Monday, November 19, 2018

Champion [ICONS]

art by Chris Malgrain
CHAMPION
Abilities:
Prowess: 6
Coordination: 5
Strength: 9
Intellect: 4
Awareness: 5
Willpower: 6

Determination: 1
Stamina: 16

Specialties: Journalism

Qualities:
Earth’s Mightiest Man
Powers Granted by Otherworld Magic
Big Boy Scout

Powers:
Damage Resistance 3
Otherworld Shield Belt Buckle (Device):

  • Flight 7
  • Damage Resistance 6
  • Life Support 4 
  • Super-Senses 4 (Extended Hearing, Enhanced Taste, Enhanced Smell, Extended Vision)
  • Super-Speed 6
Notes: Deprived of his magic shield belt buckle, the powers it confers disappear in 2 pages (Damage Resistance drops to 3). His Strength drops a point a page until it reaches 6.

Background:
Alter Ego: Thomas Trent
Occupation: Reporter/Radio Personality
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: Ethan and Sarah Trent (aunt and uncle, deceased)
Group Affiliation: Super-Sentinels
Base of Operations: Empire City
First Appearance: CHAMPION COMICS #1
Height: 6'2"  Weight: 220 lbs.
Eyes: Blue  Hair: Blond

History:
While hiking in the woods near his home with his dog Galahad, young Tom Trent fell into the opening to a cave. Unable to climb back up the way he came, Tom discovered light coming from a narrow passage. He passed through it and came into another cave where strange monsters seemed to menace a gnomic figure, apparently asleep on a stone slab. Believing the little man to be in danger, Tom bravely ran through the circle of creatures, evading their talons and jaws. When he reached the stone slab, the monsters dissolved away.

The little man awakened and explained that the monsters were the embodiments of fears, and through courage, Tom had conquered them. The little man was Zyrd, an ancient wizard (later revealed to be one of many from the extradimensional realm of Otherworld) tasked with identifying and empowering champions against the forces of evil. Zyrd declared Tom worthy of being such a champion. In ages past, Zyrd had bestowed swords upon his champions, but he declared the age of the sword passed, so instead he gave Tom a shield, which he magically shrank down to the size of a belt buckle. This shield would be a source of magical strength and power for the boy.

When Tom placed his hands on the shield and mentally called upon its power, he found himself dressed in a strange uniform. Zyrd bid him go forth and use the powers for good. Tom did so, earning the name the Boy Champion, then later simply the Champion, as he grew up.

Zyrd would continue to act as an advisor to Tom, but the irascible and absent-minded wizard perhaps caused trouble as much as he helped. Later, Galahad also gained powers, including heightened intelligence, through a magical shield on his collar, but eventually retired to mind Zyrd full-time.

Tom moved to Empire City and became an investigative reporter and radio host, seeking to root out public corruption and champion the common man. He often worked with investigative reporters Grace Gale and Billy Dolan—and the Champion often rescued them from danger.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Wings Between Worlds


Because space-faring sailing ships are so 80s, let's have genuine aircraft flying between worlds, perhaps open cockpit, certainly of the bat-winged, Frazetta variety. Space will have to have air, of course. Let's say the system is enclosed in a big Dyson Sphere--a crystal sphere, if you like. With a sphere full of air, the temperature of the worlds at the various orbits will be of less concern, though where the warmth and the light comes from will have to wait.

The technology of the primary society might be what we would call Dieselpunk, except it isn't particularly punk or Diesel, but it's that between the Wars era sort of art deco stuff filtered through science fiction. Automobiles out of Flash Gordon and that sort of thing. And, of course magic.


Might as well port in a little bit of Planescape and have the worlds be more a more pulp planet version of the Gygaxian planes. The full compliment of D&D races would be necessary for a Star Wars Cantina vibe. Flash Gordon will help there, too.  The worlds might move in very eccentric orbits. Travel between them might mostly be by sight rather than map.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Stan Lee


As everyone has likely heard Stan Lee passed away this week. The exact contributions of the pioneering creators of Marvel Comics will likely never be known, but Lee and Kirby: 'Stuf Said! from TwoMorrows will give you those two contentious creators' own words on the topic over the years.

A better thing, I think, is to just enjoy the fruits of Lee's collaborations with artist-creators. To that end, you should probably start with Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol 1, and see where that takes you.

Lee's other embittered collaborator was Steve Ditko. There work "together" can be found in Spider-Man Omnibus Vol 1. All due respect to Ditko, but I'm kind of partial to the Lee/Romita partnership era of Spider-Man Omnibus Vol 2.

Excelsior!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Throwdown at the Toad Temple


Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued, with our heroes still trying to figure out a way to free the Land of Under-Sea from the evil of the Temple of the Toad. After a night's rest to heal their wounds, they decide to infiltrate the temple during sunrise services. They are joined by the cat man Calico Jack. Smooth-talking there way past the guards ("as long as you sit in the back") the PCs saw the service, ending in the sacrifice of hapless froglings into the maw of the toad idol.

They noted the tapestries and friezes seem to denote some sort of apocalypse, that allow frog or toad people were spared, apparently under the protective hand of some sort of banjo-playing, messianic frog figure. They figure if push comes to shove, Waylon can inpersonate this "Frog Jesus."

While the cultist were distracted with their ritual, they pick the lock and enter one of the adjacent rooms. They find equipment they don't understand...


...including what appears to be a weapon, but when someone seems to be coming toward the door, they have to hurry into another room. Seeing signs of their entry evident, the cultist raise an alarm that is announced through the temple by a disembodied, feminine voice.

