Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: The Price of Change

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...

"The Price of Change"
Warlord #85 (September 1984)
Written by Cary Burkett with Deryl Reinhold; Penciled by Dan Jurgens; Inked by Steve Mitchell.

Synopsis: In Skartaris, Jennifer Morgan, Ashir, and Faaldren call for Tinder around the entrance to the cave where they took refuge last issue. Tinder however, is crawling down a narrow passage after what he saw in the back of the cave. He comes into an opening an finds a gold-furred monkey-like creature trapped in a spider’s web.

Tinder cuts the monkey free with his dagger. Then he sees the creature that made the web:

Tinder and the monkey run, but Tinder trips over a skull in the dark cave and gets knocked out. The monkey (surprisingly) calls his name. The spider-thing approaches...

In 2303, Morgan is hot-dogging in one of the saucerships with Reno with him. The ship is inertialess due to its null-time drive. It does have its limits, however, as the controls start to blow when Morgan pushes it to Mach 95. He barely brings it into the hangar in one piece. The strange chronal energies almost cause one of the mechanics caught near the ship to start to slip away into the timestream. The others manage to pull him back.

Later, Morgan addresses the soldiers. It seems the scientists have told him that the nuclear war has destroyed the Earth’s ecology and will soon leave it uninhabitable. To travel back in time and prevent the war is their only chance. Morgan explains the plan:

Morgan has had a saucership cartridge key made with his rank of colonel on it rather than president. As he explains to Reno: “If this works, I won’t be President.”

Everyone climbs into the timeships and they fade away in the swirling eddies of time. In the hangar they left behind, something unforseen has occurred--a rift in spacetime itself has formed.

In the past, the saucers fly into the path of the Russian missiles that started the war. They use chronal rays to age the missiles into falling apart. Once that’s done, they fly over and do the same thing to the American missiles in the counter-attack. In the oval office, the president and his staff think aliens have intervened.

The Russians send futuristic fighters after them. Morgan has the others cloak themselves, while he distracts tha attackers. Unwilling to shoot them down, Morgan tries to outfly them. His craft is damaged and he crashes. He and Shakira briefly have to fight off Russian soldiers before rescue arrives.

Since both sides think aliens have attacked, they begin to join forces. Morgan decides to encourage that and has the saucers fly in formation around the globe to be seen by millions. With an outside “enemy” mankind will stop fighting each other.

An unforseen problem occurs. The ships flying so close cause a null time field too strong for their chronal dampeners. The ships are thrown wildly through non-space and non-time.

Things to Notice:
  • The cave entrance seems smaller this issue than it did last.
  • In this future the Cold War seems to have re-established itself.
Where It Comes From:
The fake alien invasion helping avert nuclear war occurs in a famous comic published a couple years after this one. The plot goes back to The Outer Limits episode "Architects of Fear." The saucerships flying on formation is reminiscent of similar scenes in the 1957 film Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Weird Adventures at Gen Con

Weird Adventures will be on sale at Gen Con 2012.  I've joined up with the gang at the OSR booth headed up by Bill Barsh of Pacesetter Games.  So far, other participating groups include Expeditious Retreat Press, Black Blade Publishing, Faster Monkey Games, Center Stage Miniatures, Frog God Games, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and Henchmen Abuse.

In some form, I imagine there'll be some Gen Con exclusive Weird Adventures material, as well.  More on that to come.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mention My Name in Wermspittle

Or maybe it’s better if you didn’t. I’m not sure I want my name on the twitching lips of a drug-addled veteran of the Sewer-Militia who has “seen the elephant” (and never recovered), or spoken in the harsh rasp of plague-ravaged refugee right before he chomps down on a gore worm sausage.

If you haven’t been following the fecund imagination evident in Hereticwerks then let Wermspittle be your first introduction to it. The titular Wermspittle is a dark fantasy city that burrows beneath the Dung Age right into a trippy world of parasites and pathogens--something like a Cronenberg film version of Warhammer Fantasy as written by William S. Burroughs. Oh, and build that decaying structure atop a foundation of public domain weird and scientifiction (fun and educational!).

If that sounds good to you, let me just say my high concept summary doesn’t do the depth of the setting justice. Check it out, and all the other cool stuff at Hereticwerks.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

In Arcadia

Astral travelers sometimes finding themselves passing through a veil of mists and arriving in the apotheosis of sylvan settings, the realm of Arcadia. In this plane dwell forgotten woodland spirits and pastoral gods and creatures out of myth.

Arcadia is hyper-real; it seems more vibrant and alive than the material plane. Smells and tastes seem directly drawn from the most vivid examples in memory; everything is in technicolor and imbued with a faint glow. The world itself is alive--with potentially communicative spirits in everything. Night and day and shifts of weather are sentimental things, sensitive to the meaning of events or the mood of powerful beings.

