Friday, September 21, 2018

Castle Ravenloft


I've been thinking of maybe doing a series of posts on re-imagings of old TSR settings. First up is this admittedly not fully formed idea about Ravenloft.

I think it might be cool to make Ravenloft a little more Gormenghast: the castle is bigger and more dilapidated (visual reference: the castle in The Fearless Vampire Killers) and becomes more central to shrunken Barovia, which is maybe no more than a valley. The castle and environs would be a bit like Dark Shadow's Collinsport. There would be a lot of weird doings in just the house and area. Strahd would be perhaps a bit toned down in villainy, more like early, non-protagonized Barnabas Collins. Strahd should probably have some bickering, eccentric, and likely inbred human family inhabiting the castle as well.

The outside world would exist, but necessarily be vaguely defined. Barovia would be a hard to get to place, somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. The strange doors of Castle Ravenloft would open onto other Domains of Dread, though.

The play of the Gothic horror, I feel like it would work better with a funnel type situation, where characters of humble backgrounds either work at the castle and discover it's horrors or are visitors to Barovia.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Weird Revisited: Random Zonal Aberrations

This 2015 post was a follow-up to my recently ressurrected post about Zonal Anomalies.


Aberrations (not to be confused with the D&D monster type) are a type of hazard encountered in zones. The resemble mobile anomalies in some ways, but they exhibit wider patterns of behavior, resembling (at least in limited observation) living things. They are abiologic, however; their tissues (if they have them at all) appear undifferentiated to close inspection, or they may have simulacra of organs that are clear nonfunctional. They do not appear to eat, grow, or reproduce, though they sometimes mimic behaviors associated with these activities. They can not be destroyed or driven off by "wounding" them (in most cases, it's unclear if they can be wounded) but must be completely destroyed.

Aberrations have a substance (similar to the manifestations of anomalies), a behavior pattern, and effects/abilities. A lot of D&D monsters would make good inspiration for aberrations. So are some paranormal or folkloric entities but keep in mind in their game usage they are more like obstacles or traps than monsters to be fought. Slimes and oozes are good models. You could destroy them, but it's generally more fruitful to just avoid them.

Unlike most anomalies, aberrations can spot/notice things approaching them as well as being noticed themselves--though the sensory modality by which they do this isn't clear. They are not usually as tied to as specific an area as anomalies, but most will have a specific territory, in the way an animal might.

Substance
1  Apparition
2  Construct
3  Crystalline/Mineral
4  Flesh
5  Fluid
6  Gas
7  Growth
8  Light
9  Ooze/Slime/Gelatinous
10 Shadow

Behavior
1  Ambusher. Lies in wait, sometimes in a dormant or indolent state, until approached.
2  Builder. Involved in some sort of construction project like a nest or nonrepresentational sculpture.
3  Chaser. After detecting target, follows targets at a high rate of speed.
4  Collector. Forages for particular objects or objects with particular characteristics.
5  Follower. Loosely joins with the target, following at a respectful distance without overt hostility.
6  Guard. Only active in a certain area. Patrols and menaces those who enter.
7  Harbinger. Appearance precedes some other event.
8  Lurker. Follows targets, but furtively, as if shy.
9  Mimic. Seems to repeat the actions or behaviors of a target.
10 Ritualist. Performs certain fairly complicated but perhaps mundane actions over and over.
11 Swarm. Smaller entities surround targets.
12 Snooper. Curious, possibly annoyingly and intrusively so, but not threatening.
13 Stalker. After detecting target, hunts it over distances.
14 Watcher. Stays in plan view, but at some remove as if only there to observe. No direct interaction.

Effects: Use the table for Zonal Anomalies--or borrow from a monster.


Examples:
chasing shadow: Too thick and deep black to be natural, the chasing shadow is nevertheless able to lurk unseen in normal darkness. It slides out of hiding when a living thing draws near, and if not stopped, attaches itself to them at their feet like a normal shadow--though does not also flow out in the same direction as the natural one. It slowly begins to crawl up the victims body and if not stopped, will cover a person complete in darkness in 20-30 hours. Over the next 30-45 minutes it will contort and collapse their body until only the flat shadow remains. What happens to the victim is unknown. If caught early, the shadow can be removed but only if the victim is surrounded by bright light and a small laser (like a laser pointer, for example) is used carefully "cut" away from the chasing shadow.

grim: Something like the featureless, white quadrupedal shape, surrounded by blotchy redness, like the silhouette of a large dog outlined in red spray paint. Grims simply appear on high ground, never approaching, and retreating if they are approached. They usual appear after someone has been seriously wounded, and Zone hunters fear them as a harbinger of death.

memory flashes: Groups of will-o'-the-wisp-like flashes of light with colorful after-images. They move quickly to swarm around a person, typically for no more than a minute. After the flashes pass, a person so caught will have one or more new memories of things that happened to someone else instead of them. They will also likely notice at some point that one or more of their own memories are missing--always small, discrete things, but perhaps important (like a telephone number of the location of something).

