Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Wednesday Comics: Hill House

Hill House is a horror imprint of DC Comics curated by horror writer, Joe Hill. He writes a number of comics himself, as well as presumably selecting the other creators. I have read at least the first issues of three of the four current titles and while it's difficult to draw definitively conclusions in this age of decompression each is off to a promising start.

The Dollhouse Family
Six year-old Alice is left a Victorian dollhouse by a great-aunt or something, and soon finds she can visit the house's inhabitants. and can even escape the domestic violence of her home to live their all the time. There's a price, I'm sure. This one is written by Mike Carey and his art by Peter Gross.

Low, Low Woods
Described as "coming of age body horror" it tells the story of two outsider teenage women in a dying mining town with a cold seam fire beneath it. There's also a mysterious plague that causes people to lose their memory and the girls already have one night they can't remember in a movie theater. Then there are the skinless bodies (undead maybe?) they show up sometimes in the woods. Unlike The Dollhouse Family, it's harder to see where this one is going. It's written by Shirley Jackson Award winner Carmen Maria Machado and features art by Dani, fresh from Coffin Bound.

Daphne Byrne
In Victoria era New York, Daphne Byrne has recently lost her father and her grief-stricken mother is an easy mark for spiritualist hucksters. In dreams, Daphne is contacted by her presence who claims to be her brother and promises help for her situation. It's writer by television writer and playright Laura Marks, and features artwork by the great Kelley Jones.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Getting Out of Rivertown

Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued last night with the "Masters of Mayhem" in the midst of a robbery. Using a Blades in the Dark-esque opportunity to retcon planned events (at the price of a greater chance of a complication), the players attempt to establish that they bribed the vault guards to look the other way prior to the robbery. They are successful with the pertinent rolls and the retcon is established. The approaching guards are ready to be knocked out with a sleep spell, if necessary.

But the angry invisible stalker has not been bought off. It attacks the party again, and Bellmorae (disguised as the vault manager Wotko) is unable to get it to stand down. The party eventually kills it with magic and stolen energy weapons.

The party decides to get out while the gettings good, but their only choice is to leave their Armoire of Holding behind with the hope of regaining it later. On the way through the lobby, "Wotko" (the disguised Bell) is accousted by a customer demanding her attention. She manages to talk her way out of it and they leave the vault with Gladhand's gold.

The party becomes concerned that when the real Wotko and his associate awaken, they may well draw attention to the Armoire, leading to the heist being discovered. They figure they have to get out of town. But they also want to get the Armoire back. They make the mistake of letting Gladhand know this before negotiating for a higher fee, and he offers to both help them get out of town and retrieve the Armoire in lieu of further payment. 

Ultimately, though, they decide not to take his offer of getting them jobs and cover identities with a caravan heading across the Dragonspine Mountains to the Country of Sang. Instead, they plan to make their own way to the Sapphire City along the Wizard's Road, and from there to Virid to meet Queen Desira.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Talislanta: The Continent and Magic

This is a follow-up to this post, and the beginning of my examination of the setting throughout its publication history. First up, the big picture.

Talislanta the setting is named for the continent which is its central focus. Though other, semi-legendary lands are mentioned in passing, The Chronicles of Talislanta (1987) makes a pitch for dropping the continent into any fantasy setting:
As to the land of Talislanta: those scholars who do not dismiss the topic out of hand disagree as to the origins of this otherwise forgotten realm. Some claim that Talislanta existed long ago, perhaps during the legendary First Age of Atlantis. Others, lending even broader scope to their imaginations, cite Tamerlin’s chronicles as proof of the existence of parallel worlds or alternate realities. Proponents of the hollow earth theory, avid readers of Charles Fort, and others of similar bent may formulate even more intriguing explanations for the Talislantan texts.
This vagueness regarding the wider world doesn't last. In 1988's Sorcerer's Guide, Talislanta's world is placed on the plane of Primus within the wider Omniverse, not utterly unlike D&D's planar setup, but much less complicated. With the 2nd edition and The Talislanta Worldbook (1990), Talislanta's planet gets a name: Archaeus. Archaeus has seven continents in total:


The origin of magic in the Talislantan milieu is revealed for the first time. A tribe of "Sub-Men" (Talislanta's name for the primitive humanoid inhabitants of much of the continent) discover the wreckage of a ship of some kind and find a crystal orb that contains "the secrets of a lost and forgotten art—magic." Learning magic, these Sub-Men develop into the race known as the Archaeans (simply called "Men" in the 1st edition).

The 3rd edition largely follows the Worldbook's details, but demotes Archaeus from the center of its system to being a planet orbiting binary stars. This star system is just one of many within the material plane. The Sub-Men tribe uplifted by magic from a wrecked "strange vessel," now become known as Archaens.

Archaeus' solar system is de-emphasized in the last two editions, but the origin of the Archaens is now firmly established. In the 4th edition, Sub-Men is a derogatory term for the "Wild Folk" and the crashed ship is called out as "alien" and called an "ark." The 5th edition, affirms the ship was alien and states that it is believed to be of extra-dimensional origin. There are parts of it still in existence, recognizable by the rainbow color they emanate. The Sub-Men are again Sub-Men.


Why does the stuff about the Archaens matter? Talislanta was established from the beginning as a post-apocalyptic setting with frequent references to a Great Disaster. The Archaens were not only the ancestors of the "human" races of Talislanta, but the source of most of its magic, and also (perhaps) the cause of the destruction of their own civilization.

The idea of magic, or at least the advanced practice of magic, being alien in origin is a nice little detail to me, and one I don't think Talislanta has ever explored to its fullest. There is a lot that could be done with that in a campaign.

The vacillation between extraplanetary aliens and extradimensional ones, seems to coincide with some ambivalence about whether Archaeus is a planet in a science fiction conception or a "world" in a fantasy conception. I like a view of "outer space" more metaphysical than strictly physical, like in Medieval cosmology or pulp fiction like Howard's "Tower of the Elephant" or Lovecraft's Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, for Talislanta. I favor a more fantastic Archaeus, as well. One where you could sail across an ocean and into another world, perhaps.

Those preferences are in general. For the Sword & Planet thing I'm planning, I'm go with a much more realistic world around a realistic star.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Through A Veil of Blue Mist Did I First Behold Talislanta


I've mentioned my appreciation for Stephan Michael Sechi's Talislanta setting. Since I'm contemplating running a Sword & Planet game that uses Talislanta as the "planet," I though it was a good time to revisit the setting, and it's publication history in a series of posts, as I think about what I'm going to use and what I might do differently.

Historically, Talislanta is both a setting and a game. It's core, however, has always been the systemless Chronicles of Talislanta, first published by Bard Games in 1987. Chronicles is the narrative of Tamerlin, a wizard from another world, as he explores the continent of Talislanta. Sechi's imaginative setting is made more compelling by P.D. Breeding-Black's distinctive illustrations.

When I first encountered Talislanta, I didn't have much experience with Sechi's inspirations: the works of Jack Vance, Marco Polo's Travels, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and the comics of Philippe Druillet. To me, it seemed more daring than the implied setting of D&D, and at once goofier and more lurid than the likes of Middle-Earth. It reminded me of Star Wars and comic books. I liked it instantly.

My appreciation has only grown over the years. So, I'm going to trace Tamerlin's journey and the places it visits across editions and think about how I might make it my own, influenced by my understanding of Sechi's stated influences and influences of my own.

More to come.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Weird Revisited: In the Twilight

The original version of this post appeared in 2016...

At least ten empires rose and fell during the Meridian of Earth. Each was glorious and wrested such secrets from the universe as to enable it to bend laws of nature, obdurate to earlier cultures, to its whim. Each in time fell into decadence, dwindled, and died, but at the end of the Meridian Time, the Earth had been transformed by their works; it had become the abode of beings other than Man.

As the Twilight fell and the sun grew bloated and sanguine, those Outsiders and abhuman things encroached ever closer on the nations of Man. By and by, they gained greater dominion over the Earth. In the early centuries, the technologies of the elder Meridian still functioned, and Man comprehended enough to build great walls as a defense against the inhuman. As Twilight deepened, many of these redoubts fell, but a few stood fast and managed even to throw back their foe. The Coming Night was held in abeyance for so long that generations passed and many began to doubt it would ever fall.

But beyond the walls, the Great Beasts crouched and waited with patience inhuman but not infinity, and abhuman armies gathered in the deepening in gloom...


Here's the pitch: Take the early modern bleakness, occasional black humor, and body-warping chaos of Warhammer Fantasy and put it in a Dying Earth gone weird like Hodgson's The Night Land, making sure to filter the Watchers (Great Beasts in this case) through Lovecraftiania, a hint of kaiju, and good old fashion goetic demonology. Wrap it all in "points of light" surrounded by walls out of Attack on Titan.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A Campaign Idea in Pictures

A scout ship crashes on a distant planet.

A world teeming with life, some of which mysterious shows ties to Earth, and primitive civilization.

Things are not what they seem.

But what can explain the apparent examples of magic?

The short pitch summary: A Planetary Romance short of sandbox, inspired by Vance's Planet of Adventure series with Talislanta (modified to taste) used as a base.