Arcadia borders other related realms. The Land of Faerie emerges from it (though this realm also has tunnels linking it to the Lower Planes). There is also the Land of Beasts, where the iconic animal lords dwell, ruled over by King Lion.

Despite it’s ties to age-old fables, the Land of Beasts keeps up with the expectations of modern visitors. Adventures from the City have found there home mirrored there in a city of anthropomorphic animals who frequent nightclubs and drive cars. The Cat Lord can often be found here, in the swankest of night-spots.

Magical practitioners view Arcadia and its neighboring realms as places to salvage materials and items out of myth and legend, and to parley with powers that--though perhaps consciously forgotten--still retain great mythic resonance in Man's unconscious.  As with all extraplanar dealings, caution is warranted: These primal beings have agendas of their own.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Mark, the self-styled evil DM, over at The DM's Screen (check it out) tagged me in one of these blog questionaire sort of things. I'm not going to tak part in the chain-letter part, but I will be a good sport and answer Mark's questions

1. What made you decide to write a blog?
A friend of mine who got tired of listening to my game-related ideas suggested it.

2. What would you say has been the highlight of your blogging career to date?
Publishing Weird Adventures. Get your copy today!

3. Name your favourite animal.
A liger. Ok, not really.  I don't know that I have a nonextinct one.

4. What has been the best thing to ever happen to you?
Answering the next question. Seriously though, I don't know how to compare various good things on the same scale.

5. You are in a lift with a Nun, a middle-aged business man, a Karl Marx look-alike, a twenty-something female charity worker and Stephen Hawking. The lift shudders to a stop, the lights go out. There is a high-pitched scream followed by a thud. The lights come on and the Nun is lying dead on the floor with a knife in her chest. Who did it and why?
Is she actually dead or does she just appear dead? If she's not faking, I would say they're all in on it together.  It will sound more plausible when I'm wearing a deerstalker cap and smoking a pipe.  Which, of course, I would be in the elevator.

6. Name your favourite colour.
To wear: gray.  Just as a color: orange.

7. What has been the scariest thing to ever happen to you?
Automobile accident.

8. You are about to break the world record for the tallest house of cards in front of a crowded room of onlookers and world press. All of a sudden, some idiot parent allows their errant child to charge over, knocking into your table, sending your world record beating attempt crashing around you. What do you do next?
Shake my fist in impotent rage and scream to the heavens.

9. If you had to spend a month on a tropical island, what four luxury items do you take with you?
Internet access.

10. Once on your tropical island you are allowed to have one person of your choice to stay with you. Now this can be anyone famous, living or dead, fictional and from any period of time/history - loved ones are not allowed - who do you choose and why?
Someone with the power of teleportation so I could leave the island when I wanted.

11. What has been the worst impulse purchase of a totally useless item (one you convinced yourself into believing you needed, but didn't)? What was it, and do you still have it?
About the worse impulse purchases I've ever made are books I probably won't read.  I guess I'm either pretty frugal or either I just don't regret much.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What'll It Be?

For a little brand name flash, here are some alcoholic beverages consumed by denizens of the City:

Albecoeurl: A moderately expensive brand of gin imported from Grand Lludd.  It's bottle is decorated with the image a panther.
Brown Jenkin: A whiskey brand from New Lludd.
Caballero: A tequilla imported from Zingaro.
Dyer Corbie: A brand of light overproof rum.
Gentleman Loser: A sour mash whiskey emblazoned with the image of a smiling "gentleman of the road." The brand is nearly a hundred years old, but was marketed in its native South as a "medicinal" for much of its history.
Storisende: A Poitêmien brandy. Expensive.

Cold Iron: A light lager brewed in Yronburg.
Eschenbach: Another prominent beer from the Steel League.
Green Griffon Ale: Sometimes just called "Griffon."  It's symbol is (appropriately) a green griffon rampant.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mushrooms, Pigs, and Cold Light

The thaumaturgic forces unleashed by the Great War have left much of Ealderde strange. For an example of just how weird this transformation can be, one need look no farther than Lumière,the former capital of Neustrie and the Gallian Alliance. Once Lumière’s lights were emblematic of a city that never slept, a place of art and culture. Today, Lumière is a bombed out ruin, and the amber luminescence that crawls or flows through its streets and buildings is something of another world.

The thing is alive; almost everyone agrees on that, but little they agree on little else. Is it matter? Some gelatinous substance similar to the strange denizens of the underground? Or is it pure energy, somehow thickened and held? If it’s the latter, it’s light with no heat.

