Friday, April 29, 2011

Lifestyles of the Adventurous and Famous

Let’s again open the doors of Munsen’s “Life of Fantastic Danger” Museum, where many of the City’s adventurers--both world-renown and relatively obscure--are celebrated:

Blaise (“Blaze”) Dalton
Once just a cowpoke riding the range up through Freedonia and the West, Dalton’s life changed when following lost calf near one of the side channels of the Grand Chasm led him into a lost valley. Saving a princess condemned to death at the hands of a giant prehistoric tiger won him the princess’ adoration and--after he broke the beast like it was a bronc--the tiger as a mount. Dalton abandoned the princess in the night a few weeks later, but kept the cat. He once famously rode it through the streets of the City one Yule night chasing the Grumpf who had abducted a chorus girl. Dalton was brought up n charges for the stunt, but was ultimately pardoned. His lasso is a rope of entanglement that supposedly comes when he whistles.

Belle “Bang-Bang” Starr
A runaway from a small East Freedonia town, “Belle Starr” first took that name when working as the target girl for a sharpshooter in a carnival sideshow. Though she soon graduated to “cooch” dancing (which was more lucrative), she also picked up the sharpshooter's art. Her talents noticed by an agent, she moved to the City and worked as a burlesque and striptease dancer--while adventuring on the side. She took part in the raid on the Growing Tower, braved the obsessive, junk maze of the Brothers Coyle, and spent a perilous (and raucous) night in the Hotel Elephantine as a "guest" of the lich Hieronymus Gaunt. Starr is a proponent of “less is more” when it comes to adventuring attire, and where possible goes into battle in one of her stage costumes, swearing by the distraction it provides (at least when dealing with foes human and male). Of course, she isn’t above improving the odds with Pasties of Protection, either.

Mingus Rooke
Though only a country boy just arrived in New Ylourgne, Rooke nevertheless impressed jazz band leader and sorcerer Salomo King. Learning both the music business and thaumaturgical working through music from King, Rooke put his skills to use with various adventuring gangs once he struck out on his own. Arriving in the City, Rooke began making a name for himself in the jazz night-spots and earned the enmity of Mr. Scratch, after turning down an exclusive contract--an enmity that would plague his adventuring career. Rooke retired from “the adventuring life” relatively young, after suffering a minor stroke.  This he suffered while blowing Gabriel’s trumpet to summon an angelic host to save Hardluck from processing by the alien Machineries of Night. Rooke still plays on occasion--if not quite as well as he used to--and operates a trendy Solace night-club, The Blue Hound.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Akakor: Dungeon, (South) American Style

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 Amazonian Indian (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, April 27, 2011

Warlord Wednesday: Back in the U.S.S.R.

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...

"Back in the U.S.S.R."
Warlord (vol. 1) #52 (December 1981)

Written and Illustrated by Mike Grell; inked by Robin Rodriguez

Synopsis: In the Terminator, the twilight zone between Skartaris and the outer Earth, Morgan trudges through a snowstorm. His only guide in the trackless waste is his compass and its pointing due south.

Getting lost isn’t the only danger. A looming shape out of the blowing snows reveals itself to be a wayward (and hungry) polar bear. With the bears reach, Morgan’s sword isn’t of much use, but he has his pistol and is able to dispatch the beast.

Meanwhile, in Castle Deimos, Shakira, Tara, and Faaldren worry over Jennifer. She’s still in a catatonic state, and none of them know what Deimos might have done to produce it--or how to reverse it. Tara is more worried about Morgan. She decides to go after him, and Shakira demands to accompany her.

The two ride out, Shakira in cat form on Tara’s fur-cloaked shoulder. They’re united in purpose, if not exactly on friendly terms. They leave Jennifer in Faaldren’s attentive care.

Out in the wastes, Morgan is worried he hasn’t seen Skartaris’ eternal sun yet. He mounts a rise and sees dawn breaking on the horizon--and realizes he’s been going the wrong way and is in the outer world! From the North Pole, all compass directions are south, he now recalls (which isn’t really right either, but Morgan’s science has never been the best). The only thing he can do is retrace his steps and go the opposite way.

He hasn’t gone far when he hears something coming toward him from the horizon:

A Soviet MiG “Foxbat!” The pilot turns and circles back--he spotted Morgan. He strafes at him with his machine guns, and Morgan defiantly shoots back with his pistol.

