Thursday, September 30, 2010

Your Character's Old Job

Following up on my earlier post, here are the are some of the background occupations for adventurers I plan on using in my own upcoming Weird Adventures game. These backgrounds suggest the broad, noncombat skills character’s will have. For skill checks, I plan to use a "Target20" sort of mechanic, wherein d20 plus appropriate modifiers must be greater then or equal to “20” to succeed. Using a skill within the purview of the the background will garner an additional +1 in addition to the pertinent ability score bonus on the skill check.

All of this will require a good deal of GM discretion. I will probably allow two background occupations if a player had a real good concept. Bonuses in that context wouldn’t “stack” though, if they happened to have similar skill sets.

It should also be noted that, with a few exceptions, I view any class as able to take any background occupation (though some would be a better "fit" for one or another), though that will modify the nature of that occupation somewhat. A Tough Guy scientist is a “Two-Fist Scientist” while a Magic Man amateur detective becomes a “Occult Detective.”

Anyway, here are a few examples:

Academician [requires Int 12+]
The Ivory Halls of Academia didn’t hold enough excitement for you--or perhaps your hunger for knowledge ran to topics not considered appropriate by those in your department. When you’ve proved your theories, they’ll have to listen.
Skills: Academicians will have a primary field of study, and some knowledge of related fields. They’re probably just well-read in general.

Big Game Hunter
You’ve tracked tigers through Lemurian ruins, and bagged woolly mammoths in the snow-bound wastes of Borea, but some of the biggest, deadliest beasts can be found closer to home...
Skills: A hunter will know the habits and characteristics of animals he follows, and be able to follow their tracks and sign.

There’s only so many hours you can spend at the club or charity events before the ennui becomes unbearable. It’s adventure you crave! That and another glass of single malt.
Skills: Etiquette and savior faire. The dillettante (unlike the socialite) has dabbled in various subjects and has a good chance of having a superficial knowledge about an array of topics.

There are guys who are good to have around in the event there is a need to get physical, but guys like that are apt to get other guys sore at them. And when those other type of guys get sore, morticians get busy. Sometimes, guys of the aforementioned first type maybe oughta decide a change of career is in order. You, my friend, are a guy of the first type.
Skills: Gangsters are likely to known the prominent criminals in town, and locales related to criminal activity.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: Return of the Gladiator

Let's re-enter the lost world with another installment of my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"Return of the Gladiator" and "Hound from Hell"
Warlord (vol. 1) #29 (January 1980)

Written and Pencilled by Mike Grell; Inked by Vince Colletta (first story)

Synopsis: Travis Morgan spots a Theran outpost set ablaze. Entering the fortification, he’s amazed at the amount of slaughter he finds. Suddenly, a woman with dagger jumps at him, knocking him from his horse.

Morgan is only surprised for a moment. He punches the woman, knocking her aside. The woman doesn’t believe his assurances that he means no harm. She's seen the insignia of his shield, and she says that the raiders who attacked her village carried a banner with that same sign.

“So its come down to this,” Morgan says. He remembers when he and the other escaped gladiators raised that banner in the name of freedom. Now, they’ve forgotten the dream, or squandered it.

He picks up his helm and prepares to go. He tells the questioning girl he has unfinished business to attend to.

Morgan tracks the rogue army into difficult terrain. He out-foxes a sentry, and finds that its a former comrade, Daedelus. Gun drawn, he tells the warrior to take him to the camp.

Morgan is surprised by how few of his old band are left. Daedelus tells him times have been hard, but now they have a new leader--whose appearance interrupts there conversation. Morgan recognizes him.

The leader is Ghedron, former soldier of Kiro. He still bears the cursed axe he had been tasked by Machiste, his king, with destroying. Morgan warns him that the curse of the axe won’t allow him to put it down, but Ghedron demonstrates that he can--because he chooses to pick it up again.

He tells Morgan he now leads the Warlord’s former army, and there’s nothing he can do about it. Morgan replies there’s one thing--and challenges Ghedron to one on one combat, gladiator-style.

