Monday, February 26, 2018

Weird Revisited: The Phantasmagoric Lantern of Kulu Tu

This post originally appeared in March of 2010. Kulu was the name of an NPC created by my cousin, who dungeonmastered my earliest games of D&D.

The exact number of these items in existence is unknown, but it's theorized to be less than seven. Tavern-tales attribute their creation to the infamous Kulu the Illusionist, but these devices are actually the products of an unknown--though no less malign--genius.

These devices appear like any other mundane example of the primitive slide-projectors known as magic lanterns, the only difference being there is no way to change the slide being projected. When activated by placing a candle inside, the device projects strange and unsettling images of distorted, ghost-like figures and beasts. The projected image is larger and more distinct when a magical light-source is used, like a hand of glory, for example.

The image projected is no static scene, but a glimpse of the Negative Material Plane. The longer the device is left on, the thinner the "skin" between worlds becomes until the beings, the phantoms, from that plane are able to enter the Prime Material. When seen in the wan light of the projector the phantoms are ghostly pale, but when they pass out of the projector's cone of light, they become deep, featureless shadow. Their touch drains living things, indeed their very presence can can cause the wilting of nearby plants.

When the phantoms first emerge into the Prime Material, they may be given the name of a single individual. This individual the phantoms will seek out and drain with their life-stealing touch until he is dead. The phantoms are able to travel at great speed, perhaps by traversing between points of mundane shadow, so distance is no obstacle, but it does take time for them to locate the individual (by what ever eldritch means they utilize) and this process seems to take longer for more distant targets.

If they are prevented from getting to the individual, they will continue to try to do so until they are destroyed, or they dissipate. Phantoms drawn forth by light from a normal candle or other mundane light-source can only hold coherent form for twenty-four hours in the Prime Material, and every moment spent in bright sunlight doubles the rate of dissipation. Phantoms drawn forth by a magical light-source in the lantern will last for a week, or perhaps more, depending on the potency of the magic used, but are still just as susceptible to bright sunlight.

The wise user never allows more than three phantoms to emerge before extinguishing the lantern. More than that number, and the phantoms become likely to act more willfully, killing the summoner and anyone else they find rather than heeding a command. If the lantern is left lit and unattended, phantoms will continue to emerge until the light-source burns itself out, and wander out into the world with undirected malevolence.

The lantern can be used to study the beings of the Negative Material Plane, but only if care is taken to limit the length of its usage so that no phantoms emerge.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Completely Unfathomable Covered

Jason Sholtis and the rest of Hydra are still at work on the various Operation Unfathomable stretch goals. Jason and I have been bandied about cover ideas. Here's the latest (and possibly final, but you never know) for the omnibus Completely Unfathomable based on classic bubblegum card packaging:


Friday, February 23, 2018

Exploration, Hold the Violence

It's a common reframe that old school games are less about killing that later D&D. This idea is supported by an experience system that favors treasure acquisition over killing. Still, the idea of killing something and taking its stuff, or the description of characters as "murderhobos" seems pretty ingrained.

A fair amount of fantasy fiction suggests a different approach. The characters in the short stories that make up Vance's Dying Earth are not adverse to employing violence, but it isn't their first resort, nor are an of them warriors by trade.The number of kills attributable to the protagonists in these stories is pretty low. A number of Clark Ashton Smith stories are similar, as is Lovecraft's Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, just to name a few.

I wonder if the sort of adventure found in these stories would be adventurous enough for players accustom to heavy monster slaying? I think it would be interesting to really focus on the exploration and social encounters (and a bit of treasure). It would challenge both players and DMs in a sort of different way. The XP system as currently constituted doesn't necessarily support this (5e has a variant that might, but it's fairly loose), but I think it's worth thinking about.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Hounds of Marduk

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 Hounds of Marduk (1985) 
(Dutch: De Honden van Marduk) (part 2)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

With their way blocked in front and behind, Storm and his companions go to the side--through a bathhouse. Their pursuers plunge in after them, running into the already irate bathers. On the other side of the house, Nomad knocks done one of the wooden support pillars, purposely collapsing the front of the building.

It only buys our heroes a few minutes to make their escape through a sewer grate. Their pursuers note the grate has been disturbed saying the Anomaly has fled downwards into "the gullet." This means certain death!

Meanwhile, in the sewers. Ember is puzzled by the lack of rats. When the walls take on a flesh, pink appearance, Nomad realizes where they must be:


He explains to his friends that some coastal towns connect their sewer systems into the maws of giant, unmoving worms who feed on the cities' effluvia. They have entered such a gullet, if they don't go back, they will be digested in acid. It's already too late. The walls have pinched off behind them.