The party tries to make a break for it, but the doors are closed. They attack the guards and cult elite present in a pitch battle. The guards go down quickly, though there are a lot of them. The higher level cult members are armed with weapons that shoot searing beams of light. They nearly kill the Sorcerer, Kairon, with these weapons.


The high priest is particularly hard to kill, even with the party's concentrated attacks. He offers to parlay for their lives, but the party doesn't believe him. Erekose strides up and brings the fight to him. The High Priest emerges from cover to accept the challenge. He deals Erekose two devastating blows with his great sword, but now he's in the open and the party finishes him off.

Their victory is short lived, because more guards arrived. Shade releases the jade bear she acquired long ago, and Dagmar throws down her serpent staff, which becomes a giant python. The party and their animal allies kill the guards. For the moment, the temple nave is theirs...

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Well-Met in Umberwell

I reject the notion that there is one right way to do a setting book. Those making the argument in favor of a more terse or utilitarian style often point to the bloat found in setting books by the major publishers. While I won't deny there is often a verbiage problem with those books, I'd also suggest that they are an easy target for the people making these sorts of arguments, i.e. members of a community to some degree defined by its opposition or at least contrast to major publishers' ways. While I'm sure not everyone is a fan for a number of reasons, I've never seen anyone cite The Tekumel Sourcebook volumes or Glorantha books as examples of overwriting.

There are two thoughts I have about setting books that (I think) better get to the truth of the situation. The most obvious one first: People like or want different things. Some people want to be transported, others just want prompts or aids. The second thought is that settings should be written in such a way as to make the setting more interesting, realized, and playable. Any verbiage not to this end is excess, but also any brevity that undermines those elements counts as a deficit.

All that preamble to cite an example of something that does it right, the third of such supplements to hit the mark, as I see it, by Jack Shear: Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name. Umberwell is one of a handful of 19th Century-ish fantasy settings in terms of technology, though the vibe is a bit Elizabethan underworld, a bit Dickensian nightmare, and a whole lot New Weird. It is also, as are all of Jack's settings, eminently integrated in a D&D environment, embracing the whole Star Wars cantina array of races and classes. it does this all in 134 pages.

The city has a European feel. Its island arrangement recalls Venice, and its character recalls London (or versions of London like New Crobuzon). It might be a bit Weimar Berlin in its decadence. There are bits of New Crobuzon evident, certainly, a bit of Sharn perhaps, and I perhaps flatter myself that I see some glimmers of the City in a couple of places, but it is its own thing.

It succeeds where Eberron, to my mind, fails. Eberron's vague, 21st Century Americanness skims across the top but does not penetrate the weird and Medievalist elements. Eberron is to genuine pulp sensibility what a guy sporting a fedora in an Instagram pic is to Sam Spade. Umberwell feels authentic (for lack of a better word), but never in a way that sacrifices it's fundamental D&Dness.

It is not complete, in the sense that it does not try to give you the totality of a world, nor does it attempt to. If any given Forgotten Realms splat is like a history or geography book, and Weird Adventures a travel guide, Umberwell is like a travel essay or TV show. It is painted in impressionistic strokes and focuses its efforts on the things that directly confront its visitors (i.e. the players and DM), only filling in other details as needed to color and accentuate those.

And yes, I'm thanked in the book, so my review is assuredly unbiased, but if anything I've written sounds interesting to you, so should check it out, then tell me I'm wrong.

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Saragossa Manuscript Redux

Yesterday, Amazon delivered the blu-ray version of the 1965 Polish film The Saragossa Manuscript directed by Wojciech Has. The film has been praised by the likes of David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, and Neil Gaiman. Jerry Garcia supposedly helped supply funds to get a full cut of the film restored. I have yet to check out the blu-ray transfer, but the film I know from the DVD version. It has impressive black and white imagery, and an unusual use of music--sometimes its a usual (if quirky) sixties film score, but often it has touches of primitive electronica experimentalism reminscient of some sci-fi scores of the era.

I first went looking for the film in 2010 because of its source material, the novel The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Count Jan Potocki (1761-1815). The book bears some resemblance to works like the Arabian Nights or the Decameron. It's a fantasy (at least in part) describing the experiences and stories related to a young Walloon officer in the Sierra Morenas of Spain in 1739. It includes gypsies, cabbalists, Sapphic sister Moorish princesses, and hints at secret history. The stories are nested like Matryoshka dolls, with narrators of some stories showing up as characters in others. Neil Gaiman, a fan of the work, has called it "a labyrinth inside of a maze." It combines elements of the gothic and picaresque with eroticism and humor.

The book itself has an interesting history. It's so convoluted in fact that Potocki's authorship was at times doubted. The novel was written in French, and over an extended period in several stages. The first few "days" were published in 1805 in French. Later, the entire manuscript was translated and published in Polish, but then the original complete manuscript was lost, and had to be "back translated" into French for a complete French version. Wikipedia suggests that scholars now think their were two versions: an unfinished one from 1804, published in 1885, and a rewritten, tonal different complete 1810 version. Only the first of these versions has appeared in English, though both are available in French.

Potocki himself is an interesting and character. He was served as a military officer, and was also for a time of novice of the Knights of Malta. He traveled and wrote scholarly studies on linguistics and ethnography. In 1790, he was among the first to fly in a hot air balloon. He also committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Allegedly, this was done with a silver bullet he fashioned himself and had had blessed by a chaplain!

Anyway the novel is well worth your time as is Has's film.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Wytches


Wytches (2014) is a limited series written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Jock. It's film rights have been optioned, so if you read it now, you'll feel like one of the in-crowd when and if the film comes out. Beyond that, I think it's worth your time for the comic itself.