The two square off in an arena improvised in a volcano’s caldera. Morgan avoids Ghedrons blows, then lands one of this own, only to find Ghedron has cheated by wearing armor. He delivers a savage kick that sprawls Morgan out. Ghedron swings his axe to deliver the coup de grace, but Morgan slices upward with his sword, removing Ghedron’s axe-hand at the wrist.

The hand and axe tumble into the still open part of the volcano. Ghedron, screaming, stumbles back into the volcano himself, just as there is a brief eruption of fire. The demon which had inhabited the weapon is visible for a moment in its death throes.

Daedelus asks Morgan to lead them again, but he declines. He tells them that they must start taking responsibility for their own actions. That’s what freedoms about.

“Hound from Hell”
In Wizard World, Mungo Ironhand has summoned the three-headed dog he wanted, but now he, Mariah, and Machiste are menaced by the creature.

Machiste tells him to send the dog back, but Mungo hasn’t gotten to that chapter in his magic scrolls yet, as doesn't know how. As the dog leaps at Mariah, Machiste must take matters into his own hands. He grapples the beast, riding it around the room until it manages to buck him off.

Machiste’s helpless as the dog leaps. Mungo’s managed to think of a spell that might help. He casts it, and what lands on Machiste is not a three-headed dog, but a three-headed bunny!

The danger over, Mariah and Machiste demand that Mungo send them home. The sorcerer agrees, but “forty’leven” hours later, he still hasn’t managed to cast a spell that will do so. Mungo suggests that Wralf the Wretched, the head wizard around there, might be able to help them--but Wralf’s a “nasty fellow,” and the price may be steep.

The three mount up on diatrymas (horse’s not having evolved yet) and head off to seek Wralf.

Things to Notice:
  • The seventies super-heroine, technicolor racoon-eye make-up sported previous amongst Skartarian women appears again
  • Ghedron wears more clothes than the usual Skartarian, but does garb himself in purple, the traditional color of comic book villainy.
  • forty-'leven?
Where It Comes From:
This story is a sequel to Warlord #7, which showed Ghedron not disposing of the axe as instructed.

The title of this issue's main story likely comes from the 1971 Italian sword and sandals film of the same name.

Diatryma (now called gastornis) was a large, flightless bird living in the Eocene (56-34 million years ago).  It did overlap with eohippus the horse relative (once thought to be a horse ancestor) also mentioned by Mungo in this issue.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Something I'd Like...

art by Chaz Truog
...Is a game set in a retro-future along the lines of Leigh Brackett’s Eric John Stark stories or C.L. Moore’s tales of Northwest Smith.  A setting with a dessicated and dangerous Mars, a fecund and mist-choked Venus, and a colonial Earth trying to exploit the both of them. A setting where outlaws of the spaceways have to contend with the remnants of prehuman civilizations, outré natives, and of course, the Patrol.  The (relatively) grittier worlds of Brackett and Moore were an interesting corrective to the shiny rocket science fantasies of the likes of Captain Future (by Brackett’s husband-to-be, Edmund Hamilton) and the like.

I’m such a fan of that brand of now-outdated pulp sci-fi, that I did my own version, PLANET X, for Zuda Comics. Zuda’s now gone, a victim of reshuffling at DC and its parent Time-Warner, so I can no longer link to it, but briefly: it was a sci-fi/spy-fi story set in an alternate timeline where a habitable solar system saw the Cold War play out on an interplanetary scale in the swinging sixties. Burroughs meets Bond, more or less.

Anyway, I suppose since it doesn’t look like anyone's going to give me a Brackett/Moore-esque game anytime soon, I may have to do my own at some point.

If I ever make it out of the City...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Weird Adventures: A Touch of Class

art by Shipeng Li
After some consideration, and advice from others, I think I’ve decided on the classes for my upcoming Weird Adventures campaign. I’m  to keep the basic classes simple and use occupations/concepts similar to Akratic Wizardry’s backgrounds to “pulp-ify” them.

