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.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Indiana Jones Judge's Survival Pack


When I did my retro-review of the TSR Indiana Jones role-playing game, I mentioned the much cited fact that it doesn't have character generation rules, but noted that it did in its first supplement. It's worth taking a look at that supplement, because it has some other interesting stuff there.

The Indiana Jones Judge's Survival Pack (IJAC1) is a slim supplement (16 pages), but all contains a "supplemental" Judge's Screen with repeated information on old and new weapons, and stats for common animals and vehicles. Then there's the making of a cardboard device to allow to show the results a various sorts of checks, which seems more trouble to put together than it's probably worth.

Anyway, the first topic tackled in the main book is character generation, and it runs only one page. You roll ability score on percentile die, improve them with 30 points to spread around (but nothing can be increased above 70, though you obviously can roll over 70). Then, you determine your broad background (Education, Soldiering, and Real World), then select skills. Interestingly, the Education and Real World skills are on a chart with no dice rolls next to it, suggesting you choose them, while Soldiering does have dice rolls. Since the directions are identical, I assume this was an oversight.

The next section would be of particular interest to old school procedure-lovers: Random Ruins. It has tables that determine basic history, some architectural features, items of interest, creatures or hazards encountered, and tables of "dungeonmorphs" for room and hallway configurations. It's compact but flavorful, and might be useful for GMs in other genres, at least for some random inspiration building.

Next, the chase rules from the main book are expanded. The chase rules are a set of procedures often cited as one of the interesting thing about the game. This adds new location flowcharts (including rooftop chase for foot chases), and adds some flow stunt rules for really aggressive driving or things like trapeze swings and vaulting for foot chases.

The last couple of pages were probably interesting or somewhat useful in the pre-internet days, but all now just filler. There's chart of ancient scripts including cunieform, hieroglyphics, and runes, then a page of small maps of real life ruins/site maps.

The Judge's Survival Pack would have been an essential aid for a referee actually running Indiana Jones. Gamers playing other games still might find its random ruins or chase rules usual, the the latter would also require the basic game.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Impish Misadventures


I've had this idea for a game for a while, but haven't done anything with it yet, but I thought writing it down would insure I don't forget it.

The high concept would be: "C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters meets GURPS Goblins." It would be an infernal Horatio Alger story (or parody thereof) where young imps try to get ahead in Hell's hierarchy by misadventure, toadying, and blind luck. They would be abused and give out abuse and probably come to comedically horrible ends--only to be respawned in the larvae pools and start their Sisyphean climb to archdevil-hood once again.

The rules would need to be simple, but (like GURPS Goblins) flavorful, and I imagine gameplay as something like (GURPS Goblins) with a bit of Paranoia and D&D with a pinch of Planescape.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Armchair Planet Who's Who Update

Art by Agus Calcagno

There's been a bit of a lull in the posting on the Armchair Planet Who's Who superhero supplement, but work proceeds. Here are a couple of new pieces of art to prove it! Since designer's notes seem to be the new hip thing (at least according to G+ discussion), I wanted to say a bit about my approach to the writing of it, beyond the game stats side of things.

Like Strange Stars, the Who's Who is meant to suggest a world rather than completely describe it. Unlike Strange Stars, it does it almost entirely through characters, and specifically the presentation of character like the DC Who's Who or similar to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. This means there might be more detail on a given character (maybe) than you need at the table, but you can always flip the page and go straight to the game stats. Or, you can read the text and get hints of the superhero universe the characters inhabit, and perhaps a sort of meta view of the different "ages" f the fictional comic book company that published them. (We won't dwell on the hypothetical Armchair Planet Comics. The only textual appearance of it will be in the "first appearances" of characters, which can be easily ignored if you find such conceits too precious.)

So you might read about the Abhumans making their home in an abandoned city of the ancient Hyperboreans or learn that Thunderhawk once teamed up with those motorcycle-riding, crimefighting ladies, the Avenging Angels, but you won't find entries for either Avenging Angels or Hyperboreans, or for the teen-humor-comic-refugee band, The Tomorrows, that Futura shares a house with. Context will hopefully be enough to get your creative juices flowing and you don't need me over-specifying homages to various fictional entities you're already aware of. If your version is substantially different than the one I came up with, well that's just fine.