The pilot turns for another pass. Morgan reloads. He knows his chances are slim, but he’s determined to make a stand. The plane comes straight for him, but Mogan holds his ground:

Miraculously, he puts two bullets through the canopy, and one of those hits the pilot in the head. Morgan drops to the ground as the out of control jet passes right over him, then crashes a distance away.

Pretty pleased with himself, Morgan blows on the barrel of his gun, before twirling it around his finger and holstering in Western movie style.

He resumes his trek, but things aren’t going to be that easy. A familiar sound causes him to turn and look back at the plane’s wreckage. A helicopter is coming in for a landing!

Things to Notice:
  • Morgan seems to have (slightly) warmer clothing now than when he left Castle Deimos.
  • Morgan's compass comes out of nowhere.
Where It Comes From:
The title of this issue comes from a 1968 Beatles' song appearing on the White Album (actually titled The Beatles, according to Wikipedia).  It was released as a single in 1976.

"Foxbat" was the NATO reporting name for the MiG-25.  As Morgan knows it from the early stages--the prototype flew in 1964--but it didn't enter service until 1970, after he was in Skartaris.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Real Sandbox: Maps of Green Hell

Interested in a sandbox setting with wilderness and dungeons to explore? I’ve used the title "green hell" (borrowed from the 1940 film) for a fictional jungle land before, but this time I want to talk about the real deal--or at least one based in reality. Check out this somewhat fanciful map of the South American jungle--the Mato Grosso (“Thick Wood”):
A lot of cool stuff going on there. Some highlights:
  • Unknown Mountains of Gold and Mystery - They had me at "gold."
  • Unexplored Dangerous Territory - Obviously, explored enough to know its dangerous.
  • Atlantean Hy-Brazilian Dead City - If Dead City weren’t adventure fodder enough, Atlantean ought to sweeten the mix, to say nothing of Hy-Brazilian.
  • Strange “Cold” Light in Tower - Again the Hy-Brazilian Atlanteans are invoked for probably the most intriguing place on the map. And why is cold in quotation marks--so-called cold, perhaps? The mind boggles...
This is to say nothing of Indians in Roman style armor, headhunters, assorted glyphs, and the place where Fawcett vanished. It’s a whole jungle of adventure suitable for your fantasy or pulp game.

Monday, April 25, 2011

From the Mound

You never know what might be found in those ancient mounds doitting the Strange New World and perhaps other worlds, as well. Here are a few suggestions:
  1. Eight giant (8-9 ft. tall) human-like skeletons in breast-plates and ornaments of a copper-like (but harder) metal. Armor is +1 but half the usual weight.  
  2. 2d10 eggs that will hatch dungeon chickens if incubated.
  3. A phantasmagoria magic lantern obviously of more recent manufacture than the mound itself.
  4. Three partially buried skulls inscribed with mystical designs, which upon closer inspection are actually necrophidii.
  5. The mummified corpses of 1d8 children of both sexes who were killed by ritual strangulation. They will rise as undead mummies on the first night of the new moon after excavation. 
  6. A sarcophagi contain a person in strange, futuristic outfit. If the round, reflective glass helmet is removed it will reveal the apparently dead (but remarkably undecayed) body of one of the PCs at an advanced age.
  7. A glass pyramid containing a Mantid Warrior-Nun, who is alert and active, but unable to escape.
  8. A beautiful woman in ancient garb, who appears to be asleep. Approaching close enough to touch the woman (even if not actually doing so) will allow her to take possession of a victim’s body as per the magic jar spell. If successful, the victim’s soul enters a large gem in her regalia.
  9. And so on... Any suggestions?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Murder Ballad

Happy Easter to everyone that celebrates it. :)

Now, on to darker topics....

In the world of the City, sometimes even songs can’t be trusted.

A man in a bar hears a bluesman sing a traditional ballad about a betrayal and the grim things that followed, and he goes and shoots his business partner. A housewife listens to an old record that spins a tale of woe about a wayward man and a woman’s revenge, and serves up a rat poison dinner to her husband.

What thaumaturgists know as a murder ballad is a malevolent alien presence which can hide within traditional songs recounting a murder. The exact song which conveys the entity or infection varies--perhaps even from one day to the next--but it may be that target individuals are somehow “marked” ahead of the performance and the song is chosen to maximize the chance of influence. What the entity ultimately desires is to induce the target to commit violent murder.