Here are the classes I have in mind, with the classic D&D classes they'll be based on:

Tough Guy (Fighter): The muscle.  Those who make their living through force of arms.

Man of Faith (Cleric): Miracle-workers--“The Gifted” I’ve mentioned before. Individuals who derive magical like abilities from their faith alone and don’t cast traditional spells.  Unlike the traditional cleric,the Man of Faith is not necessarily part of a church hierarchy.

Magic Man (Magic-User): These are scholars, experts in the magical arts. Some are thaumaturgists, who approach magic as a science, while others use their learning in the furtherance of their religious order--though the way these two groups cast spells is identical. Also included here are the mystics, who are more intuitive than “scientific” spell-casters.

Ace of Agility (Thief): Individuals who stand apart because of their nimbleness and skill. Some are indeed thieves in inclination and vocation, but others are circus acrobats, escape artists, or even film actors adept at physical comedy.

The above are given “male” names but that should in no way be construed to mean their strictly male.  A tough guy can just as easily be a “tough gal.”

Soon, I’ll present the occupations which will put a lot a flesh on the class bones and allow for pulp stand-bys like the private eye, or the two-fisted scientist.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tramp Steamer to Yian

In 5886, as part of Gillam M. Bezoar’s Exotic Port’s O’Call newsreel travelogue series, writer Dan Carmody and a camera man shipped out from San Tiburon on a tramp steamer, the S.S. Venture, bound for Hyaishang, Yian. Here are excerpts from the notes Carmody made on the journey...

Only a couple of hours out from the port of San Tiburon. Capt. Clanton points out the islands called “The Teeth”--no doubt a name given them due to their appearance, or perhaps its because of the sharks that infest the waters around them. The Captain reports a story he’s many times heard in a waterfront dives that the isles are a sacred spot to sea devils who rise from the depths on moonless nights to worship their demon god-fish--some gigantic prehistoric shark, the tales reckon--in gruesome rites.

Four days out and we arrive in Pyronesia. This archipelago is every bit the tropical paradise it's often made out to be. We were there for two days, and I managed to make a trip (as close as I dared) to the volcanic peak of the Big Island. I glimpsed a lava child rising from the flows beneath; my native guide suggested we give them wide berth. They’re rarely hostile, but given their size and nature, it isn’t hard to see how their simple-minded playfulness could be dangerous.

Capt. Clanton’s skirt-chasing got him into trouble on one of the nameless islands of Oceania. A tribe of amazonian women seeking help from the spirits in their incessant warfare with the crabmen of the neighboring atoll decided to offer up Clanton and a crewman as sacrifices to their tiki idol. Only timely intervention of the first mate saved them.

On the subject of the crabmen: these odd humanoids are a common sight on the smaller islands throughout the south seas.  The belligerence between them and the human islanders is total; they attack each other on sight.  No islander I met even knows if the crabmen are capable of speech.  Certainly, the crabmen never initiate negotiation themselves.  Strangely, neither I nor any of the crew have ever seen a crabwoman.  I have seen odd wooden idols among the natives carved in the form of voluptuous human females with crustacean claws for hands.  In contrast to the almost obscene detail lavished on the bodies of these fetishes, the faces are carved smooth and featureless. Clanton (always one with a sea story) says that he has heard that these idols are images of the goddess of the crabmen, brood mother to them all, who is also held in superstitious dread by the natives.

A sailor off a Yianese junk traded me this print of a rather contemplative Demon Islander for a pack of Djinn cigarettes. We didn’t visit (for obvious reasons) the so-called Demon Islands. The red-skinned, horned humanoids inhabiting the archipelago live in a warrior-based society still ruled by the sword. Barely beyond a medieval level of technology, their raiding parties are only dangerous to their closest neighbors--though grim stories are told of the fate of those shipwrecked on their shores.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Brackett's Empire Strikes Back

All of the posts over at Grognardia about Star Wars have got me thinking about how I might run an alternate Star Wars game, or rather, one of the ways I might run one, since I can think of several. This particular one involves throwing out most of the accretions on to the universe that have come over the years...

