Friday, June 5, 2020

Weird Revisited: Akakor

The original version of this post appeared in 2011...

Following up on the weird South American jungle map I presented earlier, today we'll veer off the map entirely into the wilds of crazy von Däniken land and visit a “lost” city--one that got famous enough to appear under a weak pseudonym in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I refer of course to Akakor.

Von Däniken started talking about underground city complexes beneath Ecuador in 1974’s The Gold of the Gods, but one of his sources, German journalist Karl Brugger, got to tell his version in 1977 with The Chronicle of Akakor. Both accounts start with the same basic story: In 1972, Brugger met a Native Amazonian (who spoke excellent German) named Tatunca Nara, who claimed to be a member of a hidden tribe that kept a great secret.  This secret involved ancient astronauts from a solar system named Schwerta, and a network of underground cities these space travellers built beneath South America. The most important of these cities was known as Akakor.

It all sounds fairly unbelievable, true--and it becomes even more so with the revelation that ol’ Tatunca Nara was really Günther Hauck, an alimony-dodging German ex-patriot. But the important thing from a gaming perspective is that these guys gave maps.

One of these is the upper (above ground) Akakor, and the other is the lower subterranean portion. Different websites disagree on which is which, so take your pick--"entertainment purposes only," and all that:

Here’s a nifty cross-section showing the underground portion, and one of the Star Trek-esque hallways:

Read more about it here, and find these maps (and more) here. Add some bullywugs, maybe some yuan-ti--or Nazis if your tastes run to pulp--and you’re ready to roll.  Crystal skulls strictly optional.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Fourth World Apocrypha: Steve Gerber on Mister Miracle

As an addendum to last week's post, I found this great post on Diversions of the Groovy Kind that reproduces Gerber's and Golden's Mister Miracle #24.

Monday, June 1, 2020

What's Up, Tiger Lily?

Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night with the party having the proverbial tiger by the tail in the form of the evil high priest Slekt Zaad. They killed his wizard acolyte, but by that time, the Guard Commander Draco Battles and his troops had the temple surrounded. The only choice they had was negotiated surrender, which they agreed to with the understanding that Slekt Zaad will also be arrested and his insidious, flower-related plot investigated.

Once they're in a cell, they discover they've been tricked. Draco is working with Zaad. Zaad taunts them with a riddle regarding the source of his nigh invulnerability, but it's little help to them while they're imprisoned. Lucky for them, Waylon and Bell had not turned themselves in, but instead were hidden invisible within the temple. They slip out and make their way to the inn where the party was staying.

There, they strike up a conversation with a mysterious, hooded man with a luxuriant beard. They discover he's the local hierophant of the shrine of Azulina, Erik Goodbeard, and he's willing to help them to get the Duke out from under the thumb of Draco and Zaad. His plan involves a seldom invoked, local sanctuary custom.

The party has to forfeit their worldly possessions, but soon they are on their way to a monastic life in the service of Azulina. Which means, they slip out of town the next morning in a wagon full of food for the poor to locate a lost Black Lotus Fane hidden on a vine-covered hillside.

They find a tower nearly consumed by vines. Its insides are gutted, but there is an entrance to a cave. Within they find the hidden temple, including a laboratory facility where numerous exotic flowers are being grown. Marveling at an avian flower thing, they almost miss the floral tiger sneaking up on them and preparing to pounce!

Art by Iguana Mouth

Friday, May 29, 2020

Weird Revisited D&D Cosmic

This post first appeared in 2012...

Before I talked about the possibilities of fantasy gaming enlivened by concepts of gods borrowed from comic books. In that discussion, I neglected the abstract cosmic entities, peculiar to Marvel--several of whom were the creation of Jim Starlin. Adding these sorts of deity-level beings also suggests a way to revitalize the hoary old great wheel or develop a trippy planar travel sort of setting wholly different from Planescape.

Let's take a look at a few of Marvel's concepts given form:

The Living Tribunal has three faces representing equity, vengeance, and necessity, and he likes to go around judging things.  He might be the supreme being--or he might just be the supreme being's prosecutor.  He's probably lawful neutral (or maybe just lawful).

In a lot of fantasy Law and Chaos are in opposition.  In the Marvel cosmic entities pantheon, Lord Chaos and Master Order work in tandem, perhaps manipulating events to show the superiority of one side or the other? Maybe they're engaged in a debate or a game rather than a battle?  Separately, Lord Chaos has a visage that could easily hang above a humanoid altar and bald Master Order could easily be the patron of monks.

Chaos and Order also have a servant embodying both of their philosophies (perhaps the True Neutral of balance?) called the In-Betweener, who sometimes seems to pursue his own agenda.

Eon is a weird looking guy that guards the cosmic axis. (Maybe that's what the Great Wheel spins around?) He can also dole out "cosmic awareness" if he needs to.

