Monday 13 November 2017

Monster Man Comp: The Hex Beetle for AD&D

James Holloway over at the Gonzo History: Gaming Edition blog is having a monster design competition. The hook is, like Gary Gygax of old, you have to base the monster on a cheap toy. Sounds fun, so here's my quick and dirty entry, the Hex Beetle for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons:

Hex Beetle

Beetle, Hex

Frequency: Very Rare
No Appearing: 1-6
Armour Class: 1
Move: 12"
Hit Dice: 4
% in Lair: Nil
Treasure Type: See below
No. Of Attacks: 2
Damage/Attack: 1-12, plus 1-8 (zap)
Special Attacks: Nil
Special Defences: Phase (see below)
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence; Low
Alignment: Neutral
Size: M(8')

The Hex Beetle is a 12-legged armour encased, insectoid crystaline life form that spends most of its time asleep on the ethereal plane. When the Hex Beetles dull senses detect a magic item in the vicinity o its equivalent position in the prime material plane, it awakens, enters the physical plane and attempts to sniff out and consume the magical device, however it has little sense of direction, and will scurry around bumping into things senselessly until it finds its quarry. The Hex Beetle must remain on the prime material plane in order to consume a magical item, which may take 1-6 turns.

If attacked whilst physical, the Hex Beetle will attempt to phase to an ethereal state (75% chance), which will stop its feeding. When out of phase they are impervious to nearly all forms of attack, although a phase door spell will cause one to remain in phase for 12 melee rounds. They are not particularly intelligent and will phase back to the material plane and attempt to locate the item and continue feeding in 1-2 turns, even if the threat has not passed.

If successfully defeated, the crystal innards will shatter leaving 1-12 randomly determined gems (DMG P.25), plus one gem of the same type which is the ‘brain’ of the creature. This possesses the properties of a Gem of Seeing (DMG P.145) and will detect as magical. The metal casing appears mundane, but will also detect as magical, each Hex Beetle corpse supplies approximately 1/3rd the amount of metal required to create a suit of Plate Mail of Etherealness (DMG P.164). There is a 50% chance of these items being cursed.

The Hex Beetle is somewhat biddable, and if promised magical items to consume may carry out simple tasks, but will not attack others unless it carries a magical item for the Hex Beetle to feed on.

James has contracted an impressive list of sponsors and prizes, for the competition, including many familiar names, such as Chaotic Henchmen Productions , Oakbound Studios,  Otherworld Miniatures and Grant Howitt . The full rules of the competition are here - it doesn't have to be AD&D,  I considered writing up the Hex Bug: Nano for Cyberpunk 2013 (Scavenger Bot), Empire of the Petal Thrones (The Interminable Devourer of Eyes!), and Warhammer 40k: Rogue Trader (Insectoid Warp Beast) before settling on AD&D, and Hexbugs aren't really cheap either, so I might have disqualified myself there...

Well worth entering, not just for the chance to win cool prizes, but the fun of transforming a toy into a gaming thing. The competition deadline is Sunday, 26 November so still plenty of time to dive into the toy box and write up something!

Monday 6 November 2017

Gothic Futurism

RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ or, Rammellzee is a hip hop legend legend. Born 1960, passed 2010. Graffiti writer, rapper, sculptor, art theorist,  junk-bot modeller and the originator of the philosophy and practice of the Ikonoklast Panzerism within a broader philosophy he developed in the late 1970s called Gothic Futurism.

Rammellzee | Ikonoklast
The essence of  Rammellzee's manifesto is that language is an act of violence, and by deconstructing its symbols and refactoring them into wildstyle science-fiction graffiti space-ship designs and junkbot racecars, they can be liberated from the tyranny of language. Once liberated, they can then be weaponised against further manipulation through the style he defines as Ikonoklast Panzerism.  Thus simultaneously dismantling and elucidating the physical language as embodying a culture and history of violence. It is a similar linguistic battleground occupied by William S. Burroughs and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, but informed by the history of typography.  You can read Ionic Treatsie Gothic Futurism from  Rammellzee's archived website at

