Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sucker Punch

This new Zack Snyder film had a fairly high profile at Comic-Con.  I don't know a whole lot about it, but the trailer has samurai, mecha, dragons, biplanes, and a zeppelin, so its got all that going for it.

Check out the trailer.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Now Playing: The SRD Monster Revue

In working on Weird Adventures, I've been taking a look at the monsters in the d20 SRD, thinking about how they might fit (or not) into the Strange New World of the City.  Here, for the creatures whose names are begin with the letters A through D, are my current thoughts, subject to change without notice:

A
Aboleth: evil Lovecraftian fish, surely exist somewhere. Probably somewhere in the deep South--evoking something of the ickiness of walking catfish, and eyeless cave species. Giant, albino, eyeless catfish--intelligent, and evil.

Angel: God’s (or Gods') got these servitors, definitely, but they're not called things like planetars or devas.

Ankheg: These probably exist somewhere, but they probably haven't be seen enough to have a name.

Assassin Vine: Tropical parts of the world are probably full of these things. I bet there’s at least one in some eccentric botanist's collection in the City, too. Or maybe in some unassuming florist shop.

B
Barghest: Things like this might haunt the remote forests of the Smaragdine Mountains, and probably parts of the Old World.

Basilisk: Native to Ebon-Land. Possibly extinct?

Bugbear: Congealed nightmare stuff.

Bulette: Grizzled prospectors and old Natives in the Western Desert tell stories about a predator that moves underground...

C
Centaur: Tragically, these Ealderde natives are now extinct. There was a small preserve of tamed and in-breed centaurs in the private forests of the Sultan of Korambeck, but they are no more. A few taxidermied specimens or skeletons can be seen in Ealderdish museums, though may of these may have been damaged in the Great War.

Chimera: Such fanciful beasts are the products of thaumaturgic experimentation, if they exist at all.

Cloaker: The Ancients left weird things in their underground cities.

Cockatrice: A rare creature that can be magically created, but doesn’t occur naturally.

D
Demon: Evil beings of chaos exist, and "demon" is a catch-all, lay-term for them.

Derro: Distorted tales of the Reds, told by unfortunates driven insane by their fiendish psychic torment.

Devil: The Hells are full of these.

Dinosaur: Found in remote Ebon-Land, or unexplored tropical islands.

Dire Animals: Yokels are always telling stories about over-sized animals (remember hogzilla?). Sometimes they wind up being true.

Doppelganger: Old Country legends are full of tales of this sort of thing, and superstitious immigrants bring those beliefs to the New World with them. And maybe the creatures, too.

Dragon: Another Old World creature believed to have been driven to extinction. There are sightings every year, even tha occasional dubious, grainy photo. The scientific community remains skeptical. They certainly aren’t arrayed in a toyetic spectrum of colors and metallic finishes, though.

Dryad: Tree spirits are known to exist, but tend to stay in more unspoiled forests. They can sometimes cause trouble for logging operations in more remote areas.

Dwarf: They appear in the world's mythology, but the closest thing to exist in historic times are the Dwerg-folk.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Hills Have Eyes...And Teeth

If the regular human and hilly-billy giant inhabitants of the Smaragdine Mountains weren’t enough to contend with, travellers in remote areas may have to face ogres. Theses misshapen brutes are criminal ne’er-do-wells at best, and man-eating psychopaths at worst.

Ogres are thought to be degenerate relatives of the hilly-billy giants, and as such descendents of the Ancients. While the giants are generally well-formed and human-like in appearance except for their size (the males being a little coarsely featured, admittedly), ogres are misshapen in a variety of ways, akin various birth defects and disfiguring metabolic conditions. Ogres are also of squatter, more Neanderthalish build--they're typically around the height of the tallest giantish females (around 9 feet), but weigh as much as a male of the race.

The cause of the malformations of ogres is a subject of some scientific controversy. Some experts hold that its a result of centuries of interbreeding, combined with possible toxic exposures from the bootleg alchemicals that have been making for generations. Others believe that ogre ancestors made pacts with dark gods, and were twisted by forbidden magics--though even this school of thoughts concedes that a degree of inbreeding occurred when they were driven deep into the hills by the giant-folk. Still others think that ogres may be related to giant-folk in a way analogous to how ghouls are related to normal humans--a view likely to result in one getting “invited for dinner,” if voiced in front of ghouls.

Ogres live in extended family units back in shacks in the backwoods, or in cave lairs. Their relations are complicated due to interbreeding, so many members of the family will have dual relationships reflected in their kinship terms--”mother-sister,” “brother-husband,” or the like. In addition to making bootleg liquor and poor quality alchemicals, they also may waylay travellers on remote roads or trails. Robbery would be the least of one's concerns, as ogres are notoriously promiscuous eaters--they eat any sort of roadkill, and have been known to have a fondness for human-flesh. At the very least, they have a reputation for torture--something like bad children tormenting small animals, but on a larger scale.

Luckily, ogres don’t exist in great numbers. Rampant abuse of substances and violence kills many, and the same genetic defects that lead to their physical deformities cause a high rate of stillbirths. What they lack in numbers, however, they make up for in pure meanness.


Random Ogre Deformity:
Roll of 1d6 determines the number of deformities posessed by each ogre, then roll d20 the requisite number of times on the following table:

1. Eyes not level (1-3 inches difference)
2. Massive jaw with widely spaced teeth
3. Two small, useless, accessory arms on shoulder blades
4. One eye (40% chance of being centrally located, cyclops-like)
5. Cauliflower or absent ear (50% chance of either)
7. fleshy tubers on upper-lip (1d4, 1-2 inches long)
8. One arm boneless (50% chance either useless, or tentachle like)
9. Snaggle-toothed tusk
10. Six-toes on one foot (total toes still 10)
11. Ambiguous sexual primary characteristics
12. Extremely hairy ears
13. Scowling face of only partially absorbed twin on some part of body
14. Horn-like growth on some part of the head
15. Body covered by weeping pustules
16. Hunchback
17. Albinism
19. Excessive wrinkles, giving the skin a baggy appearance
20. Massively oversized  forearms

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: Terminator

Let's re-enter the lost world with another installment of my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"Terminator"
Warlord (vol. 1) #21 (May 1979)

Written and Pencilled by Mike Grell; Inked by Vince Colletta

Synopsis: Despite their best efforts, Tara, Machiste and Mariah have been unable to find their way into Deimos’s fortress. They realize their hopes for the rescue of Tara’s son Joshua depend solely on his father, Travis Morgan. And the three have more to worry about as they're set upon by demons.

Meanwhile, inside the fortress, Morgan looks on in disbelief at Deimos’s champion--apparently his own son grown at accelerated rate to adulthood by Atlantean science. In actuality, Deimos has spirited the real Joshua away and replaced him with a clone. Despite the clone's adult form, his mind is still like that of an infant, not a warrior. Deimos uses his power to fill that mind, and change him into an instrument of vengeance.

Outside, our other three heroes (and Tara’s dog Shadow) battle the demons. They spot a cave entrance and run inside. With the demons close behind, Machiste causes a cave in to close the entrance. They might have been lost in darkness, but for the illumination of the hellfire gem Tara carries. Mariah asks why she Tara didn’t use the gem before, to help Morgan. Tara tells her the gem seems to be getting weaker with each use, and she and Morgan had agreed to hold its strange power in reserve for one purpose--to save their son.  Using the light, they search for a way into the castle.

