Monday, August 31, 2015

What I Did (and Didn't Do) on My Vacation


Very little rpg-related, is the short answer, but I'm back and ready to resume my usual blogging schedule. I figure the best place to start is with a product update.

On the Strange Stars front: the good news first. Work on the old school gamebook is going to accelerate, thanks to the Fate book being (mostly) put to bed, vacation behind me, and Robert "Savage World of Krul" Parker's help.

Now the bad news. I had hoped to be announcing this week that the Fate book would be released in a another few days to a week, but alas, that is not to be. A file crash (which I'm told is a known issue with large InDesign files) caused us to lose the most of the last edits. B. Portly is having to put those back in a second time. My hope is that that won't take too long, but I can't give a specific timeframe.

Beyond Strange Stars, I've been planning to devote my energies next to doing a couple of adventures. In Doom's Wake is a piratical thing that I've already talked about the first playtest of here. The other is set in the Land of Azurth, my current 5e game world, and will be called The Cloud Castle of Azurth. You'll be heairng more about these on the blog, but Strange Stars will be done before either of these sees the light of day.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Catalog of Baroque Space

Too John Dee and Paracelsus to be Spelljammer, too antiquated and weird to be Space: 1899. Here's all the posts I've written on Baroque Space in one place:

Baroque Space: The Argument.
The Planetary Spheres: A cosmos in one place.
The Fae Moon: Is an eldritch mistress
The Inner Planets: Mercurians and Venerians.
Among the Asteroids: Random asteroids.
Death & Time: Saturn is a gloom place.
Famous Pirates of Baroque Space: Dashing villains all, I'm sure.
Social Classes: Life on Earth.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wednesday Comics: A Marvel-ous Treasury of Oz

You may be familiar with the Eric Shanower scripted, Skottie Young illustrated Oz adaptations published under the Marvel Illustrated line. If not, you can still get them in the trade--even in an omnibus. These are not Marvel's first forays into Oz. For that, we have to look back to 1975, and Marvel's first collaboration with DC.

By the 70s, the MGM film had become a yearly television event. Mego launched a toyline based on it in 1975. Marvel and DC are (coincidentally) both planning comics adaptations. When this is discovered, Infantino and Lee agree they should jointly publish the venture. The book as eventually published winds up with the title MGM's Marvelous Wizard of Oz and a Marvel creative team: Roy Thomas for script, John Buscema on pencils, and inks by Tony DeZuniga's Filipino crew, "the Tribe." It was published in the larger "treasury" format.

Apparently, a story pre-branded with "Marvelous" in the title was just too much for the House of Ideas to pass up--particularly when said book was in the public domain so no licenses need be paid--so 1975 saw a treasury-sized adaptation of the second Oz book, the Marvelous Land of Oz. The full title (according the indicia) is Marvel Treasury of Oz featuring The Marvelous Land of Oz. Thomas again scripts, but this time art is by Alfredo Alcala.

Marvel apparently planned at least third go in 1976. A house ad proclaims that Ozma of Oz is coming with the same creative team. Apparently, quite a bit of art was done, and Thomas was even working on the script of the fourth book, when Marvel discovers that Ozma isn't in public domain (and it wouldn't be until 1983). The John Buscema cover is still around, too:


Marvel based their character designs on the MGM film throughout the series, giving a sort of glimpse into what it might have looked like if the movie had become the sort of franchise that's common today. Of course, new characters had to be introduced, which tend to look like a Marvelized version of John R Neill's art work in the original books.

Monday, August 17, 2015

In Doom's Wake Again


This weekend the expedition into the weird weed sea around the Doom's Wake continued. After the unexpected assault last time (for the pirates, but also the PC's actions for surprisingly effective to me as the GM). The pirate's get on a little better footing. Good rolls and strategy (involving a druid transformed into a bear and a cloud of daggers in front of a door) let the PCs the prevailed against lieutenants shark-faced Squalo and starfish-headed sorcerer Astero, as well as a dozen nameless pirates. It did not, however, prevent the pirates from informing their compatriots the PCs were coming.