On the surface, the pursuers realize they can't go into the gullet after the Anomaly. Instead, there leader has the idea to find the sewer-doctor. This veternarian is responsible for the gullet's health. When asked, he reveals they sometimes flush indigestible things from the worm with water from a large sluice. The leader demands orders his men to open the sluice as wide as possible, over the doctor's protests that it might kill the gullet.

Within the gullet, Storm and friends trill cutting their way out to no avail. The water pressure sends gratings flying all over the city, then:


The worm's spasms and the blast of water send our heroes shooting out into the ocean. They barely escape drowning and luckily and picked up by a fisherman.


TO BE CONTINUED

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Unfathomable


Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night with the party undertaking a journey to Subazurth and the uncharted region of chaotic, wild magic called "The Unfathomable." This was an adaptation of Jason Sholtis's Operation Unfathomable with a modification of backstory as presented yesterday.

The party journeyed via boat on an underground river from Rivertown in Yanth Country to Troglopolis in Subazurth. From there, they were guided to the entrance to the Unfathomable, separated the Troglopolitan region by a chasm spanned by a tongue bridge from the devil-visaged entrance. The took the admission for stealth and monster-avoidance to heart. They were also, pretty lucky with random encounter rolls.

The crossed the seemingly never-ending googlopede. Everyone but Waylon the Frogling demured from trying the fungal offerings of the mushroom folk, and he got a gray growth that made him decidely less charismatic until it healed. They met a strange, depressed cyclops, who they tried to counsel. Then, Kully the Bard and Shade the Ranger fought three brain-bats, but made quick work of them.


They found a strange floating vessel and soon discovered it belonged to Major Mungo Ursus, a werebear in Her Majesty's Special Bureau. He explained he was here in this alternate future or past to stop Doctor Hugo Zunbar Gorgomza, the self-styled Robot-Master, who planned to utilize the Null-Rod to create a magic-free future where his robots could rule. Ursus planned to destroy the rod so Gorgomza couldn't get his hands on it.

Not entirely trusting of what Princess Viola would do with the Null-Rod, the party agreed to let Ursus destroy it--if he would give them his gamma ray pistol. Ursus agreed, and the he joined the party in going toward the west where his instrument readings had said the rod might be.They found a cave with a minature ice-city, and tiny beings who were worshiping the Null-Rod.


The party stole it. The Major destroyed it with his pistol, then handed the pistol over to the party. He admitted he had permanently set the power setting low so they wouldn't destroy civilization. The party agreed this was probably wise. Then, the werebear left in his saucer, and the party returned to the surface, mission accomplished.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Operation Subazurth


My 5e Land of Azurth campaign will continue this afternoon and I'm playing on running the Knockspell version of "Operation Unfathomable"(with a few things borrowed from the Hydra version--now on sale!). This will require a few modifications to fit the campaign and will likely have a few more because, why not?

The set up is this: Viola, the Clockwork Princess of Yanth Country, asks the party to help out Indigon XI, Prince of Troglopolis and curator of the Museum of Eldritch Wonders. It seems his ne'er-do-well adventurer of a third son, Hokus, has stolen a device called the Null Rod and he and a group of mercenaries went into a prohibited underground zone, their to wrest new territory for Troglopolis to settle. This area has been prohibited due to its exceeding high levels of chaotic wild magic.

Hokus and his party appear to have been killed, but the Troglopolitans want the Null Rod returned, and Princess Viola (believing they are too incompetent to hold on to it) wants it brought back to the surface.

The bones (and most of the meat) of Jason's adventure will remain intact, because why change it? But many of the monsters and encounters will get an Azurthian veneer--by which I mean a veneer borrowed from cartoon model sheets, Silver Age comic books, and Oz stories.

Should be fun!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Uncovering Krevborna


Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera is a system agnostic setting book released this week by Jack Shear of the Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque blog. The world detailed is the sort of place Jack deals with in much of his rpg writing: an early modern setting with more than a hint of the Gothic.

Full disclosure before I delve into the review proper: I am listed in the credits of the book as I have been a player in Jack's online game (Tobias Rune, Scientific Occultist!), and Jack has done some editing for me on my stuff in the past. We have been blogosphere friends since long before that. My view, then, is perhaps biased.