The titular "Wytches" aren't your typical humans who have made a deal with the devil. Instead, there are inhuman creatures people make deals with. Their angular forms resembling trees in silhouette and allowing them to blend into the forests. Their abilities may be magical, or maybe not. They are presented as "sciences" not known to humans, allowing them to cure diseases for humans who give them what they want. What they want is sacrifices, people who are "pledged" to them.

Sailor, the teen daughter of the Rook family, newly arrived in Litchfield, New Hampshire, has been pledged.  By the time her father, Charlie, comes to believe her fears that something supernatural is stalking her, it may already be too late.


Wytches reminds me a bit of the fiction of Laird Barron with its hidden race in an American woodland and secret cults. Snyder's story felt a bit slim for 6 issues, but in no way incomplete. It is no doubt well paced for a film. Jock's art fits the story well, and wisely only gives us glimpses of the wytches or their horrors. Matt Hollingsworth's color aid in this obscuration by at times strategically hiding parts of the seen with blotches of color. It's a more effective technique than it may sound.

There may well be sequels in the works that further the conflict between wytch-hunting "Irons" and the wytch-cults, but this story stands on its own.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Damselfly [ICONS]

Art by Dean Kotz

DAMSELFLY

Abilities:
Prowess: 6
Coordination: 5
Strength: 4
Intellect: 4
Awareness: 5
Willpower: 5

Determination: 1
Stamina: 9

Specialties: Aerial Combat; Investigation

Qualities:
Alien Law Enforcer
Branded as an Enemy of Zurrz-Zann
“Compassion guides my pursuit of justice”

Powers:
Flight (Wings) 5
Mind Control (Insects only, Burst) 4
Shrinking 7
Stinger Gun: Blast 5, Stunning 5 (Extra: Burst)
Law Enforcer Armor: Damage Resistance  4

Background:
Alter Ego: Xazandra Zaantarz alias Cassandra “Cassie” Saunders
Occupation: Former Zurrz-Zannian Law Enforcer, now Social Worker
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: None
Group Affiliation: Super-Sentinels
Base of Operations: Lake City
First Appearance: GUTS AND GLORY #67
Height: 5’7” Weight: 122 lbs.
Eyes: Blue Hair: Black

History:
Xazandra Zaantarz was born on Zurrz-Zann, a technologically advanced world in a other-dimensional microverse where the dominant lifeforms have both insectoid and mammalian traits. Shortly after Xazandra joined the ranks of the law enforcers, a psychic breach from Earth’s dimension affected the minds of many Zurrz-Zannians, causing them to engage in criminal behavior and civil unrest. The Ruling Council ordered Enforcer Zhaan Katar to go to Earth and end the psychic assault. Xazandra was assigned to assist him. Zhaan expressed irritation at being assigned such an inexperienced partner, but he would later admit he was strongly attracted to her from the start, a feeling that was mutual.

On Earth, the two disguised their alien features and assumed the cover identities of John Carter and Cassandra Saunders in Lake City. There, they successfully tracked down Mut-Ant, whose birth had been the cause of the psychic assault. They were able to infect the Mut-Ant swarm with a chemical that dampened its psychic signal, freeing Zurrz-Zann from its influence, though ultimately Mut-Ant escaped.

Confessing their feelings for each other, Xazandra and Zhaan decided to stay on Earth, so they could be together more easily (given the rigid hierarchy of their home), and build a life in this new world. Having made connections with the Lake City police department in tracking down Mut-Ant, the pair were able to continue crimefighting on a quasi-legally sanctioned basis as Dragonfly and Damselfly, while maintaining their cover identities. They were eventually invited to join the Super-Sentinels.

Over this time period, Zurrz-Zann fell under the sway of a dictatorial regime. The pair were ordered back home, but they disagreed on how to handle the summons; Zhaan felt it was their duty to return, while Xazandra wished to stay on Earth. They were unable to resolve the dispute before a trio of Zurrz-Zannian enforcers arrived to retrieve them.  Zhaan agreed to return with them, but Xazandra fought back. In the ensuing melee, Zhaan and two members of the retrieval team were apparently killed.

Xazandra, now regarded as a traitor to Zurrz-Zann, continues her life on Earth. Recently, she has encountered Hornet, a masked Zurrz-Zannian operative who she believes may be Zhaan--  although how he may have survived, and why he does not seem to remember her, remain unknown.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Gateway to Adventure


A common trope to fantastic fiction, in everything from The Wizard of Oz to The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant have the protagonist transported from our world to another. Some subgenres (like Sword & Planet) work almost exclusively that way.  For some reason, that trope is mostly absent from fantasy gaming, despite media inspired by fantasy rpgs (like the Guardians of Flame series and the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon) including it.

Recently, reading some of L.Sprague de Camp's Viagens Interplanetarias sequence, specifically some Krishna stories, has made me think this avoidance might be unfortunate. The Krishna series is broadly Sword & Planet like Burroughs's John Carter tales, but with a difference. Wikipedia sums it up like this:

The seven novels and four short stories of the Krishna sequence follow various Earthmen and occasional other aliens in their encounters with the pretechnical local culture, in which their pursuit of their own often petty ends tend to have ramifications ranging from minor to history-changing on a society struggling to adapt to the more advanced civilization.

The Terran interlopers on Krishna often go disguised as native Krishnans. This literalizes what is going on in D&D on a meta-level: Everyday Earth folk from a technological society masquerade as members of a Medieval or early modern society for their own petty ends. Why not make it literal in game, too?

The basic setup could go something like this. Say some kids did disappear in steam tunnels into playing an roleplaying game back in the 70s due to a rift to a another world. These rifts may have opened worldwide at the same time Roadside Picnic style, with likewise similar, ineffective worldwide response to try to contain them. The world on the other side of the rift is a mostly a Medieval/early modern one where "magic" appears to function (though magical artifacts do not function, or perhaps not for long, upon returning to Earth). The desire to exploit this world and possible learn the secrets of making "magic" function in our world is intense, so despite official restriction groups or parties are hired to sneak in. A greased palm or two insures a blind eye is turned to this, so long as the adventures outfit themselves with native tech.

This would have a few advantages or interesting aspects. The PCs ignorance of the details of the world would no longer be a bug but a feature, as would schemes or plots with anachronistic elements. The colonialist or exploitive aims of Earth from add complications or opportunity for the PCs.


Friday, November 2, 2018

Weird Revisited: Tales from the Graveyard

This reposting would have been great for Halloween. Ah well, it originally appeared in April of 2011, so hopefully it works well at any time of the year...

Barrow Island lies close to Empire Island in the Wyrd River. It’s the location of the City’s sprawling potter’s field, but its association with the dead goes back much farther. There are stately Dwergen cemeteries dating from the earliest days of colonization, and even unmarked Native burial grounds.

The only living inhabitants on the island are those that tend the graveyards. Over a hundred and fifty years ago, the entire population of the island’s single village--some 700 souls--were found dead, and subsequently buried in a mass grave nearby. No further attempts at settlement were made. Still, the size of grounds to maintain and protect, and the large number of interments, necessitates a fairly large staff.

The graveyard staff (barrow men) are a clan of several interrelated families--”Keeper,” “Graves,” and “Digger” are among of the most common surnames. They’re usually a people of unique (one might say hideous) appearance, though there are exceptions, particularly among the women. Whether this is from inbreeding, intermixing with their bitter enemies, the ghouls, or the dark influence of the island itself, is uncertain. Whatever the reason for their frightful appearance, the barrow men are unperturbed by it--in fact, they seem to delight in the revulsion it sometimes causes in others.

The barrow men love a good tale, the more macabre the better--particularly if injected with a bit of gallows humor. They collect them, and swap them; the number known and their novelty are a measure of status among them. Any visitor to the island will almost surely be regaled with one or more depending on the length of their stay.


BARROW MEN (RACE)
Ability Modifiers: CON +1, CHA -1
Classes: All
Languages: Ghoulish
Racial Traits:
  • +2 to savings throws vs. poison, disease, or contagion.
  • horrify: If given time and opportunity (i.e. not in combat or other extremely active situation) a barrow man may enrapt listeners with a tale of horror. This works similar to the bardic fascinate abilty. After the tale is complete, a failed saving throw leaves the listener shaken with a -2 to all attack rolls and other checks for 1d4 rounds.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Gostya [ICONS]

Art by Chris Malgrain

GOSTYA

Abilities:
Prowess: 5
Coordination: 4
Strength: 7
Intellect: 9
Awareness: 6
Willpower: 6

Stamina: 13

Specialties: Scientist, Technology Expert

Qualities:
Uplifted Soviet Space Probe
"I am superior to biological life"
"You will be cataloged and preserved...after disassembly."

Powers:
Blast: 7
Damage Resistance: 5
Immortality: 6


Background
Alter Ego: None
Occupation: Gatherer of Information, Would-be World Destroyer
Marital Status: Inapplicable
Known Relatives: Inapplicable
Group Affiliation: Masters of Menace
Base of Operations: Mobile
First Appearance: ASTOUNDING COMICS #299
Height: 5’9” Weight: 425 lbs.
Eyes: Red Photoreceptors Hair: None

History
Gostya (“Visitor”) was the nickname given a Soviet deep space probe. While crossing the orbit of Jupiter, the probe fell into a wormhole. The probe emerged in a distant solar system where machine life had taken over after the passing of its ancient, biological creators. The machine intellects were amused by the primitive probe and upgraded it to sapience so that it might better accomplish its mission of exploration.

Gostya began a journey that would eventually lead her back to Earth. Along the way, her newly evolved mind perhaps began to slip into madness. Fixated on her mission, she began molecularly disassembling lifeforms and artifacts she encountered so that she might acquire and preserve information about them to the atomic level.

When she finally arrived back at Earth, she was horrified to find no intelligence she judged worthy of receiving the information she had collected. After an encounter with a group of astronauts, she concluded the biological beings that built her were inferior to her in every way. She decided that Earth, too, must be disassembled and cataloged and that she alone would preserve knowledge.

Her scans of Earth did detect energy signatures similar to her own. Curious, she investigated and found that it was the temporal link used by Futura. Gostya came into conflict with the heroine when she tried to acquire it. At the end of their battle, Futura believed she had destroyed the invader, but Gostya re-assembled over time and has continued to menace the Earth, showing particular interest in the technology of Futura’s future, which she is certain is derived from her own in some way.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Dynamte Flash Gordon

Last week, I talked about the original Flash Gordon comic strip and where it could be found in print. The last incarnation of the series is at Dynamite Entertainment. Dynamite produced a limited series in 2011 with designs by Alex Ross, then relaunched again with a limited series in 2014 written by Jeff Parker and drawn by Evan "Doc" Shaner. This series is available as an omnibus edition.

