Monday, April 24, 2017

Adventure Environments

Here are some animation backgrounds and concept art from the He-man and She-Ra  cartoons suitable for game inspiration:

An almost Seussian forest:

A cave with loot:

This statues sword has a starway up it. Interesting twist on the PHB Demon idol:

Rocky castle:

Sunday, April 23, 2017

New Azurthite Races

I've had Volo's Guide to Monsters for months now, but I haven't really considered the new races in it and whether they have a place in my Land of Azurth campaign. My consideration of the core book races was here, though some of those (like the Dragonborn) I've reconsidered since. It's always theoretical until they actually show up in the campaign.

Aasimar: Humans empowered by guardian angels reminds he a lot of the Golden Age comics concepts like the Marvel family, but also Johnny Thunder, and Kid Eternity--all very appealing. Of course, their opposite number the Tieflings have been reskinned as Demonlanders.

Firbolg: These guys could be used as is. I might go less fairy tale creature and more hairy hominid with them and reserve them for the Country of Virid.

Goliath: These guys will live in the Dragonspine Mountains and in the desert Land of Sang.

Lizard Folk: There are certainly Lizard Folk, but I haven't worked out their deal exactly and how they differ from the Dragonborn.

Tabaxi: One of the things insisted upon by characters within the setting is that there are no Cat Folk--except that one of the PCs has met two! This is one of the mysteries that may play out in the campaign.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Mortzengersturm Reviews

A couple of reviews for Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak have come out, and they have not escaped the notice of the manticore wizard himself:

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Storm: Labyrinth of Death

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Labyrinth of Death (1983) 
(Dutch: Het Doolhof van de Dood) (part 3)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

The striped-haired spy has no time for Ember's questions. She leaves quickly so she won't be found out--and runs smack into a suspicious guard. Ember rushes out to help her. In the scuffle, the guard is killed. The spy isn't happy for the help as now they've got a body to dispose of. But it means they have to act now.

They raid the jails, overpowering the guards, and find Nomad. Storm has been taken away to the Theocrat's laboratory. The rebels are mistrustful of Nomad. When he threatens violence if they try to stop him from coming along, they reiterate they're willing to die for the cause. Ember points out that they should probably be more willing to live for it, as well.

Meanwhile, the Theocrat is explaining the cosmology of Pandarve. It seems the system has a white hole at its center instead of a sun. The matter emitted by it is what creates the atmosphere throughout the system. Marduk also reveals that the planet Pandarve itself is alive. He boasts of being her spokesmen to the people of the world--but he wants to be more than a servant.

Storm is the key. He is imbued with energy due to his travel through time. If properly harnessed, the Theocrat believes he can use it to control the universe. He's got his biological computers working on this:

He demands Storm stand in the center of a crystal antennae to catch the radiation coming off and analyzing it:


Monday, April 17, 2017

Meet Mortzengersturm in pdf!

The wait is over! Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak for 5e is out today on pdf. The adventure's got eight pregenerated characters (the one's I used in the convention game), about a dozen new(ish) monsters, and a center spread boardgame map!  The digital version contains some exclusive extras: Gus L's map of Yanth Country and a brief gazetteer, and a short excerpt from The Cloud Castle of Azurth.

Go get it!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rabbits & Eggs

In the Land of Azurth, there is a magical treasure peculiar to the Hara or Rabbit Folk and celebrated in their legends. A number (though no one knows the exact number) of eggs in variegated pastels are forever being lost and rediscovered; they are objects of quests for great heroes and the caralyst for small folk to elevated their station. They are associated with both just rulers and holy madmen.

The eggs are said to have been crafted on the Moon by the rabbit goddess the Bright Lady as gifts to favored mortals or saints on the occasion of the birth of spring. The shell of each egg is held to not be mere eggshell but ceramic made from moonstuff. The eggs have moved down through history, sought, horded, and fought over for their beauty and their magic power--each egg has a unique arcane property. One might have the power to heal, while another the ability to command others to do the bearers bidding. Still another might allow one to see the future.

The Rabbit Folk sometimes make their own mundane eggs for vernal celebrations in honor of the goddess, while unscruplous relic-dealers occasional try to pass off fakes as the real artifacts. The abundance of imitations has only increased the difficulty of finding the real thing.

It is said that Lapin XXII, King of the Warrens of the Hara, has several of the eggs in his possession, stored in a ceremonial basket.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Let Me Tell You About Their Characters

Art by Steve LeCouilliard
With a new illustration of the gang, time to shine the spotlight on the PCs in my Land of Azurth campaign:

As has been recounted, the crew met on a keelboat on the way to seek an audience with Viola the Clockwork Princess of Yanth, each for his or her own reason.

A traveling minstrel, Kully encountered a calico Cougar Man (who ever heard of such?) in the vicinity of Mount Brawl who suggested the Princess might be able to tell him something about the hereabouts of his long-missing father. She was not, but he has since discovered the possible identity of the mysterious Cougar Man he met.

SHADE PYRALIS (Gina) Elf Ranger
Shade hails from the Aldwode and mistrusts civilization. She has since learned from her long-absent mother, Oona, that she is actually half High Elf and a child of House Perilous and the infamous, mad Sylaire family.

KAIRON (Eric) Demonlander Sorcerer
Feared and ostracized in the village where he grew up due to his Demonlander heritage. He became an adventurer to improve both his economic and social station.

WAYLON (Tug) Frox (Frogling) Thief
Named "Wi'Sdosdo" (Wailing-Moon) in his native tongue, Waylon grew up on the streets of the Shanty City of Lardafa. He was a musician in a jug band, but also a protege of the thief and con-man King Kuel.

DAGMAR (Andrea) Dwarf Cleric
Against the wishes of her family, Dagmar pursued a life in monastic service to Iolanthe, Lady of Knowledge. In her middle years, she gave up the life of scholarly hermit and sought adventure. She is currently petrified and standing in a library in House Perilous!

EREKOSE (Bob) Human Fighter
His origins obscure, Erekose is a veteran soldier and a pretty mercenary fellow. Gold is the allure in adventuring for him.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Once again, I'll be running a session of Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak at North Texas RPG Con in Jone, which (assuming everything goes well with the printer) will also be the debut of the print edition of the adventure at the Hydra Co-op booth!

Here are ten things about the Mortzengersturm adventure even a dedicated reader of this blog might not know:

1. The adventure grew out of an adaptation of Jason Sholtis's Zogorion, Lord of the Hippogriffs for my Land of Azurth game, originally played on June 15 and July 19, 2015.
2. The name Mortzengersturm was arrived at by smashing together the titles of Poe's "Metzengerstein" and Hugh Cave's "Murgunstrumm." Neither story have I read (though I did see a film adaptation of the Poe story).
3. This John R. Neill drawing was the initial inspiration for the look of Mortzengersturm, and possibly the source of the idea that he would be a manticore:

4. The goblins' song in the published version of the adventure should be sang to the tune of "God Save the Tsar!" the former national anthem of the Russian Empire.
5. Slime-spawned goblins was an idea I had back in 2012. I finally got to use in print, in a modified form.
6. Thedabara is, of course, named for the silent film vamp Theda Bara (1885-1955).
7. The Oubliette of Mistakes wasn't in the adventure as originally run and basically got included because I had thought up The Moonster and needed a place to put him. The name was likely inspired by the Island of Misfit Toys from Rankin-Bass' Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964).
8. There are a few references to Chicago's Columbia World Exposition of 1893 in the adventure which no party has yet investigated.
9. A brand of cigarettes from the City and Weird Adventures makes a cameo.
10. The parrot-bear (and the whole idea of Mortzengersturm's mixed up animals) came from an illustration by Jeff Call--who later wound up illustrating the adventure.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Labyrinth of Death

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Labyrinth of Death (1983) 
(Dutch: Het Doolhof van de Dood) (part 2)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Taking the Devil's Ride, Storm and Nomad are forced to abandon their gliders or be dashed against an imposing mountain range. Their landing on the rocky plateau beneath isn't an easy one, then they have to climb down out of the wind before they freeze to death.

Their landing doesn't go unnoticed. The Anomaly's arrival on Pandarve is detected by Marduk's machines.

Reaching the desert road below, our heroes encounter a man on the back of a giant snail creature:

He's heading to Mardukan, the capital, for the Theocrat's wedding so they are able to  get a ride.

There is only one bridge into Mardukan, and the city is surrounded by high walls. The man explains that the Theocrat is afraid of the rebels. Nomad and Storm enter the city in the crowd, under the eyes of Marduk's guards and their telepathic watch-dogs. Nomad is nervous that in the narrow alleys it would be easy to trapped. His words prove prophetic. The outer gates are closed, and when Storm walks through a checkpoint, Marduk's sensors detect him.

Storm and Nomad are brought before Marduk. Storm doesn't know anything about the Anomaly; He just wants to see Ember. Marduk doesn't have her anymore, but he tells Storm if he cooperates he'll get to see her. Storm and Nomad get sent off to the laboratory.

Meanwhile, Ember is in the streets with the rebels. They are disguised as entertainers. The rebels want to get their hands on the Anomaly to deny him to the Theocrat. They wind up washing dishes, but their Ember overhears a report from a rebel spy that the Anomaly--Storm!--is being held in the castle.


Monday, April 10, 2017

A Gate, Silver Keys, and Tempting Fate

Michael Kaluta
Our Land of Azurth game continued last night with the fourth session of my adaptation of X2: Castle Amber. The dog-headed Claudas had told them they needed to go to the dungeon to find the gate where they could use the silver keys, but they didn't know where the dungeon was. Shade the Ranger was convinced she should at least try to make nice with her crazy family, the Sylaire, by going to see her grandmother. Claudas (who shared the same grandmother) said that the Dame Carmilla was in the card room across the hall playing at being fortune teller.

Carmilla didn't look like a grandmother, but she did recognize her wayward daughter in her grand-daughter. She offered to let Shade and her companion draw cards. Shade did (reluctantly) and received a chalice which allowed her to tell when someone was lying. The frogling thief Waylon pulled the Page of Coins and had all his coinage disappear! Kully had nothing occur on his draw. Carmilla disappeared and while they waited the night in a long rest, the others drew. Astra of the Shooting Star Folk pulled a death card--all the more horrifying because the player's first character (Dagmar) had already been petrified. Luckily, the death was just a hit point reduction, and she was able to be saved.

Next, they found a room full of dog-headed men playing cards.They tried to be somewhat helpful and point the way to the Black Room, but they got into an argument over the best way to go and the party was left confused. A mention of a secret door got them searching and they found the Red Room.

In the Red Room, and an armored man, Solus, who claimed to be a dwarf fallen from the sun. he told them the Black Room was right next door. They found it, but it took a bit of searching to find the trapdoor.

A Magic Square painted onto the floor of the room they came into caused them a lot of consternation, ultimately to know useful end, as two succumbed to the lunacy curse (though they didn't know it yet). Two received increases in their wisdom.

After that, it was a pitch battle in the vat room where artificial men were made, and oneiric black dust in the alchemical lab. Kully had a dream of falling and woke up dead (or at least 0 HP). Kairon had all his dreams come true of having the Wizard raise his station, only to have it fade away with the dust.

Avoiding more fights became their goal, as the party continued a room to room search for the gate. They ran away from a coin-encrusted slime worm and shut the door on a kennel of whimpering hell hounds.

At last, they found the room with the gate. As they turned the keys, the amber lion statue came to life...

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Again, the Giants!: Glacial Gallery of the Frost Giant Artist

This is the third in a series of posts riffing of the giant theme of the classic Against the Giants:
Hightlights include:

1. Dissipated giant scenesters, artistic proteges, and hangers-on.
2. The artist's pet wolf pack.
3. Caves full of unwilling frozen subjects!

Friday, April 7, 2017

One Last Tease

With Mortzengersturm, the Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak poised to go off to the printer, I figured one last tease of a two-page spread was in order. The art, as always, is by Jeff Call.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ozian D&D

There's been a bit of discussion on Google+ about Oz-influenced D&D. From its conception, Oz has been an important (though certainly not the only) influence on the Land of Azurth (particularly for the primary campaign site, Yanth Country), so I've thought some about how Ozian elements can be used to inform D&D fantasy.

First off, it must be aknowledged that "Ozian fantasy" may not be a precisely defined thing. The portrayal of Oz itself changes from the first book to later books by Baum--and to an even greater degree throughout the "Famous Forty" and beyond. Oz in the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is mostly uninhabited, and the places that are inhabited are mostly agrarian, but later books pile on more and more civilization. Baum's vision is of an American fairytale, and so the early books lack standard European-derived or Arabian Nights-inspired creatures and characters: The Tin Man is a woodsman not a knight. Ultimately, however, knights, dragons, and genies all become part of Oz.