Krevborna is 109 pages plus an index. In that space it vibrantly evokes a certain type of setting, and gives you locales, NPCs, organizations, and conflicts with which to populate it. It is fashionable in many circles to say setting books should always be short or deliver things very lightly. This is an understandable reaction given the bloat that has afflicted many a "major" rpg company setting book. My opinion is this: A setting book should have exactly as much verbiage as it needs to achieve its goal (and that goal should in part include usability). This will inevitably mean that no setting book is for everybody. some people will want the exotic cultural detail of the Empire of the Petal throne or Glorantha, and some want a setting heavy on new mechanical tidbits, but otherwise interchangeable with any number of faux-Medieval worlds. Having written a couple of setting books myself, I can say that there are always people that think you gave just the right amount of detail and then those who want more. (There are probably also those who think I wrote too much, but they don't send me emails.)

I don't think I'm off base when I say that Jack isn't concerned with you being able to replicate his Krevborna in  minute detail; he wants you to be able to create your own Gothic-tinged, dark fantasy setting that may happen to also be named Krevborna. He is light on many details, focusing his time on directly addressing theme, tone, and atmosphere, and how you leverage these things in a fantasy game as a DM. Jack is very good at delivering these elements flavorfully but briefly.  Maybe it's his college educator background, but he's able to bullet-point and not be at all dry!

I don't mean to suggest there is no setting detail, because there are plenty of Krevborna-specific information and tools, and plenty of stuff to help players get into the mood, too: sample names by region, appropriate backgrounds, tables of dark secrets, and NPCs to be patrons, acquaintances, or antagonists. The great supernatural powers are briefly described, allowing DM's and players to flesh out the details as they will.

The last section of the book is a brief summary of Jack's approach or "house rules" for running Krevborna in 5e. This is light enough that no OGL is required, but meaty enough that those versed in the 5e rules will know what he is doing. The strength of the system agnostic approach is this can be easily ported to old school simulacra or DungeonWorld or whatever.

In summary, I think this is a great setting, but also a great demonstration of a way to present a setting, and is well worth the price of purchase.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Azurth Digest is back--for A Limited Time


The first issue of the Azurth Adventures Digest  print edition is back on sale! Twenty-eight full color pages at 5.5 in. x 7.75 in. with art by Jeff Call and Jason Sholtis. There are random tables for the generation of quirky Motley pirates, a survey of interesting and enigmatic islands, and a mini-adventure on the Candy Isle. Plus, there are NPCs and a couple of monsters, all straight from my Land of Azurth 5e campaign.

 Go here for the print(+pdf) edition, while supplies last. If you only want the pdf, well, that's always available here.




Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Valentine's Day

Romance comics were a pretty big thing back in the day, and all the major publishers (including Marvel and DC) did them, but none of those have been collected, so far as I know--and they probably wouldn't appeal to the readers of my blog in any case. Here are a few comics with romance as an element that might.

Deadman: The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love puts DC's disembodied former aerialist in a gothic mystery with a hit of romance.

Scott Pilgrim In Toronto, slacker Scott Pilgrim tries to date a cool girl, but first he has to defeat league of her evil exs. You've seen the movie, now read the comic that inspired it.

Sex Criminals Suzanne and Jon bond over an unusual trait they both share--their orgasms stop time! They decide to use this unusual ability to rob banks...

Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Vol. 1 Wonder Woman lives Paradise Island to bring love and peace to Man's World with her beau Steve Trevor. She seems to get into a lot of predicaments involving bondage.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Weird Revisited: The Wonderbuss

This post originally appeared in February of 2011. It will show up in a couple more Weird Adventures posts after that...


Magical blunderbuss-type firearms were used by some wealthy Dwergen in their early conquest of the Strange New World. The weapons gave these sorcerously inept folk help against the shamans of the Natives and the thaumaturgists of rival Grand Lludd. Today, these antiques sometimes find their way into the hands of adventurers--in this world, and perhaps others.

Though they were manufactured in a variety of styles, they’re all muzzle-loading weapons with short, large caliber barrels and flared muzzles. They all can fire relatively normal projectiles of appropriate size (provided there is gun powder) , but their real power lies in specially designed spherical ammunition called “shells.” Interestingly, it appears likely that it was the prior existence of these magical shells which spurred the development of the gun, and not the other way around. No one knows who originally designed the shells, nor for what weapon.

Thaumaturgists (with alchemical aid) can manufacture new shells, but the process is tedious and expensive, so they tend to be rare. Sometimes, a supply is found in Ancient ruins or even other planes. The shells are classified by number, which denotes their effect. All shells of the same number historically tend to be of similar appearance, and modern manufacturers have kept with this tradition. Shells don’t not require gunpowder.