In the day, it seems to hide in the skeletons of buildings, perhaps fearing the sun. At night it pours forth and spreads out over whole blocks. Rats and vermin flee it. Living things it touches develop strange tumors or growths. When it first rose, victims caught in its path were left rooted to the spot, transformed into masses of cancer.

The glowing touch of the thing seems to have created at least one mutant species. The wild swine that moved into the city to root and scavenge after the devastation of the war have been changed. They've grown large, and bloated and pale as grubs, with eyes that glow with a paler yellow that the thing. Though they can’t speak, they seem to have evolved an evil intelligence. They roam the streets in herds, seeming to take pleasure in spoiling what remains of the works of man, and looking (though they're hardly picky eaters) for their primary form of sustenance: fungal spores.

The Mushrooms, the swines' unrelenting foes, resent their progency being consumed by the swine with a displeasure that's more cold practicality than horror. These fungal sapients likely lived beneath the city even in previous times (certain legends hint at their presence) but when the humans fled they saw an opportunity. From their inhuman alchemical laboratories they create structures from fungal stock and weaponize molds to strike at the swine and keep humans away.

Looters and treasure seekers make forays into the ruin of Lumière, but it's a dangerous undertaking. Even if the poured-honey creeping of the luminescent thing can be avoided, there are the packs of hungry swine to be outwitted, and the silent and dispassionate Mushroom scientists to be dealt with.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Hail to the Chief

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...

"Hail to the Chief"
Warlord #84 (August 1984)
Written by Cary Burkett; Penciled by Dan Jurgens; Inked by Dick Giordano.

Synopsis: Having just been told he’s been made president of what’s left of the U.S. in a post-apocalyptic 2303, Travis Morgan responses with the appropriate level of incredulity. The representative of Congress explains that Secretary Dubrow had every other official in line for the office killed. With the president’s suicide, Morgan (as leader of the revolution) is basically the only person everybody trusts.

Morgan doesn’t want the job. He’s a leader of men in battle, not in politicals. Shakira suggests he’s the only one who can do this job, otherwise the fighting will continue. Morgan reluctantly agrees.  He's sworn in in front of cheering crowds.

As soon as that’s done, Morgan goes to his office and he’s set upon by people wanting him to make decisions of various sorts. He quickly gets feed up with it and starts brandishing his sword to clear the room.

In Skartaris, Jennifer Morgan, Ashir, Faaldren, and Tinder are still walking toward Shamballah. They’re attack by a pack of bear-dog things. Since Jennifer hasn’t rested enough to use much magic, they’re forced to hide in a cave. Tinder notices a pair of eyes in the darkness. Soon, a strange stench chases the bear-thing from the opening of the cave—and our heroes out of it! But Tinder isn’t among them.

In the future, Morgan is getting feed up with being President:

He figures his only way out of this is to go back and time and make sure the war never occurs! (Now he thinks of that!) Luckly, he’s got a temporal scientist with him. Reno tells him it's theoretically possible to shift this timeline to an even more remote probability.

Reno reveals that despite his previous statements, there are already completed timeships. They’re kept in an ancient cavern miles beneath Reno’s complex in a military base that has no doubt been in the same sort of time-stasis. Leaving V.P. Duncan in charge, Morgan and Reno fly back to Utah.

After talking with the base's commanders, Morgan and Reno go below. Reno summons the elevator with a key card that looks eerily familiar---like the card that operated the timeship. When they arrive in the cavern, Morgan isn’t surprised to see that it’s the weapons cache he entered from the cave tunnel to New Atlantis!

After hearing Reno’s and Morgan’s story, the commander calls his men together for President Morgan to address them. Morgan’s plan is simple:

Things to Notice:
  • Ashir and Jennifer saved by a bad smell.  That's heroic.
  • The first concern of Morgan's staff after he's elected president is getting him some more clothes.
Where It Comes From:
This issue finally gives the origin of the mysterious weapons cache and hints at the reason there was a card with Morgan's name on it.  The bear creatures that menace Jennifer Morgan and friends are explicitly said to be giant varieties of Ursavus elmensis, a dog-like bear ancestor native to Europe during the MioceneThe "giant" part is important here, as U. elmensis is thought to have only been the size of a small dog.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Presidents That Would Never Get a Day

I'm off today for (U.S.) Presidents' Day, and I thought it was a good time to recognize a few U.S. Presidents who will never have a day to commemorate them.  Not so much because they're forgettable or non-noteworthy, but mainly because they're fictional--and in some cases evil.

Nelson Rockefeller was a real guy, though on our Earth he never became president.  In the Alternate Earth of Marvel's Squadron Supreme, he becomes an evil president.  Power corrupted Rockefeller--the power of the Serpent Crown, an artifact from ancient Lemuria.

