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.