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Atomahawk

Atomahawk by Donny Cates (script) and Ian Bederman (art) was first serialized in Heavy Metal, but has been collected by Image into a volume numbered "0" for some reason. Atomahawk is a very metal story, in fact it is more metal than story. This panel is representative:


I kind of goes on like that. I lot of threats with the evocation of Masters of the Universe or Kirby Cosmicism as interpreted in an Iron Maiden concept album. It tells the story (or part of the story) of a warrior of flesh and blood (perhaps a Neanderthal, but the story is set "millions of years ago") resurrected in a robotic body by a futuristic god. Now known as Cyberzerker, he wields the intelligent axe known as Atomahawk, powered by crystals left over from the war of the gods.

Cyberzerker goes through the story slicing away and robots and people who get in his way in an over-the-top way until the ride ends, with teh story unfinished. Hopefully, there will a a 1 to follow the 0.


Monday, September 17, 2018

Atomic Age Operation: UNFATHOMABLE!


At the close of World War II, captured German scientists revealed to both the Americans and the Soviets the existence of an unfathomable Underworld on hinted at in legend and folklore. Perhaps driven mad by experimentation with Underworld technology, the Soviet scientist Yerkhov, with the consent of his superiors, takes an artifact known as the Nul Rod and leads an expedition of crack Soviet troops into the depths. The exact fate of the expedition is unknown, but one of Yerkhov’s assistants emerged from a cave in the Nevada desert. His mind broken by his experiences, he gave revealed little reliable intelligence, but did have in his possession a rough map of the expedition’s journey.

Denying the Soviet’s the Nul Rod and establishing an American presence in the Underworld is now our strategic priority. We believe a smaller mission, attracting less attention from the hostile locals, might be able to succeed where Yerkhov failed.

So, I think it would be pretty easy to drop Jason Sholtis's Operation Unfathomable into a 50s sci-fi/monster movie sort of setting. It already has a lot of the right elements. I could see a TV show (by Irving Allen, naturally), something like a cross between Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Combat!.

Art by Jason Sholtis

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Girlgantua [ICONS]



Art by Chris Malgrain
GIRLGANTUA

Abilities:
Prowess: 5
Coordination: 6
Strength: 6
Intellect: 3
Awareness: 4
Willpower: 4

Determination: 4
Stamina: 10

Specialties: Athletics

Qualities:
Spoiled and Rich
"It's not fair!"
Inner Monster Unleashed

Powers:
Growth: 8
Tail (Fast Attack 5)

A plane crash left college student Nicole Summers, her mother, and her mother's personal trainer/boyfriend on Isla de los Monstruos where an ancient Muvian device causes teratogenesis of earthly lifeforms. Blasted with its energies, Nicole is transformed into the rampaging lizard-woman, Girlgantua!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday Comics: American Flagg!

In a quick sketch, Howard Chaykin's American Flagg! might seem like some people's version of utopia: the Federal government is nonexistent, the coastal elites (indeed, the coasts) are gone, gun ownership (and use!) is unfettered. Of course, there's also a plan to sell whole states to the Brazilians by the U.S.'s corporate managers, prostitution is legal, surveillance is common, morning after contraceptive use is ubiquitous, and the lucky upper classes get to live in shopping malls instead of post-urban and rural wastes. Chaykin's 2031 seems to be his projection of where the unbridled capitalism and emerging media omnipresence of the Reagan era and the foreign policy of the American Century in general was taking us.

Enter Reuben Flagg, hunky, Jewish former actor (he lost his job to a CGI version of himself), turned lawman for the Plex (perhaps derived from "government-industrial complex," but this is never made clear). Raised by parents with unconventional ideas, he's got a rosy view of America. One he is soon disabused of when he arrives in Chicago and sees the televised firefights between legal policlubs and the illegal rampage of gogangs. A rampage, it turns out, is being fueled by subliminal messages in the hit tv show, Bob Violence. Thanks to Flagg's Martian diet and metabolism, he can see the messages others are blind to.

What follows is a satirical, sometimes farcical, chronicle of Flagg and his eccentric cohorts as they try to save America (metaphorically and Chicago actually) from threats both internal and external, including fascist militias, agents of Communist Africa, and the Plex's own incompetence and greed. Flagg has a noble heart, but he's sometimes distracted by his libido and inflated sense of self. By sometimes I mean quite frequently, at least in the former case.

American Flagg! pioneered a number of the storytelling techniques put to use in Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns a few years later, and if it wasn't an influence on Max Headroom and Robocop, it at least beat them to the punch. Its biggest flaw is that after the first "big arc" (12 issues) Chaykin's attention seems to wane, or at least he appears to be feeling the pinch of the monthly grind. What follows isn't bad, but it doesn't quite build in the way it seemed it might. 

The original issues suffer from poor color reproduction of the era, but the Dynamite two volume collections have thankfully fixed all that.