Blackletter calligraphy
Blackletter typeface
COPE2 | Wildstyle

Typeface Categories | via

Rammellzee makes reference to the letterforms of monastical calligraphy as the secret origin of Wildstyle graphiti writing, and proclaims the return to the hand-made, ornamental letter pushing at the boundaries of legibility as a reclaiming of the linguistic shapes against the mechanical tyranny of Gutenburgs press and its digital descendants. If we look at the typeface categories above (notably missing the egyptian / slab-serif) it's clear that Blackletter is a substantially different shape.   Rammellzee sees the additional strokes, the sharp curves, hooks and pointed finials as a form of weaponisation, not only visually spiky but rendering them illegible. Taking this a step further, Ikonoklast Panzerizm transforms letters into designs for speed-racer warships, the ultimate weaponized graphemes of the ideological rap-battles and oppression of the masses by the tyranny of language is at once a simultaneous return to the sacred practices of the monastic orders,  as well as a leaping forward into an anarchic vision of the future.

Ikonoklast Panzerism | Gothic Futurism

“ the 14th Century the monks ornamented and illustrated the manuscripts of letters. In the 21st and 22nd century the letters of the alphabet through competition are now armamented for letter racing and galactic battles. This was made possible by a secret equation known as THE RAMM:ELL:ZEE."

Starbased Extendor (Militarily the Unreadable)

The New York graffiti artist and B-boy theoretician Rammellzee constitutes yet another incarnation of Afrofuturism. Greg Tate holds that Rammellzee’s “formulations on the juncture between black and Western sign systems make the extrapolations of [Houston] Baker and [Henry Louis] Gates seem elementary by comparison.” As evidence, he submits the artist’s “Ikonoklast Panzerism,” a heavily armored descendant of late ’70s “wild style” graffiti (those bulbous letters that look as if they were twisted out of balloons). A 1979 drawing depicts a Panzerized letter “S”: it is a jumble of sharp angles that suggests the Nude Descending a Staircase bestriding a Jet Ski. 

“The Romans stole the alphabeta system from the Greeks through war,” explains Rammellzee. “Then, in medieval times, monks ornamented letters to hide their meaning from the people. Now, the letter is armored against further manipulation.”


Whilst the majority of Rammellzee's graffiti is inspired by linguistics, semiotics and the history of language and the history of typography, Rammellzees work also embraced character design, through costuming and toy-cutting, as well as model-making out of junk and found objects based on his graffiti designs, building an entire pop-culture science-fiction inflected universe.

RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ | robot costume | album cover

RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ costume

RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ + Letter Racers

Rammellzee | custom action figures
Rammellzee | Letter Racer | via

Rammellzee’s Afrofuturist appropriation of the castoff oddments of technoculture is semiotic guerrilla warfare, just as his “slanguage”—a heavily encrypted hip-hop argot—is the linguistic equivalent of graffiti “tags” all over the mother tongue. In an essay on English as the imperial language of the Internet, the cultural critic McKenzie Wark argues for the willful, viral corruption of the lingua franca of global corporate monoculture as a political act.

- Mark Dery “Black to the Future” Flame Wars (November 1994) (via

Some critics situate the work within the context of Afro-futurism, the cultural nexus of science fiction of African decent, but to my mind Rammellzee transcends ethnogenre, the combination of oriental exoticism - Japanese samurai and mecha imagery, African mask making traditions, medieval European monastical calligraphy and the development of western typography, ancient Greek language, bespokes an eclectic, universalist, globalised awareness that isn't specifically focused on African or Afro-American cultural experiences. 

Denying Rammellzee his blackness would be stupid, his engagement and the origin of his work in  'urban street culture' of New York, his ethnic roots as a man of African decent are strong influences in his work. So perhaps are the transformative semiotics of Sun Ra's deconstruction of the spoken work, as Rammellzee uncovers the abstract 'military function' of the symbolism of the alphabet. Where Ra is  an angel from Saturn sent to take Black people into space, Rammellzee is a 10th Century assasin-monk liberating language from humanity. Definitions of Afro-futurism often set their horizons too specifically to fully embrace Rammellzee, have a smaller landscape which would encircle Rammellzee's culturally transgressive theories and practices, the near universal applicability of his art-theory and an essentially multicultural / fusion-futurism that is readily understood in his work due to his appropriation of wide sources.

