anyone versed in geology or archaeology can determine from the rock layers and lithic artifacts that this area has been immovably preserved with a surface access point for millions of years; it is totally incongruent with the underlying bedrock.


There is a greasy, spicy smoke across the ceiling here with a twinned scent of rosemary and rotting flesh.
You see a slight skeleton limned by firelight against a dais and around her rises a body-halo of gleaming ram horns. She seems to be some kind of death goddess until you see that she herself was murdered by the cranial introduction of a chisel.
Broken daggers and firearms are scattered about her feet. They are not of a type utilized by the Chasmites, except one, which is very old.
Her father is on one knee before her, head bent, chanting a slow and barely-articulate song.
There is a burning bronze brazier before her into which heaps of vivifying sugar fat have been dumped. The offerings sizzle in various states of glisten, crisp or carbonization.
Behind her is a colonnade. Between each is chained a near-skeletonized corpse, dappled with red ochre and draped in reams of multicolored tissue; blue, red, white, yellow, orange hanging vibrantly between the bones. 

This is a place of erotic sacrifice. Hierodules lounge in sable and mercury kohl among the skeletons and the sacrificial light. One is bringing the man a cup of water.
The hierodules have long, stiff pins secreted about their bodies for the ceremony of the first murder. They are prepared to die.


There is a trap here. Anyone stepping on the recessed section of floor triggers a clump of blasting caps which explode and pepper everyone from here to the river with plague-ridden lice.


A river runs through the mountaintop, securing it against any siege.
The river carries with it a strange mist.
The rivermist is the dreaming exhilate of the volksgeist of volcanists. His frame was denuded by a clade of cornered myconids who made his caldera their Masada a ways upriver, and now their unkillable spores are borne aloft on his breath and come to Skychasm by way of water.

The spores are in the mist and there is myconid magic, a paternal nonverbal intelligence distributed in the sporeswarm when it takes root in your body. The spores are on your side; once a colony is in your blood, you’re in this together, baby. You may order them to drift about and overheat your enemies, necrotize them, make fur outside yourself or fur within them, a tufty coat of unexplained winterwear or hacking coughs of dripping dandelion dandruff. All who breathe the rivermist gain these powers. The Conchguard of D1 and E1 will use them against you, but your own colony will resist. People have discrete spore colonies despite their common origin; when people fight, their colonies fight, spore strands grappling thick in the air but ephemeral, a shadow war of dusty billowing spotlight strands of gestural respiration. The garden of our bodies aasimar ophidic. 

By the bridge there is a Grimlock Princess.
The Grimlock King does not want war with the surface. His officers do. They believe they will be invading hell. Only the King knows the truth. Only the alliance of a sacred marriage can save both grimlocks and men. The Grimlock King must make a legal peace with the surface before his captains are able to push him to war. His daughter must wed a surfacer.

The princess arrives at the surface world expecting, nay, demanding a husband, as is her deathright as an unwed grimlock noblewoman. This is why she was sent. She believes she was killed by her Priest-King father in a binding-of-Isaac type situation, because her previous betrothal would doom the earth. Actually she was put to sleep. She washed up along the river. This is the afterlife.

She wants a nobleman. She is not interested in knaves and serving men, but she knows nothing about the surface political structure.
If one of the party will not serve this role (for the grimlocks, if not for reality), the Princess will find someone who will. This will be a barbarian chieftain who will invade the civilized world alongside the grimlocks, or it will be the dictator of a nearby city-state who will enslave the grimlocks by subterfuge and use them to build an industrial base of unparalleled capacity before waging war on the whole free world.

A marriage conducted by a priest of any faith will create a legal alliance which all grimlocks are bound to respect. However, it is a 107 hour ceremony, and so it cannot be finalized as soon as there’s a betrothal.
The Princess will accept a proposition from a suitably aristocratic suitor. As royalty she is resigned to marrying beneath her, and grimlocks do not marry for love. She will accept a proposition from a female if told that is the tradition in these lands, but this will make her very glum.