Also on the world of the Squadron Supreme, a former superhero named Kyle Richmond also became president.  Richmond's crimefighting identity was Nighthawk; he was essentially the Batman of his world (I think I'd vote for Batman for president).  Anyway, he eventually got controlled by an alien called Overmind, so his administration couldn't be called a complete success.

In the regular Marvel Universe in the 70s, Captain America uncovered a veritable cancer on the presidency: a president who was also secretly the leader of a criminal organization planning a takeover of the U.S. government.  This president's identity is never revealed in the issue, but his suicide after a confrontation with Captain America leads to his replacement with a double so the public wouldn't know.  Suspiciously, this was all around the time of the Watergate scandal.

The president in the somewhat dystopian future (or was it present?) of Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns looks a lot like Ronald Reagan.  This President wraps himself (literally) in the flag and is unfailingly optimistic while invading Central American nations and ultimately leading the country into nuclear war.

So next time you're tempted to complain about the job a president is doing.  Just think of how bad it could have been.  They can't all be Kyle Richmond or Travis Morgan. Or Prez.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Stories from the South Seas

The South Seas is a vaguely defined area of the Tranquil Ocean extending from Pyronesia east and north to unnumbered islands extending south from Southeast Eura and south to the mysterious south polar continent of Australis. The area is a crossroads of trade and a meeting place of exotic cultures that has captured the popular culture imagination of people in the City.

Many of of the islands in the South Seas are inhabited by people called loosely grouped as Oceanians who are believed to be the descendants of ancient Mu. Though this continent long ago disappeared beneath the waves, mysterious ruins attributed to it are sometimes found on isolated isles.

Most Oceanians are friendly--but not all. There are still rumors of strange rites and even cannibalism. Exaggerated sailors’ tales, perhaps.

There are dangers other than humans in the South Seas. Utilizing primitive smoke-belching steamships, the Demon Islanders have claimed a territory in the wake of the Great War. Here it’s hoped they can be contained, but they remain a menace to the region. Also, the Crab-men, ancestral enemies of the Oceanians, still attack settlements and even unwary ships.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Worlds of Leigh Brackett

Burroughs’s was there first, and C.L. Moore was there first with an anti-hero, but Leigh Brackett made Mars her own. I don’t know why it took me so long, but for my birthday, I treated myself to the second and third Haffner volumes collecting Brackett’s planetary fiction: Lorelei of the Mists: Planetary Romances and Shannach-The Last: Farewell to Mars (the first volume is titled Martian Quest: The Early Brackett in case you were wondering).

Brackett’s most famous creation is probably Eric John Stark--raised Tarzan-like among primitive nonhumans on Mercury.  As a man caught between two worlds, Stark gets caught up in various struggles on the Earth colony worlds of Mars and Venus. Often, like in Moore’s Northwest Smith stories, this involves ancient secrets. Unlike Smith (who just seems lucky to survive the weird horror he encounters), Stark is a more of man of heroic action.

The stories in these volumes take place in the same solar system, but feature protagonists generally less “larger than life” than Stark, though usual just as hard-boiled. Most have the tension of colonizers versus native cultures that underlie the Stark stories. Often the conflict changes both sides.

There's a lot of good game inspiration in Brackett's world-building. There are the colorfu.l gaseous seas of Venus that boats can sail, but in which humans can also breath.  The drug scourge of colonial Mars is shanga--radiation from certain jewels can cause a temporary atavistic transformation. A deep valley on Mercury holds the slowly pertrifiying last survivor of a psychic species.

That's just the beginning.  If you've never read Brackett or you only know her Stark novels and stories, you should check these out.

Art from original pulp magazine

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: All the President's Men...!

It's my birthday today--but it's still Wednesday and time for another installment of my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"All the President's Men...!"
Warlord #83 (July 1984)
Written by Cary Burkett; Penciled by Dan Jurgens; Inked by Dan Adkins.

Synopsis: Separated by hundreds of years, Travis Morgan and his wife Tara each lead men into battle. In 2303, Morgan and a group of escaped slaves prepare to seize an aircraft hangar. In the present of Skartaris, Shakira and her band prepare to retake their ship from the New Atlanteans.

Husband and wife both achieve victory with some clever tactics. Morgan breaks into the aircraft and turns its guns on the troops guarding it. Tara utilizes some grenades (“strange eggs”) she took from the ancient weapons cache to sink the New Atlantean vessel.

Morgan plans to find Reno and Shakira and free the slaves from the other compounds. Looking over the complex’s floorplan, Duncan discovers that the whole place is dependent on the solar power center. A small band could seize it and control the whole place.

In occupied Shamballah, the people suffer under the cruel boot of the New Atlanteans. In the wilderness outside of town, forces gather that plan on changing that. Ashir, King of Kaambuka and second best thief in Skataris, meets Jennifer Morgan and Tinder.