Also, the characters themselves, while all fitting a late Bronze Age DC mold have hints of the eras they were likely "born" in built into them. Some have origins that clearly saw their earliest versions in the Golden Age (like Champion), while others (like Damselfly) show telltale signs of (multiple) later eras. My goal was less a consistent comics universe than a naturalistic one, though like any good handbook of the mid-80s, I've smoothed over the incongruities to make it look coherent. Which is to say, I wrote it like incongruities were being smoothed over.

As I write this, it all sounds a bit metatextual, but I don't think the finished product will require that level of engagement. Also, I feel like superhero role-playing is a genre that has always had a bit of metatextuality to it. If comics history easter eggs and homages can be put to use in springboarding the creation, well maybe, if used with restraint, they might serve a purpose.

Art by Chris Malgrain

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Living Planet (part 4)

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 4)
(Dutch: De Levende Planeet)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Thanks to his rescue of the daughter of the crew member, the captain agrees to let him try his plan to kill the fire worm, despite the fact he's an escaped debtor. However, Ember is held hostage and put in peril to unsure he's not playing tricks:


Storm climbs on board one of the flyers with one of the pilots and arms himself with a harpoon.  When he sends a harpoon down the creatures throat, it explodes internally, where the worm has no armor:


Their flying mount is hit by pieces of the flying worm and is going down.


The current makes the animals body rigid, and they are able to walk down its wing to rescue before it is consumed by the lava. They are greeted as heroes. Ember is set free. They are debtors no more.

Storm, as the worm's killer is offered the honor of drinking one of it's eyes. Storm demures.

The Captain now has to figure out what to do with Storm and the other freed debtors. Before they can complete the conversation, both Ember and Storm began to choke and ultimately collapse!


TO BE CONTINUED

Monday, August 6, 2018

Weird Revisited: Antediluvian Apocalyptic

The original version of this post appeared in November of 2015. It's an idea I revisited from a slightly different angle about a year later.
"And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
                                                      - Genesis 6:5
Think Carcosa is the only horrifying milieu for gonzo adventure fantasy? Ditch the mutli-colored men (maybe) and get Biblical, Old Testament style.

Before the Flood, (the book of Genesis tells us) humankind was exceedingly wicked, which is a good way for them to be for adventuring, really. And there were giants (gibborim) in the earth, and the Nephilim (either giants or fallen angels, or the children of fallen angels. Or something.), who were "mighty men or men of renown." Talking serpents from Eden were still probably around somewhere. And though the Bible doesn't mention they specifically, any good creationist will tell you there were dinosaurs. Check out this I'm sure meticulously researched timeline:

(source)
It's not hard to imagine a sword and sandals (plus sorcery) or barbaric sort of world were weird Antediluvian beasts and human-angel hybrids run rampant--and apocalypse hangs over it all. It's like Afronosky's Noah meets The Road. Or Hok the Mighty meets Blood Meridian. The Aaron/Guera comic The Goddamned approaches this same era, and it has a Nephilim eat Cain in the first story arc. (It does not turn out so well for the Nephilim.)

Actually Masters of the Universe, but this fits.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Comic Book Implosion


In 1978, DC Comics enacted a plan to compensate for problems in the newsstand market and hopefully regain market dominance from Marvel called "The DC Explosion." The plan failed in short order, leading to cancellation of a number of titles and staff layoffs and has been derisively referred to as the "DC Implosion." A new book from TwoMorrows, Comic Book Implosion, written by Keith Dallas and John Wells describes itself as an oral history of DC Comics in the era.

Comic Book Implosion chronicles the basic facts: the state of the comics industry before the Explosion and the discussions that led to it. The surprise success of Star Wars and its associated comic, interesting, is one things given a bit of discussion. We also get full coverage about what was planned for the Explosion that never happened, including what never saw print and what characters wound up at other publishers.