By luck as much as design, the player's avoided a confrontation with the grim matriarch of the pirates, which very likely would have resulted in their deaths--and probably unhappiness with the adventure. This was not an old school crowd inured to the total party kill. The warnings by NPCs made them more curious than afraid, but in the end the learning the prisoners they sought were actually held elsewhere made them move on.

On the next assault, the pirates had the high ground and a warning the PCs were coming. There was even an ambush by the lamprey-faced lieutenant Handsome Blut with a wight's drain attack! In the end though fate left Blut with really bad rolls and the superior numbers of the PCs forced him to flee, badly injured.

The victory at the prison ship was more attributable to good player tactics. They had an approach over the weeds that left them easy targets for pirate crossbows, but they used an obscuring mist and minor illusions to improve their odds. The pirates were also beginning to feel the loss in their numbers.

In the end, the prisoners were rescued, but by negotiation, not force. Some pirates were left alive to continue their raids, and the source of the pirate queen's particular interest in Ligeia Marsh, adopted daughter of Clegg Hobtree, major of the Raedel, remained a background mystery.

One of the player's (an experienced GM of other games) suggested weakening the mook pirates, and increasing the power of the more colorful lieutenants. Uping the lieutenants power is probably a good idea, though the pirates were probably about as weak as they can get. The difficult with them is just a nature of their number and the D&D system. It may be I need to think about the staging of the encounters though, so perhaps fewer mook pirates might be necessary.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Consult the Dictionary


I've updated the Dictionary of Azurth with a few new entries, reflecting things from more recent blog posts and adventures in the ongoing campaign. Read it here.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sirens

Art by Diane Özdamar
In the first part of my pirate-Sargasso adventure "In Doom's Wake" the PCs encountered three unusual, but alluring creatures in a half-submerged wreck. There were 3 Cecalian (thanks, internet!) mermaids: Giddy, Sheela, and Pru. In place of legs, or a traditional mermaids fish tail, they had squid-like tentacles--a vampire squid's webbed tentacles in this case, making them look like they wore long skirts. They also had a color change and light-producing ability like a cuttlefish. In 5e, I statted them pretty much like Merfolk with a few special features. Here are their abbreviated stats:

AC 11, HP: 16
STR: 10, DEX:13 (+1), CON: 12 (+1), INT: 11, WIS 11, CHA 13 (+1)

Tentacles. Melee Weapon Attack +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 2 (1d4) piercing damage. Hit creature is grappled (escape DC 12).

Mesmerizing Light Display. As the spell Hypnotic Pattern. Wisdom save or be charmed (incapacitated, speed of 0). DC 11 to resist.

In all other respects they had the abilities of Merfolk.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wednesday Comics: The Spire #2

The Spire #2 (August 2015); Written by Simon Spurrier, Art by Jeff Stokely

The Spire is a tower city in the middle of a desert. A desert (we discover in this issue) that has air toxic to humans, at least with repeated exposure. This also ties in to the origin of "the Skews," the strange, near humans that suffer prejudice within the city. They were apparently made in the "Antiki" times to live places and do things humans could not. Watch Commander Shå is a Skew. She's also trying to solve a series of murders.

There's a serial killer in the lower city who has ties to the high class upper part of town, according to a couple of tracker animals. Then there's an apparent attempt on the life of the Marchioness, the mother of the newly ascended Baroness that instead takes the life of her nursemaid.

Meanwhile, religious zealots in the deserts are massing, and a messanger sent at the death of the old baron is returning to the Spire with a mysterious group of Sculpted (the polite name for Skews).

I suspect all these things tie in together and to the history of the Spire. Still a lot of worldbuilding in this issue (which isn't bad, but any means) but the mystery seems to be picking up steam, even if the main characters don't seem to know it yet.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Castle in the Clouds


The Land of Azurth 5e campaign continued last night, with the party returning from crystalline Mount Geegaw on just one of the flying swanboats. After stopping for the night to rest (and heal), they are perhaps only half a day from Riverton when their vessel is buffeted by an unnatural wind. A whirlwind grips Waylon the Frogling, and a leering face forms out of mists to taunt him. The group manages to free Waylon, but a fierce gust tosses Dagmar, Shae, and Kairon from the boat. The wind seems to catch them, and its voice extorts their cooperation in return for not letting them drop.

The living gale introduces himself as Zykloon. He carries their ship even higher into the air to a cloud with a strange castle on it (something more like a sci-fi amalgam of futurism and brutalism than anything the PCs have seen before). He demands the crystal they took from Mortzengersturm--the magical Whim Wham stone. They reluctantly agree, but do manage to capture its reflection in the magic mirror the Princess Viola gave them before turning it over.

The dishonorable Zykloon smashes the front of their boat, stranding them, and flies off laughing. Luckily, the party finds the cloud is spongy but solid enough to walk on, so they go looking for another way back to the surface.


They find a dock with a giant-sized airship, and a number of man-sized, blue-skinned Cloud Folk. The leader of the Cloud Folk (Prince Thunderhead) explains that the Zykloon, a sorcerous giant, has been forcing them to raid the surface for captives and riches while holding their king, Cumulo, and other important Cloud Folk hostage. The Prince and his people are honor-bound not to attack Zykloon, but if the party could free their people they would share the wealth of Zykloon's castle with them and return them to the surface.

The party agrees. Thunderhead gives them healing gels and a medallion which will show the other Cloud Folk they are working together. They also are provided with a guide they meet at the gates of the castle: a young and feckless Cloud Boy named Nimbus.

Nimbus leads them through the castle's first floor to the dungeon where they free a number of prisoners: five Cloud Folk including the king, a frogling thief named Woggin, two merchants and a peasant farmer.

The poor farmer is killed during their escape by a bestial boggle (as the Cloud Folk call them) guard. Soon, the party is locked in a pitch battle with more of the creatures...

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Baroque Space: Social Classes

In the Age of Space Exploration, humankind is freed from most toil. Automata perform most agrarian, mechanical, and domestic labor. These servitors are often called "Mechanicals" whatever the actual nature of their task.

With no menial work to do, the unskilled poor rely on the charity of their betters or the government. They dwell in large tenements where ideally they go about their days sequestered from the eyes of the more sensitive members of the upper classes. The exception is those living in preserves where the local lords have sought to present an entertaining tableau vivant of antique times. Sumptuary laws dictate the clothing and hair length of those on the dole. The most basic and ill-tailored of garments are provided, as is a relatively bland but basically nourishing provender. The intoxicants available to them are likewise of the meanest sort. Is it any wonder so many become outcasts: beggars, criminals, itinerant and adventurers.
Peasants dubiously costumed supposed in the manner of an Antediluvian Age
Owing to tradition and prejudice, merchants and artisans tend to be human, though often they are no more than the human face on automaton labor. The members of this class most closely follow societal trends and the whims of higher class taste makers.This is particularly true of those dealing in fashion, cuisine, or intoxicants.

Besides governmental, social, or ceremonial functions (war being included among these) and artistic pursuits, the lives of the upper classes of the gentry and nobility are spent mostly in the pursuit of pleasure.

Fashions among the youth of the upper classes runs to the ridiculous

Friday, August 7, 2015

Metal Earth Has Got Maps for You

If you thought Aos had gone dark over at Metal Earth, you were wrong. He was just getting his second wind. Check out these maps from his last post:


This is my favorite but check out the others he's got over at his blog.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Draconic Correspondences

This comes from a productive accidental brainstorming with Richard and Mateo on G+ yesterday. Something formed will hopefully come from this.

Chromatic Dragon Colors & Alchemical Associations:
Black: lead, vitriol (sulfuric acid), fire, the smell of sulfur, putrefation, phelgmatic.
Blue: tin, rust, water, acrid smell, dissolution, melancholic.
Green: copper, earth, saltpeter, chlorine smell, amalgamation, sanguine.
Red: iron, air, sodium carbonate, rotten egg smell, separation, choleric.
White: silver, alchemical mercury, after a rain smell, unemotional.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wednesday Comics: Crom the Barbarian


Comics' first Swords & Sorcery hero was Gardner Fox's Crom. The name might suggest he was heavily Conan inspired, but no--oh, I can't even... Yes, he was pretty much a blond, Comics Code approved, Conan knockoff.

But hey, now you can read these 65 year-old, four-color, fantasy epics through the miracle of the modern internet.:

Crom's first appearance was Out of This World Comics #1, which doesn't appear to be only, but it was reprinted in the pulp magazine Out of This World #1 which is. He next shows up in the tale "The Spider God of Akka" in Strange Worlds #1. His third, and final swing of the sword in in Strange Worlds #2 in "The Giant from Beyond."


Monday, August 3, 2015

The Search


While I wouldn't call it a holy grail or anything, Aaron Allston's Lands of Mystery (1985) is a gaming book I have been looking for for a while--at a price that wasn't exorbitant. I finally snagged a copy this weekend, but I haven't got a chance to read it yet.

We live in an age where the internet makes obscure or forgotten bits of gaming literature easier to find than every before (though it still isn't always easy)and the same internet makes chance of finding a gem for a steal at some local used book store or comic book store is actually less than it used to be. There still a small since of achievement when you check one of the wishlist.

Anybody out there got any lost bit's of gaming history they've been looking to acquire for ages?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

In Doom's Wake Autopsy

Art by Jez Gordon
This weekend, I ran the piratical/Sargasso Sea adventure I've been going on about for a group I've never really gamed with: my girlfriend's regular group and a friend of her's from work. This was most of the group's first time playing 5e--indeed, several's first time playing D&D in years.

In brief, it was a large (7 members) and eclectic party, with two gnome spellcasters, a human cleric, a dragonborn fighter, a human fighter, a halfling thief, and a aquatic elf bard. They were drawn into the adventure by the promise of reward and the desire to save kidnapped children after a pirate assault on the coastal town of Raedel.

While overall, I intended to play the pirate's and their layer for a degree of horror, the broadly played miserliness and cowardice of Raedel's town fathers probably started things off on a humorous tone, as did the Rabelaisian portrayal of the alcoholic sea dog, Saltus Crimm, who took care of the sailing in the PC's borrowed pursuit ship.

Pretty much what Saltus Crimm looked like

Some of the player's were inclined to sympathy with the pirates, after hearing the legends regarding Ylantha and meeting the townsfolk. I had expected either a murderhobo indifference to morality but keen interest in treasure or a heroic desire to save innocents (or a mixture of the two) to motivate, but hadn't counted on the PC's possibly wanting to reach a settlement with the pirates. Of course, this sympathy didn't stop them from slaughtering pirates at every opportunity, so I don't know if an alliance was ever a real concern.

The crowd coming from mostly a non-D&D background had at least one interesting effect. There was no real dungeoncrawling-style investigation motivated by greed. They wisely avoided places where the danger to reward ratio seemed too high, but thorough searching for hidden treasure wasn't typically on their minds. I probably should have dangled some relatively easy to find items in front of them to condition them to look rather than assuming seeking out material reward would be a goal.

Something I noticed in my regular 5e game was well on display here: the 5e blaster cantrips make magic-using classes pretty tough in ranged combat. An encounter where the ranges were a hindrance to both the pirates and the fighters with light crossbows was like a shooting gallery for the warlock with an eldritch bolt. The large size of the party meant the opponents were never really able to concentrate their fire on the wizards, either. If I run the adventure again (or complete it with that crew), I thing a few more pirate spellcasters are in order to make it a more even fight.

Overall, I think the group enjoyed it and I know I did. It was both a fun session and a good test-drive of the scenario.