The performers who act as conduits for the ballads are called Murder Balladeers. At first, they’re unaware that they’re carriers of virulent murderousness, but over time the horrible true becomes clear. Early on they may turn to alcohol or drugs to escape the guilt, but eventually most either become corrupted willing participants or else take their own lives.

There are some stories that Murder Balladeers develop other music-based magical abilities over the time they carry the malefic influence, but this has not been verified.

Murder Ballad
Target is someone with angry or resentful feelings toward another--but not typically murderous feelings. The narrative of the song played will have elements that can vaguely relate to the target's present situation. A failed saving throw means the target’s anger and resentment will suddenly grow, and the target will attempt to murder object of his or her anger within whatever time frame is feasible (typically 24 hours). While the target is emotional, he or she is not without reason, so the attack will be as planful and calculated as the time permits. If the target is restrained or prevented from completing the attack for at least an hour, he or she receives a second saving throw. After 24 hours--or after a completed murder--the whole experience will seem dream-like to the target.  

Dispel magic cast during the song's performance will negate the murder ballad's effect, and protection from evil or the like will bar its influence.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Weird Adventures: City Neighborhoods Map

Here's more Weird Adventure's cartography courtesy of Anthony at Battleaxes and Beasties.  Here we have the neighborhood map of Empire Island, one of the City's Five Baronies and its heart. 

Only a few of these have been touched upon so far in the blog.  Barrow Island (13) is the home of the City's potter's field and the tale-spinning Barrow Men.  Solace (38) is the foremost Black folk enclave in the City.  The Financial District (2) is the location of Prosperity Plaza and the Colossi of Industry statues.  Hardluck (3), an impoverished mostly immigrant slum, is home to those lovable scamps "The Hardluck Hooligans."

As an added "bonus" (so you can see what Anthony had to contend with) here's my rough map of the neighborhood which he skillfully turned into the map above:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lounge Lizards

Walk into a night-spot in Heliotrope or the City, or maybe even down in New Ylourgne, and you might unknowing rub shoulders with an ancient inhuman race. "Lounge Lizards," they’resometimes called derisively, but these sybaritic sophisticates have about as much in common with the various sorts of lizard-folk (gatormen, ciamen) as a movie star has with a skunk-ape. Unlike their brutish, reptilian country-cousins, they’re alluring creatures--but with a beauty alien to humanity--lithe, sensuous and gorgeously scaled.

They're great sorcerers who sometimes claim to have been the originators of the knowledge stolen by lost Meropis, or to have ruled the world of men’s apish ancestors--but they’re notorious liars, so there’s no way to know for certain. Some scholars link them to the Serpent in the Good Book, responsible for mankind’s exile from Paradise. Despite conspiratorial theories they probably don’t eat human flesh.  Probably. What's certain is that they're masters of magics of music, intoxication, sex, and illusion. They put their arts to use in their night world of jazz, liquor, and carnal pleasures--all in pursuit, supposedly, of some sort of mystical enlightenment.

Some former hangers-on of these serpent men (as they're also sometimes known) claim that they follow the pronouncements of a mad poet--the Lizard King--who performs at an endless party in his people’s ancient, underground temple. He recites in a husky, dream-darkened voice to the beat of bongos before enrapted human followers, swaying like charmed snakes before him.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Warlord Wednesday: Top Ten

Since issue #51 of Warlord was a reprint of issue #1, I thought I’d take this installment of Warlord Wednesday to look back over the series so far and pick my favorite issues. Here are my top ten, in chronological, rather than rank order:

First Issue Special #8: Where it all began. Maybe not the best story, but it establishes the essential Edgar Rice Burroughs elements: a fighting man from our world transported to another, and a beautiful princess to be won. I might also add, a figure of religion as a baddie in the form of Deimos.

 #3: Lizard Men cargo-cults, a ruined city of a more technologically advanced civilization, and a giant snake creature, make for great pulp adventure. And Machiste--tragically underused once he gets paired off with Mariah--in here in his prime.

 #10: A battle of the sexes with Morgan and Machiste versus Mariah in a race to the top of tower to win a magical artifact.

 #21: The culmination of a three-parter that is itself the culmination of the Second Deimos Saga that began in issue #15. Father against son with a tragic ending that will reverberate through the series until its very end in the most recent volume.