Monday, September 10, 2018

Weird Revisited: Mall Security 2020

Rereading American Flagg! on a plan trip this weekend reminded me of this post from 2016...


Let's go back to the 80s when the Soviet Union was still a thing, indoor malls were at their height, and the dystopian near future wasn't usually full of zombies.  From that early 80s mindset, imagine the world of somewhere around 2020...

The environment isn't so good. In fact, there was probably a brief nuclear exchange some time in the past decades. And an economic crisis or two. Things aren't all that bad, though. Rampant consumerism still abounds, and this guy (or his clone) is still President:


Megacorporations helped America (the world actually) out of those crisis with a leveraged buyout--a sponsorship. The Soviet Union was bought out, too, only over there in USSRtm, they offer consumers a planned community with a "Golden Age of Communism" theme. In the good ol' USA, some rednecks, religious cults, and survivalist nuts stick to the environmentally-damaged rural areas (think Mad Max meets Winter's Bone), and some wealthy folks can afford walled enclaves meant to replicate idyllic suburban life of the 20th Century with protection by real police, but most people huddle around the decaying industrial city cores in neon-lit arcologies that combine shopping and living in one. Malls.


These Malls need protecting and that's where the PCs come in as deputized corporate security officers safe guarding the 21st Century American Dream!tm from all sorts of threats to peace and prosperity: trigger-happy poli-clubs, youth gangs, subversives, and consumer products run amuck. Think Shadowrun with less punk and less cyber. And presented as a Nagel painting.

So this is American Flagg! or Judge Dredd (with more of an MTV aesthetic), influenced by any number of 70s and 80s dystopian films like Rollerball or Robocop, mostly played with the black humor of the latter. Literary sources like Shockwave Rider and Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner or some later Cyberpunk works will also be informative.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Adventure Time and Campaign Construction


Adventure Time aired its last episode this week. Eight plus years on, the show was a different sort of thing in many ways than when it started. While its gradual evolution meant it lost some of the zaniness of its earliest days, the show gained a depth of world and storytelling in its place.

But anyway, this isn't a post particularly about Adventure Time. I bring it up to point out that very little (perhaps none) of the world-building and character development done over 10 seasons was planned from the outset. Like most TV dramas up until people started complaining about it in the wake of Lost and Alias, the writers made it up as they went along. (Quite likely this is still the standard for TV dramas outside of prestige dramas, and even there they may just hide it better.)

This may not make for the best novelistic storytelling, but there are good, practical, even one might say democratic, reasons for serial fiction presented in weekly installments and at the mercy of weekly ratings to operate this way--and (I'd argue) for the rpg campaign settings to do the same.

I don't have to waste time extolling "a light touch" and  a"focus on evocative, potentially player-involving details" in regard world-building, because that's the received wisdom, right? I will add that keeping it simple to start with not only keeps from drowning players (or purchasers of your product) in detail, it also serves not to fence you in a way that might not serve your or your players' enjoyment in the long term. The revelation of the world through play should be an experience for both player and GM--even though the GM must necessarily stay a few steps ahead in that journey.

The players are both creative consultants and the audience. Their interest guides where the focus goes. Their speculations about the world and their actions within it generate ideas for further development. And like with Adventure Time, the developments shouldn't be limited to locales, items, or monsters. It ought to extend to relationships between NPCs and even history. These developments should be doled out (and maybe even only created) in small adventure-relevant or tantalizing details not immediate info-dumps.

For instance, Adventure Time gets a lot of mileage out of showing us occasional relics of a technological past, then dropping the phrase "Mushroom War." It ensures it has our interest before it shows any nuclear war backstory.

I'm not advocating some sort of shared narrative control (Though neither am I arguing against it. Whatever works for you.), rather I'm just suggesting using player interest and action to spur world-building efforts, not just in the sense of what dungeon you'll draw next, but in what that dungeon, its denizen and their history says about the world, seems a good way to go.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Living Planet (part 5)

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 5)
(Dutch: De Levende Planeet)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

When last we left our heroes, the seeds that the green dwarfs had given them to breath had apparently run out and they lost consciousness. They awaken on  the shores of the lava sea. The worm hunters apparently gave them restorative pills and set them and the rest of the form debtors ashore, but stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Several of the debtors blame Storm and Ember for their fate, but one at least is grateful for what they did. He thinks he can help with their quest...


Another sees a way to make some money off it.

Storm and Ember work as cattle drovers for a couple of weeks and get new mounts and clothes. The trail boss points them in the direction of the city of Mardukan and Marduk's Palace.

Meanwhile, one of their fellow former debtors is at that palace selling them out to Marduk.


He does get the reward he was hoping for, however:

Storm and Ember reach palace in the mountains and have before them a forbidding climb. Ember remembers a back entrance through the air circulation ducts that she saw when she was a prisoner. They have to brace themselves inside the pipe and climb until they reach the maintenance ladder.  The travel through maze-like passages until finally they see light coming from an opening. Unfortunately, they are expected:


Then, everyone gets a suprise:


TO BE CONTINUED

Monday, September 3, 2018

Labor Day Reading


An embarrassment of riches for my Labor Day rpg reading! Kobold Press' Creature Codex dropped as did Jack Shear's new setting Cinderheim.

More on these in days to come.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Weird Revisited: INFERNO-LAND!

This post first appeared in 2012 and was written for a Bakshian post-apocalyptic setting. it could be used in any number of post-apoc settings, though...


Beneath the wilds east of the domain of the dwarves, there is a series of caves and grottoes, lit crimson and cast in flickering shadow by ever-burning fires. This subterranean realm is know as Hell.

Hell’s most famous entrance (though there are rumored to be many) is located in a lonely ruin near the sea. It’s accessible through a door in the mouth of statue of a giant head. Near the head is a runic legend that resists translation: “D NTE’   NFEFNO-L N !” The head’s leering and horned visage is said to be in the likeness of Hell’s sardonic ruler. He names himself Mephisto (though he has other names) and appears as a Man of ancient times, save for the small horns on his brow and the ever present flicker of flame in his eyes.

Lord Mephisto is not confined to his domain. He tends to appear when people are at their most desperate to offer a bargain. And a contract. Souls are typically his price and stories say that he doesn’t wait until a person’s death to collect them. Unwise bargainers and those who blunder into Hell unaware find themselves in the clutches of Mephisto and his minions: snickering fiends with crimson skins, horns, and often, batwings. Smiling, they escort captives to one grotto or another and enthusiastically apply some torture or torment.

There have been a lucky few to escape Hell’s clutches. Their tales are difficult to comprehend, even considering the strange nature of the place. They speak of a room full of copies of Mephisto in repose upon slabs and glimpses of ancient devices of Man behind the torture tableaux.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Weird Revisited: Star Warriors: The Azuran System

This post is from 2015, but I really like the map, so I felt like it was worth revisiting...


This is a "work in progress map of the Azuran System, location of the Star Warriors setting I've done a couple of posts about. Some of these worlds have been mentioned in other posts, but here are the thumbnail descriptions of the others:

Yvern: Humans share this tropical world with sauroid giants! They have learned how to domestic these creatures as beasts of burdens and engines of feudal warfare. Some Yvernians are able to telepathically communicate with their beasts.

Vrume: The desert hardpan and canyons of Vrume wouldn’t attract many visitors if it weren’t for the races—the most famous of these being the annual Draco Canyon Rally.

Zephyrado: Isolated by its “cactus patch” of killer satellites, Zephyrado is home to hard-bitten ranchers and homesteader colonists—and the desperados that prey on them!

Geludon: A windswept, frozen world, Geludon is home to mysterious “ice castles” built by a long vanished civilization and the shaggy, antennaed, anthropoid Meego.

Robomachia: A world at war! An all-female civilization is under constant assault from robots that carry captives away to hidden, underground bases--never to be seen again.

Darrklon: Covered by jagged peaks and volcanic badlands shrouded in perpetual twilight, Darrklon is a forbidding place, made even more so by its history as the powerbase of the Demons of the Dark. Few of the Demons remain, though their fane to Anti-Source of the Abyss still stands, and through it, they direct the Dark Star Knights and other cultists.

Computronia: A gigantic computer that managed the bureaucracy of the Old Alliance and served as its headquarters. It is now under the control of the Authority, and its vast computational powers are used to surveil the system.

Elysia: Elysia was once a near paradise. Technology and nature were held in balance, and its gleaming cities are as beautiful as its unspoiled wilderness. Elysia’s highest mountain was site of the training center of the Star Knights. Now, the Star Knights have been outlawed and the people of Elysia live in a police state imposed by the Authority.

Authority Prime: This hollowed out asteroid holds not only the central headquarters of Authority High Command, but its training academy and interrogation and detention center, as well. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Unfathomable: An Interview with Jason Sholtis


Over email, I had on a conversation with Jason Sholtis on OU. Here are the best parts:

What's the secret origin of Operation Unfathomable?

In brief, I got swept up in the early throes of the Old School revival, decided to see if I could write game materials and submitted a piece to Matt Finch's zine Knockspell ("The Font of Glee" from issue 3). I was shocked and amazed that it was accepted, which only emboldened me, despite not having written much of anything outside of comic book scripts for years and years. I set out to write a follow up for Knockspell and came upon what I thought was a decent hook, sending novice adventurers into a "high level" dungeon partially depopulated by a previous expedition. My aim was to pack it full of what I considered to be new and unusual characters, encounters, and situations, and to express in a concise way my own approach to the Old School RPG experience. I wanted to demonstrate these personal idiosyncrasies via the traditional dungeon form, in much the same way as the anti-corporate punk rock scene (with its zines and other home made media) that I enjoyed participating in as a younger person.