Rammellzee remains something of an outsider figure, his theories considered 'out-there', embedded as it is in the somewhat obscure grounds of typographical history, semantic theory and science fiction. While posthumously his paintings (knotted minds) have recently fetched over $40,000 at auction, and have been the subject of major exhibitions, there is still no published monograph, instead we have to rely on fragmentary documentation to piece together an understanding of his body of work, and perhaps this complexity is appropriate.


The ideology of Gothic Futurism and the techniques of Ikonic Panzerism lend themselves as a critical lens through which to perceive other works - it is something to think with. This is somewhat fraught, Ramillezzes body of work and theoretical expression stand alone as a testament to the mans genius,  and as this 1999 interview on 88 Hip Hop indicates he clearly lived within the conceptual framework, but as the Cult of Rammillezz admirably demonstrate, the legacy of his work and theory lives on, expanding boundaries and .  Frequent readers of this blog won't be surprised at all to find a suitable target for this critical assault in the universe of Warhammer 40,000.

There are a number of vectors, one is that Rammelzee was actively involved in the design of science-fiction or fantastical characters and vehicles, so the there are parallels in the subject matter. There are material parallels in technique (at least in early Rogue Trader) in the construction of model vehicles specifically out of junk. And finally, there are concepts we can associate under a broader philosophy of Gothic Futurism, the theme of militarisation of historical forms in a science fiction context, all of which make WH40K seem appropriate.


Games Workshop | Battlefleet Gothic  | Emperor Class Battleship
John Blanche 1999

On a purely formal level the similarities between the design for the Emperor Class Battleship spacecraft from Games Workshops Battlefleet Gothic (1999 - based on designs originally in Space Fleet 1991) and Rammellzee's Gothic Futurist Sigma are clear. The scooped prow, the over-all length and proportion, the raised turret at the back. But where Rammellzee has distorted, transformed and weaponized the greek letter Σ (still evident but barely recognisable) to evoke speed, movement and warfare. Games Workshop  has mutated Gothic, cathedral architecture in more or less the same conceptual, if not stylistic direction.

Lewis Orr (1876-1966) \ Notre Dame \

Games Workshop /  Ramilles Class Star Fort / BFG 

Re imagining the visual graphology of monastical orders - in the equation-space of 
Ikonoklast Panzerism  the visual spectacle of scribal calligraphy as weaponised, mobile, galactic craft, typography as weapon. 

Ramileeze | via

In the equation-space of Battlefleet Gothic, the architecture of the Medieval Cathedral becomes a weaponised, mobile, galactic craft, architecture as weapon. 

No longer the spatial, built environment in which violence physically occurs, "The Building" becomes a symbolic representation of an ideological concept - "The Empire" and its vector of aggression "The Battleship". In Terry Gilliams The Crimson Permanent Assurance the architectural forms of a London office block are set loose from their moorings and transformed into a battleship, filing cabinets as cannons, scaffold sheeting as sails, immobile architecture made dynamic and aggressive. 

In the Imperial fleet of Battlefleet Gothic flying buttress or arched window no longer required for stones to overcome gravity and hold a structure in place, but required only to communicate an idea of baroque and archaic religiosity, liberated from their engineering function into the realm of the purely expressive, a sign for monasticism. The rest of the game-world follows suit, be it Imperial Kultus, Eldar Craftworld, Ork Waaagh or beast-craft of the Tyranid Hive Mind, each faction is visually defined by a formalised stylistic langue, and by a process of Iconoclast Panzerism each is, in turn freed from its original function (be it biological, craft, religious)  and transformed into an object of symbolic weaponisation.

Battlefleet Gothic, in its deep-space reference in turn raises questions about non-fictional historical architecture and spacecraft design not as a necessary response to the demands of space, materials, human interaction, engineering and craft, but as a primarily linguistic and communicative act of cultural identity formation - the langue of a faction - as physical manifestations of ideological propaganda.