#22: Warlord playing Sword & Sorcery hero, drowning his sorrows in drink, and taking on a werebeast in a tower, where all is not as it seems.

#25: Still in Sword & Sorcery mode, Morgan turns mercenary, battles snow giants, and spars (with sword and quip) with Ashir, the second best thief in Skartaris.

 #38: Morgan’s daughter, Jennifer, comes to Skartaris. Not the most action-packed issue, but gives some insights into Morgan’s character and past.

#46: Morgan goes to the realm of death to save the soul of Shakira!

#48: Morgan and Shakira have one of their usual arguments, and Shakira’s proven right as Morgan attempts to play hero and stop a human sacrifice where all is not as it first appears.  Includes one of the series most clever reminders of the relationship between Skartaris and the Outer Earth.

 #50: The entire supporting cast appears for a “final” showdown with Deimos. It could be subtitled “revenge is a dish best served cold.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Curiosities and Eccentric Diseases

Internet browsing yesterday revealed that Jeff VanderMeer has edited a new collection bearing the name of the obscure scholar Thackery T. Lambshead--The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities--which is to be released in June. This is VanderMeer’s second involvement with a Lambshead work, the first being 2005’s The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, Complete with Illuminating Illustrations. This first work, and no doubt the upcoming one, should be of interest to aficionados of the weird and to gamemasters wishing to add a bit of weirdness to their game.

The diseases described are a diverse lot.  Michael Moorcock describes Samoan Giant Rat Bite Fever in a Victorian idiom. Alan Moore elucidates Fuseli’s Disease--a skin ailment occurring (and spreading) in dreams. Jay Lake discusses Mongolian Death Worm Infestation. One of the best is VanderMeer’s own article on Tian-Shan Gobi Assimilation--a creepy and Lovecraftian disorder of involving fungus (calling to mind VanderMeer’s Ambergris novels).

Maybe they all should have heeded the implicit warning of Neil Gaiman’s entry--Diseasemaker’s Croup.

Obviously, a good bit of fun is had by all--which includes (in addition to those above) Cory Doctorow, K.J. Bishop, China Mieville, and Rachel Pollack--and many more. I expect the same sort of good things from the new book which promises an even longer list of writers and illustrators.

Check ‘em out, so next time you’re feeling hypochondriacal you can think you have something really interesting.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Using Your Head

The Havatu tribe in the jungles of Asciana are infamous as headhunters. Usually, the heads they take (and shrink) are battle trophies, but at least once, a Havatu shaman seems to have coaxed powerful spirits into a group of shrunken heads and created magical artifacts. These were stolen by adventurers decades ago, and may now be encountered anywhere. There are five heads, each with a different power. The heads are intelligent, understand any language spoken to them, and reply in the native tongue of the person they are speaking with (though their breathless voices and sewn lips sometimes make them difficult to understand). A reaction role determines how helpful they are. The heads may answer as many specific questions about their area of expertise as they are inclined to. The heads' knowledge doesn’t extend to other planes or planets.
  • Bomju: Sees all things they transpire by day not hidden by magic.
  • Gomdala: Sees all things that transpire by night not hidden by magic.
  • Trukmak: Hears all things that occur underground, but tends to be most interested in the movements of borrowing animals, and must be redirected.
  • Moromo: Knows the location of all lost things, but it may take her d100 hours to remember.
  • Naapau: Knows an antidote for all poisons and toxins, but must taste the poison to identify it.
  • Ap-Oora: Knows things of magic, and can reveal the basic properties of magical creautres and objects, but will usally demand  to be close enough to "smell" the thing analyzed (though this really isn't neccessary).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Black Gold, Crude Death

Eight years ago, rural life in eastern Freedonia changed forever with the coming of an oil boom. The discovery of a large oil field at previously unreachable depths, has caused rigs to sprout like weeds, and drawn drillers, wildcatters, and speculators in droves.

Oil drilling is a risky proposition in a number of ways, not the least of which are the paraelementals that dwell in the oil. The exact mixing of the primal elements that leads to the creation of the petroleum or crude oil elementals is unknown, but it seems to occur only under intense heat and pressure, and in the presence of the numerous fossilized remains of algae and other microscopic sea life. Having there origins in mass death, may play a role in the petroleum elementals hostile disposition--they’re infused with malign, anti-life energies from the Negative Energy Plane.