When the Google Plus thing began to percolate, I wanted to see if I could manage to run a game using Hangouts and ran the Knockspell version of OU. We had fun, despite appalling PC casualties, and decided to continue on. Driven by the need for additional adventuring material, I began to expand the scope of OU, adding tons of new weirdos, locations, and horrors.

Did the campaigns/settings you run before bear any resemblance to the OU world, or was this sort of new territory?

I ran a campaign in the early-to-mid-nineties that had some similarities, primarily the Underdark-like subterranean wilderness. Once the PCs entered this wilderness, there they remained until the campaign fizzled. Important Old School cred note: I missed all of 2E D&D, and had no inkling of the Underdark as a thing.

So I know you saw Patrick Stuart's review of OU, where he took issue with its tone. "Cheese," I think is the word he used. What are your thoughts on tone in OU and D&D in general?

I guess I should start by saying that I think there are no limitations on tone in D&D; it's all about group preference. The game can accommodate the full range of tonal elements from the utmost Tolkienian seriousness, high drama with actual emotions resonating around the table, to low comedy and can sometimes vacillate wildly in the same campaign.

Whether any of those kinds of modes are desirable is entirely up to the players. Let the record show I make no value judgements in this department.

There is a popular notion that gaming materials should be as serious (and, possibly, scary) as a counterbalance to the comical behavior of players at the table. While I concede that this idea has some merit, I am wired in the way that I am wired.

Personally I find it nearly impossible to run a game of Dungeons & Dragons that doesn't skew into the ridiculous and I have embraced this approach. If I can present a game that has absurd elements that still engages players, I call it a victory.


For anybody who's taken a look at my Dungeon Dozen blog (Volume One still available!),  this should come as no surprise.

I do find the whole milieu of D&D gaming to be ludicrous in a very fun way:
"I swing!"   
"I just go ahead and pull the lever!" 
"I check the giant skull for traps!" 
"Why yes, I speak High Beetle-ese!"
My attempt at writing an adventure module with a humorous (yet lethal!) tone was both natural and with purpose. For me, where a lot of adventures I have read in the past fall down is when they boil down to dull details and lists of stats. I figured if I can present things in a way that was amusing and engaging enough to be read through without pain, the reader would have a solid basis for running the thing. Zzarchov Kowalski wrote a piece for his blog that is fairly in line with what I hoped to accomplish. I didn't care so much if OU was innovative in its presentation, just that it was entertaining and memorable. The degree to which I have succeeded or failed in this is (of course) for others to judge

As regards "cheese," you know, cheese is pretty delicious but I guess it's used as a pejorative in this sense. Cheese, kitsch, camp: all of these could sort of apply to Unfathomable but they're all kind of vague terms that could be used to describe a lot of D&D play at the table. I will certainly own up to some of my influences being composed at least partially of cheese. Is cheese in the eye of the beholder? Is cheese played with a straight face more or less objectionable than cheese presented with a wink and a nod?


I do mention Star Trek the Original Series a couple times  in the manuscript (I think there are two such references amounting to a small handful of words) which manages to be both cheesy and awesome simultaneously, which was my ambition with OU.

Unfathomable is a fairly accurate representation of my play style, which I'm advocating by publishing the thing, but I certainly don't reject other tones or styles out of hand and have enjoyed playing in a variety of games that run the tonal gamut.

Are there things you like or look for in setting related materials that you buy? Are there things you enjoy when other authors put them in a setting that you would probably never do in a setting you create? 

I should answer first by saying that I am not much of a consumer of setting materials in general, as I have always been a bit obsessive about making original settings for the games I run, but I do enjoy checking out other people's work in this area. I avoid using materials that I haven't concocted myself because I'm an egomaniac, ahem, I mean because making that stuff is an aspect of the hobby I value and enjoy.

I've admired settings like Tekumel and Glorantha for years (and have been fortunate enough through the miracle of Google Plus to finally play in games of each captained by James Maliszewski and Barry Blatt respectively), but I would never set out to write something like those huge Glorantha tomes (which look awesome). For me I would rather drop hints and small bits of setting information though the presentation of an adventure or a series of adventures and leave tons of wiggle room for GMs to interpret the setting for themselves. For D&Dish settings, monster listings, character classes, spells, and especially art convey a sense of setting without becoming encyclopedia entries. To get in my union-mandated Hydra plugs, your Strange Stars is a great example of a setting presented without lengthy screeds that also allows the artwork to convey a great deal of information. Chris Kutalik's Slumbering Ursine Dunes series presents all kinds of setting information baked into the adventure material.

And with our Hydra Cooperative sponsors plugged, that's a wrap. Thanks Jason!

Monday, August 27, 2018

A Sufficiently Advanced Network is Indistinguishable from A Plane


In fallen, far future age, the achievements of humanity's (or post-humanity's) Height are often viewed through a lens of superstition or occultism. The "Outer Planes" of the wizardly scholars are the ancient networks of the branching human clade and perhaps alien species they joined with, fanning out from Primal Sol to systems to worlds with planets to disassemble and forge into computronium and stars to enshroud for power. The minds of these digital beings (gods, in a since, as much then as now) became so vast, that they could never again travel. Computronium was too precious to waste on ships, and the bandwidth of the wormhole network was low.

So they sat through age--and ages longer than real-time and their hypersophont clock speeds. Many most became eccentric even neurotic. A few went completely mad. These are the gods of the future age.

Concordant Opposition is the nonsense name for the router connecting the far flung networks of post-humanity. Some travelers might dawdle there for millennia in the hub city called Sigil, The City of Doors. Some have accidentally stayed so long the civilizations that birthed them fell into dust.

Primitives sometimes discover the router through awakening ancient technology left from more lucent eras. These innocents abroad are easily gulled into unencrypted travel between networks putting their data at risk for theft. The grifters and thieves that prowl Sigil and squat just beyond the exits from the wormhole conduits know that the only meaningful thing they have to trade to many of the gods of the other planes are sapient minds. The only way they can avoid the clutches of the gods themselves are to serve up naive bumpkins in their place.

The Mind who runs Sigil doesn't care, so long as protocols that maintain trade are not disturbed. Those they get him her way are either destroyed out right or strip of privileges and thrown in a dilemma prison. The Lady of Pain, she is called, and not without reason.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Dozen Encounters in A Spaceman's Bar

The original d10 only version of this post appeared in 2011. Here it is again, revised and expanded...


It was a motley crowd, Earthmen and Martians, and Venusian swampmen and strange, nameless denizens of unnamed planets...”
- CL Moore, “Shambleau”
This could be used with any pulpy space game:

01 A shifty-eyed human trader eager to unload a large, glowing jar containing squirming creatures he claims are solar salamanders.

02 Two spacers in aged flight suits.  They're of human stock but congenitally scarred from in utero exposure to poorly shielded drives and strange cosmic radiations.

03 Four pygmy-like “mushroom men," fungoid sophonts from the caverns of Ganymede. They are deep in their reproductive cycle and close proximity gives a 10% chance per minute of exposure inhaling their spores.

04 A reptoid outlaw with bloodshot eyes from chronic hssoska abuse and an itchy trigger-claw.

05 A balding man with thick glasses and a nervous look sits in the shadows. If observed for at least a minute he will be seen to flicker like a bad transmission on a viewscreen.

07 A human child with pigtails and sad eyes surrounded by a faint nimbus of swirling, colorful lights.

08 A cyborg gladiator (his machine parts occasionally leaking oil) on the run from one of the L4 arenas regales two groupies with his exploits.

09 A scruffy prophet and his 1d4 wide-eyed and oddly-dressed teen acolytes, dealing in "spiritual enhancers."

10 Blonde and statuesque Venusian women, neuro-goads on their belts, looking for a suitable male.

11 A hard-faced man with steel-gray hair and a military baring watches the diverse patrons with a cold gaze. His aging uniform might be recognized as that of the humans-only Knights of Solar Purity revolutionary group, crushed in the Phobos Uprising.

12 3d6 Creatures(?) like fist-sized fur tumbleweeds that move with suprising speed and attach to glowing with some sort of electrostatic force burst from a storage bin, presumably accidentally lift in an alcove. Could they be examples of the fabled florofauna of Vesta?

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Tempus Fugitives


The Armchair Planet Who's Who will contain some "minor" characters/teams who are presented with not more explanation than is what in their entry. This is part of the suggestion of a bigger universe rather than exhaustively detailing it all. The Tempus Fugitives are one of those...

They were branded "anomalies"--beings who were dangerous simply because they were outside their proper timestream: Gary Mitchum, taken from a 1950s Earth by a flying saucer crew from an erased future; Ssatheena the Dinosorceress from an Earth of evolved saurian swords and sorcery; Jack "Tex Mech" McCandless, a cyborg cowpoke from a high-tech Old West; Jehana Sun, warrior maiden of a future medieval Earth conquered by aliens; M'Gogg, a hulking Neo-anderthal from a post-nuclear war world. They promptly escaped from the "Big Hypercube" maximum security prison and now survive as temporal soliders of fortune.

Art by Agus Calcagno

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Scavengers of the Latter Ages

art by Shahab Alizadeh
Here are some further refinements/elaborations on the idea I presented in a previous post for a 5e (or any sort of D&D really) game that was actually far future science fiction replicating fantasy.