She has eyes. This is the result of an ancestral spell woven by her father, but will last only a day longer. Her eyes are like portals to a plane of mysterious, swirling energy.

Years ago her father betrothed her to a stygobarque captain under his command. He should not have done this. The Shipmaster now steams for Skychasm to recover his bride, accompanied by fell companions.
See Appendix B: The Grimlocks for descriptions of the Shipmaster and his four retainers.

The stygobarque Troglobite is a 20’ black submarine. Instead of masts, it has three articulated pincers which can be raised from its hull and utilized to push itself off outcroppings and through squeezes. The Captain projects his echolocation through a sounding dish on the vessel’s fore. It will arrive at Skychasm from the east at some point, perhaps after the party has passed the river. It is up to the GM whether the stygobarque has any weapons, or if it is simply a means of traversal.

It’s up to the GM whether the Princess is being confronted by Chasmites or the Grimlock hunting party when the party encounters her, or if she presents herself to the party without witnesses. Some ideas:
-She is in the middle of the bridge with the grimlocks on one side and the Conchguard on the other.
-She is sitting by the riverside at C1 with her feet in the water, or is still unconscious and has washed up on shore.
-She is sitting at C3 with her legs dangling over the edge, resting her elbow on a great crab, her chin in her palm.
-She is crouched in C2, mentally preparing to go forth into the underworld.
-She kneels in B2, tracing a finger over the seam in the ground, listening to the lice buzz below.

About grimlocks:
They are eyeless, carnivorous scavengers who practice lunarculture, the cultivation of moonlight underground and its worship. Their sacred places of pilgrimage are far-flung mondmilch cisterns. They feel moonlight, they do not see it.
They are blue-skinned and mighty.
They regard the mountains as ruins; ancient fortresses that have slipped halfway into the nether, and now souls must pass through them on their way to the underworld. They are loci of necromancy. A soul may be recovered here.
The grimlocks growl all the time. This is their echolocation.

If captured by the grimlocks, the players will be disarmed, set loose in the underdark and hunted down by a grimlock noble.

Humans would become grimlocks if they had time.


The cavern walls are reams of rainbow schorl gleaming with prismatism, hard layers of color caught by the ages and wrapped about each other in intricate confines, straitjackets of maddening color.
Shellfish wash up here to be collected by the Chasmites, though none of the tribesmen are currently present. There are several great oysters sitting about filled with meat and pearls.


A large crab perches here, about the size of a golden retriever. When it spots the party it will drop down and follow them.

It is sapient and carries a salvaged submachine gun which it can extract from its shell in one turn. It knows what you think and is willing to play the fool, trotting around with its pincers raised like a ballerina until you let your guard down or turn to leave. Then it snips off your gun hand. It secrets a grenade for contingencies but will only activate it if it is trapped or mortally wounded. 

It is a cancer impietas. A treason crab.


The Roper’s Throat is a fastness defended by the Conchguard, Chasmite elites who wear armor made from hundreds of painted seashells. They carry sawed-off bolt-action antitank rifles, magnum revolvers and dirks.

The drawbridge is lit by great braziers inside the Roper’s throat. It can be raised but the Roper’s Throat cannot be fully cut off from the river. The party could climb.

The great braziers have copper platters of sand hanging just above the flames. When defending D1 the Conchguard fire their antitank rifles over the braziers, sending superheated sand billowing all throughout whatever they’re firing at. Both the bullet and the sand ignore armor.

One of the Conchguard mounts into the rafters and will swing his upper body down from the darkness and fire into your chest and face if there is foreknowledge of your approach.


This is an impromptu greenhouse. It is overflowing with strange plants imported from across the world.

There are three great lamps with power cords slinking through the wall to the southwest.

Unlike much of Skychasm, this place does not have general lighting by torch. The only light comes from the hot greenhouse lamps. As such, there is a powerful distinction between light and dark in this potted jungle.

There is a sacred bond between man and plant in this place.
Plant may fight plant when man fights man.
Some plants lean to the civilized, some to the savage. Some plants are captive here, but some have been fed like priest-kings of the blood goddess.

The grapevine fights for civilized men. The kudzu fights for savage.
Blackberry is mercenary and may entangle your foe should you pour blood all over it.
The jasmine will not fight, but will shed tears over the slain.

This place was set up to house Skychasm’s chief anchorite.
He lives in this greenhouse garden. It soothes him, and he rots it.

He has spent many days breathing the rivermist. It bathes him now, running off the river between the northeast crenellations. His spore colony has grown overwhelmingly strong.
It has changed him. He is a treelike woody frame with a tall extended head and a great pink mouth nestled in the crags of darkness. There are white prints upon him in chalky, totemic vortices, and death follows his eye.
His colony will overwhelm yours.
He suffers in his visions.


This is where the telluric current is strongest.

It is a place patterned by mystic suntiles, a hundred little disks burning and glowing interlaced with midnight blue. Some are upon the stones, some float freely in the air. Some are dimming, some brighten at random. All of them murmur with celestial light.

They say a god broke up in the sky and burned into the earth, and its body formed the suntiles.

The suntiles are an entrapment of metacosmic radiation, an energy address for extrauniversal projections. Those who walk among the suntiles may commune directly with the extradimensional entities who project themselves into this world as gods and demons and compete to harvest the dying for their realities.

You may walk among the suntiles but damaging them even a little will upset their arrangement and cause the metacosmic energy to begin rewriting realspace at random, shifting discrete pockets of matter in their elemental composition or matter state. This can happen to you if you are too close.
The defenders do not realize that the suntiles can be damaged as there has never been a fight here before.

Once a suntile is damaged, daemons can access the breach. Every five minutes a new one will arrive.

The first daemon is a curious youngling. It takes the form of a swirling vortex of square, see-through shards, a mere shifting of perspective giving away their local space. The youngling will explore harmlessly and if spoken to it might halt for several minutes before making some kind of garbled response.

The second daemon is a precosmogonic spy. This entity from a rival past seeks the secrets of your modern era and will rapidly assimilate forms that it encounters; this means that it can generate bodies, weapons, lanterns, architectural elements etc in its contiguous form, although elements segmented from its central mass are rendered inert. The first form it takes is a suntile. It seeks to assimilate as many useful forms as possible before its projection is halted; it will attempt to annihilate witnesses such as the players if they do not immediately run away from it, and should it bypass them it will roam about Skychasm growing like a blood katamari.

The third daemon is an interstitial marauder: this entity seeks out receiver breaches just like this one (or creates them via cosmic ray bombardment) so that it can pass through and gleefully wreak as much havoc on the other side as possible. It will superheat materials (stone to lava), create wandering gravitational vortices, randomly rearrange local molecules (flesh becomes a hard and useless slurry, stone becomes a kind of novel sandstone), project highly radioactive rays, and radically reset or accelerate local entropy rates. It takes the form of an arrangement of white light projections from a center point, the projections waxing and waning methodically as the interstitial marauder floats across the air.

After twenty minutes, a purifier linked to this receiver will hard reset the local area; it does this by momentarily converting all local matter to a plasmatic state. A warning chime recognizable to those proximate will sound and rapidly increase in tempo until the reset. 
When this happens, E1, E2, and E3 are momentarily turned into plasma before being released by the receiver.
The affected area will be nothing more than a drooping spiderweb affair of molten glass, totally unrecognizable for what it once was. The daemons have their access point cut and disappear.
For an instant it becomes hot enough to broil skin and set hair on fire in D1 and D2.

This room is defended by several Conchguards and a pair of Leylords.
The Leylords are tattooed like common Chasmites but are also painted in purple and teal patterns meant to elicit the upright energy of heaven so that the mud-made flesh of man might be inlaid with the telluric metal of the nighttime sky. This is working, and the Leylords possess magical, inertialess flight but must move through the air in a roughly spiral pattern.
Each Leylord is armed as pleases him. They are shirtless and shoeless but wear solid-color trousers.

Palor Phascolo, a rebel diplomat from Diadem, is taking refuge among the Chasmites. He kneels on stone amidst the suntiles, attempting to commune with the Sun Lion.
He wears a many-colored cloak. Spiraling waves of black and white pass through it whenever he touches anything. In a swordfight his body is an echo chamber, in a gunfight a staccato rippling pond.
He carries a four-barreled .500 howdah pistol with locks fanned outwards, a derringer in each boot and a rapier shaped like a hand pointing a wand that is projecting a death ray.
A pair of suspendium earrings hang from his upper pinna. Gravity is reversed for these precious stones and they will roll up a stalactite like stones roll down a cliff.
He has a short, pointed mustache.


The white-robed rector is a shepherd of fire and held in awe by his fellows, who shun him. He has a great, golden jaw and cannot speak. There are several 6’ fires burning fuelless upon the stone, and he may direct them as he pleases.
He wears a large pendant with a pair of golden axes across his chest. This curio, deserted by the gods, will allow the wearer to have his soul annihilated upon death instead of transcending this reality.

There is a shrine to a cinnabar man with ships for shoes, clouds for beard and warriors for fingers. Upon his altar are a pile of half-crushed skulls. Draped all over them are jeweled necklaces, gold leaf ribbon, torcs, and earrings in eye sockets. This trove weighs ~20lbs sans skulls.


The honeycomb walls are filled with ash upon which skulls sit. Many have crests, calligraphy, scrimshaw or acid-etch upon the foreheads; symbols, names, beloved places.
There is a grave here. Soil in the stones.
He was a detective from the far north. An ally. He led the Chasmites to bad food, so they killed him, buried him, and fruit grew from his gravedirt.
There are divination pots around the grave, where great spiders are drowned in muddy water and soaking cedar woodblocks are read with their runoff.
There is a young tree in the grave soil that is like an apple tree but is not an apple tree. When eaten, the lavender aortal fruits wash the wearer’s garments into a sagacious black and white and bipartition his vision into temporal and spatiotemporal layers wherein he witnesses every place’s most paradigmatic events in imago diaphanum in perpetuity. The lunar eyes are a blessing and a curse and require great patience, discrimination, and focus for the bearer to function in a semi-normal way.
The rector in E2 has eaten of the tree, but there’s no immediate way of knowing this.


Reindeer rocksleds scrape along pathways or lurch along lightning rails on the byways to Skychasm.

Many wallhomes precede the high temple hall for a climber. In front of Skychasm’s vaulted arches there is a cloister where the Leylords confront the dawn with the unshielding of the sky’s black iron.
You will pass a lake which is totally fixed in ice. Skychasm’s terrace. Beneath the ice there a vast quantity of meat.

The Chasmites are estranged from their people. Once this was a holy place to all bandit tribes. Now it’s only holy to the Chasmites.
You need not take godstool or worldroot to speak to the divines here. It is a cosmological escape route.

If you are from a civilized culture, you may have seen Skychasm placemarked “Omphalion” on whatever antediluvian map you used to get here.

You don't need to be raiders who are hostile to the Chasmites to encounter this place, but you can be.
If you like, see this post and this post for ideas about who you might be.


The xenostygian grimlocks wear ridged jet black plate armor with eyeless helms. Their armor is highly ornate but is built to convey impressions to a grimlock’s echolocation, and so the armor is totally without shading other than black and must be viewed in decent light to get a sense of what its ornaments even are, tending to be oriented towards where the foe is expected to be. Armor elements have pronounced and exaggerated shapes to convey their impressions.
The wearing of plate armor is the ultimate act of warrior ostentation in the cloistered underkingdoms.

Captain of the Troglobite, on the hunt for the Princess.
His helmet is the shape of an eyeless deep rothé bull’s head with mandibles instead of a lower jaw. His helm, neck and back mount actual shaggy rothé’s mane.
He wears admirable ornaments and waves of intricate black chain hang off him here and there; subtle tapestries of studded links panegyrizing his life and times.
He carries a dueling pistol (match-grade depleted-troglodite rounds), a saber and a misericorde.
He has fasted for three hundred days in the bow of the Troglobite and this expenditure will cost him his life should he not eat during his mission. His fasting has brought him to a state of unmatchable hunt-readiness.
The attitude of the grimlock captain: “I have sailed to the sea-goddess’s realm and forced her sounding fortress. I will take my bride before she goes forever beyond the gates of good and evil if I must hold back the waters in the hollow of the mountain.” Conceptually, the grimlock captain regards himself as having sailed to the bottom of the earth where a misty river meets the underworld to rescue his bride to be, and must fight demons/troglodytes to recover her. She believes she is dead, and has been killed by her father; to the Shipmaster, this is certainly cause for deposing the King.

Books and scrolls are locked behind cast-iron cabinets in his armor, little chains on little doors. Someday he will be able to read, because the King has this secret.
His helmet is in the shape of an eyeless beholder.
He is distinguished by the parapoetic invective he intones as the battle progresses, building into a sonorous elegy until volunteer waterspouts begin to blast from the stone walls, golden-voiced explosions collapse ceiling sections, and grimlock valkyries push through the fiery wall that undergirds all things.
He carries a Renderer, which is a backpack-fed pump-emitter of colorless universal solvent.

His armor is riddled with cast-iron arrows, built-in, which are draped with jet black climbing gear of every description. His eyeless helm extends a tongue-phallus of desire. He has bat wings that unfold with the screech of metal.
He is distinguished by the complex traps he can quickly set up using environmental elements.
He is known for having founded athletic games among his people.
He carries a trench gun, bejeweled bayonet and a twenty-four chamber pepperbox pistol.

Eater of Webs
His armor is shaped like a nude grimlock crone, though he retains the armored codpiece. His helmet’s face is gaping hungrily with many rows of teeth, a dental feature not shared by actual grimlocks. He is known for engaging in massacres, for murdering his own father despite having nothing to inherit, for raping driders, and for devouring lost baby grimlocks from other tribes.
He is distinguished by being physically the most mighty of his cohort, and he is unbeatable in close combat.
He carries a solid iron two-handed club, a little .38 revolver jammed somewhere in his armor, a flask of napalm with a flint, and a garrote he uses instead of a misericorde to finish maimed foes after he’s slaked himself in them.

His armor is made from some other metal and is suffused with a plutonic glow; when he moves, purple shadows sometimes swim across it. He has a raised backstop behind his helmet to echo incoming grimlock growls.
His helmet is like the head of an eyeless hellhound. A flute is built into the muzzle, and as he turns, lifts and rotates his head, a second, internal flute slides forward, back and around inside the external one. As the holes briefly align, notes are played by his breath.
He is distinguished by being a narcscryer. By pouring a little Terran Brandy down his muzzle he can battle the Chasmite brew-berserkers in the Godplane.
He carries a pair of .45 pistols, a stiletto-heeled one-handed warhammer, and several spider grenades.


Unpainted Conchguard armor.

Some dazzle patterns for Patrick:


  1. Really great read and an interesting blog. In terms of being evocative, you utterly nailed this.

    1. Thanks brother! I thought yours was the most interesting of the other submissions to the artpunk challenge, something about the way it's arranged and written makes reading it very much like the experience of a dream. For anyone interested:

    2. That is incredibly kind of you. If I'm honest, I felt a little down about it, so you saying this means an awful lot to me.

      Great to discover your blog, loving it so far.

    3. Credit where credit is due. Thanks Nick, I’m glad you are enjoying what I’ve written

  2. I found you through reading the comments section on the False Machine blog and had to see what you came up with here. I'm very glad I stopped by. I will do so again.

  3. Amazing stuff! Patrick Stuart on salvia!

    1. Hahaha. Thank you. Patrick is probably my favorite living prose artist next to old man McCarthy. Sometime I would like to make a post with nothing but advice from his blog and writing which I've saved. He is definitely a primary influence on me


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