When roused petroleum elementals can break drills, or destroy rigging, and sometimes rise from the wells to kill. Some large oil company operations hire thaumaturgists to protect their wells and hopefully prevent such events. Smaller operations rely on the dubious accumulated wisdom of roughneck superstition--simple charms, crude sigils, and unthinking ritual--for what protection they can give.

Some thaumaturgical scholars worry about the sheer amount of negative energy present in oil. The undead hatred of life from so many organisms, no matter how lowly, has power. Will there be a price to pay one day for drawing it from the depths, and releasing it into the air?

Number: 1
AC: 3
Move: 6”
HD: 8, 12, or 16
Attacks: 2d8 (constriction)
Special: +1 or better needed to hit, flammable

Friday, April 15, 2011

Four-Color Cross Sections for the Crawling

My post of the Krypton maps went over so well last week, I thought I'd offer a few more maps from the pages of comics this week (plus it allows me to squeeze in a little more Weird Adventures writing time).  This time, here's something for the fans of cross sectional maps like in the Holmes basic set. 

If you're thinking about taking somebody's stuff, what better dungeon to raid than the one belonging to the guy with "those wonderful toys":

That's nice, but lacking some cool details--so to reall blow your delvers' minds combine it with this isomorphic map:

The batcaves all well and good, but maybe you want a whole under-mountain of exploration.  The Challengers of the Unknown's secret base has you covered:

Hey, Risus Monkey...How about these as geomorph fodder? ;)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Every Picture Tells a Story

More pictures (and more stories) from the world of the City...

Make one crazy wildcatter sell his claim? Yeah, It seemed like easy money. Nobody mentioned the golem.

"Come now, that’s unfair! You must appreciate that I have devoted my life to the study of thaumatobotany. And now, the change to cultivate and study such a rare specimen...Well, surely you would agree that in the pursuit of knowledge sacrifices must be made."

Chair horrors are another one of those products of an obviously deranged wizard’s imagination. They're incredibly tenacious and patient killers.  This is the one that got Tussman. It must have got his scent in a ski lodge five years ago, but finally killed him in the trophy room of the hunter's club in the last week.

Specimen 223.  It’s no ordinary simian skull--that was certain from the beginning. There’s the intermittent glow, of course. That’s what got it into the museum. The lascivious atavism it seems to induce in those in its proximity for extended periods was what got it confiscated--but not before some racy headlines were made.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Warlord Wednesday: By Ice and Fire (part 2)

Continuing with the 50th issue, let's re-enter the lost world with my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"By Ice and Fire"
Warlord (vol. 1) #50 (October 1981)

Written and Illustrated by Mike Grell; inked by Bob Smith

Synopsis: When we last left Skartaris, Deimos had just opened a portal for an audience with the Evil One of the Age of Wizard Kings. Deimos begs a boon of the diabolic appearing sorcerer. The Evil One wants to know what’s in it for him. Deimos tells him he’ll give him anything if he’ll restore his body, alive and whole. A deal is stuick, and Deimos is restored.

At that moment, Mungo, Mairah, and Machiste rush in to confront the Evil One. The Evil One, still new to his powers, feels himself slipping in the face of Mungo sorcerous onslaught, so:

After taking Deimos’ power as per the deal, he banishes the former demon priest so he can focus on the fight. Now that Sarrgon is freed and joining his power to Mungo’s, the Evil One quickly decides it might be better to stage a strategic retreat, and flies out of the castle.

Deimos arrives back in the Skartarian present, bemoaning the cruel trick played upon him.  The Evil One's mocking laughter (somehow) fills his ears. Ashiya, also getting her jabs in, shows him the Warlord and his band approaching in his crystal ball. Deimos, ever smooth, tries to get Ashiya to help him in exchange for making her a queen. Ashiya just laughs at his transparent change of heart, and tells him the truth--she spirited away Morgan’s real son. It was the clone he killed. Then she disappears, leaving him to his fate.

Deimos isn’t defeated yet. He still holds Jennifer, and he has his Atlantean technology. When Morgan and his friends ride boldly into the castle, they’re unaware Deimos has them in his gun sights--until he blasts Aton out of the saddle.

Deimos (dressed like some sort of space viking) has them pinned down with his energy rifle--all except Morgan, who draws his own pistol and goes for him, dodging and weaving between what cover he can find. When he gets close enough for a showdown, he finds Deimos has another surprise. The priest has Jennifer!

