Sunday, October 13, 2019

Weird Revisited: Do You Have Alignment or Does It Have You?

Recent discussion of alignment on discord brought to mind this post from 2014...


What follows is some brainstorming on a conception of alignment that probably just over-complicates things, but hopefully will be of some interest to somebody.

As we all know, alignment is derived from Moorcock and Anderson and is suppose to provide some moral and ethical structure to--well, the universe--and to provide a behavioral check on certain character types, but any attempt to relate it to actual moral quandaries, leads to discussion of baby orcs. Some people (myself included) have suggested at times the obvious solution of just viewing the sides as teams or opposing armies free of a moral dimension, but mostly it seems like people just ignore it. While I'm still advocating for a bit of blue and orange morality here, I want to suggest another wrinkle.

I recently finished the third of Hannu Rajaniemi's science fiction novels, The Causal Angel. One of the futuristic societies, the zoku, tend to form group minds, but individuals joining one or more zoku (Japanese for "clan") related hobbies, interests, or vocation. This process involves "entanglement," a sort of co-mingling of though and desires. The higher one's rank (i.e. the longer one is a member or the more "good" they do for the group) the more entanglement the individual becomes and so the more their thoughts and desires are reflected in the group consensus and action, or "volition." This effect is reciprocal, though, so the higher rank, the more one's on thoughts and actions are shaped by the zoku volition.

Maybe alignments could be a bit like that? Joining up with a fundamental metaphysical power of the universe means getting benefits (positive reaction, access to power) but also means you lose a bit of your individuality (or at least have that individuality altered). for someone powered by alignment (a paladin, a cleric), the higher level you become the worse it gets. A high level Paladin would be unlikely to worry about straying from their alignment; they would become one with it, or at least part of it.

This would make adhering to any alignment sort of like bartering your soul for magical power. The only difference is, with bartering your soul you are still quite aware you've given something up. With this approach, it would get harder and harder to ever imagine yourself doing anything differently.

This of course means that gods and other beings of great power and strong alignment allegiance have probably become more or less avatars for the consensus overmind/soul of the alignment.

Friday, October 11, 2019

B/X Mars is Upon You! Who Will Save You Now?


Michael "Aos" Gibbons released his long-awaited B/X Mars this week. As the name suggests, it's based on the Moldavy/Cook iteration of D&D. It is also inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom, but that's only the roots; Mike's Martian tree grows in much more of a "Dying Earth" direction, with more than a little Kirby and perhaps a bit of Heavy Metal attitude in there.

In addition to the basic rules, it covers the society and culture of Mars, numerous factions, monsters, and equipment. It's also got a gazeteer of the Zerzura area ready to start a campaign.

Of course, it's profusely illustrated with Michael's high contrast black and white art that is at ERB accurate in terms of nudity and decidedly unlike any of the famous Barsoom illustrators of the past. The cover's above, but here another taste:


Go get it!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Jacked into Etherspace

This is a follow up to this post about the data etherspace of Gyre.

The natural Ethereal Plane is the substrate that underlies material spacetime, and is continuous with it. The artificial ether network of Gyre is surrounded by an astral bubble, a firewall, that keeps it from being accessed without the use of specific nodes. The legitimate and illegitimate users of etherspace most employ stables of proxies or individual avatars constructed from etheric stuff. Artificial subtle body avatars are sometimes called "subs." Ethernauts can construct them in any form they wish, limited only by the available resources. The subs are controlled via technology and a neural interface.  Not only does a sub allow the creation of a secondary identity, it also insulates the user from the dangers of etherspace. If the sub dies, the users consciousness returns to their body, unharmed. Usually.

Proxies are programs that have many different names depending on their use. They are simple etheric creatures for the most part; mindless, engineered etheric fauna and flora that have a specific data function. Sometimes these programs slip their chains and go feral in the network. Most starve or waste away without a way to perform the function they were built for. Rarely, some can undergo evolution to more free-living forms and become vermin. They may prey on legitimate programs or gnaw holes in data conduits, but they are perhaps more of a danger to rogue ethernauts lurking in the shadows, so aren't as vigorously hunted as they might be.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Wednesday Comics: Vermillion


Vermillion was a series from DC's Helix science fiction imprint created and written by the science fiction and fantasy author, Lucius Shepard. Like all the Helix line save one title, Vermillion was short-lived, lasting along 12 issues, published 1996-1997. (The one that had staying power was Transmetropolitan, which moved over to Vertigo.) Vermillion is a science fantasy about an eponymous endless city that is the entirety of its universe. Vermillion came after our universe and was created through the machinations of dark gods, the survivors of the universe prior to ours. Only Jonathan Cave remembers what came before and fights against the entities to restore his world. It bears some resemblance, perhaps, to John M. Harrison's Virconium (and maybe prefigures his Kefahuchi Tract, a bit). It is definitely not typical comic book science fantasy, even for the Vertigo 90s.

Vermillion has an interesting set up, but the stories read like they were written by a prose writer rather than a comics writer. The art in the first arc is by Al Davison and is firmly of the 90s "the writing is the important thing" camp, so it can't come to the rescue. Shepard hits more of a groove in the second arc, and John Totleben and then Gary Erskine improve the art side, but it is perhaps too little too late.

Still, the setup up and universe is interesting, and Shepard gives us a sort of complicated protagonist for a comic in Cave. It has never been collected, but if you run across the issues for cheap it is worth picking up.


Monday, October 7, 2019

Weird Revisited: Gill-Man vs. Wolf-Man

This post was originally presented in October of 2010, part of a series on the Universal Monsters.

The gill-man and the werewolf. Both are zoanthropes, and perhaps as such, both represent fears of nature or man’s own animalistic side, though at that point the similarity seems to end.


The gill-man is elusive. His appearances in media are more rarified, no doubt due to his proprietary, rather than folklorish, origins. In addition to the Creature trilogy, stand-ins make appearances in The Monster Squad, and Monsters vs. Aliens--where interestingly he’s grouped with decade-appropriate monster stand-in colleagues rather than the Universal monster old guard.

The proto-gill-men of Lovecraft’s "Shadow Over Innsmouth" have miscegenation fears in their DNA, which seem absent from Universal’s creature--unless his attraction to human females is a hint at this. In some ways, the Lovecraftian angst underlying the Deep Ones makes them more interesting than a fish King Kong. That’s part of the reason D&D’s Kuo-toa (more Deep One-ish in character) have always been more interesting to me than the other evil fishmen, the Sahuagin (Gill-Men).

I guess Dr. Who's Sea Devils and Silurians might be mined for gill-man inspiration. Anything might help. Gill-man’s got a good look, but little else to give him real monster memorability.

Neil Gaiman has a short-story called “Only the End of the World Again” where Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man, winds up in Innsmouth and tangles with Deep One cultists. This may be as close as media has given us to a Gill-man-Werewolf bout.

Werewolves seem to have what it takes for urban fantasy fiction. Werewolf sex probably seems even naughtier, I suppose, than lovin’ the living dead. In fact--Teen Wolf aside--there’s always been something a little “adult situations”--maybe even exploitation--about werewolves. They don’t just strangle like the mummy or Frankenstein, or give a killer kiss like a vampire--they rend and tear and chew. Werewolves are as much serial killer as wild beast.

Is it any wonder that werewolves are almost as likely as vampires to get the grindhouse treatment? I would suspect only “almost” because vampires maybe give more excuse for nudity, and blood effects are cheaper than wolf prosthetics. But the wolf man gets by, and whatever budget.  Paul Naschy’s got a whole series of werewolf movies where the werewolf's origin involves being bit by a Yeti, and he fights Templars--how’s that for game inspiration! Then we’ve got a werewolf biker film (Werewolves on Wheels), a werewolf women in prison effort (Werewolf in a Women’s Prison); and, if Rob Zombie had his way, a werewolf Nazi-ploitation film--Werewolf Women of the S.S.

Werewolves: the most gameable of monsters, whatever your genre.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Etherspace of Gyre


Gyre, the city at the center of the multiverse, has a ghost. It envelopes the city like an invisible fog or unseen shroud, bunching and gathering in centers of commerce, thinning out in the lonely, post-industrial stretches. In its unfathomable complexity, it is more solid--more real--than the city to which it belongs. It's only ether, but ether is more tangible than ideas, after all.

The ghost is a network arising from the interconnected computers of Gyre. It's a bubble of ethereal space floating in the Astral Manifold, somehow built around the city. Like most things about Gyre's construction, no one remembers at all how it came to be there. Inside this etherspace, the data of Gyre takes on an emergent if abstract form perceivable by human minds, but not constructed by them. It's a memory palace without an architect.

In addition legitimate users, rogues slink through the pale mists, between the bright-edged, corporate data-monoliths with their constellations of vibrating, platonic solid programs, glowing like neon wrapped in fog. In the shadows, they snatch will-o-wisp secrets and pick the fractal locks to chest full of ones and zeroes that become gold in the real Gyre.

The Ethereal Plane proper has no access to Gyre's etherspace, nor do any of the Outer Planes. Officially. There are persistent rumors that hackers based in any number of planes have created backdoors, dug ether tunnels, into etherspace for their own purposes.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Wednesday Comics: The Joker

A new Bronze Age Book Club podcast is up: The Joker #7.

Listen to "Episode 6: THE JOKER #7" on Spreaker.

If that's not enough Joker for you, then check out The Joker: The Bronze Age Omnibus that collects the entire series this issue is from.