What might be surprising (and more interesting) are some of the conclusions. Major blizzards in the Northeast in 1977-1978 may have strangled the Explosion in its crib. No one was in a position to benefit from DC's failure; Marvel was forced to cancel about sixteen titles in the same period. Dallas and Wells argue ultimately that it was the economics of the newsstand that was killing the comics industry as it had been known. Kahn's thinking behind the Explosion was correct in many ways, but came at the wrong time and in too small a measure.


All in all, Comic Book Implosion makes for a really interesting read.


Friday, August 3, 2018

Jungian-Gygaxian Alignment


I still have to do some thinking on all the implications, but mull this chart over as I do. It shows Jungian Archetypes super-imposed with the AD&D alignment axis.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Finer Elements of Inner Planar Adventuring

The original of this post appeared in 2014.

It's not an uncommon complaint on the internet that the Elemental Planes are boring because they're featureless expanses of the same thingm, which is sort of like saying dungeons are boring because thy're just empty spaces underground, or wilderness adventures are dullsville because it's just a whole bunch of trees. Most environments are probably not in and of themselves terribly interesting. They're interesting because of (a) what you can put in them and (b) the additional challenges their nature presents to PCs. I would also say that the Elemental Planes can be an interesting cosmological element in a setting even if not viewed as a place to go adventuring, but it's "place for adventuring" I'm going to focus on here.

First off, the Elemental Planes as typically described are for the most part pretty hostile to human life. I don't think that's a bad thing, necessarily. High level adventurers have access to a lot of great technology (i.e. magic) to protect themselves. Guarding against equipment failure and avoiding changing conditions certainly creates a lot of tension in science fiction books and movies; there's no reason it can't be put to similar effect in gaming. It's resource management that's more than just counting.

Here are some brief ideas and inspirations for Elemental Plane adventures:


Air
This one's probably the easiest, with flying creatures, cities on clouds and the like. I would draw some inspiration from sci-fi imaginings of life in the atmosphere of gas giants. The plane of air should only be featureless like space is featureless: there should be pieces of stuff falling/tumbling through it. There should be air-dwelling Portuguese man o' war type things and air-whales like living zeppelins that one can travel or even live on. Reliance on the strongest air streams for travel would ensure that there were certain air caravan routes.
Inspirations: the Cloud City of Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back, the Star Trek episode "The Cloud-Miners," The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello, Castle in the Sky (1986), Last Exile.


Fire
Fire is like a really big star, though it's surface is much cool. There would be islands of rock (and by islands, I mean things bigger that continents) floating across it, or great metal craft drifting through it's smoke-choked corona. It would, of course, be populated (though perhaps not exclusively) by beings (jinn?) composed of Fire who did very similar stuff to Prime Material humans but were fiery while doing it.
Inspirations: Any Adventure Time episode dealing with the Fire Kingdom, the neutron star life of Forward's Dragon's Egg, parts of Sunshine (2007), Secrets of the Fire Sea by Stephen Hunt.


Earth
This plane is a huge sphere (or block or tesseract, or whatever) of rock, riddled with tunnels and chambers. In other words, it's a dungeon in three dimensions. It's sci-fi asteroid mining and molerat sapients, too.
Inspirations: Dig Dug, the Star Trek episode "Devil in the Dark," Derinkuyu.


Water
Like Air, it's fairly easy to see what to put into the Plane of Water, but maybe difficult to see why you wouldn't just do that stuff on a Prime Material ocean. I would say it's like an extraterrestrial ocean planet: You can make it far more exotic than you would the oceans of your main campaign world. Societies would have vertical and horizontal borders. Different depth layers would be like different levels of a dungeon, except (depending on how science fictional you got) adventurers might need increasing pressure protection to descend to the next level.
Inspirations: Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross, The Abyss (1989), Finding Nemo, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Blue Submarine No. 6, Sub-Mariner, Aquaman, and Abe Sapien comics.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Storm is Coming


After a bit of hiatus, I'm getting ready to return to my survey of Don Lawrence's Storm (hopefully) next week. To catch you up since it has been a while, here are the installments so far on the current volume "The Living Planet":

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3