Meanwhile, Morgan refuses to fight his son, but the clone-Joshua has no such qualms and attacks at Deimos’s command. Blow after blow lands rains down, and Morgan’s shield is whittled away and his helm knocked from his head. Finally, self-preservation leads Morgan to fight back, if half-heartedly.

A half-hearted defense proves not to be enough. Morgan takes a blow to his shoulder and drops his own blade. He falls to floor, clutching at his bleeding wound. Deimos laughs with the pleasure of vengeance close at hand. He gleefully orders clone-Joshua to kill Morgan.

Morgan says, “For God’s sake, Josh...I’m your father.” Deimos’s influence over the clone is too strong. He raises his blade to strike...

And Morgan shoots him.

Morgan cradles the body of his dying “son.” Deimos laughs with triumph. He taunts Morgan that he has destroyed him, as surely as if his champion had killed him. Seething with hate, Morgan snatches up his sword and stalks toward Deimos. Fearful, Deimos warns Morgan away as he begins to work some magic.

Machiste, Tara, Mariah, and Shadow burst into the room to find Morgan combating a winged, serpentine dragon, the transformed Deimos. Tara sees the fallen Joshua-clone, and recognizes her son. In her grief, Mariah has to remind her to use the hellfire gem to save Morgan. When the two halves are put together, a green light shoots out an strikes Deimos, transforming him back into a human form. Deimos begins to utter some new threat against Morgan, when Shadow lunges at him--the loyal hunting dog taking down his mistress’s quarry. The two tumble from a balcony to their apparent deaths.

Morgan tells Tara that he was forced to kill their son. He wants to use Deimos’s mask of life to restore him. Tara has heard of the curse of the mask--of how those resurrected by it continue to decay. She shows him the goblet from which Deimos has been drinking blood, to sustain his unnatural existence. She asks if Morgan would condemn their son to that. Morgan is unsure, but Tara isn’t, and she destroys the mask with her sword.

Morgan rails against his fate, complaining that he only wanted a little freedom, a little adventure--he never wanted to be a savior for this world. Mariah reminds him that that’s what he made himself, whether he intended to or not.

Morgan says he needs to go somewhere to get away, to think. He asks if any of the others want to go. Numbed, and saddened, the others refuse, so Morgan rides out alone, haunted by Deimos’s mocking laughter.

A thousand leagues to the south, Ashiya delivers the real baby Joshua into the hands of a farm family and makes them promise to keep the child’s existence a secret. A child, with a wrist-watch worn around his upper arm.

Things to Notice:
  • Faithful Shadow makes her last appearance.
Where It Comes From:
The title of this issue ("Terminator") references the land of shadow Deimos's Fortress occupies, but more thematically again reaches back to the Latin root terminus to evoke endings.  This is the end of Morgan and Tara's quest, and the end of the "third book" or story arc of the series, but also the end of Morgan as leader of men and inspiration (at least for a while).

Joshua becomes the archetypical "hidden monarch" found in so much fantasy fiction.  The revelation of his identity, and his reconciliation with his family, is the ulimtate ending that would seem to be need in the Warlord's tale--and ending that doesn't come in this series, at least.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bootleg Alchemicals


Though alcohol is legal across the New World continent, smuggling still exists to avoid taxation. The largest illicit smuggling of intoxicants, however, involves alchemical substances of various sorts made illegal, over decade ago, in most of the member states of the Union (including the City, the Steel League, and Lake City) thanks to the efforts of church-driven abstinence movements.

This has done little to stem the tide of these substances, which are available in speakeasies or drug dens throughout most major cities. “Bathtub alchemicals” are made in small laboratories within cities or rural areas. Larger scale operations (on some level, likely under the thumb of the Infernal gangsters of the Hell Syndicate) smuggle in alchemicals from foreign countries. Some may even come from other planes of existence, though the origins of such extra-terrene substances are murky.

Alchemical intoxicants come in many varieties, having effects similar to “mundane” drugs (like alcohol, cocaine, opiates, or cannabis) or mixtures thereof--there is an alchemical similar to cocaethylene, for instance. There are also “exotics” which produce magical effects similar to many potions in traditional fantasy worlds. Cheaply made alchemicals may be dangerous, in ways beyond the intended effects, and cheaply made exotics often strangely so.

Here are a couple of alchemicals not uncommon in the City and its world:

Absinthe: In the world we know, absinthe is just a liqueur flavored with essence of wormwood (usually with a high alcohol content), but in the world of the City, it literally harbors a green faerie. Technically, its an alchemical tincture of the larval stage of a spirit creature. These larvae appear to the imbiber as small, pale green, luminescent, and winged pixie-things, but are invisible to others not magically aided. It’s use enhances creativity, and may lead to clairvoyance or clairaudience in a chance which increases with dose (10-40% on first try, with chance increasing by 5% for every week of 4 or more days use. Similar intervals without use lower the chance). With long term use, it allows the user to perceive astral beings, but also causes hallucinations, so telling the two apart is nontrivial. This gives way to paranoia, and possible convulsions if use is heavy and prolonged.

Purpureal ether: Also called mauve enmanation, this alien substance is difficult to describe in earthly terms: it's purplish and has a slight glow, and can be “poured” or contained--something fog from dry ice, though it doesn’t dissipate like any fog, and is, in fact, a radiation from somewhere in the outer dark. It can be collected on moonless nights with little cloud cover on alchemically prepared cloth screens.  These are pressed or squeezed to yield the substance, which is then bottled in opaque receptacles--sunlight will degrade it within others. After 24 hours, it becomes more violatile, and is used by inhalation from bottles, or from cloths on which some of the substance has been pored.  It’s use deadens pain, increases strength (+1 with commiserate damage bonus) and heightens the mind (making the user immune to illusions and the like) for 1d4 hours. It also, however, reduces coordination (reducing anything reliant on dexterity by -1). Longterm use (daily use for a period of 1-4 months), causes degeneration first of the nerves (further dexterity loss, though this time permament), then of the flesh (charisma, and finally constitution loss).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Do We Want to be that Popular?


Back from Comic-Con finally, and I have to say I’m glad its over. Three days is more than enough. One more Comic-Con related note before returning to my regular programming, but this one bears more relevance to role-playing gaming.

At a panel I attended, I heard Michael Uslan hail the victory of comics. He’d attended the first comic convention ever (120 people), when it was an outsider hobby and fans didn’t know each even existed. He pointed out just how far we fans have come to day when comics properties are big business, and an the entertainment industry is paying attention. “We’ve won,” he said.

Whitney Matheson’s observations carried a counterargument, though. She pointed out how the comics and artists related booths at SDCC got squeezed into less and less acreage, and got pushed progressively into the hinterlands, while movie studio and video game pavilions grew and grew, and too the prime real estate.

I think this is an important observation and lover’s of any niche hobby like table-top rpgs might do well to remember: fringe hobbies/art forms “accepted” into the larger culture don’t triumph, they're subsumed. Wider interest means moneyed interests get into the driver’s seat.