  • The Distance Future: Millions of years certainly, though exactly how long is obscured by the mists of time and the humankin's fickle devotion to data storage formats. It is possible that biologic humanity even disappeared at one point but was resurrected by its nostalgic offspring. Scholars are aware that more than one civilization has come and gone and the Height was long ago.
  • A Neglected Garden: Earth was once an intensively managed paradise, maintained by nanotechnology and AI that were integrated into the natural world. Most of the animals were heavily modified by genetic engineering and technology, and some were of exozootic stock. Even humans were integrated into this network, and everyone born still carries the nanotechnological  system within them. Though technological spirits and godlings still live in nature, they no longer heed humans on any large scale, at least in part due to the fact that few humans can activate the necessary command codes.
  • Diverse Humankin: Through genetic engineering, different clades of human-descended biologics have developed. The reasons for the modifications from baseline seen in these "races" may not always be apparent. Perhaps some were just art projects for some creative god?
Art by Laura Zuccheri
  • The grist: Commoners speak of "magic users" in dim memory of the fact that everyone of Earth is a "user" in the computer science sense, but wizards know there is no such thing as magic, only grist, the layers of nanotechnology that envelope the world. Everyone uses it to a degree, but few have the aptitude to develop the skill to employ the grist to work wonders.
  • The ether: The underlying grid of spimes and metadata, which supports the nano and once integrated it with the internet, is known as the Etheric Plane or Ether. Wizards and other magic users are aware it plays an important part in their spells and also in the powers of gods and incorporeal intelligences, but they are like mice within a palace, ignorant of its total function and potential.
  • The Outer Planes: Civilization at the Height was not confined to the Primal Earth, but extended through the stars. Some of the posthumans that went to other stars disassembled planets to convert to computronium, then huddled close to stars for power. Their civilizations sometimes became very strange, perhaps even went mad. Many of their networks still connect to Primal Earth through ancient but robust relays. Humankin of Earth are often in grave danger when they venture into such places.
  • Treasures Underground: Earth's current society is built on the detritus of millennia. Current humankin seek to exploit it in rudimentary ways, and more advanced civilizations of earlier times sought to do so in more advanced ways. The tunnels they dug still exist, but so do the guardians they put in place and the dangers they encountered.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Heroes of the Public Domain Reference Guide Issue #1


I backed the Kickstarter for the Heroes of the Public Doman Reference Guide #1 and the physical copy delivered just yesterday, though I've had the pdf for some time. The new art in the book is by Chris Malgrain, the French artist that I'm working with on the Armchair Planet Who's Who Project. It was also a Kickstarter fulfilled through the comic-specializing print on demand publisher Ka-Blam, which is something I'm interested in doing too.

But anyway: the comic. It's 32 public domain characters spanning the alphabet from Amazing Man to Yankee Girl. Some of these characters have modern appearances (sometimes multiple, competing modern appearances) but the guide just sticks to their "classic" Golden Age histories.

The print quality is good as is the original art. The text is brief, but some of these characters didn't have a lot of appearances. If POD characters interest you, it's worth picking up when its widely available, presumably on IndyPlanet.

No relation to the Wakandan Black Panther

Monday, August 20, 2018

D&D Races Alien Reskinning


I bought these Japanese alien figurines about four years ago. Looking at them yesterday, I though they might make good new skins for for D&D races.

Elves = Gray
There both fan favorites with all the mystique.

Gnomes = Hopskinville Goblin
Magical little pranksters.

Halflings = "Apache" Alien
Their both child-like and cutesy, I guess. Not so sure about this one. (I actually don't know what alien this is supposed the represent. It looks like a Neonate, but the name "Apache" is odd.)

Golaith = Voronezh Alien
Giants!

Dwarf = Frog Alien
Let's break the Dwarf/Beard connection once and for all. I suppose the Roswell Alien as pictured would be an alternate.

Tiefling = "Triglia" Alien
He's demonic looking!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Troika!


Daniel Sell's rules lite, 80s Advanced Fighting Fantasy inspired rpg, Troika!, is getting Kickstartered to a new addition with so very fine artists doing illustrations. It's very easy system, usable for most anything, and Daniel's default setting is flavorful, too.

Here are some Troika! backgrounds I did for it in my Baroque Space setting by way of example of its ease of use: part 1 and part 2.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Notes on a Hypothetical Far Future 5e


As frequently happens when I have things I need to work on, new ideas try to woo me with their siren's song. I'm putting so notes here to try to exorcism the demon of distraction for the time being.

The idea is far future science fantasy, akin to some "Dying Earth" works, only the Earth may not be dying, necessarily. There would be no return of magic, but rather Clarkian sufficiently advanced technology was be perceived by the present, post-technological society as magical.

Here are some thoughts on the setting:

  • Influences would include: Viriconium by M. John Harrison (general vibe), Catch A Falling Star by John Brunner (future tech and decadence), Ventus by Karl Schroeder and "The Far End of History" by John C. Wright (AI entwined with nature to become "gods"), Rob Chilson's Prime Mondeign series (general vibe and hyper-technologically managed ecosystem where humans have forgotten how to use most things), The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi (technologically realized spirits).
  • Like in Numenera, technology would be pervasive and usable fully on by some. We'll bother a term from Tony Daniel's Metaplanetary and call this nano, and pico- (perhaps even femto-) tech "grist." 
  • Wizards are hackers, clerics are inheritors of ancient command codes liturgies, sorcerers are "cyborg" mutants, and warlocks make deals with wild and dangerous AI.
  • Magic items would most likely move in a Roadside Picnic direction.
  • Everyone is effectively living in an ancient landfill. Dungeons are the remnants of archaeological digs or salvage jobs into the strata of the refuse of previous civilizations.