In 2303, Morgan and his men continue to fight toward the power center. Morgan almost gets shot in the back of the head but a black cat saves him. It’s, of course, Shakira. She been prowling around and found a secret passage. Morgan asks how she asked the imprisonment:

At the end of the passage, the rebels are surprised to find a futuristic oval office replica--and the President of the United States behind the desk. The President is confused and doesn’t seem to understand what’s going on. Secretary Dubrow does, though—and he’s got a gun. In villainous fashion he lays things out for our heroes: The president had a mental breakdown over his guilt at triggering the war that killed millions. Dubrow has been running things ever since.

Morgan is mad as hell. He gives the President a “buck up” talk that seems to snap him back to reality a bit. Realizing what he’s done, the President makes an executive decision and whacks Dubrow with a big presidential seal. Morgan follows up with a punch to Dubrow’s jaw. He snatches the flag from Dubrow’s floundering grasp, and stands the pole upright.

The President gives a speech ending martial law and restoring the slaves to citizenship. Then he tells Morgan he wants some time alone in his office. Morgan hasn't gone far when he hears the gun blast. The President has committed suicide.

Later, Morgan is trying to repair his broken shoulder armor. Duncan and Shakira come to summon him to the Congressional Hall…

President Travis Morgan?!

Things to Notice:
  • The President here looks a little bit like Bill Clinton to me--which is obviously coincendental since he wasn't elected until 1993.
  • I guess in the post-Revolution U.S. of the future their a little loose with the Constitutional requirements for office--unless somewhere off-panel they checked Morgan's age and citizenship.
Where It Comes From:
The issue's title is a reference to the 1976 film All the President's Men based on the 1974 book of the same name about Woodward and Bernstein's investigation of the Watergate scandal. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine from the Sorcerer's Skull

Happy Valentine's Day to all you folks in Internet Land.  I've got a lazy post--FtSS classic--for you today.  Last year's look at "Love (and Sex) in the City."  If you haven't read it, it's new to you!

Oh, and here's a little something from Enoch Bolles:

Monday, February 13, 2012

Afterlife During the Wartime

Explorers in the planes beyond have recorded two noumenal realms devoted to the concept of war, though from two different perspectives. One is a shining realm of trumpets sounding the call to glorious battle for a righteous cause. The other is a grim place of endless, grinding war of attrition, leading to an apocalypse they may never come.

The Halls of Valor or the Fields of Glory is the name given to the after-life for the heroic warrior dead of several pagan faiths. Its trappings are pre-modern, though never in history did swords and spears so gleam, or armor so shine. The warriors revel all night in feasting halls and walk out at dawn (strangely hangover free) to do battle with representatives arriving from places of evil and chaos (or at least the representations of such beings). Occasionally (if that word has much meaning in a timeless place) tourneys are held, and the warriors pit themselves against each other. While dire wounds are suffered, they heal quickly and wound and pain are forgotten in the face of glory.

There have been some warriors of the Oecumenical faith, or even soldiers from modern times, who fell in battle and were taken to Halls of Valor in some sort of cosmic error. Some warm to the place after a while, but others seek a way out by appeal to the pagan gods who rule there. Sometimes, angels try to recruit such misplaced warriors to serve in the Heavenly Hosts. This is considered by the eikone Management a tidy solution to the problem of a misplaced soul.

The other realm is a place of blood-red skies, where clouds of ash are buffeted by winds thick with the smell of death. This is the Plains of Armageddon, the Eternal Battlefield. Here, the souls of warriors damned by their actions in war are conscripted as soon as they arrive into the army of one faction or another. Weapons are supplied by agents of the Hell Syndicate or the demon lords of the Pits; They use the armies here as proxies for their own agendas. Warriors from infinite worlds and all of history do battle in bleak and blasted landscapes where no one is truly trustworthy and most hands are actively raised against every other.

Some of the damned delight in bloodlust and slaughter and give themselves over fully to their not entirely metaphorical demons. Others seek desperately to escape and sign faustian deals to return the the Material world as diabolic thralls. Others are lucky enough to make contact with the agents.of Heaven and make other deals for a chance at working off the stain on their souls.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

When Rise the Stone Giants!

Some islands in the Tranquil Ocean are noted for their rough-hewn monolithic statues. Sometimes these are whole human figures with oversized heads, other times just the heads. Explorers have wondered at these statues and proposed various theories of their origins. Only a few have witness first hand the statues' most startling secret: They aren’t statues at all.