Greater acceptance would mean the spirit of DIY that runs through most of the rpg-world would be driven out or marginalized. Some might say this already occurs, but its nothing like what would happen if the kaiju Global Media Conglomerate turned its radioactive gaze on helpless RPG City. Granted rpgs are perhaps not as “exploitable” as comics, in terms of IP, but I’m still pretty sure there’s a lot of bad that could come from it.

In that same panel Brad Meltzer pointed out the golden, ornate, Throne of Odin display (advertising, the upcoming movie) as the perfect metaphor for Comic-Con: “it’s big--takes up a lot of space, gaudy...and empty.”

Well, except for the occasional big photo-op:


Maybe in rpg-land our king’s not terribly photogenic, and his throne-room’s kinda shabby--but he rules at our sufferance, not that of some occupying army.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Comic-Con Day 2 and part of Day 3


Day two at San Diego Comic Con starts late because my co-conspirator, Brandon, doesn’t arrive in San Diego until 2:30 AM having been cutting the trailer for a talking animal film until late in LA.


We attend a “State of Animation Panel” which portends ill because it is boring. Particularly after the anticipation of standing in line half and hour, and getting yelled at by con staff. The exhibit hall is even more dense than Thursday, and going anywhere is swimming upstream. Con disillusionment rears it’s head.

Then, Guillermo del Toro makes it right with his profanity-peppered intro to teaser footage from the remake of the 70s horror classic remake he’s producing and scripting Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. It looks really cool, and he’s really cool.

Things go good for a bit, and I pick up a cool ERB retrospective illustrated and signed by Mark Wheatley and a pulp art book. Then there’s the Star Wars pavillion where you can take a picture than makes it look like you’re an action figure in blister pack on a Boba Fett card. Rumors of invites to Disney’s TRON sequel party or DC’s party entice us, but Brandon’s friend’s text messages are all over the place, and vague.

We instead end the evening with anime and drinks at the hotel bar.

Day three dawns with a panel on the increasing profile of comics in popular culture. This is interesting, but its our second choice as we would have preferred to attend Warner Brothers film teaser mega-presentation, but for the multiple tents full of eager attendees who arrived way before us . After that we make the rounds in the exhibit hall again and I score an advanced reader’s copy of Tony DiTerlizzi’s new illustrated book The Search for Wondla which looks great.

Then, we’re Brandon’s friend finally comes through and we’re whisked to Wired’s party, where True-Blood is served, and several cast members from Chuck and True Blood are in attendance. DVD sets of season two of True Blood come as door prizes. Did I mention this was all courtesy of Patron, who has a make-your-own Margarita booth? Well, it was.

Gotta go.  I have to find a way to pack the things I've bought and the ephemera I've acquired in my bag for the plane.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Combat at Comic-Con

A friend of mine recorded this footage as we watched the tourney on top of the San Diego Convention Center:

video


 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fear and Loathing at Comic-Con


One day down in San Diego, and alright--there wasn't any loathing, and only a little fear, but the title sounded good...

It was a long day, boarding a plan on the east coast a 7:30AM with comics blogger/journalist Chris “Invincible Super-blog” Sims, who has it turns out is afraid of flying (“the takeoffs and landings,” he says) and not afraid of having a Mai Tai before 11pm.

Five hours later, we’re in San Diego, and I have to find the mysterious woman whose name I have only seen in a text message. and try to get my ticket. When I finally talk to her she says I can find her under the purple SyFy balloon and: “I’m tall.”

She isn’t kidding. The pretty, bright-smiling, giantess leads me into the convention center—losing me briefly as the gendarmes detain me at the door, but quickly retrieving me—and I get the passes and associated swag for myself and my as-yet-to-arrive friend from LA.

But what about the con? Well, parked outside is the black beauty, but the outfits of the three Green Hornettes in front of it seem impractical for crime-fighting. People take plenty of pictures, though. Everywhere, people are barking things at you like carnies, conspiratorially handing you dubious ephemera like they’re trying to invite you to a rave, or to a church revival. And everywhere, there’s the press of humanity like a general admission concert.

Of course, you’re not even in the exhibit hall yet.

Inside, well, imagine a carnival if every carnival ride was as commercially-motivated as an 80s toy tie-in cartoon, then combine that with a big trade show of some sort, what ever kind you’re familiar with, as long as it has glitz and plastic-pretty sales folk with big smiles. Then liberally apply cosplayers—teen anime characters being moody in packs, older girls favoring the most revealing superheroine outfits. Guys in multi-color body-stockings.

Then, of course, there’s content. A panel on “genre-bending” where all the authors say they do it because its cool, except contrarian China Mieville who worries it may not be—and Scott Westerfield gets to give a PowerPoint demonstration on his new novel, which argues persuasively that tanks would be better with legs.

Before that, there was a panel on urban fantasy where the last question posed was “which class of supernatural being do you find the sexiest?” The answer involved musing on vampires and the possible downside of no circulation.

And with that, we draw the curtain on day one.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Coming soon...


I'd like to officially announce Weird Adventures--a supplement based on (and expanding upon) the world of the City that I've been discussing here for many a post.  What you see above is the tenative cover design, featuring a painting by Doug Stambaugh.

The supplement will be geared toward the generic "old school" game, but feature mostly setting material usable for any game system.  I'll probably get into more detailed rules-related digressions here on the blog.

Planned contents include:
  • A guide to the City giving a map and an overview of its five baronies, numerous neighborhoods, and places of interest to adventurers.
  • A whistle-stop tour of the strange New World from the rural Smaragdine Mountains inhabited by hillbilly giants, to the occult witchocracy of glamorous Hesperia, and a whole continent in between.
  • A monster manual detailing about two dozen creatures from "bugbear" (of the living nightmare variety) to "zombie, black-dust."
  • Several adventure seeds for the setting.
In addition, it will feature great artwork from the aforementioned Doug Stambaugh, Chris Huth, Seth Frail and others.

I'm tenatively planning for a late fall release.  More details to come...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: Special Guest Star

Taking a break this week from my issue by issue review of DC Comics's The Warlord as I get ready to head out to San Diego and Comic-Con, I thought instead I'd take a look the Warlord's appearances in the wider DC Universe.

Travis Morgan's first appearance outside his own title was in Crisis on Infinite Earths #5 (1985).  Like just about everybody else in the DC universe, Morgan had a walk-on in this world-shattering (literally) crossover.  He even gets a line:

Next, he turns up in Seattle, of all places, in a two-parter in Mike Grell's run on Green Arrow vol. 2.  Fun was poked at his more than passing resemblance to Oliver Queen.  Here's the cover of the second issue (#28) of that story from 1990:


After that he made a regretable appearance in the equally regretable Justice League Taskforce series, then it was back to Green Arrow (this time Connor Hawke) for three issues.  Dan Jurgens, always a Warlord fan, brought the Teen Titans to Skartaris in 1997.


2000 saw Morgan going toe-to-toe with Aquaman, again courtesy of Dan Jurgens:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Down in Undertown


The ghouls of the City’s world aren’t undead, but rather a subspecies of humanity whose origins are lost in history. If they were in Ealderde, the Old World, their presence is well hidden, perhaps obscured by legends of vampires and the like. In the New World, after centuries of mistrust and antagonism, the ghoulish community of the City has struck an unease truce with its human neighbors.