The basics are familiar to readers of the old strips and comics or viewers of the movie, cartoon, or serials. Flash, Dale, And Zarkov head to Mongo to save the Earth. Here Flash is a bit of an extreme sports enthusiast and son of a wealth. (If your keeping track, Flash as been a polo star, Olympic decathlon athlete, pro football player, and pro basketball player in previous incarnations). Parker characterizes him as personable, overconfident, and perhaps not terribly bright. It works pretty well. Dale has the biggest role she's probably had in any version, but that largely makes her into a no nonsense reporter a la Lois Lane, and straight man for Flash's antics. Zarkov is not totally unlike the 80s movie version, though perhaps with a hint of Tony Stark.

The various lands of the 30s Mongo, are now different worlds, having been conquered by Mingo via gates of some sort, one of which opened on Earth. The designs for various cultures seem a synthesis of the comic strip and the 80s film.

Overall, the series keeps the verve of the original version of the property, while updating it to a modern context. I'm not fond of all the choices they made, but in general it is well done. Dynamite had a 2015 series as well, which may well be a follow-up to the Parker/Shaner series, though neither of those creators were involved.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Zarthoonian City-States

After the z-bombs dropped in the Great War, civilization on the planet Zarthoon was cast into ruin. Only the small continent of Azot, not the home of any of the super-power blocs, had any cities left intact. These became the city-states of the modern era.

Azmaron
The only domed city-state, Azmaron is ruled by triune Zodaracy*. All Azmaronians encountered outside their city are women, indeed no men have every been seen within the city itself by visitors, though the Azmaronians tightly restrict the movement of foreigners. There are persistent rumors that the Azmaronians retain a functional doomsday device of former age, but Azmaron is silent on this point. They do possess greater technological knowledge than their neighbors.

Ptaarna
Ptaarna is a city of tall spires built atop a large mesa in the midst of Azot's central desert. The city is only accessible from the air. The city maintains an impressive fleet of fliers, though mostly they are smaller in size. It's pilots are known as daredevils. The city sponsors a race every year through the desert, and it's pilot's typically take home the Uldran Prize. Ptaarna's sky gardens are considered one of the modern wonders of Zarthoom, but they are not merely decorative. Many rare medicinals derived from their bounty.


Zinjaro
The people of Zinjaro enjoy a life of leisure to a degree not afforded other city-states. This is the happy result of still-functional food and manufacturing automation in the ruins beneath the city. The Zinjaro work in service or entertainment occupations, and the city is very hospitable to visitors, at least in part because they hire from among these visitors to fill their armed forces and some administrated functions. Their zodak (largely a ceremonial post) is even of foreign derivation.

All is not idyllic in Zinjaro, however. It's people are something stricken by a fits of violent madness known as plak omok. This is at least somewhat contagious among the Zinjar, and so one case emerging can lead to widespread outbreak of mayhem. Visitors should beware.

*Zodak/Zodara: the Zarthoonian word for ruler.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

What Ho, Frog Demons!


I mentioned the impending release of What Ho, Frog Demons! the fourth of Chris Kutalik's Hill Cantons adventure supplements Friday, not knowing it was so close at hand. Surprise! It's now available on drivethru/rpgnow.

What Ho has two shorter adventure sites, an overview of Marlinko Canton where this and the other publications have take place, and supporting tools like random village and frog demon generators. The text is written in Chris's engaging style, festooned with humor sometimes Vancian, sometimes old school D&Dish. (It isn't comedy, however, so if your D&D is a more somber affair, it's easy to disregard.) The art by Luka Rejec flows from illustratorly to cartoony and back again. It encompasses everything from pieces that look like sketches from life to anachronistc near one panel comics. Whatever it's style, it is always interesting and well done.


Maps are in the flavorful style of Karl Stjernberg, and I designed the cover in reference to German Expressionist movie posters, but it also kind of resembles the work of Ralph Steadman with Luka's wild-eyed illustration ensconced.

So I did some small work on the project and it came out from a co-op of which I am a partner, so my bias is there for all to see. Still, I think I can honestly say this a flavorful work that could only possibly have come from the DIY Gaming seen, but it is not meant to merely be the subject of gaming "shelfies," sitting with uncrack'd spine among other luminaries of the OSR Pantheon. It's meant to be played and enjoyed.

Get it now!


Friday, October 26, 2018

What's New at Hydra

It's Friday and it's a good time for some shameless Hydra Cooperative plugging. For no particular reason, I'm going to adopt a Marvel Comics Bullpen Bulletins style for that--but not alliterative nicknames.


ITEM! The hardest working man in Hydra, Luka Rejec, has released Witchburner just in time for your Halloween adventuring. Luka says: "an intimate, tragic adventure of witch hunting in a town huddled between rivers and mountains and forests one wet and cold October." So there you go. Witchburner is available in a free burner edition and in the full edition for a very reasonable price.


ITEM! The long wait is nearly over for the Hill Cantons faithful! Chris Kutalik's What Ho, Frog Demons! is being released to Kickstarter backers and soon to every one else. It features art by the aforementioned dynamo Luka Rejec and maps by Karl Stjernberg. It will be on the holiday gift list of every geek in the know, so make sure you can show your superiority by getting your copy first!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Zarthoon


In moments stolen from other projects (or day jobs), Jason Sholtis and I have been bandying about ideas for a Sword & Planet setting for some future publication. It's still taking form, but here are some facts about Zarthoon as we currently know them:

  • It is a planet orbiting a G-type star, 66 G. Centauri, some 30 light-years from Earth. It is about one and a half times larger than Earth, but is less dense, so it has a similar gravity. It has one moon, but also a glittering band of dust, where perhaps another moon once orbited.
  • Some people of Earth have come to Zarthoon in the past, by mysterious means. Indeed, the primary intelligent species seems to identical to Terran humanity in all respects.
  • There was a nuclear war centuries ago. Zarthoon's advanced civilization was mostly destroyed, only ruins remain of once advanced cities on most continents, though there are a few cities, including the domed city of Azmaron, which hold on to a bit of their former glory. In most places it is a "points of light" setting where city-states are isolated and surrounded by monster and mutant-infested wilderness.
  • Much of Zarthoonian technology is based around the radioactive mineral called zuranite. Its radiation is focused to provide beam weapons of deadly force, used to power the buckler-like hand-shields that are the only protection against those beams, and to power the anti-gravity engines of fliers.
  • Most disputes aren't settled with zuranite ray guns, but instead with swords, graceful rapiers edged with crystalline adamant so that no metal armor can resist them.
  • Not everyone has access to fliers and so many rely on beasts of burden, including the swift, flightless avian zurch, and the beaked and elephantine vastidars.

Size comparison of a vastidar and a human

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Wednesday Comics: The Runaway Shadow

Though it's been slower going than we would have liked, the second issue of Underground Comics is still one it's way. Here's a a newly lettered page from the Land of Azurth story "The Runaway Shadow" featuring Wayon the Frogling drawn by Jeff Call:


Monday, October 22, 2018

Armchair Planet Who's Who: Imp

It's great to come back from out of town and have new art to show off. Here's Libby Knight aka Imp, the Teen Devil, by Dean Kotz.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Sword & Planet Character Name Generator

Art by Clyde Caldwell
After way more intensive review of Barsoomian names in Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars books and adding a dash of Gardner Fox's Llarn novels, which pretty closely mimic Barsoomian morphology, I have come up with a series of generators for Martian names, as accurate as I can make it. Well, there's one name from the series it can't generate, but by the time I discovered this, it was too late. Anyway, it's pretty close to getting them all. Check it out.

Note the in the structures given for the names multiple "elements" typical mean a new word for males names, but is more likely to be a multi-syllabic "single" name for females, but since this isn't always the case I've elected to leave the dividing up to you. For example: EES is the structure of Djor Kantos, but also Carthoris and Vanuma.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wednesday Comics: The Flash Gordon Comic Strip


Flash Gordon first appeared in the Sunday Comics section and was born of King Features Syndicate's desire to compete with Buck Rogers--and only after they had failed to acquire the rights to John Carter of Mars. Alex Raymond is given credit for its creation, though he was partnered with the (uncredited) writer/editor Don Moore.

Until recently Alex Raymond's original run was not fully available in reprint, to say nothing of the work various artists that came after him. Titan Books has been working on their "Complete Flash Gordon Library" and has the most comprehensive reprint series so far (well, at least since Kitchen Sinks' in the 90s) with Austin Briggs, Mac Raboy, and Dan Barry represented, but they are reproduced at a smaller size than the original strips.

For you purists, IDW has a solution, at least for the Alex Raymond years. Their four Definitive Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim volumes carry you through Raymond's entire 1934-1943 run, and the first storyline by Austin Briggs to end up in 1947. The real draw, though, is that they are reproduced slightly larger than original print size. (Some pedantry might come in regarding sizes and definitiveness. Earlier reproductions of only Flash Gordon split  the full pages into landscape pages, so they are not smaller than IDW's, but this comes at the sacrifice of faithfully reprinting the page.) IDW also included the paper dolls that occasional ran with the original strip.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Cultivating and Care of Campaign Mysteries


I wrote a post last week that was a follow-up to a previous posts where I outlined a few mysteries that had come up in our new 4 years-old Land of Azurth campaign. Anne of DIY & Dragons asked if I had in thoughts to share regarding who these mysteries developed and the development of this sort of stuff in general.

I should say this campaign is not an open sandbox. Most adventures come about by me as the DM laying out the particularly setting and situation, and the PC's confronting the problems as presented, or reframing the problem as something else and confronting that. The applicability of what I say here will of course vary based on how you run your campaign and the degree you care about such things, obviously.

Embed mysteries. I constructed the bones of the Land of Azurth setting to have some deep mysteries. I hinted at these but didn't strongly telegraph them, or push them on the players. They are to this day, not aware of most of them--though they have brushed against them once or twice, and are interested in things that connect to them. You have to be patient, but if you want the player's interested in the mysterious background of your setting it has to be there.

Don't make it all up. Some people feel like the fixed details of the setting are necessary for player's to make maximum meaningful choices about their actions. I advocate a more of a tv series looseness as I've discussed before. So, if one of my initial ideas was "the World Emperor is mad!" or whatever, but as I'm dropping hints to this, the PCs become convinced the "World Emperor is possessed!" well, you know, maybe he could be? Also, you have to leave room for the players' to become interested in things you hadn't thought of yet, and no need to waste all your good adventure seeds on fallow ground.

Recurrent NPCs with their own agendas. My players are suspicious that Viola, the Clockwork Princess of Yanth Country, despite most appearances as a benevolent monarch, may have a sinister agenda. What made them suspicious? Well, the Princess's somewhat callous behavior and general "need to know attitude," and conspiratorial musings of a pirate queen they once interacted with. These things would never have mattered if the PCs hadn't had frequently and suggestive interactions with the Princess for them to start wondering about her.

Treasures with a story. Magic items and treasure serves a utilitarian purpose, but it shouldn't just be --or even mostly--be that. In prepping for the session, I substituted the Book of Doors for a spell book in the original run of Mortzengersturm, and added a portal to 19th Century Earth in Mort's chamber. That has gotten at least one player very interested in portals and incursions from or too other worlds, and given me further references to drop in later adventures. The Projector to the Etheric Zone was another adventure seed lying in wait for the player's to take interest. And potentially valuable mysteries tend to get their interest first!