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Weird Revisited: Toward A Taxonomy of Magic

The original verison of thie post appeared in September of 2011.


Discussion last week got me to thinking (tangentially) about different magic systems in media and how they might be categorizes. Maybe taking a closer look at these sorts of models might suggest variations for gaming systems? This analysis is in the formative stages, so bear with me here.

It seems to me that on one side we have ritual-based systems. Spells in these systems tend to be specific, discrete entities with distinct effects. Some sort of ritual (of varying levels of complexity) is involved in their production. Effects may be flashy and visual, but just as often there is no visible connection between caster and effect, other than the caster's ritual performance. Magical duels are games of "oneupmanship" with canny spell choice winning the day.  Various ritual magic systems in the real world are examples of this, as are many popular rpg systems. Card-based systems of various manga and anime (and the card games they support) would probably be a variant. Interestingly, this sort of system is otherwise not particularly common in media, though it is not new: Roger Corman's The Raven (1963) has a wizard duel of the ritual sort, though much less elaborate in terms of ritual than what would come later.


On the other end of the spectrum are energy-based systems. These portray magic as some force to be manipulated and wielded. Effects tend be very visible. There may be talk of spells or “cants” or “weaves,” but these tend to be portrayed more like maneuvers or techniques rather than strict formula. Magical duels are marked by a concern with the comparative "power levels" of the participant, not in the advantageousness or disadvantageousness of the spells they choose to employ.  Most comic book mages (outside of John Constantine) wield this kind of magic--and so does Green Lantern, for that matter. Many literary mages are off this type: The Aes Sedai in the Wheel of Time series, the Schoolmen in R. Scott Bakker’s Three Seas novels, and the Warren-tapping mages of Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series are all examples.

Of course, it’s a spectrum with many systems showing some elements of both. For example, Harry Potter magic has ritual, but the power level of individual mages is very important. Also, what characters say about there system is often not completely congruent with how they appear to work; Doctor Strange mentions a lot of spells and rituals, but the appearance of his magic tends to be energy manipulation.

Still, I haven’t been been able to think of one so far that does seem to fit. Obviously, there are other parameters to consider--external versus internal power source, for instances--but I think this divide is the most generalizable.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Seven Soldiers


The "metaseries" Seven Soldiers by Grant Morrison and various artists in getting the omnibus treatment later this month. You might want to go ahead and pre-order that. If you haven't read it, I think you will enjoy it. Morrison sort of re-imagines several DC characters (a preponderance of Kirby characters, but not all) and makes them a team that never actually teams up (once you read it that will make sense). The art by the likes of J.H. Williams III, Ryan Sook, and Frazier Irving (and that's not all) is really good.

If the omnibus format doesn't grab you, you can still get it as two hardcovers or paperbacks.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Giant and the Rock

Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued last night, with the crew of the yellow submarine (which included the PCs) still trying to find their way to the Land of Under-Sea. Captain Cog has been stymied from getting their bearing by a tempest that drove them deep. When it lifted, they rose to the surface and found discovered a floating rock outcropping, like a asteroid in the atmosphere overhead. Even stranger, they were hailed from it by an imprisoned giant:


Calibrax (the giant) alleges that his flying island, Yufo, was stolen, and he was unjustly imprisoned here by a wizard named Phosphoro. Calibrax wishes to enlist the party's help in freeing him from the wizard's chains. When the party seems reluctant, he suggests they take the secret passage on the underside of the island to the wizard's sanctum and discover his villainy for themselves. That, the party agrees to do.

Using Kairon's broom of flying, they fly up and open the hatch. They discover a passageway where they are weightless and a brass whistle floating inside. The bard Kully manages to find the right note to have them whisked into a strange, spherical structure, divided up into rooms. They explore the rooms and discovered several magic items before trying to open a door with a jewel encrusted design.


Waylon the frogling touches the design and finds himself in a maze, being hunted by a bronze minotaur. He must touch the gem stones found across the maze in the right order to escape. With the help of his friends, he manages to do that. The puzzle solved and the door opens to a banquet hall.

Strange music beguiles half the party and a blue-skinned woman shows up to taunt and threaten them. She is the wizards servant, Ariella. Before she can decided what to do with them, she is summoned away. Next they are greeted by the wizard's daughter, Randa. She reveals her father was ruler of a distant world, but his throne was usurped. They have been traveling "by circuitous, subconscious routes," never approaches their home by the direct path, so as not to be detected. They have been returning for "eons." Randa says Calibrax's crime was aggressively seeking her hand.


She offers to take the party to her quarters where they can rest away from Ariella's tricks, and they agree.