Magic Blunderbuss (Wonderbuss)
Dmg: 1d10 or special; Rof: 1/2 ; Range: 50’/100’/300’

Shells: (all spell references per the SRD)
#1: appears to be a lead ball, but too light for its apparently size. +1 weapon; Dmg. 1d12.  These are 80% of all shells found.
#2: brass-appearing. Casts two shadows, one distinct the other shimmering like heat-haze. Leaves a fiery streak when fired. 4d6 fire damage.
#3: appears to be a steel sphere etched with three 7-pointed stars. +2 to hit, 2d8 points of damage.  These are 5% of shells found.
#4: glass, containing a roiling green liquid. On a successful strike creates an Acid Fog as per spell.
#5: glass, faintly glowing and warm like the mantle of a lantern. Acts as the spell Sunburst, though it misfires on a roll of 1-2 on 1d6, and only does 1d10 damage.
#6: smoked glass. Faint moans can be heard within. Target’s soul is imprisoned on sucessful hit as per Magic Jar.
#7: silver and etched with glyphs which seem to shift when its not being watched. 1d10, deals double damage to lycanthropes, and extraplanar beings of evil. These are 5% of shells found.
#8: white, with the look of fine china, cool to the touch. Explodes for 5d6 damage in a 20 ft. radius.  Sleeping near (2 ft.) of one of these shells has a 75% chance of causing a ringing in the ears (leading to a penalty for rolls to detect things by hearing) lasting 1-4 days after removal of the shell from that distance.  Wrapping the shell in cloth will prevent this effect.
#9: appears as a flawless sphere of obsidian. Acts as a Sphere of Annihilation, though it can’t be moved, and exists only for 1 round before winking out.

Some scholars believe that more shell types are yet to be discovered.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Random Paths from the Crossroad of Worlds


In Incredible Hulk #300, Dr. Strange tried to get read of the menace of the Hulk (who was in one of his brutish menace periods) but banishing him to another dimension. The Hulk ended up at the Crossroad of Worlds in a trippy, Ditko-esque space. Throughout the next 313 issues, he went to a number of weird worlds. The details of these worlds would make interesting places to visit in a fantasy rpg, but the brief, descriptive names given to the them by the folks at the Marvel Universe Appendix are in many ways even better for just getting the creative juices flowing.

Here's the list made into d30 random table (I had to add one to the end to get 30):
  1. Crossroad of Worlds (choose a path, roll again!)
  2. Acid Rain World 
  3. Barren World 
  4. Burning World 
  5. Daniel Decyst's World 
  6. Demon World of the N'Garai 
  7. Desert World
  8. Devil World 
  9. Frozen World 
  10. Furry Blue People World 
  11. Glob World of Floating Things 
  12. Idol World 
  13. Mist World 
  14. Octopod World
  15. Paradise and the City of Death 
  16. Poisoned World of Spine Creatures
  17. Purple Giant World
  18. Quicksand World 
  19. Radiation Monster World 
  20. Robot World 
  21. Sky Shark World 
  22. Swamp World
  23. Toad World 
  24. Vacuum World 
  25. War World 
  26. Underwater World 
  27. Wind World 
  28. Yellow Dwarf World 
  29. Purple World of Exile
  30. Chiming Crystal World

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Operation Unfathomable is Out


In case you missed it, Operation Unfathomable was released in pdf this week and is (as of this writing) number 1 on rpgnow. I can say that everybody in Hydra was excited to be involved in bringing this adventure out. I personally have played in the con game version, and it was a blast. I'm also honored that my somewhat Scooby-Doo homage logo made the cut and wound up gracing the final product.

The adventure has a great tone, like Shaver Mystery, 50s monster movies, and Jack Kirby Atlas monster comics. Get it now, before the rave reviews start rolling in, so you can have the satisfaction of knowing you got there before the crowd!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Hounds of Marduk

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 Hounds of Marduk (1985) 
(Dutch: De Honden van Marduk)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Marduk, the Theocrat of Pandarve, is in a rage because he has been unable to relocate the Anomaly (i.e. Storm). Storm and his companions escaped Marduk's clutches and he hasn't seen them since. His palace staff has suffered his foul mood.

Suddenly, the Pearl of Pandarve begins to turn, meaning one of Marduk's hounds (or sleuth-hounds, as he sometimes says) has located the Anomaly. Sure enough, one of the round screens which are the hounds' vision has Storm in it.

Storm, Ember, and Nomad are in a tavern thousands of miles away. They have just negotiated the sale of Renter's ship, making enough money to buy some new clothes and weapons.

Nomad is bothered by the strange, dog-like creature that keeps staring at them. He pays the blind old beggar who appears to be its master to take the beast away. Meanwhile, another man in the bar has secretly recognized Storm as the Anomaly and plans to warn his men, but keep the anomaly in sight.