He demands Morgan step out into the open, and Morgan does so. Before he can kill him, Faaldren attacks, trying to save Jennifer who he has come to see as a friend. Deimos blasts Faaldren, but the distraction gives Morgan an opening, and he fires:

Deimos is blasted off the parapet, but he recovers quickly. He snatches a horse from Shakira and rides out of the castle.

Morgan runs down to check on his friends. Tara is only shaken, but loyal Aton lies dead. Morgan tells his mate he’s going after Deimos. Shakira wants to go with him, but Morgan tells her to stay behind and look after Jennifer (who’s still catatonic) and Tara. Morgan leaps astride his horse:

Morgan rides north toward the arctic, and into the cold wastes. He’s so driven in his purpose that he pushes his horse to death. Undeterred, he continues on foot, until he finds Deimos set upon by a pack of wolves. With a cry of denial, he rushes to his foe’s aid and either kills or drives off the wolves.

Unwilling to let Deimos die by any hand but his own, Morgan drags him to an old ship half-buried in the snows. He builds a fire, wraps Deimos in blankets and waits. Outside, the wolf pack reforms, and waits, as well.

When Deimos’ eyes open, Morgan’s harden. He stands:

Deimos shrinks away in fear. Behind Morgan, a wolf enters the ship. Morgan smiles. He holsters his gun, then waves good-bye to Deimos. He pauses only to kick the fire out before walking out into the night. Behind him, the wolf pack sets upon Deimos. Morgan doesn’t look back.

Things to Notice:
  • The last three pages are "silent"--without dialogue or sound effects.
  • Morgan and Tara never have any idea of the involvement of their time-lost friends Mariah and Machiste in events.
  • In lieu of a letter column, this issue featured short synopses of every issue of Warlord up to this point.
Where It Comes From:
The title of this issue brings to mind the place of Deimos' death, but also might refer to the state of Morgan's emotions as he hunts his hated foe, only to leave him to fate rather than kill him himself.

This issue feels like the culmination, both plotwise and thematically, of many things going on in Warlord for sometime.  Morgan and Tara return to the place of their last struggle (at least as a couple) with Deimos.  Again they come to save one of their children--though they're unaware of that.  This time, there's a possiblity that Morgan will have his family restored rather than losing it.  However, the final image of him walking alone in the night snows doesn't seem particularly hopeful.

Another funny parallel is that canines again play a role again in Deimos' demise. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lands of Dream and Death

This continues my examination of the Astral Plane in a way that’s a bit more in keeping with real world beliefs--but mainly more weird in the way I’d like it to be. As I mentioned last time, there are “sub-realms” in the Astral. Two of the largest and nearest (to the material plane) of these are the land of Dreams and the Underworld. These two are about as stable as anything can be in a place defined by mutability.

I’ve talked about Dreamland or Slumberland before, but I’ll summarize here. Dreams, balloons of astral-stuff, float up through the material plane, until they find their level in the Astral. Here they merge into the realm of the mirror-masked Dream Lord. He and his subordinates, the gnome-like Sandmen, monitor the onieric flows for signs of trouble.  These flows are the “canary in the coal mine” of the health of the whole collective unconscious. The Dream Lord and his men strive to ensure virulent nightmares don't infect other dreams, and that idle fantasies don't spoil and bloat to become perverse obsessions.

The Dream Lord also tends a garden of mortal dreamworlds. The imaginings of some mortal minds imprint themselves on the astral substance and become something more than dreams and something less than full astral sub-realms. These worlds often feel complete when one is inside, but experienced dreamers may exploit there relatively simple structure. There are often “wormholes” or “back doors” from dreamworlds into the Astral, though Sandmen work assiduously to patch these whenever they’re found.

It is true that there are a number of noumenal planes that answer to the vague description of Heaven and Hell; it's also true that arrival in these planes of ultimate reward takes a while. How long “a while” is in a place outside the dimension of time, is a metaphysical debate I won’t get into here. Suffice it to say, only the very worst or very best of souls travel to their final afterlife destination quickly. The rest wait in the Astral, their subtle bodies staying stuck to their souls. At some point, the bored dead got tired of waiting and constructed there own afterlife of sorts in the featureless gray fog.  And this is the Underworld. It’s a sprawling city, full of shabby stand-ins for various afterlifes, giving the whole place a theme park sort of feel.