The stone giants of the Tranquil Ocean are living things. It is believed that they are the remnant of a once wider spread species (similar beings have been encountered in other parts of the world), but they now only exist in numbers on scattered islands. Though they appear to be constructs, post mortem examination suggests they are living beings (though composed of more earth elements than humans) with a rocky integument. It's is theorized that (like gargoyles) the body of a stone giant slowly petrifies further over their long lifespans. It appears that this process may lead to the giants spending longer and longer periods immobile until they become sessile--statues, for all practical purposes.

It’s unclear how stone giants reproduce--or if they reproduce at all. Specimens which appear different ages (based on size and their level of activity) have been observed, but there are no apparent sex differences, nor do their appear to be infants or children requiring the care of adults. Some have suggested the stone giants came (or were brought) here from some distant world, but the true is unknown.

Stone giants spend long periods of time in torpor. They can stay immobile so long that they can be partially buried by sediment. Whether this is strictly physiologic or partially purposeful is unknown. Mobile stone giants can speak in booming, sonorous voices, but the immobile aged become incapable. There is some evidence that stone giants possess telepathy, and the ancients of their kind may continue to communicate in this fashion after they are immobile. Human psychics often report uneasy or fearful feelings around them that have been theorized to result from the giants’ attempts at communication at frequency below that which can be interpreted by the human mind, but can be “felt."

Caution should be taken in dealing with stone giants. They are territorial, and may attack those they feel have trespassed. Natives of islands with stone giants placated them with blood sacrifices in previous times, though it’s unclear the giants took any particular notice.

[Treat these stone giants as stone golems or greater stone golems, except that they aren’t constructs. Oh, and just in case anybody missed it, I did an interview about the origins of Weird Adventures with Chris Kutalik over at the great Hill Cantons blog last week.]

Friday, February 10, 2012

Welcome to the MEGADUNGEON!

Looking for something for a little weekend family fun?  Why not a little delving? Sean Robson--half of the creative duo at Hopeful Monster Creations knows just the place.  He's developed a simple and fun update on the dungeoneering board game.  Megadungeon! delivers what you remember from that classic game of yore, but updates it with modular dungeon tiles and multiple levels.  And it's recession-priced at a mere $2.00.

I had the pleasure of checking this game out while in playtest, and I can say Sean has built a lot of detail into a fairly simple ruleset.  I'm looking forward to giving it a whirl with the nephews when I can pry the game-controllers from their hands.

Get it here.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Manuscript found in Airship Wreckage, 5877

The journal of geologist Farnsworth Lake, found in the wreckage of the airship Orvendel, is the only hint we have of the fate of the Altamont Arctic Expedition of 5876. Despite it’s undisputed authenticity, the veracity of its account is controversial.
Throughout much of the early voyage, Lake describes the view of the world below as obscured by thick mists. Temperature readings of the rising air are notably higher than typical for northern Borea. Proponents of the “Polar Homeland” theory have suggested this was due to the volcano-surrounded island which was home to the ancestors of the Natives of the New World. Skeptics accept the possibility of volcanoes, but dismiss the idea of lost tribes. No credible land or sea expedition has been able to approach the area thanks to malevolent ice elementals and death frost winds.

When they had flown north of the mists, Lake describes the mountain-ringed Polar Continent, quartered by sea channels. Here, the airship made landfall and managed to make contact with the obsidian-skinned dwarf people who inhabit the ancient, perhaps pre-human cities built into the sides of the mountains. Previous expeditions had painted the dwarves as savages (and possibly) cannibals, but Lake suggests the gifts of gems the expedition brought may have placated them. Lake records that the dwarves recipricated by giving Altamont's group a portion of the tusk of a giant walrus and ancient sculptures (perhaps idols) recovered from the cities. The fact that none of these artifacts were found in the wreckage is made much of by the manuscript's critics.

Soon after leaving the dwarves, Lake records that the radio operator sighted a party of “beautiful but strange-appearing” women. These women were described as having skin like porcelain and being utterly unaffected by the cold. Historic accounts report “amazons” on the Polar Continent, but no other expeditions have ever recorded a sighting.

Altamont had planned to turn back at the edge of the maelstrom at the center of the “ring” of the Polar Continent, but for some reason, the Orendel strayed closer to the imposing spire of the Black Peak. Lake records that they begin to drift in the wind, their propellers pulled off by the mountain's magnetism. Blue fire was seen dancing across the hull. Lake theorized this was the anti-magic field of the Peak interacting with the alchemical coatings.

It was in the second day adrift that Lake describes the moaning sound beginning. All the crew heard it, though it was louder for some than others. At first, they thought it might be a natural phenomena, but soon they discerned that it was more like a chorus of voices. Their sleep was disrupted by the sound. Lake confesses he has a mounting sense of dread as the Bleak Peak filled the horizon in front of them. He reports seening shapes moving beneath the at times almost mirror-smooth surface of the mountain.

At this point Lake’s account becomes more terse and (perhaps) more confused. He mentions two of the crewmen as being “gone” but he does not comment on the particulars of their absence. He records entries he dates earlier than previous entries, but that clearly occur after. He relates Grandon’s (the historian) obsession with “runes” on the Peak that Lake cannot see. Finally, he writes that Altamont plans to extend sails to try to catch the wind and and turn southward.

The Orendel's wreckage was recovered 10 months later from an ice flow. No bodies of the crew were found, but as all the supplies were left aboard, it seems unlikely they abandoned the craft purposely. No further evidence of their fate has ever been found.

The greatest barrier to the acceptance of the manuscript's account is reconciling it with the last radio communication received from the expedition.  Though the journal appears to be written in Lake's own hand, Altamont reported that Lake died during the encounter with the polar dwarves, nearly two weeks before the journal's last entry.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Revolution

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...

Warlord #82 (June 1984)
Written by Cary Burkett; Penciled by Dan Jurgens; Inked by Dan Adkins.

Synopsis: Wrongly imprisoned as spies aboard an aircraft in the post-nuclear war USA of 2303, Morgan, Krystovar, Reno, and Shakira are transported to futuristic Washington, D.C., A city strangely unscarred by the devastation they’ve seen elsewhere.

As the officer that captured them turns them over to Secretary Dubrow, Morgan still has faith he can correct this misunderstanding. He hasn't noticed the “weaselly sadistic villain” look Dubrow has about him, and gets beat to unconsciousness and dragged to the slave camp for his trouble.

See that look on Dubrow?

Anyway, in the present of Skartaris, Tara is frustrated that she can’t go after her mate in another of the saucercraft. The leader of the New Atlantean contingent the Shamballans beat last issue let it be known that they had captured Tara’s warship. Warrior queen that she is, Tara can’t let something like that stand:

Back in the post-apocalypse, Morgan wakes up bruised in a slave pit. Krystovar is with him, but Shakira and Reno must be being held elsewhere. Another slave, a former engineer named Duncan, explains how a laser defense system protected Washington from the worst of the destruction. All non-military citizens had been conscripted into work crews for repairs. These had eventually evolved into slave gangs to keep the city running.

The slaves are hauled out of the pit to go to work in the hydroponic gardens that grow the city’s food. While at work, Morgan stares too long at the President with that slimy Dubrow beside him and gets zapped for his trouble.

Morgan has had all he can take. Back in the camp that night, he lays into Duncan about not fighting back. He gives the other slave a rousing, patriotic speech about freedom!

All of the slaves buy it. Not for the first time, Morgan is leading a rebellion.

Making use of Duncan’s engineering expertise. Morgan is able to block the flow of the hydroponic nutrient solution, causing pressure to build up in the big tanks until they blow. The slaves start seizing weapons from the surprised and injured guards. With Morgan’s heroics setting an example, the slaves secure the area and seal it off. Morgan plans to find his missing friends and keep fighting:

Things to Notice:
  • Once again, Warlord gives a pessimistic view of future fashion. Dubrow's outfit looks like the seventies leisure-suit version of a Star Wars outfit.
  • Duncan bears some resemblance to Machiste and plays a similar role in the story.
Where It Comes From:
This issue recalls Morgan's slave revolt at the gladiator school back in issue #2.  Like in the older stories, Morgan employs an American history quote in his speechifying.  This comes up in later series as well.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mystery House

It's most often found at the end of a stretch of dirt road, be it along a lonely bayou in the South, perched precariously on a ridge in the Smaragdines, or rising like a mirage out of the hardpan in the West. Those that seek it seldom find it without magic, but the lost are somehow drawn to it. However visitors arrive, few can forget the sprawling mansion known as the Mystery House.

One story says that Hulysses Mulciber, heir to the Mulciber Repeating Arms Company, was troubled by nightmares of a gaunt gunslinger riding ahead of an army of the ghosts of those who had died due to his family’s rifles. A medium told him that he should build a house designed to confuse and confound the spirits to escape the wrath of the Spectre of the Gun (as she named the gunslinger) and his vengeful army. Another story (more prosaically) holds he began the house as an elaborate gift to his wife who was angry over his philandering. Whatever the reason for its construction, records agree that building originally began in the Smaragdines.

The house even as conceived twisted and turned back on itself--it was almost a maze--and that was before it gained a life of its own. Hulysses didn’t live to see it; he died of blood poisoning following an accidental shooting in a hunting accident. The weapon that did the deed was, of course, one of his own company’s. His wife Ansonia, fervent believer in the reality of the grim Spectre, completed the project and paid numerous thaumaturgists (real and otherwise) to lay all sorts of protections on the house. And construction continued.