Ghouls appear as thin, sometimes almost cadaverous, humans with unnatural pallor and sharp teeth. Ghouls have little to know body hair. Young ghouls have hair on their head, but most have lost it by middle age. Their pupils are larger than humans, and reflect light like those of cats.

Their appearance, though somewhat unsettling, isn't the (heh) bone of contention between them and humanity. It’s their dietary habits. Ghouls are eaters of carrion, and have a taste for human flesh. They do not, as often portrayed in pulp stories eat live humans, or attack them like a predators. The truth, though, is perhaps equally lurid--in addition to their taste for human meat, they require the consumption of human brains periodically. Scientists feel they require some essential nutrients present in human gray matter. Those who don’t consume it in 14-28 days (depending on the individual) begin to suffer from a degenerative, neurological malady.

Ghouls have always lived underground, and tend to come out to scavenge at night. In the City, the underground construction which produced waterworks, steam tunnels, and the subways provided spaces for the ghouls to inhabit. These more modern structures they managed to connect with more older, labyrinthine structures built by the Ancients from some inscrutable purpose. This ramshackle area of ghoul communities is known as “Undertown.”

Undertown is a sovereign city, but has only been able to survive by making connections with the human city above. Ghouls relay grave valuables and things hauled from the underground to policemen, organized crime, and low-level bureaucrats, and no one notices bodies that disappear from potter’s fields, or even the City morgue.

Ghouls produce no physical works of art or literature, as far as is known. Their only material culture is scavenged from the upper world, or looted from graves.  They do however produce strange music, which many find unsettling, but others strangely appealing. They also have been known to put on plays--unsurprisingly comedy’s filled with “gallows humor.”

Occasionally, ghouls get hopped up on fungus from abandoned subways, or drunk on brain’s soaked in the bootleg liquor from their stills, and they go on a bit of a tear, scaring upper-folk and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Then, police and deputized civilians are sent down to crack a few ghoul skulls, and some ealdormen make noise about the “ghoul menace.” Mostly, though, the two peoples remain segregated.and mistrustful, but willing to live and let live.

Infamous ghoulish Vaudevillian Abaddon Blanchefleur in his last performance before his arrest.
(Thanks to Matt, dwelling East of Eden in the Land of Nod for this pic)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Images from the City

The Mundy Guides are a series works detailing locations in the New World.  One of the most famous is The Mundy Guide to the City: A Comphrensive Guide to the Five Baronies of the Metropolis.  The guide is illustrated with photos, artistic reproductions, and comissioned artwork.  Below are some images from the original edition of the work and their captions:

Workmen atop the Baldanders Building, doing repairs.  This eagle-gargoyle was briefly the perch for nightgaunts (thought to originate on the moon) until powerful thaumaturgic wards were installed.


The poster advertising the infamous last performance of Evard Kellar.  Panic at the performance resulted in the deaths of three, the hospitalization (including psychiatric) of at least ten.


Artist's sketch of the famous Cathedral of St. Bernward, designed by so-called "mad architect" Jostan Geoffry (also designer of the Church of Our Ladies of Sorrows in the City).  The largest of the three bell towers was once haunted by a malign spirit that manifest as a hunchbacked dwarf with the head of a crow and eyes that glowed like lanterns.


Posterity Plaza, bneath the "Colossi of Industry."  The site of the yearly "Champion of Innovation" competition, which draws inventors of a both technological and thaumaturgical bent--and spies of foreign nations.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Infiltration Beyond the Wall of Sleep

I saw Inception this weekend and really enjoyed it. Without revealing any spoilers beyond what appears in the trailer and reviews, it’s about specialists that engage in industrial espionage by entering people’s dreams and extracting secrets. Beyond it being a good film, its interesting for the game fodder it could provide.

The film helpfully divides the characters up into “niches”, specialties--or even, one might say “classes”--for us. There’s “the architect” who’s responsible for building the dream environments the mark is to inhabit, “the chemist” who concocts specialty sedatives or the like, tailored to the requirement of the particular job, the “operations specialist” who makes sure things run on schedule, and the real players, who are either good at the con in the traditional way, or by disguise (the "forger").

One could run a “dream operatives” espionage game as presented. It wouldn’t have to be limited by the movie's modern setting--it could be“multi-genre”: the player’s entering wild west style dreams, horror film style dreams, superhero dreams, or whatever.

The another option is suggested by the film's frequent references to the dreams, and dream architecture, as “mazes” or “labyrinths.” The team leader tries out his new architect candidate by having her draw mazes on graph paper...

Maybe, there’s a deep, collective unconscious substrata of dreaming that’s like the “mythic underworld?” Perhaps the the dream-thieves are going into dungeons, killing the monsters of the dreamer’s subconscious and stealing his treasure that's symbolized by gold and jewels, but comes out secrets? Of course, then one could gleeful (or more gleefully) throw in everything but the kitchen sink from movies, TV, comics and literatures--it would all be grist for the collective unconscious mill, right?  I don’t know what that overlay would necessarily add to dungeon crawling other than to allow an “in game” rational for anachronistic jokes, disparte pop culture borrowings, and metagame strategizing, but I’m sure there most be something cool that could be done with it, if those things weren't enough.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hobo-goblins


Hobogoblins are small, ugly humanoids of somewhat apish proportion, who live as itinerant vagrants or tramps, on the fringes of human society in the New World. They occasionally claim to be seeking work, but most often beg, scavenge, and steal to make a living, hopping freight trains to move from place to place. Mostly they’re considered pests, but they can be dangerous when the situation is to their advantage, so the prudent tend to avoid places where they congregate.

Where hobogoblins came from is a matter of debate. The most widely held theory is that they have always been on the margins of civilization in the New World, but documentary evidence of their existence is scant before the modern era, except for some Native legends of malicious, subterranean folk. Some have suggested they stowed away on ships from Ealderde like rats, but this ignores the considerable evidence that the Old World goblin was long ago driven to extinction. A third idea, not widely held, is that hobogoblins were spontaneously generated by the human mind, and that this is the reason for the belief they’ve always been here, because, in a sense, they have.

Whatever their origins, hobogoblins are now common in the New World landscape. They may be be found skulking around rail-yards, squatting in abandoned buildings, or camping in ramshackle, “jungles”--shantytowns--on the edges of cities, or sometimes in poorly kept city parks. Other the occasional knife, they are seldom armed with more than improvised weapons---pipes or boards for clubs, and thrown rocks as missiles. They also bite.

Hobogoblins can be helpful, particularly to those who can speak their cant. They gather a great deal of information, living on societies fringe, and watching, and their shamans know rituals for warding off vicious dogs, finding shelter from the elements, and calling up freight-trains. No one should ever mistake them for trustworthy, however, and one should deal with them only with caution.