(Anyone interested in Baum's American fairytale conception and examples of it in his non-Oz fantasies should check out Oz & Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum by Michael O. Riley)

With that sort of lack of specificity in mind, here are my broad suggestions for how to make a D&D campaign more Ozian:

Lost worlds/hidden kingdoms instead of dungeons: Whether standard D&D or Oz, exploration and discovery plays a part, but D&D's exploration sites are often known areas of material wealth and danger near settled areas that are usually purposefully visited to be exploited. Ozian sites are unknown or little known areas, accidentally discovered, like the lost worlds of adventure fiction.

Animated Simulacra and Talking Animals instead of the usual demihumans: Both D&D and Oz have nonhuman characters, but Oz’s are more individual, not representatives of "races." They also aren't the near-human types of elves, dwarves, and halflings. In fact, all of those races would probably fall under the "human" category in Oz. (In the first book, most Ozites are short like halflings, not just the Munchkins).

Social interaction/comedy of manners instead of combat or stealth: Violence and death sometimes occurs in the Oz books, but conversation and timely escape are the most common ways of dealing with problems. While this may in part be due to them being century plus year-old children's books, some of the exchanges in Dorothy and the Wizard are not dissimilar to the ones that occur in the works of Jack Vance, albeit with much less wit or sophistication. No Ozian villain is too fearsome not to be lectured on manners--at least briefly.

Magical mundane items or magical technology instead of magical weapons: The noncombat orientation of Oz extends to magic items. Magic belts, mirrors, food dishes, etc., occur in Oz but few magic swords or the like that you see in D&D or European legend. Oz blurs the lines between science/technology and magic to a degree. (The examples of this that are more Steampunkian or magictech seem to be unique inventions, however.) Pills and tablets will fantastical (though perhaps not magical in the sense the term would understood in Oz) properties are more common than potions, for instance. In general, foodstuff with fantastic properties, both natural and created, are more common than in D&D.

Faux-America instead Faux-Medieval: Ozian society seems almost 19th century in its trappings, or more precisely, it is a society that is not foreign (except where it specifically means to be) to the a young reader in the early 20th century. It lacks most of the elements of the real world of the 19th Century, however, like industry, social conflict (mostly), and (sometimes) poverty. It also lacks complicated social hierarchies: there is royalty, but no nobility.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Labyrinth of Death

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Labyrinth of Death (1983) 
(Dutch: Het Doolhof van de Dood) (part 1)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Storm, Nomad, Rann, and the would-be  pirate crew are on their way to Rann's home asteroid. The crew are none too happy as they're looking for plunder. A mutiny is in the offing.

The mutineers attempt to kill Storm by ramming a timber into the cabin while Storm, Rann, and Nomad are inside. The cabin's smashed but Storm manages to dive out of the way. Still, Storm's knocked out and the leader of the mutineers get's the drop on him.

Nomad is forced to surrender. Soon, Storm and his friends are being marooned on a tiny asteroid:

Storm discovers large eggs in the nest of some sort of bird. They don't have to wait long to see the mother:

Meanwhile, Theocrat Marduk is still trying to find the Anomaly (Storm)  but his technicians can't get a fix. He demands his unwilling bride-to-be Ember be brought to him so she can give a description of the Anomaly to help them. Ember, however, has escaped with the help of a woman with a hidden face. She leads Ember into the cities sewers.

Back on the asteroid, Storm hits the bird in the head and Rann wraps his sash around its eyes, trying to escape the darkness the bird flies--and our heroes ride it all the way to Rann's home.

Rann is reunited with his daughter and the poor space bird is sent on its way. Storm on his a few days to rescue Ember before the wedding to Marduk. Rann relates he knows of a quick way to reach Pandarve's surface: The Devil's Ride. Storm and Nomad take that ride:


Monday, April 3, 2017

Again, the Giants!: Sanctum of the Stone Giant Space God

This is the second in a series of posts riffing of the giant theme of the classic Against the Giants:

Hightlights include:

1. The kirbytech festooned inner chamber of the helf-sleeping stone god--and his powerful telepathic signal.
2. Stone Giant partisans and the PCs with only the vaguest notion of what this alien conflict is about.
3. Weird wandering creatures escaped from some sort of ship collection.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Mortzengersturm's Got Cover

These is the final (hopefully) front and back cover designs for Mortzengersturm, the Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak. If all goes as planned, the print edition will debut at North Texas RPG Con in June. The pdf will be available sometime before from rpgnow/driverthrurpg. Though this hasn't be finalized yet, I expect the pdf will have a little bit of exclusive content not in the print version (because their aren't space constraints).

More to come!