Whatever protection conferred to the house didn’t extend to Ansonia. She died of thirst, having gone mad and gotten lost in her own house. It was shortly after her death that the house disappeared from its original lot.

There are some stories of treasures in the house--mostly the mundane riches of the Mulcibers--but most who seek it do so out of curiosity. Most who find it, though, didn’t mean to. Those that have been there and survived report doors to nowhere, hallways that turn back on themselves, and rooms that shift. The stale air is filled with the low, arthritic creaks and groans of the house twisting and rearranging itself, and the distant sound of heavy footsteps--and jangling spurs.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Chronicle (now in theaters) tells the story of three teenagers that encounter something crystalline (maybe something from the movie version of Krypton given its appearance) that seems burrowed underground. This strange event leads them to developing super-powers--specifically telekinesis at a fairly powerful level.  After some exuberant experimentation and sophmoric goofing around, Lord Acton's aphorism plays out in the way expected by anyone who's familiar with "Where No Man Has Gone Before", The Korvac Saga, or Zapped!.

Chronicle is a found footage sort of film, but this is better handled than a lot of other films of this type.  While the movie would probably have worked just as well without it, it adds a first person immediacy to the display of super-powers that someone makes it seem more real.  The flight sequences in particular seem to capture a bit of what it would feel like to fly moreso maybe any other superhero film.  Chronicle's final battle (informed, I think, by Akira and possibly Alan Moore's Marvelman) isn't quite as flashy as what you see in more typical superhero films, but it has a visceralness they often lack.

So how might Chronicle inform gaming?  Well, it seems well-suited as fodder for a "super-powers in the real world" sort of supers game, like Mutants & Masterminds: Paragons or the more grounded mechanics of GURPS Supers. That would be the obvious inspiration.

I think Chronicle might give some inspiration for fantasy gaming, too.  A lot of the wonder and horror that surely would be evoked by the sort of power wielded by rpg mages is blunted by its ubiquity (Harry Potter) or drown out by the surrounding worldbuilding (The Lord of the Rings films).  It might be worth thinking about this some to see if there's a way the "more than motal"-ness of magic-users can be portrayed.  Also, the power corrupting trope is perhaps under-utlized in fantasy.  Maybe there are so many evil wizards because corruption is an occupational hazard?  If so, how would that effect how adventuring parties view their resident mage?

Friday, February 3, 2012

One Night in Thrangbek

(Transcript of the Exotic Ports O’Call travelogue newsreel on the city of Thrangbek):

Bustling and cosmopolitan Thrangbek is the exotic jewel of the Gulf of Khayam. This city of approximately one million is a city of canals: It’s so crisscrossed by waterways that many of it’s citizens choose to live on houseboats. As the capital of the Kingdom of Khayam, home to majestic temples, and a center of trade, Thrangbek gets its share of visitors. Once a year, though, it plays host to an unusual convention. Players, gamblers, and spectators descend on the city in the hopes of winning the prize of enlightenment.

Despite all the magnificent temples dedicated to long-lobed, smiling Bo, the real religion of Thrangbek seems to be shatrang. To call shatrang “chess-like” is to only scratch the surface of this game whose rules are modified by a dizzying array of conditions including the position of the planets and stars, and whose pieces are infused with thaumaturgy. Shatrang players beginning training in childhood and those that can’t memorize its rules nor master the psychic control of it’s willful pieces often wind up beggars along the canals, their minds broken.

It has been theorized by Western thaumatologists that shatrang's complicated rules are actually the formulae of series of spells, disguised.  Shatrang player-adepts are said to absorb psychic energy from their opponents when they defeat them--games are popularly thought to take place not just on the Material Plane, but the Astral, as well.  This accumulation of energy allows players to advance to the next level. Their ultimate goal is the achieve the highest rank possible--a title translated as “Grand Master of Flowers.”

The final match for the ultimate title occurs away from the public. At the endgame, a portal is said to open to a higher plane, and the winner steps through to greet the other Immortals of shatrang and gain the prize of heavenly knowledge and vistas beyond the mortal realm.

As far as Exotic Ports O'Call can determine, no Grand Master has ever returned to let anyone else in on any of those secrets of the universe.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Shadow of the Beast

Somewhere in the Steel League, 5889:

“So your town is cursed, you say?”

“A demon or god makes its burrow beneath our town. It rises once a year, and everywhere it’s shadow falls turns as cold as the bitterest winter. The Natives use to placate it, somehow.  We've been less successful."

“Have you tried to kill it before?”

“Several times--and failed. Other hired adventurers. The old meat locker was made into a makeshift tomb if you’ve like to see--”

“That won’t be necessary. Two questions, Mister Mayor: Do you have enough in the town treasury to cover our fee--and do you have any dynamite hereabouts?