Our heroes move out into the street, but the dog (straining at his leash) is still intent on them. he drags his master into a collision with a passing palanquin. It's occupants are dumped on the ground. The rich man responds harshly:


Storm and his friends notice the commotion at the waterside. The hound is paddling for dear life. The beggar is underwater. Storm jumps in to try to save them. He manages to get the dog to safety, but he can't find the beggar's body.

Marduk, watches through the dog's eyes, pleased that his hound was saved. Storm tries to befriend the animal but at that moment Marduk summons the dog back and it runs off.

The three companions continue on their shopping excursion. They buy new clothing and new weapons. Ember worries their clothes look too good; they might attract robbers who think they are rich. Her words seem prophetic when they head down a narrow street to find a group of men blocking their path--and another blocking their retreat!



TO BE CONTINUED

Monday, February 5, 2018

Weird Revisited: Apocalypse Under Ground

This post first appeared in March of 2012. It was the first of a series of 3 in this setting...


He could barely remember a life before the refugee camp. His family had fled there like the others when their village had been overrun. They were without his two sisters; they had been carried away to fill monsters’ cookpots, perhaps. While he spent his days begging for food to feed his family, the monsters took his father, too. Maimed and in constant pain, his father had died with the beak of some leech-thing in his arm—a drug sold to those without hope by agents of the mind-flayers.

If the cleric was to be believed, the monsters took his mother as well. Even then, boy that he was, he knew enough to be skeptical. The wasting sickness that claimed her seemed all too common in the conditions of the camp—gods know he’d seen it enough. The cleric, evangelizing among the refugees, had claimed it was a magical disease sent by the monsters. The clerics always blamed the monsters. Their gods were as hungry for monster blood as the monsters seemed for the blood of man.

The boy didn’t care about the truth. He found a makeshift club, beat some scavenged nails into it, and joined the new crusade. Down he went, with a few veterans but many more hollow-eyed youths, into the lair of the foes of man, into the underground. The boy had survived. He had watched most of the others die in horrible ways: cut down, rended, chewed, dissolved. He had survived.

That was years ago. He barely remembered how young he had been—how weak he had been. Wounds that would have been fatal before now healed within days. He was strong and fast. The underground changed you. The trick was not to change too much. Some scholars thought that many of the tribes of monsters had once been men, in ages past.

Those same sages said it had always been like this. When a civilization mastered enough magic to discover the undergrounds, the war started. Who built them, no one could say. All the beings fighting for them now were like babes crawling through a grand temple in search of a toy. They understood so little. They knew only that there was treasure to be had: the doors in the depths through which the most ancient monsters traveled, the magic they fought over, and the gold that drew the poor and the greedy.

And no one—not goblins, not trolls, not dragons or men—was inclined to share.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Babylon Berlin


I've been enjoying the German crime drama Babylon Berlin on Netflix. It's location and time period (the 1920s) is always one I've found interesting--and I have the old posts to prove it!

For some nonfiction recommends to make your cities even more decadent: Urban Decadence Made Easy.

Here's a post on the Weird Adventures analog of Weimar Berlin, Metropolis: Desolation Cabaret

Friday, February 2, 2018

Unfathomable Azurth

Following up on my Operation Unfathomable in other genres post, this was to be about how I would adapt Jason Sholtis' awesome adventure to my current setting, the Land of Azurth. But busy work week, baby, and all that... So instead, this is my brainstorming for what I what things the adventure makes me think would be good Azurth tweaks. I am thinking mostly of how I responded to it in play, which was a version in length like the Knockspell original, but with some elements closer to their final concept in the Hydra edition.

So, the Azurth version will muddy Jason's conception with Oz, Fleischer Studios cartoons (and possibly Cuphead), and different comic books than the ones that likely inspired Jason. The Operation Unfathomable Underworld will be a dangerous "wildernes" region of Subazurth.

First, off "Worm Sultan" makes me think of this guy from the The Yellow Knight of Oz, so he's in:


The final version has several types of dwarfs...

Then, there are some religious factions:



That's all I've got for now.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Operation Unfathomable Cover Aprocrypha

During the Operation Unfathomable Kickstarter and run-up to publication, I did a number of cover mockups, as brainstorming and placeholder images. Here are some of those, most of which are unlikely to grace a product. 

Remember these are mockups, not finished products. They were not complete in some cases.

First up, here's the Jason Sholtis artbook that was one of the stretch goals we didn't reach:


We thought about blacklight covers (or covers with the black vibe) for the DCC conversions:


Finally, here's an unused design for the Player's Guide recalling old Boy Scout merit badge pamphlets: