Friday, January 22, 2021

Weird Revisted: Impish Misadventures

This post originally appeared in 2018. I still haven't done anything with this idea, but I still think it's a good one...

 

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, January 21, 2021

Appendix X Minus 1: A Pulp Solar System Anthology

I've written a number of posts about old-style inhabited solar systems. Given that the literature that might prove inspirational for games in that setting are old and mostly out a print, I thought I might give a guide.

These stories were selected because they present and interesting (and gameable) take on the celestial body in question, not necessarily for quality--though I do think a number of them are good stories.

Since Mars and Venus stories are probably most famous and most available, I figured I'd start with the more obscure, Galilean Moons of Jupiter.

Callisto
"Monsters of Callisto" (1933) by Edward R. Hinton - Lost at the bottom of the mysterious aquasphere, they struggle on!

"Mad Robot" (1936) by Raymond Z. Gallun - Did it ever occur to you that a machine could be complex enough to go insane? This one did! 

"The Callistan Menance" (1940) by Isaac Asimov - What was on Callisto, the tiny moon of vast Jupiter, that was deadly enough to make seven well-armed, well-equipped space expeditions disappear? And could the Eight Expedition succeed where the others had failed?

Europa
"Redemption Cairn" (1936) by Stanley Weinbaum - Here is one of the last stories by one of the outstanding writers of science- fiction. Remember him as you read it.

"Mutiny on Europa" (1936) by Edmond Hamilton - An unnerving spectacle we must have been to them!

"Repetition" (1940) A.E. van Vogt - Because a people live on a planet, it does not mean that they have a civilization on that planet. First they need to learn the old tricks and make them new.



Ganymede
"Tidal Moon" (1938) by Stanley and Helen Weinbaum - Shackled by the Gravity of Mighty Jupiter, Three Vertical Miles of Water Rush on to Blanket the Surface of Ganymede!

"World of Mockery" (1941) by Sam Moskowitz - When John Hall walked on Ganymede, a thousand weird beings walked with him. He was one man on a sphere of mocking, mad creatures—one voice in a world of shrieking echoes.
 
"Crypt-City of the Deathless One" (1943) Henry Kuttner - Only once could a man defy the deathless guardians of the Ancient's tomb-city deep in Ganymede's hell-forest and expect to live. Yet Ed Garth had to return, had to lead men to certain doom—to keep a promise to a girl he would never see again.

"Tepondicon" (1946) by Carl Jacobi - He was not the savior-type. He certainly did not crave martyrdom. Yet there was treasure beyond price in these darkened plague-cities of Ganymede, if a man could but measure up to it.

"The Dancing Girl of Ganymede" (1950) by Leigh Brackett - She was like a dream come to life--with hair of tawny gold and the glowing face of a smiling angel--but she was not human!

Io
"The Mad Moon" (1935) by Stanley Weinbaum - The great, idiotic heads, the silly grins and giggles--those infernal giggles--would drive him crazy. 

"Invaders of the Forbidden Moon" (1941) Raymond Z. Gallun - Annihilation was the lot of those who ventured too close to the Forbidden Moon. Harwich knew the suicidal odds when he blasted from Jupiter to solve the mighty riddle of that cosmic death-trap.

"Outpost on Io" (1942) by Leigh Brackett - In a crystalline death lay the only release for those prisoners of that Ionian hell-outpost. Yet MacVickers and the men had to escape—for to remain meant the conquering of the Solar System by the inhuman Europans. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Wild Wild West Wednesday: The Night of the Skulls

This post appeared over at Flashback Universe a couple of weeks ago. Consider this a teaser and reminder that Jim and I are doing a Wild Wild West rewatch over there...

 


"The Night of the Skulls" 
Written by Robert C. Dennis and Earl Barret
Directed by Alan Crossland Jr.
Synopsis: West is a fugitive after appearing to shoot and kill Artie. It's a ruse, they leads him to a secret organization, rescuing fugitive criminals for a sinister purpose.

Jim: This episode really encapsulates some of the things we've been discussing the past few days.

Trey: That's right, folks. We talked about WWW even when not getting ready for one of these posts! But yes, I feel like it brings weirdness I like to see. Sure, a villain building a band of fugitive criminals for some caper, we've seen before, but it's the details: the skull make up and colorful robes, the kidnap hearse, the trial, and the insanity of the main villain and his motley, chosen group all lend what I view as the essential WWW touches. 

The writers are reported to have said: "We saw The Wild Wild West as a comic book type show, so we camped it up." I agree with their approach!

Jim: There is a good bit of humor in this episode. And the third act cliffhanger with West shooting Artemis (again) is one of the better ones. 

Like you,  I really liked the cloaked skull faced cabal in this episode-- though I found it amusing that the "girl of the week" Lorelei just got a domino mask.


Trey: Emblazoned with a skull, though.

Jim: I'm always impressed with the dining rooms of these secret, criminal cabals. The stylish chairs and sumptuous dinner makes a nice juxaposition with the various notorious thugs and murderers.

Trey: I feel like we may have seen that same table and chairs in a previous episode, but I'm not sure.

Outside of the camp and presentation, I think it's well done episode, with a fair amount of action and stuff for both Artie and Jim to do. There's a hint of friendly rivalry between them here which I think works. 

Jim: I was impressed with Artie in three different disguises. I found the aged minister at the funeral particularly good. It's no wonder he was nominated for an Emmy for this role, albeit not until the fourth and final season.

Trey: The only complaint I have is that Skull Judge and his crew are really quick to believe West has turned villain. I mean, even if he murdered Artie in a crime of passion, it seems a stretch that he's willing to help you overthrow the government.

Jim: That's the least of Skull's problems with rationality, I think.

Trey: True!

Jim: I have to say, seeing him rant at the end about how he's the rightful president of the United States hits a little too close to home!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Star Trek Endeavor: Hard Rock Catastrophe



Episode 4:
"HARD ROCK CATASTROPHE"
Player Characters: 
The Crew of the USS Endeavour, NCC-1895, Constitution Class Starship (refit):
Andrea as Lt. Ona Greer, Chief Engineer Officer 
Bob as Capt. Robert Locke
Gina as Cmdr. Isabella Hale, Helm Chief
Eric As Lt.Cmdr. Tavek, Science Officer
Jason as Lt. Francisco Otomo, Chief Security Officer
Tug as Dr. Azala Vex, Trill Chief Medical Officer

Synposis: Stardate 6054.1, answering a distress can from a Saurian colony, Endeavour finds the planet's settlements are suffering periodic attacks from giant rock monsters. The crew discovers that the monsters have been transported to the planet by an ecoterrorist group trying to destroy all cities. They fail twice in stopping assaults from the creatures, but do discover a pheromone which may control them, and the location of the terrorists' base.

Commentary: This is a published adventure written by Christopher L Bennett, who has written several Star Trek novels I've enjoyed. It ties in to the Animated Seris episode "Mudd's Passion" and makes several references in chapter titles and the like to kaiju films.

The Saurians (of Saurian brandy fame) have been seldom seen on screen, at least until Discovery.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Cowboy Bebop and the Pulp Solar System


The anime series Cowboy Bebop may not seem to have much in common with the sort of stuff you'd find in the pulp magazine Planet Stories in the period around World War II, but I feel like there are more similarities than one might think:
  • The action occurs in version of the solar system where a number of bodies are habitable. Sure, Cowboy Bebop says that were terraformed, but the story takes place in the 21st Century and the terraformed versions of the Galilean moons and the like are as fanciful as anything from Planet Stories.
  • Jet is a former cop and Spike and ex-gangster. These sort of hard-boiled backgrounds certainly wouldn't be out of place in pulp fiction of the 40s, and not unheard of in science fiction.
  • Both draw on influences like Noir and Westerns.
Sure, there are also a lot of differences, as are bond to happen when two works are the products of two different cultures and half a century. But it does some to me you could do something resembling Cowboy Bebop that fight squarely in the pulp context (in the era where bebop originated), or say pull Eric John Stark into a world more like Cowboy Bebop.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Exploration and Science Fiction Settings


 On a pulp science fiction reading kick lately (mostly stuff out of Planet Stories or Thrilling Wonder Stories), I've come to conclusions about something in the structure of these stories that has previously bothered me. It's not uncommon for these stories to take place on a "Io no one has ever explored" or "a seldom visited Ceres" or the like, despite the fact the story suggests fairly developed civilization or at least trade lanes around these bodies. Why is (for instance) Ganymede a thriving colony world and Callisto unexplored?

The problem is not so much with the stories as with my expectations of them. I'm used to thinking space as divided into explored and explored territory, something like Star Trek or the like: here is civilized space, there's a border, there's the hinterlands. Sure, you might have outposts in the "wilderness" or "uncharted worlds" in otherwise fairly civilized areas, but mostly the unexplored is demarcated from the known. It's model inherited, perhaps, from simplified views of the Age of Exploration and the discovery of the New World.

These pulp studies model themselves on somewhat more modern conceptions. I think we can loosely place in them in three categories:
  • The Jim Bridger Model: I'm wandering around areas others have passed through, seeing things they missed.
  • The Amundsen/Hillary Model: Let us prepare to go to this place no one has yet been able to reach.
  • The Shipwreck/Crashed Bush Pilot Model: People avoid this place because there isn't much to recommend it. I'm hear and I don't want to be, and I've found something weird.

Model Three and One mostly differ by intention, and can overlap.

These three models suggest a setting that is mostly explored, or at least explored around the edges and the primary exploration of the current age is "filling in the blank spots" to varying degrees.

Their are obvious parallels to traditional D&D style fantasy settings. The classic "wilderness exploration" game looks more like Star Trek, but the dungeoncrawl sort of game is more filling in the gaps exploration.

In making a sci-fi setting it seems to me you'd want to think about what sort of exploration you want to have (if that's going to be a focus) and the implications of the size and layout of setting "space."

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Solar Frontier


In a universe other than our own, the early observations of the planets were not proved fanciful misperceptions by the march of science, but instead bolstered by it. By the time space probes were sent, the people of Earth knew Mars and Venus were inhabited.

In time, the three species of the inner planets formed a partnership: the Vrusk of Mars, and from fecund Venus the Hadozee and Dralasites. With their combined efforts, the alliance of worlds made rapid scientific advances, and they would need them. Beyond Mars, the Alliance encountered the vessels of a mysterious new civilization, one that would eventually learn was called the Sathar.

There were other species out in the deep beyond of the solar system, but the Sathar ruled there and they had turned their double-pupiled gaze to the inner worlds.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Wednesday Comics: Pre-Crisis Wonder Woman


Over the holidays, I got the quixotic idea to do a survey of DC Comics in the 80s prior to Crisis. Having just watched Wonder Woman 1984, I decided to start there. Some of the late 70s covers looked intriguing in that Bronze Age sort of way, so I started a bit earlier with Wonder Woman #250, cover dated December 1978, but on the stands in September of 1978. So far, I have made it through December 1980.

The quick summary is: none of it is very good. 

In a bit more detail, it seems largely that no one is sure quite what to do with Wonder Woman. It starts with Steve Trevor dead, and Diana Prince becoming an astronaut, but they seem uncertain about that, because they give her excuses to come back to New York City. She also briefly gets replaced by another Amazon as Wonder Woman, which I think happened in the 70s at some point, too.

Jose Delbo and Vince Coletta are providing art, and Jack Harris is writing this uninspired stuff. Then Paul Levitz comes in and tries to stick to astronaut thing, but that doesn't really work either. Finally, she quits the astronaut program and leaves Houston for New York City, after a potential love interest is revealed to be the leader of the Royal Flush Gang.

That's part of the problem: A lack of compelling adversaries. I mean, she fights Angle-Man several times in this stretch. Angle-Man who got half a page in Who's Who and probably hasn't appeared Post-Crisis. Then there are two appearances by Bushmaster who is less compelling than the Marvel villain of that name, which is pretty damning. He doesn't even show up in Who's Who.

So, Gerry Conway to rescue. Or not. I mean, he shakes things up by having reports of Diana Prince's flakiness (owing to her secret identity) leading to her not being able to get her old job back at the UN. So Wonder Woman briefly gets fired up about modern society's lack of privacy with it's files and government records and whatnot. Then Ares and crew make her a little crazy, so the people in New York for a while reject her.


She's fed up with Man's World, and returns to Paradise Island. If all that seems like it might have been going somewhere...well, the only place it was going was a reboot. A young Steve Trevor flies in from a parallel dimension, allowing Wonder Woman to re-enact her origin, then her mom wipes her memories of her previous life as "a kindness."

She follows the new Steve Trevor back to Man's World to be his assistant, and the reboot circle is complete. Angle-Man's still there, though. Good ol' reliable Angle-Man.


These issues end with the introduction of the second Cheetah. There's an interesting (to me) bit of comic chronology there, in that the second Cheetah is the niece of the first, who the story suggests recently died, and appears to have been elderly. Yet, that Cheetah apparently fought the Earth-1 Wonder Woman (no universe crossing shenanigans are suggested), which makes one wonder how long Conway believes Wonder Woman has been active?

And after all that, I decided to take a break. I plan to get back to it. Then again, maybe another title might be the place to start...

Monday, January 11, 2021

Weird Revisited: The Hanna-Barbera Superhero Universe

This post originally appeared in December of 2014. After I wrote this DC did a big crossover series Future Quest with some of these characters...

Art by Carlos Mota

I have, at various times, considered a supers campaign set in the universe of Hanna-Barbera's superhero cartoons.

One unusual thing about Hanna-Barbera's supers characters is that, when you leave aside the licensed properties (Super Friends, The Fantastic Four) and the completely comedic ones (The Impossibles, Atom Ant), very few of the characters follow traditional superhero conventions. For example, few are set on modern day Earth, or have a stable base of operations and supporting cast. The only one that does (Birdman) is unusual because he's a superhuman agent of a governmental organization, not unlike the THUNDER Agents.

Despite this different in focus and presentation, I think many of them could be adapted to a more traditional superhero mold. Call it "Ultimate Hanna-Barbera," if you will.  Let's run the list:

Art by Alex Ross
Space Ghost: A very superhero-y and well realized character as-is. Perhaps like the Legion of Super-Heroes he is a futuristic character in the same universe as the others? A future Phantom/Batman in the same way Captain Future is kind of a futuristic Doc Savage. The other option would be to make him sort of Green Lantern-like. A space cop assigned to protect earth. Or some combination of the two?

Young Samson: (Also known as Samson & Goliath) A teen with a Captain Marvel schtick who wanders around Route 66 or Incredible Hulk style, getting into adventures, works pretty well as-is. As suppose, it would be better to have him settled down and become more of a Peter Parker.


Shazzan: The cartoon has two kids transport to an Arabian Nights fantasy-land after finding their genie, but they could have just as easily stayed in the modern day. Two teens sharing a genie to fight evil would be an interesting concept.

Mightor: A Stone Age Thor, essentially. There isn't any reason a worthy successor couldn't find the magic club and become Mightor in the modern day. Of course, the character is a bit on the silly side and would probably work best for a Silver Age vibe rather than a Modern Age one.

Herculoids: In a comic book universe, the Herculoids could be sort of Ka-Zar type characters where their Savage Land is a world in another dimension, or they could be treated like a primitive Forever People and have them arrive on Earth to be super-powered fish-out-of-water.

Art by MarioPons
The Galaxy Trio: These teen heroes are probably better candidates for Forever People stand-ins. You can transport them to the modern day and have them be alien heroes stranded on Earth for some reason.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

No Elves

 


This is not a Talislanta post.

While D&D has added a number of new "races" to the game over the decades, it has remained strongly humanoid-centric. Nothing wrong with that, but I have wondered on occasion if fantasy of a more or less standard variety would feel any different if you placed the D&D races with say, the species in Star Frontiers (just one example, but these have the advantage of already having appeared in D&D via adaptations to Spelljammer)? Not as an addition, but as a replacement for the usual elves, dwarves, and halflings.

Sure all sorts of gonzo PC types appear in various Old School sources, but these tend to move the game away from classic fantasy toward science fantasy or post-apocalytpicness. I think it would be interesting to see how it works if they were inserted into something more basic. 

What's to be gained? Well, for one thing, science fiction has different cliches than fantasy. There are warrior races and superior beings in both, but they don't get packaged quite in the same way. Special relationships to nature or magic are out, for instance. No one assumes Dralasites have Scottish accents, at least.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Security Robots and Dead Chickens

Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued this past Sunday with the party warned by the automated voice at the gates of the Gander Foods Chicken Plant that security was on the way. When the four metal men armed with paralyzing batons arrived, the party perhaps regretted their decision to hang around. Still, they ultimately did prevail, but were so depleted they opted for a place to hide and a short rest.

They found cover on another side of the plant behind an old vehicle of some sort. Waylon managed to find a red keycard while trying to find away to activate the vehicle.

With keycard in hand, they were able to enter a side door of the building where they discovered a long hallway with many doors. Behind the first couple, they found numerous chicken cages, a smashed metal man, and the body of a dead chicken humanoid.

TO BE CONTINUED

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Weird Revisited: When Noom Comes

This post first appeared in 2015...


There is one holiday in the Land of Azurth that can never be scheduled because it comes when it will. Loonsday, it is called, and on Loonsday, Noom, the shy, hidden face of the Moon, turns toward Azurth. When the light of smiling Noom shines down, many strange things have been known to happen.

Here are ten strange visitations that have occurred on a Loonsday, under Noom's beaming face:

1. Street cobblestones are disturbed as by ripples in a pond.
2. A strange, scintillant mist attaches itself to a person and follows them around for sometime making a soft sobbing sound.
3. People don strange hats and spontaneous start a parade, winding through the streets of the city, as if in some ecstatic trance. At some point, they cease their marching. The participants throw their hats aside and return to their previous business. They profess no memory of the events.
4. Inanimate household objects have come to life and demanded their freedom from enslavement for perhaps an hour before returning to normal.
5. A rat-king and its retinue emerge from the sewers to hold court in a city square. He will answer 3 questions about the future, promising that at least one prediction will not be a lie.
6. Someone finds a kazoo whose sound will banish lesser devils.
7. Shadows take on weight and texture of a thin piece of felt and detach from their owners with a bit of tugging.
8. A rain of frogs occur over an area of the city, but each frog drifts down slowly under a tiny parasol.
9. A swarm of small, translucent portuguese man-of-war fly through like balloons in a strong wind. They strike anyone in their path like thrown boxing gloves.
10. Small groups of people in odd clothes with their heads replaced by glowing orbs are seen in the streets. If accosted or hindered in their obscure tasks, they will search their pockets or purses and produce a few alien coins and give them to the person confronting them. The coins hum and writhe gently in the hand.

Loonsday inserts itself into the more sensible and regular calendar of Azurth without warning. The appearance of Noom in the sky will always signal that it has begun. When Noom has set (and not in the normal way but by simply drifting away like a handful of sand blown on the wind) Loonsday is over and the normal precision of time resumes.

Monday, January 4, 2021

The New Old Solar System


The "Old Solar System" with a wet, fecund Venus, and a habitable desert Mars, doesn't have the be the relegated to pulp retreads with gleaming, silver rockets. S.M. Stirling wrote a couple of alternate histories in his Lords of Creation series wherein Venus and Mars just happened to be habitable (well, not just happened to be, but no spoilers), but the stories were otherwise fairly hard sci-fi. The anthologies Old Venus and Old Mars have a few stories in a similar vein.

There's some reason you could put a pulp-derived but more rigorous in its details Mars or Venus in the background of an rpg setting like Transhuman Space or The Expanse or any other nearer future or solar system only sci-fi thing.

A habitable Mars or Venus doesn't require much of a stretch of scientific plausibility, but it might be fun to go full Edmond Hamilton or Leigh Brackett with fungal forests on Saturn or mud-mining on Io. I can't think of any reason why in an rpg you couldn't overlay the trapping of hard/near future science fiction on a completely pulp solar system.