Work with the Players' creation. Most of my players came up with a little backstory at creation. No multi-page epics, but a paragraph or so, based on the map and campaign intro materials I gave them. Plus, I had asked them all at the outset, "Why are you in Rivertown?" Jim's bard, Kully, for instance had come looking for his missing father. He had initially told me a talking calico cougar had told him to seek his father in Rivertown. I suggested maybe it was a Calico Cat Man, and Jim agreed. Now, part of the setting intro was that their were no cat folk in Azurth. So, now we had a mystery--and a coincidental name connection to the mysterious crime lord I had already named. Then of course, there was the recent return of Kully's father to set off the recent adventure.

So that's it. Or, at least that's all I can think of at the moment. It's been gratifying to run a campaign where the players aren't just interested in the adventures, but in the world behind them.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Frozen Führer [ICONS]


FROZEN FÜHRER

Abilities:
Prowess: 4
Coordination: 4
Strength: 5
Intellect: 5
Awareness: 4
Willpower: 5

Stamina: 10

Specialties: Military

Qualities:
Needs the Cold
Ruler of the Abhumans
"Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold"

Powers:
Resistance (Cold): 7
Cold Control Gloves: 6
         Affliction (freezing), Blast (Ice), Binding (ice)

Background
Alter Ego: Arno Kaltmann
Occupation: Professional Criminal, Terrorist
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: Hans and Ilse (parents, deceased)
Group Affiliation: Masters of Menace
Base of Operations: The Hidden City of the Abhumans
First Appearance: DOUBLE ACTION #30
Height: 6’ Weight: 180 lbs.
Eyes: Blue Hair: White

History
Arno Kaltmann was born from a eugenics experiment by the German Thule Society. His parents were selected for their “pure Aryan” heredity, and in the womb, he was exposed to chemicals synthesized from instructions found in a manuscript discovered in the Antarctic in what was believed to be one of the last outposts of the Hyperborean civilization. From birth, Kaltmann exhibited an unusually low body temperature and an aversion to warmth. He was raised in  a special cold room, which suited his metabolism, but kept him isolated.

When the Thule Society disbanded, the Nazi government took over care of the young Kaltmann. Hitler viewed him as embodying a rediscovery of the pure Hyperborean ancestry of the Aryan peoples. The Nazi leadership wanted a army of genetic Hyperborean soldiers, but the Allied forces defeated them before their plans could be realized.

Kaltmann was captured by the U.S. military and moved to a secret facility in Greenland. There he was studied with the goal of replicating his resistance to the cold. A secret prisoner of war, he was kept in a containment cell and given no contact with the outside world.

When Kaltmann was in his early twenties, he took advantage of the guards’ distraction and escaped, killing a particularly callous military scientist as he went. He yearned for revenge against the Americans who had mistreated him and robbed him of the destiny he was promised as the forerunner of a master race.

He escaped into the Arctic, where he believed his enemies could not easily follow. There, he was discovered by a hidden offshoot of humanity known as the Abhumans. Some of the Abhuman community worshipped the extinct Hyperboreans, and recognizing Kaltmann’s link to them, hailed him as a messiah of sorts. Opportunists used the cult to overthrow the Abhuman royal family and install Kaltmann, with the idea that he would be their puppet. Kaltmann carried little for ruling the Abhuman city, but saw the Abhumans as allies in his plan for revenge against the United States.

To this end, Kaltmann had a cryosuit and cold projectors built by Abhuman engineers. As the Frozen Führer, he and his lackeys attempted to gain control of an ICBM silo in North Dakota. He planned to start a nuclear war to bring about “Fimbulwinter” and a new Ice Age, but his scheme was foiled by Thunderhawk and the female motorcyclist troubleshooters known as the Avenging Angels.

Though defeated, Frozen Führer was not deterred and as clashed with various heroes in his attempts to start a new, cold Reich.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Mysteries of Azurth Report Card


Back in 2016, I wrote a post about mysteries that had emerged in our Land of Azurth 5e campaign in play. Let's look back and see which ones the PCs have answered in the years since and which they haven't:

1. Who is the man in the metal suit beneath Castle Machina?  The name "Lum" was thrown around, and Mirabilis Lum is said to have disappeared beneath the castle, but is the man in the metal suit him, who was he gaming with, and why does he stay down there? Updated. The party still doesn't know, but perhaps more information has come to light since, with the mention of a man named Loom living in a distant junk city.

2. What does Calico Bonny look like? The Queen of the Floating World of Rivertown tends to hide behind a folding screen if she bothers appearing at all. Is there a reason? Solved. Calico Bonny is a member of the so rare as to be believed mythical Cat Folk. The party has met her brother.

3. Who were the builders of the Cloud Castle? The scale of the castle indicates they most have been near giants, though the ancient images suggest they looked something like the Cloud People that live there now. Who were these people with a flare for Googie architecture and mid-Century design and what happened to them? Still unknown. This hasn't really come up again. Maybe someday.

4. What does the projector do? The Princess Viola says it can open a portal to another world once it is fixed, but what world? And who built it? Solved. The device turned out to be for opening portals into the Etheric Zone.  The party went there and was tricked into releasing the Super-Wizard criminal Zuren-Ar from the cosmic prison known as the Carnelian Hypercube. The repercussions of this act have yet to be experienced.

5. Where does the magic portal in Mortzengersturm's mansion lead? The frox thief Waylon saw an image of another world: people in unusual clothes in an impressive city, beyond the technology of the Land of Azurth. Where (or when) was this place and why did Mortzengersturm have a portal to it? Partially solved. The portal was actually a page from the Book of Doors. A book of magical portals that keeps popping up.