Random Hobogoblin Names (1d100):
01-02 Violets M'Gurk 03-04 Burlap 05-06 Whiskey Bazoo 07-08 Coffin Nell 09-10 Hang-dog Legee 11-12 Fleabitis 13-14 Nimble Jek 15-16 Greenyteeth 17-18 Rotpizzle 19-20 Smolderblunt 21-22 Old Kid Slaug 23-24 Grimey Low 25-26 Dry Gulch 27-28 The Right Reverend Sinister 29-30 Grinless 31-32 One-Eye Elrood 33-34 Jabber Obscuro 35-36 Crooknose 37-38 Silent Zed 39-40 Gentleman Distemper 41-42 Spectacles 43-44 Mad Heck 45-46 Tusker Duke 47-48 Mumbles 49-50 Chauncey Throttlebottom 51-52 Goofus 53-54 Young Hairback 55-56 Ol' Rheumy 57-58 Lack Thumb Hari 59-60 Quicklip 61-62 The Grumbler 63-64 Handsome Bloat 65-66 Furious 67-68 Flash Bastard 69-70 Seldom Gently 71-72 Tobacco Sweetback 73-74 Unreasonable the Lesser 75-76 Bullneck 77-78 Wormy Ned  79-80 Boneyard Meech 81-82 Blundercuss 83-84 Ruckus Quietus 85-86 Thar'n'back 87-88 Brazen Dingus 89-90 Jenkin Miserable 91-92 Little Lord Flapjack 93-94 Bleeding-Gums 95-96  H. Hiram Horribilis  97-98 Simple 99-00 Lonelyhearts Ginny Finn.


Art by Chris Huth.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Something to Do With Death


Far to the south, and west of the City, beyond the southern border of quarrelsome Freedonia, is Zingaro, a nation torn by civil war, and home to a peculiar brand of the Oecumenical faith marked (or tainted) by the mysteries of death. No where is this influence more felt that the strange city of Cujiatepec.

Cujiatepec (or sometimes Cueyatepec) is an old town, older than the City, and founded to exploit rich silver veins by immigrants from Ealderde. Though much of the silver was mined out long ago, the city has held on to its wealth in subterranean vaults, and would be a target for one revolutionary army or another, if not for the cities association with (un)death that causes many to superstitiously give the picaturesque town wide berth.

The cemeteries to the west of the city have been found to have eldritch properties. Most of the dead buried there were somehow mummified, and don’t decay at a normal rate--but that’s the least part of the strangeness. The corpses there interred are transformed in a month’s time into undead. These creatures remain in a torpor until exhumed, but once this is done they’re as active as any zombie, and as intelligent.

The town fathers of Cujiatepec place a stiff “grave tax” on all burials. Families that can’t pay have their loved ones dug up and sold as undead slave labor. The same is done to vagrants or strangers that die in town, and to criminals. The local church supports this practice by suggesting that those dead thus employed are serving penance for sins in life, and earning their soul’s way into heaven by the labor of their soulless bodies. At any given time, a hundred undead may be working in the city as labors or auxiliary police.

It’s rumored that the heretical clergy of the local church long ago discovered blasphemous rites which may allow a ritually prepared body buried in the weird soil of Cujiatepec to retain more of its intellect and personality following transformation.  These differ, it is said, from the usual abdead of Zingaro in that they are animated by unholy energies and wholly malevolent. Some believe that there is a secret lich cabal of such creatures that rules the city behind the scenes and controls its riches.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: Battle Cry

Let's re-enter the lost world with another installment of my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"Battle Cry"
Warlord (vol. 1) #20 (April 1979)

Written and Pencilled by Mike Grell; Inked by Vince Colletta

Synopsis: Morgan and his companions lead “a ragtag band of soldiers, adventurers, and mercenaries” north into twilight lands, and toward the Terminator--the cusp between the outer and inner earth--and eternal darkness. There they hope to find Deimos, and Morgan's and Tara’s kidnapped son.

Within his fortress, Deimos watches their approach in his crystal ball, with Ashiya and Joshua nearby. Deimos tells Ashiya that the son will be the key to the defeat of the father. The scrolls of blood have shown him how to use the technology of their ancestors to bring about his vengeance. He uses a knife to take a scrape of skin from the infant boy, then places it inside the sphere of an ancient machine. As Deimos works the controls, Ashiya watches in stunned silence, as the sphere fills with energy, and the speck of skin grows and swiftly develops into a clone of Joshua. Deimos plans to hedge his bets by keeping the real heir to Shamballah in his power, no matter what. He sends Ashiya and the original child away to make his final preparations to greet Morgan.

As the Warlord’s band nears the city, Deimos turns his magic upon them. He causes an earthquake to bring a canyon walls down on them, decimating their group. No sooner have the rumbles of the avalanche died away, then a swarm of bat-fiends attacks the few survivors. Only our four (named) heroes are left alive to storm the castle.

Soon, the heroes are at the Grayskull-esque drawbridge of the fortress. The way is clear, and unguarded, which makes them suspect a trap. Thinking only of finding his son, Morgan moves across the bridge alone--only to have it fall away beneath him. He manages to grab a chain and keep from falling onto the spikes below. Then, his sharp reflexes save him again as the portcullis falls. He’s inside the castle, but separated from his friends. And the bat-demons are coming.

Morgan fights them savagely, but it looks like he might be undone by their numbers, when flaming oils falls on them. Morgan tells Deimos his aim is bad, but Deimos says his minions got too eager--and he wants the Warlords for himself. He taunts Morgan to climb the stairs and enter the open door.

Morgan moves through dimly lit corridors warily, always taunted by the laughter of Deimos. Finally, he enters a room where he finds teh devil priest seated upon a throne. Deimos demands he bow before him. Morgan responds by stabbing his sword through Deimos’s chest, and the chair behind him.

But Deimos only laughs. He can’t die now due to the power of the Mask of Life, which Morgan unwittingly delivered to his disciple, Ashiya. Unfortunately, while the mask gives him life, it doesn’t keep his body from decaying in the sun, so he must replenish himself with human blood.

Deimos tells Morgan that since killing him would be too easy, he’ll have Morgan fight his champion instead. He pulls back a curtain to reveal Joshua held in the grip of another Atlantean device. Morgan tries to rescue him, but Deimos holds him back with flames. Morgan can only watch in horror, as Deimos activates the device, causing Joshua to grow to a full grown man before his eyes.

This is Deimos’s champion--the Warlord’s own son. Morgan can kill him, or be killed himself. “Either way,” Deimos taunts, ”you are destroyed.”

Things to Notice:
  • Deimos bears some resemblance to the Wicked Witch in Wizard of Oz (1939): he watches his enemies in a big crystal ball, and he's got winged monkeyish servitors.
Where It Comes From:
Grell reaches into the mythic storytelling tropes well to pull out a little father-son conflict here, which echoes through Greek mythology, Le Morte D'Arthur, Shelley's Frankenstein, and Star Wars

The name of the foreboding Terminator region where Deimos's castle lies has nothing to do with killer robots from the future, but instead derives from (the misapplication of) the astronomy term for the dividing line between the bright and shaded regions of the disk of the moon or an inner planet. It also helped, I'm sure, that it has then same Latin root as "terminate," both deriving from terminus, "boundary marker."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lost Worlds...Found!

Any regular reader of my blog knows I have at least a passing interest in lost worlds, given that I devote one day a week to the exploration of one, and have digressed, at times, into examination of others. So imagine how pleased I was when I discovered a website with an overview of a whole lot of them.