The engineers of The Space Race - NASA and the USSR working on little more than Cold War propaganda machines, throwing hugely expensive phallic symbols into the sky as declarations of their earthly dominance, solidifying national identity and cultural commitment to nebulously practical modernist, rational, scientific progress - what have the moon landings ever done for us? their value, like most 'big science' tends to be primarily a grandiose public relations stunt, a technically fetishistic fireworks display for a culture drunk on spectacle.

In terms of historical architecture and especially the medieval, there are numerous examples of imposition of ecclesiastical buildings on old pagan sites occurring throughout Europe (and the Holy Land). It does not take a huge leap of imagination to think of these buildings, chapels and Cathedrals in full stone clad gothic regalia as material and symbolic breach points, enclaves of control of a war of faith waged upon the native pagans and newly converted christians, much as the Imperial Kultus in Battlefleet Gothic attempts to dominate space within the game.  This dividing and controlling of space, as a commander in a wargame, a player in chess or the captain of a football team controls the field of battle by placing their pieces strategically to cover the significant ground.

La Hougue Bie | Medieval church built on Neolithic grave

In folklore the ominous sound of the bells of church towers not only call the faithful to prayer but also drive away the native trolls from the area -  such tales rely heavily on the symbolic nature of architecture and is part and parcel of why Black Metal bands burned churches in the 1990s, and speaks to the placement of Roman Triumphal arches and other examples of understanding architecture primarily as expressions of imperialist intent.

Subway | Rammellzee

Architecture thus can be seen as having a long history as tool of oppression and control by the conquering peoples, the ruling elites. Much as Ikonoklast Panzerism characterises typographys constraint to the conventional letterform as submission to a history of oppression, and the aesthetic weaponisation of letterforms as taking them beyond their linguistic function, architectures dominance of the human environment is too disrupted by graffiti. The uniformity of the built environment challenged by the individual, its oppressive continuum as an organising principle reconfigured.

Addendum: it is not only architecture that is transformed in this way, New York graffiti scene, and RAMMELZEE specifically, sprang up writing on trains - that is the transport infrastructure of the city, historically the Roman road as the arteries of imperialism, and reconnecting with the Cold War space race as vehicular expressions of power.

To walk through the urban environment with the eye and mind of a graffiti writer is dismantle the intended organisation of space, the town planners drawings are sliced up and reconfigured into an entirely new landscape. The ignored undersides of bridges become focal points, boundaries become access points, the landscape becomes a map of vantage-points where grafitti may be seen and concealments where a writer may be undisturbed. Opportunities for expression open up within ignored, abandoned and liminal spaces. The tags, throwups and pieces left behind by other writers become markers, not only a patina that indicates safe-spaces for illicit writing, but a dynamic system of rivalry and community that weaves its way through the otherwise static canyons of urban space that in the dominant culture exist only as dead-space between land-banks, glass and concrete investment portfolios, the wreckage of broken machines for living in and zones of social control.

Central to this battleground of architecture vs. letterform is the idea of abandonment and reclamation. The substrate - the surface - upon which Ikonoklast Panzerism takes place - be it the A-train or a tenement block is an alien artefact, designed and created entirely outside the social sphere of those who inherit and occupy the space. Graffiti, and weaponised intergalactic graffiti at that, reclaims the impersonal, tyrannical object - the building - destroys it's authoritarian purpose and transforms it into an entirely new narrative.

These creative strategies, formulated by the equation RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ and expressed through the ideology of Gothic Futurism and the strategy of Ikonoklast Panzerism and the tactical deployment through graffiti letterforms, modelling, story telling and character design, leave a vibrant and unique body of work. The parallels between Rammellzees work with other creative practices allied to the idea of Gothic Futurism, such as the Warhammer 40,000  universe as expressed through the wargame Battlefleet Gothic, and the  to architecture through the design strategies we can see that Ikonoklast Panzerism provides not only the creative impetus for Rammellzee's own graphiti art but provides a broader critical and transformative creative lens.