6. What was the deal with Mr. Pumpkin and his carnival? Since when can a swarm of rats manage a carnival, and what became of all those rats that got away when the carnival got destroyed? Do these events have anything to do with the giant rats seen later in the beer cellar of the Silver Dragon Tavern in town? (Probably) Partially solved by someone else. As revealed in the Public Observator, the new celebrity heroes of Rivertown, The Eccentrics, uncovered a plague of wereratism that was not explicitly, but quite likely, related. Read what is known here:




Thursday, October 11, 2018

Ozoom

Art by Kyle Latino
Scott Martin can be blamed for this post for pointing out the similarities between Oz and Edgar Rice Burroughs fandom....

Mars is dying and has been for millennia. The only truly fertile land left in the squarish Land of Oz, surrounded on all side by the deadly desert.

Oz has four countries, each home to a different race of men. The east is the home of the Blue Men, sort in stature and friendly. It was once ruled by an ancient crone, but she was dispatched by a little girl from Earth. In the South is the Country of the Red Men, ruled by a benevolent queen. In the west are the Yellow Men, who are renowned for their technological skill. They are ruled by a metal man. The northern country is the land of the Purple Men. They have been ruled by a succession of queens with a mastery of powers of the mind.

In the center of Oz is the Emerald City-State, made entirely of crystal. Its true color is not one human (or Martian eyes) may see, but the people wear optics which convert the color to green. It was formerly ruled by a man of Earth, a charlatan and huckster, but the rightful queen has been restored, who had spent her young life disguised as a boy.

Young Dorothy Gale was transported to Mars by a strange storm that through her and her house and dog across the astral void. She killed a which, exposed a charlatan, and helped restore the rightful ruler of Oz. She didn't do it alone. She was aided by a Lion Man, exiled for his supposed cowardice, a an artificial man without the ancient brain that formerly guided him, and a Yellow Man who's mind was placed in a metal body. They took the ancient Golden Road that followed the canals that flowed from the hum of the great Emerald City, then undertook a quest to depose the witch that ruled the Yellow Men and forced them to use their knowledge to build an army for war.

This was only the first on many trips Dorothy Gale made to Mars. A younger farm girl became an dying world's greatest hero.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Living Planet (part 7)

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 Living Planet (1986) (part 7)
(Dutch: De Levende Planeet)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Stom and Ember run to the forest with the monster on their heels. There guide--the Chesire Cat--appears in a tree nearby and prompts Storm to use the "weapon" (the little pair of scissors) he was given:


The nightmare monsters keep coming, though. Storm blasts away at them as they frantically try to find the Tree of Ignorance and its fruit. Finally...


Storm realizes the scissors are also hand for cutting the fruit from the tree. He gets two of the red spheres, which seem to hold the nightmares at bay.


The make it back to the pillar of light. Storm throws in the fruit--the egg of Pandarve--and it is cast forth from the center of the planet into the atmosphere-filled space. There it forms the seed for accretion of a new world.

With the other egg hooked on Storm's belt, he and Ember enter the pillar. They too are shot out into the clouds, luckily close to the gnome people's ship where their friend Nomad is being held hostage until their return. The big the little men the egg, and Nomad is freed, though he hardly seems to have suffered in his captivity:


The gnome's even give them a sloop. They set sail for the nearest planetoid. Storm receives a surprise message:


THE END

Monday, October 8, 2018

Lurking Shadows in Under Sea

Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night. After hearing the party's story, the lovely Randa decides to take them to her father, the wizard Phosphoro, who she is sure will help them, though he tends to disintegrate most visitors. They travel the the innermost sphere of the sanctum to meet him.


To their surprise, the stern and imperious wizard does offer to remove the curse of wandering laid on them by the Sea King, point them in direction of Under Sea, and allow them to keep the magic items they have stolen, but they must do something for him in return. He wants a particular page from the Book of Doors (which they took from Mortzengersturm). After some debate, the party agrees to give him the page he wants, but Phosphoro explains he cannot take the page now, because he can't identify it. He needs them to bring him the page from the future. He also suggests that there Kully can get his wish to find out more about Princess Viola.

Not really understanding how this will work, the party nevertheless agrees since Phosphoro is allowing them to complete their quest to Under Sea first. With his magic staff, Phosphoro transports them back to the submarine and sets them on the path.

Within hours they descend into the depths, then come up in Under Sea, which is a land of a lazy river and Spanish moss in live oaks, that happens to have the shimmering sea forming a dome above it. The one frogling town in Under Sea is now under the thumb of the Toads and their Toad temple, which just appeared one day in a blinding flash. Frogling are taken to the temple for sacrifice.


Old Freedy, the ambassador, goes off to find out when the next sacrifice is likely to be, while the party hides out to formulate a plan. Shade and Waylon do some invisible scouting and see a toad priest and some acolytes going to a tavern. They seem less like toad people and more like people in toad masks. Before they can investigate further, Old Freedy comear tearing down street chased by an actual toad monster than seems to move in shadows.

They manage to pull Freedy into an alley and try to trick the creature with an illusion, but it doesn't work. Somehow, the thing moves through the shadows to end up behind them and uses its toxic tongue to yank Waylon into its mouth. Shade puts several arrows in the monster, but it only lets a near death Waylon go when Freedy escapes.

They return to the stable where the the party is hiding out. The monster attacks there too, somehow mystically tracking Freedy. Pummelled by spell and arrow, the thing eventually disolves into goo and a wispy shadow, but only after Kairon shrank it too small to swallow anyone.