Dinosaur Central’s Lost Worlds of Dinosauria, is both pretty comprehensive, and well categorized. You can browse by era (between 1860 and the present), or by location (Polar region? Other planet? Lost valley? You’re covered). The usual suspects are present--Pellucidar, Maple White Land,Skull Island--but there are also a load of others from more obscure sources (E\ever heard of the Hollow Mountain? Or the planet Nova, home of King Dinosaur? I hadn’t).

It goes without saying that these worlds provide a lot of fodder for pulp gaming, but of course, there’s no reason a lost world can’t be stocked with magical monsters as well as dinosaurs to provide a locale for fantasy gaming, as well.  For sci-fi games, there's always those wonders of convergent evolution the Dinosaur Planet.

So check out the site, and get yourself lost for a bit.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Five Million Years to the Dungeon


This past weekend, AMC showed Five Million Years to Earth (originally known in the UK as Quatermass and the Pit), a 1967 Hammer Film adapted from a 1958 BBC TV serial of the same name. This was the third Hammer Film adaption of one of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass serials, featuring the British rocket scientist, Bernard Quatermass’s encounters with X-Files-esque alien incursions.

For those who haven’t seen it, the film starts with the discover of an anomalous primate skeleton by workmen digging a new underground station in Hobb’s End, London. The large-brained primate is found in strata much deeper than it has any business being. If this discovery weren't enough, digging is halted again when what is taken for a unexploded German rocket is found nearby--only the so-called bomb isn’t magnetic.

Quatermass gets called in, and soon discovers the thing isn’t some V-rocket, but something far stranger--an alien spacecraft. The history of Hobb’s End as “bad place” plagued by ghost sightings and poltergeist activity, and a shape suggestive of a pentagram on the outside of the craft, leads Quatermass to link the presence of the craft with the human perception of supernatural evil. When they are finally able to get inside the craft and find tripodal, arthropod-like creatures with horns--suggesting the horn’s of the devil--Quatermass sees his theory as confirmed.

A few more experiments and a lot more ominous psychic phenomena later, and we find out the aliens are Martians who, like Lovecraft’s Old Ones, experimented on human ancestors and influenced our evolution. Their race dying, the Martian’s came to the “hostile” environment of earth and tried to turn humanity into a mental continuation of their race, if not a physical one. This includes, unfortunately, their violent attitudes about racial purity, which awaken horribly in London humanity in the film's climax.

It occurs to me that this might be a good explanation for dungeons, if one wanted to go in a weird science-fantasy direction, rather than a “mythic underworld” one.

Consider this: a spacecraft from a dying world crashes in the ancient past on a fantasy world. Their psychic power is considerable--maybe they're those perennial brainpower-baddies, the illithid, or maybe they're the thri-keen (why not give those guys something to do for once?). This race goes about influencing the evolution of the world. Maybe orcs and other humanoids are derived from hominid stock, or maybe, in a twist, humans (the moral mixed-bag), are derived from goody-goody elvish or dwarvish stock. Unlike Qautermass’s Martians, maybe our hypothetical race doesn’t stop there. Perhaps a whole lot of dungeon monsters are part of their attempt to recreate all the flora and fauna of their dying world? Other things, like undead, might be manifestations of their powerful psychic residue lingering in their semi-sentient technology. You get the idea.

This would probably work best in a world with only one dungeon (a megadungeon, naturally) where this was the “ultimate secret” in its lowest depths. Who knows, after discovering the spacecraft in the dungeons lowest levels, and mastering (or not) the alien psychic-tech, maybe the PCs go on their own voyage of conquest High Crusade style?

The Wrong Direction

Apparently I did something offensive along with the way.  I've lost two followers in the past three days, though I looking over the list, I can't tell who it would be. 

Or maybe I'm not being edgey enough?  Perhaps I need more political rants, or taking folks to task for not engaging in rightthink.

Ah, well.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Strange Things at the Automat


A phantom automat stalks the streets of the City. Horvendile & Hawberk’s may appear any where, but is less likely to be found on a busy thoroughfare or crowded street. It seems to thrive in the shadows. It's never found in the same place twice, and less than half of people who have been there have visited it more than once--and urban legend holds that to encounter it more than seven times is a bad omen, and harbingers death.

Horvendile & Hawberk’s, or sometimes “Double H’s” (used somewhat superstitiously), looks new, though its decor and signage looks a decade or more out of date. Decorative glass fixtures around the upper walls are etched with astrological symbols. The staff is always crisply dressed and pleasant, but doesn’t engage in conversation. In addition to the automat staples like coffee, pie, sandwiches, and macaroni and cheese, the coin-operated, hinged glass slots at double H’s sometimes hold (seemingly random) unusual items:

1. A Subway and Elevated Rail-Lines map of the City, with unknown stations identified.

2. The egg of an Oriental Griffin, worth a fortune -- had it not been cooked sunny side up. Eating it leads to heightened sight for 48 hours.

3. A girasol ring, worth $200 to a fence, but evaluation by an expert reveals it to mark the bearer by tradition as the heir to a micronation in Eastern Ealderde.

4. A risque postcard of a Poitêmienne prostitute, imbued with the power of the eikone Doll, so that the owner has the power of charm over members of the opposite sex as long as they carry it on their person.

5. A used napkin with the address of a warehouse where a Staarkish Imperial military manhunter golem has been stored. It’s battered, but only needs a power source to return to operation.

6. Four-and-a-half pages of illuminated text in a magical script from a grimoire. on which someone has over-written a series of bawdy limericks. Contains 1-4 spells, but must be recopied to separate the formulae from the limericks.

7. A post-bill asking after a lost dog named “Jakey.” The crude drawing of the dog is so vague as to be unhelpful, but it's strangely unsettling to the viewer. Any one who touches it will have vague nightmares and unrestful sleep that night.

8. A ornately engraved antique sixgun. It's intelligent (Int 17) and will attempt to dominate any bearer to force him or her to seek out its original owner who’s taxidermied corpse is currently on display in a roadside curio and oddity museum in the Dustlands. When used, it confers a +2 to hit.

9. A slice of preternaturally tasty pecan pie, that the consumer will talk about from time to time with some nostalgia for 1d20 years after.

10. A pocket note-pad with a glossary of hobogoblin cant and signs, which, if utilized improves reaction when encountering the tramp humanoids, and provides other helpful information for to “gentlemen of the road.”

Friday, July 9, 2010

Spirits of the Age

As I mentioned earlier, despite the professed monotheism of most of the people of the City and its world, there are beings or powers, bearing some resemblance to the pagan gods of old. Scholars call them eikones, whereas the common man doesn’t even officially recognize their existence--despite often evoking them in a variety of ways. Some mages, however, are aware, and treat with these entities to gain their aid.

The exact number of eikones is unknown, mainly because there’s no consensus on where the line between these beings and lesser spirits or thoughtforms should be drawn, if at all. Here are a sampling of the most commonly recognized, and recognizably powerful ones:


Management
Is the personification of government, bureaucracy, order, law, and the status quo. He’s also known by such names as High Muckamuck, Final Authority, and the Chief Bureaucrat. It’s his acolytes people unknowing condemn when they disparage “city hall” or complain about “pencil-pushers.” His authority is called upon every time a “proper procedure” is quoted, a regulation cited, or a problem referred to a superior.