That's just a few examples.  Perusing the list of the beings appearing in Marvel's various cosmic sagas out to offer a lot more ideas.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Wednesday Comics: The Persecution and Restoration of Scott Free (Fourth World Reread)

I think the best part of Kirby's Fourth World Saga is the arc revealing the events leading up to the current war between New Genesis and Apokopolips that begins in New Gods #7 (1971) and culminates in Mister Miracle #9 (1972). It is not really the story of a warrior, but rather a man who runs away from war. Scott Free is an escape artist, and what he wants to escape is others defining who he is.

Izaya the Highfather may have given his only begotten son to avoid war with New Genesis, but we see little in the way of paternal affection toward that son even after his escape. Indeed, both rulers are in a very real sense more fatherly toward the boy they fostered than the one that is actually their kin. It's Darkseid, the horrifically authoritarian parent, that seems to want Scott Free on his team and gives him a pitch like Darth Vader gave to Luke:

Perhaps Scott Free is genetically or spiritually predisposed toward goodness, but it's Himon, the inventor hiding in the slums of Apokolips, a benevolent serpent in Darkseid's anti-Eden, that puts him on the path away from becoming a cog in Apokolips war machine. Himon helps him make his first and perhaps greatest escape. And that's what he does. And that's what he keeps doing.

If the new gods are actually gods, well, Mister Miracle would be the sort classified as a dying-and-rising deity, like Adonis or Tammuz--or Jesus. He's sent to Hell as an infant, but escapes not to return to the Heaven of New Genesis but to Earth. His career (and comic) become about ritually recapitulating this act, escaping death again and again.

Scott Free in Kirby's stories is not an active participant in the gods' war. Steve Gerber, the second writer to follow Kirby on the Mister Miracle title makes explicit what Kirby only implies: Scott Free has a vision of the warring gods as racers going round and round a track. To join in is to be stuck in the loop. Scott Free's destiny, this story tells us, is to become a messiah and offer a different way. This messianic element is certainly not explicit in Kirby's issues; on the other hand, Scott Free recruits Big Barda to his defection, and she in turn brings along the Female Furies. He also gets a disciple in the form of Shilo Norman. His stage name proclaims his wondrous nature: Mister Miracle.

We'll never know where Kirby's Mister Miracle might have done, ultimately. The summer of 1972 saw the end of Kirby's run on two of his Fourth World titles, Forever People and New Gods with their 11th issues. Mister Miracle escaped their fate for a few more issues, but most aspects of Kirby's wider mythology were dropped from the title, in favor of more off-beat superheroics of the sort Kirby would bring to Captain America and Falcon and Black Panther upon his return to Marvel. Since that time, Mister Miracle, like all the New Gods characters have been stuck in that loop Gerber warned about, cycling toward different creators' visions of their Neo-Ragnarok.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Weird Revisited: Get Your Motor Running

I read this article yesterday about the Cannonball Run record being broken several times recent. It put this post from 2012 in mind:

I watched the science fiction anime Redline from Madhouse Studios, and it got me thinking about the “crazy road race” genre. You know, things like Cannonball Run (1981), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Wacky Races. I think this sort of race set-up is rife with gaming potential.

The genre goes beyond mundane (well, not that cars with buzzsaw wheels are mundane to begin with) auto-racing. Redline puts the race in a sci-fi context as does Yogi’s Space Race (remember that one?). Thundarr gets into the game with the “Challenge of the Wizards” episode. Almost all the animated version of this trope have vehicles tricked out with weapons, and some live action one’s do, too--see the rally sequence of the criminal underrated live-action Speed Racer with it’s morning-star armed viking racers.

Obviously, Car Wars could do this sort of think. The ever prolific Matt Stater's Mutant Truckers would work, too. Fantasy systems aren’t out of the question, though (see Thundarr). And of course, you can do this sort of thing pre-automobile. A race to become leader of a kingdom or some such (similar to the tournaments for leadership in Mystara's Ierendi or the titular Empire of the Petal Throne) could use various sorts of fantastic mounts or maybe flying ships--or flying carpets. However you choose, just get those those character's on the road to adventure!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Clerics of the Far Future

Clerics of the Latter Ages do not serve the many gods of Old Earth, those protectors of cities and ancient ruins and the old knowledge of humankin. They are not priests. In fact, had they not been set upon the path the communications between the gods and lesser spirits would have driven them mad. They could hear, but could no more return the correct responses than any of their kin who were deaf to the unending, unanswered transmissions.

What saves the cleric from such a fate is the holy symbol. These devices made or found by the Ancients and brought back from the stars allow a cleric to enter a state of communion with the transcendent, the Divine. The signal of the Divine clarifies or attenuates the babble of the gods and spirits, and opens the way for clerics to command them, wielding their borrowed power as a conduit for Divine will.

Some scholars claim that the holy symbol merely provides contact with minds no great than the gods of Earth, only located on other planes or worlds.  Some even hold simply places mind of the cleric in an altered state, that a holy symbol only facilitates self-deception. Clerics are above such speculations. They have the surety of faith.

Despite their unbelief, wandering clerics are given shelter and support by the priesthoods as they can aid in determining a god's wishes at times when even priests may be at a loss.