The dead wait in this ramshackle city to get their transit papers so they can move on. Some dead are in such denial that they simply sing hymns in their constructed heavens, or loudly demand punishment from imagery devils (or Hell Syndicate functionaries on a holiday) in their constructed hells, and deny the existence of the transit papers, byt they will one day get them, all the same.

Transit papers are deliver by the Gray Men, bland functionaries in gray suits, whose visits are accompanied by the faint sound of wings. The dead person’s subtle body then dissolves and their soul rises into the outer planes.

Until that time they wait. Some work jobs, or hang out in bars, or try to evangelize. Others get seduced by necromancers into returning to the Material Plane as undead. Some even get so used to the underworld, they start trying to find ways to avoid their eventual reward.

There are rumors that a few have managed to escape. It’s said they dug out of the Underworld and into the open Astral. Whether this is true, or just afterlife rumor, no one seems to know.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ad Astral (Plane)

After tackling the Etheric Plane, and the two energy planes, it’s time to move beyond the material and into the astral. I’m going to differ with the standard D&D presentation conceptually, if not mechanically. It largely treats the Astral Plane as something of an exotic “outer space” (which is fine, in its own right, of course), but I’d like to suggest that the Astral is the “idea-space” surrounding the material world--a place of thought and emotion rather than matter. It’s an ocean with one shore being the phenomenal world (the material plane) and the other the noumenal (the outer planes).

In my previous discussion, I mentioned the astral body possessed by all intelligent beings. In a sense, they’re always there whether they know it or not. Their thoughts and dreams are given malleable form. Also, it’s the first place souls, swathed in their astral body, “rise” to upon death. Some of them stay there a long time, as I’ll discuss further later.

Astral Traveling
The near astral is a strange expressionistic or dreamscape overlay on the physical world. What places mean affect their astral appearance as much as their material appearance does. This zone is constantly disrupted, or rippled, by rising dreams and daydreams, and movements of creatures with astral presence. The deep astral is a surrealistic realm where all spatial dimensions are relative--distances may vary on different occasions and for different travelers. The distances between things are influenced by conceptual association--similar colors, elements, moods, etc., as much as anything else.

Certain inanimate objects have astral shadows. These are things that have been invested with a great deal of psychic, emotional, or magical energy. The planets, for instance, exist in the Astral, as do certain magical and ritual items.

There are cities, fortresses, and the like in the Astral. These are the sub-creations of extraplanar powers, or powerful sorcerers, or aborted fragments of the same. Physical law in these realms is more stable, having been established by the creator. The seedy astral metropolis of Interzone in the world of the City is such a place.

Other than where it would conflict with the above, the mechanics of the original and 3e Manual of Planes, work pretty well--the key is to make them a bit less mechanistic and a bit more malleable.

Tomorrow, exploration of the Astral continues with realms of death and dream.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Scent of Fear

Phantom Gassers or Phantom Anesthetists are mysterious beings who make sporadic attacks on towns and villages by use of gas, and the widespread panic these apparently random and motiveless attacks cause.

The Gassers are human-like, though thin and androgynous, but their movements are strange, parsimonious almost to the point of mechanicalness. They dress completely in black and wear stylized gas masks over their faces. They have never been known to speak.

Phantom Gassers seldom operate in groups larger than three. They attack homes with relatively few people in them (no more than five) and introduce their gas with spray nozzles, through whatever means available--open windows, under doors, or the like.

The gas is colorless, but has a peculiar, sickly sweet odor. It functions similar to stinking cloud (lasting 2d6 minutes), except that all those who fail their saving throw must make a second saving throw or be feebleminded (as per spell) for 1d10 additional rounds. Even those who make the first saving throw are sickened (-2 to rolls) until they can leave the area, or the cloud disperses.

Few suffer any long term effects of the attack, but when word gets out in the community, everyone who hears the tale responds as if they’ve entered an aura of fear, and will react as per the fear spell if they encounter anything suggestive of another phantom gasser attack.

It may be that this fear is the true motive of the gasser’s attacks.

No.: 1-3
AC: 8
HD: 2+1
Move: 12”
Attacks: 1 (gas, as above)
Special: If killed, a phantom gasser explodes in a blinding flash that is effectively a 3 dice fireball.