Management can be call upon to lend false authority to a request and thus cut through red-tape or bureaucratic delay, or his power invoked for spells that lend the power of doublespeak for obfuscation. Unwanted attention from Management can lead one to bureaucratic entanglements, imprisonment, or even execution in extreme cases.

Some hold that Management is an avatar of the actual creator of the universe--a harried. bureaucratic demiurge, that his the true creator of even the god venerated by the monotheists. Manifestations of Management ignore this question unless submitted through the proper channels--a feat no one has yet to accomplish, as far as is known.

Management is often depicted in the garb of a wealthy gentleman of the end of the last century, though his depictions are as various as his rolls.


Phile
Is the spirit of solidarity, and fraternalism. He is invoked when people unite in common cause, and, more darkly, when they turn on the outsider. His power is felt in armies marshalling for war, and workers trying to unionize, but also in the anti-minority raids of the white-hooded Knights-Templar of Purity.

Invoking Phile can help create a feeling of solidarity in a group, bolstering moral. His influence can also be used to sway mobs and move to or from a particular course of action.

Phile always appears as a stereotypical (one might say exemplar) member of whatever group is gathering at the moment.


Doll
Is the spirit of sex, sexual attraction, and to a lesser extent feminine beauty. She resembles ancient fertility goddesses in some ways--though she has no association or role with fertility or procreation. Doll is invoked by those looking to impress or seduce, or in any way gain power over another through the use of sexual attraction. Her energy is felt in performances of dancing girl revues, and her regard can be felt in the smoldering gaze of Heliotrope “it” girls, or the coquettish glances of “spicy” magazine models.

Doll’s depictions are legion, but her pose and expression always suggest more than they show.



Maker
Is the builder, the planner, and the engineer--the spirit of progress from science applied. Blueprints are his scrolls, schematics his sigils. His hymns are the hum of machinery.

Maker is invoked by those involved in any task of engineering or industry.  His influence can be used to solve mechanical or engineering problems. His power can coax “a little extra” from engines, or get something working at a critical moment.

Maker is depicted as a steely-gazed man in a hardhat, or as a anthropomorphic piece of machinery.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Power of Faith

In response to my discussion of the predominant faiths of the City and its continent, Tom, chronicler of Middenmurk, asked about the role of clerics in the world--a topic I’ll take up today.

Many Oecumenical priests and monks, and Old Time Religion preachers and evangelists, have no magical powers whatsoever. The Good Book cautions against sorcery and witchcraft, and at various times and places throughout history its adherents have persecuted magical practitioners. Given the demonstrable reality of magic, and its obvious utility, this prohibition has had about as much success as the condemnation of prostitution or sexual promiscuity by religions of the world we know.

In fact, folk have continued to practice apotropaic magic to ward off evil through history. Even churches have been built with such workings placed on them. Folk-grimoires of Good Book-inspired magic have been used by rural magical practitioners and wise-folk for centuries. This has only sporadically been seen as “sorcery”, and seldom persecuted. The spells and rituals found in these grimoires are of protection for human or livestock from harmful magics or other sorts or harm, magical aide for everyday activities (agriculture, cooking, etc.), or the provision of luck. Many pious followers of the Old Time Religion, particularly in rural areas, are practitioners of this type of magic to this day.

The more centralized Oecumenical Hierarchate discourages this folk use (with only the mildest success) but has established certain religious orders whose goal has been the acquisition and mastery of magic for the greater glory of the Church and God. They tend to prefer the term theurgy ("divine-working"), and disparage the godless (and potentially soul-imperilling) thaumaturgy ("wonder-working"). These orders (both priestly and monastic) wield magics as powerful as any thaumaturgist, though their spells and rituals are somewhat different, having arisen by parallel development.

Despite the philosophical differences between these religious magic-users and their more secular rivals, there is no real functional difference between their two styles of magical practice.


There is a third type of religious magic-wielder who is fundamentally different. There are many names for such individuals but they're often called “gifted” or “miracle-workers.” Some thaumatological scholars have suggested that these individuals are actually mystics of some sort, but the gifted themselves believe their powers are granted by their Deity, or by their faith in the same.

Gifted manifest powers like speaking in tongues, healing, turning/destruction of undead, protection from evil, or supernatural strength or vitality. Some gifted have even been said to be able to appear in multiple places at once, or to fly. The gifted only have these powers when they are acting in congruence with the dictates of their god, or, as some scholars have pointed out, when the gifted person believes himself to be acting in accordance with his god’s will. These abilities tend to be activated by prayer, or song, or in some cases more extreme acts like self-flagellation, or ingestion of poison--any religious ritual to focus the mind and the spirit. These are idiosyncratic, varying from person to person.

Interestingly, the phenomena of those with gifts of faith is more common in rural areas than in urban ones, and more common among followers of more ecstatic sects than mainstream ones. It’s also in no way confined to those who actually have religious ordination or authority.

So those are the “faith-based” magical types of the City and its world. Exact game mechanics are yet to be determined (and open to suggestions), but I hope this provides the general idea.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: Wolves of the Steppes

Due to blogger malfunction let's re-enter the lost world with a late installment of my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"Wolves of the Steppes"
Warlord (vol. 1) #19 (March 1979)

Written and Pencilled by Mike Grell; Inked by Vince Colletta

Synopsis: With the sky-sleds they picked up last issue, Morgan and Tara have taken their search for Joshua and Deimos to “the far corners” of Skartaris. Morgan says there’s only one place they haven’t looked that fits Saaba description of “half light, half shadow”--the polar opening where Skartaris meets the outer world.

In his lair, Deimos watches our heroes in a large crystal ball, Ashiya attending him, and oblivious baby Joshua playing nearby. Ashiya indugles her maternal instincts by playing wiht Joshua, but Demios reminds her the boy serves but one purpose--to allow him to enact his revenge upon Morgan, who destroyed his empire, killed him, and condemned him to a life in darkness.

Deimos’s inhuman servant brings him a goblet of fresh blood and he gulps it down before railing against his current state. His sorcerous vitality is only sustained by fresh blood, the decay of his body only slowed by remaining in darkness. And Travis Morgan is responsible.

Deimos summons his magical powers and directs them into the crystal ball, calling forth a storm to torment Morgan and Tara. A lightning bolt strikes Tara’s sled causing her to crash, separating her from Morgan.

Tara awakens under the lecherous gaze of Torgash, the leader of a group of horsemen. He claims her as his own, but soon finds no man touches Tara without her consent, as the first hand he lays upon her is cut off cleanly at the wrist. Before the rest of the surprised tribesmen can respond, Morgan and Shadow attack.

In a few minutes, the horsemen are ready to retreat before the fury of the strangers, but fate intervenes. The flaming wreckage of Tara’s flyer explodes, knocking the heroes (conveniently) unconscious. Torgash wants to slit their throats, but his comrade Nikola reminds him that for slaying their brothers the whole tribe should decide their fates.

Tara and Morgan awaken in the horseman’s hall tied to a wooden pillar, amid feasting and revelry. Torgash tells them their fates have been decided, and offers a demonstration of what’s in store for them, by ordering Shadow, suspended in a net, lowered into a pit with two bears.

Morgan goes into one his berserker rages and bursts his bonds to fight for justice, and his wife’s dog. He goes for Torgash, but winds up tackling one of their other captors, sending them both into the pit. Morgan grabs the hapless man’s sword and tosses him into the waiting jaws of a bear.

Torgash tosses Tara into the pit, but Morgan catches her. The bears have finished off the other man, and are now eyeing them. Morgan and Tara share a tender moment, thinking that there deaths are near. Then Morgan, brandishing the sword, yells a challenge at the bears--then drop kicks one. Neither that, or any of his sword-slashes do any good. The bear swats him a aside, then moves in for the kill.

Just in time, A spear thrown from above kills the bear, then a rope drops down. Climbing up, our heroes are greeted by Mariah and Machiste, who it turns out have just returned--and are the leaders of the tribesmen.

As Morgan punches Torgash into the pit to settle the score, Deimos still watches through his crystal ball. He smiles as he proclaims the stage set for his final triumph.

Things to Notice:
  • This issue isn't designated as part of "The Quest" like the last three.
  • The strange color of Skartarian fauna is again on display with a lemon yellow stegosaurus and green bears.
  • Ashiya, Deimos’s hag-disguised-as-hottie crony from #10, makes a return appearance.
  • Deimos leaves human bones laying around his abode for little Joshua to play with.
Where It Comes From:
The title of this issue refers to the Cossack-like horseman--Morgan specifically calls them such in the story. It may have been directly taken from an older work with Cossack characters. Khlit the Cossack, star of several adventure stories by Harold Lamb, was often referred to as “the Wolf of the Steppes.” Robert E. Howard used the same phrase as this issue's title to describe his Hyborian Age kozaki.

After last issue's science fiction infused story, and the prior issue’s fantasy flourishes, this issue rounds out the review of Warlord’s influences with more a straight-on adventure yarn, if we ignore Deimos’s scenes.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer Reading

Looking for a good genre read for a summer vacation? Since I got a Kindle earlier this year, I’ve been able to buy books on even more of an impulse than before, since now I don’t have to find a place to physically house them. Here are a few, one digital and two physical, I’ve found particularly worthwhile--two just happen to be from the same author:

Fathom by Cherie Priest is the first Kindle formatted novel I purchased, and I was off to auspicious start. This is a modern fantasy, something like some of Neil Gaiman’s work,but who it reminds me of most is Tim Powers. It’s got the usual Powers elements--mythology reinterpreted, a bit of secret history, and obscure tidbits of the real world recast in a clever way. The story stars two young, female cousins on an island off the coast of Florida. They become involved in a battle between two powerful deities/elementals--one of water and one of earth. The water elemental has a plan to awaken the leviathan sleeping in the depths--and destroy the world. The young cousins are transformed into something other than human, and serve as pawns for the dueling supernatural beings.

Boneshaker is my second recommendation from Cherie Priest. This is what the kids are calling “steampunk” these days. Priest calls the planned alternate-history series “The Clockwork Century.” In a world where the Civil War still rages in the 1880s--abetted by superior transportation technology--an arrogant inventor's digging machine has turned Seattle into a no-man’s land, surrounded by 200 foot high walls. These walls are to hold in the blight--a gas, and one of those genre fictions substances that has an amazing variety of effects, all bad. The blight kills many that inhale it, and turns the rest into decaying zombies (“rotters”), and causes corrosion and decay of inanimate objects. Oh, and it can also be used to make a deadly and addictive drug called “lemon sap.”

When Zeke, the teenage son of the inventor responsible, heads into the blight-soaked city in a misguided attempt to clear his father’s name, Briar, his mother, catches a ride on an airship flying over the city to go after him. Yes, there are airships--this is steampunk, remember--so that’s a requirement. It’s also got another evil inventor in a sinister gasmask, an underground squatter society, inscrutable Chinamen, and the aforementioned zombies. What’s not to like?

My last recommendation is a work of nonfiction, but it does deal with magic. Spiritual Merchants by Carolyn Morrow Long takes on a fascinating topic I’ve dealt with here before--so-called spiritual supplies, used predominantly for African American folk magic. It outlines the history and origins of rootwork and related systems, and then details how the spiritual products industry went from local hoodoo drug stores, and small mail order operations, to major manufactures distributing products nationwide, with catalogs and the like. If you like to draw inspiration from real-world belief for your gaming, or just have an interest in real world magical systems, then its worth checking out.

That oughta do it for now.  It's only July, though, and I've still got a stack of books awaiting me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

If You Wanna Get to Heaven...


The dominant faiths of the City and the strange New World came were brought from Ealderde. The Natives had their own religions of course, as did the black folk, but their belief systems have either been persecuted out of existence (like some of the Native tribes) or forced to syncretize with the predominant religion (in the case of the black folk).

The Ealderdish colonists practiced a variety of faiths, but all of them were variations of a monotheistic religion which, like many things on the City’s terra inusitata (if my rusty Latin is still functional), it bears some resemblance to faiths of the world we know. The central holy writ of the religion is known as The Good Book. Many of the stories in it resemble incidents from the Biblical Old Testament or other works of the Abrahamic tradition, but tend to be less specifically placed in time or place and more “fable-like” or "folk-tale-like" in presentation. Likewise the New Testament analog with its “Redeemer,” is more of a series of parables, dialogues, and sayings, and less of a narrative.

There are numerous faiths based on numerous competing interpretations or variations of practice related to The Good Book. There’s the Old-Time Religion with very little church hierarchy, and a strong emphasis on good works, and on personal study the Good Book. Variant Old-Time ecstatics may experience glossolalia or other mystical manifestations. Such practices are seen as unsophisticated and rustic by City folk, but this sort of thing is common in the villages of the Smaragdines.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Oecumenical Hierarchate. This church is older that the so-called Old Time Religion, and has much more elaborate ritual and church structure. Its practitioners venerate a number of saints and keep a full calendar of ritual observances. Being less common among the Ealderdish who came to the new world, Oecumenicals are stereotyped as superstitious and foreign.

The people of the City’s world have a large amount of clear evidence of the existence of God or gods. After all, numerous adventurers have encountered angels from the Armies of Salvation or devils from the Hell Syndicate. A few have actual made physical journeys to Heaven or Hell. Confusingly, the Heavens visited and the monotheistic Gods encountered are not identical. In other words, multiple, competing sole creators seem to exist!


The number of heavens for these alternate Gods is generally given as “seven,” but its likely this is just a poetical convention. Some scholars believe there are as many heavens as there are faiths--each with a God that fits their particular belief. The devout are, of course, skeptical of this idea, and tend to view all Gods but theirs as false.

How this arrangement came into being, and what it says about the nature of the universe is subject of a lot of debate, but no clear answer.

It should be noted that “pagan” gods and goddess are also known to exist, but these beings typically seem weaker and closer to human scale in terms of power--though wielding magics well beyond mortals. They’re sometimes referred to as “small” gods, by thaumaturgical practitioners who are more accepting of their existence than the faithful.

There are also concepts personified (called eikones by scholars), seeming existing on a level equivalent to the greatest small gods, or between the small gods and the singluar [sic] God(s). One theory holds that the eikones are powerful spirits created by God to help in the day to day managment of the world, while another holds they are the product of the human mind and its inherent tendency to anthropomorphization.  Interestingly, the general populace is mostly unaware of their existence, despite the fact their lives are affected by them daily. More on this class of beings in a later post.