I would not throw out everything since Star Wars (Episode IV, if you will) as some might. That would toss out the best movie of the bunch--The Empire Strikes Back. Still though, Empire gives us Vader as Luke’s father which it seems to me (along with Luke and Leia as siblings) one of the biggest dividers between the Star Wars Universe as given in the first film, and the Star Wars Universe of today which emerged in sequels and other media.

Interestingly, earlier this year Leigh Brackett’s 1978 first draft of Empire (which was at that point only the “Star Wars Sequel”) was leaked to the Internet. This was an exciting find as I’m a big fan of Brackett’s Eric John Stark stories and wondered what her version of Star Wars looked like. Lucas has always said he used very little of her script and only kept her name on the final version out of respect (she had passed on by the time the film was released).

Brackett’s script gives a version of Empire that is a bit more pulp space opera that Star Wars--which could be either a strength of weakness depending on one’s tastes. The rebel base on Ice Planet (it isn’t named Hoth) is inside a natural occurring ice structure resembling a castle. Wampas attack the rebel base en masse, and Chewbacca goes toe to toe with one. Lando is a clone, from a family of clones. The natives of Hoth (what we know as Bespin) are known as the Cloud People and ride giant, flying manta-ray type creatures and use dart guns.

There are also more fantasy type trappings. Vader’s castle lair includes small, gargoyle-like creatures flying around. Luke’s training involves sort of psychic contact with Vader where they appear to be giants among the stars. Minch (Yoda) is even more of a crotchety Chuin or Pai Mei-esque character than in the final film.

Then, there are the big differences. Darth Vader isn’t Luke’s father, he’s the man who killed him like Star Wars said. In fact, the script has Luke’s dad appearing in force ghost-form along with Obi-Wan. The central tension of Luke’s battle with Vader isn’t the father reveal, but the concern over whether Luke will give in to the dark side--which he does, in frustration, to try and defeat Vader. Luke realizes his error and backs down, but Vader claims victory from starting Luke down the path. Also, Luke’s sister (Nellith?) is mentioned, and the rivalry for Leia's affections between Han and Luke is more pronounced than in the final film.  Luke almost gets a chance to declare his love for Leia, but there is no carbomite freezing to give Leia the chance to declare hers for Han.

All in all, its an interesting trip into alternate fictional history. It could very easily be the branch point or a sharply divergent Star Wars game.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Random Femme Fatale Encounter

In the bold tradition of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide's Random Harlot Encounter Table, I thought I should offer a somewhat less focused Random Femme Fatale Encounter Table for use in the City, and its world--or maybe any pulpish setting.   And its illustrated.

Femme fatale’s are 50% likely to have useful information, but only 30% likely to spill it, and 15% likely to make up something. There is 60% chance she’ll attempt to enlist a PC's help in regard to her problem which will inevitably lead to more trouble.

01-10  Devil in a Blue Dress

11-25  Songbird

26-35  Reform School Girl

36-45  Carnival Girl

46-55  Burlesque Dancer/Stripper

56-69  Working Girl*

70-75  Wayward Wife

76-85  Gun Moll

86-90  Dope Girl

91-92  "Mata Hari"

93-94  Hayseed/Hillbilly Hussy**

95-98  Swamp Babe**
99-00  Witchy Woman
*If in an urban environment, otherwise replace with appropriate rural alternative.
**If in appropriate rural environment, otherwise re-roll.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: The Curse of the Cobra Queen

It's Wednesday, so let's re-enter the lost world with another installment of my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"The Curse of the Cobra Queen" and "Wizard World"
Warlord (vol. 1) #28 (December 1979)

Written and Pencilled by Mike Grell; Inked by Vince Colletta (first story)

Synopsis: Riding across Skartaris, Morgan and Ashir reach a parting of ways. Ashir rides for Kaambuka to claim his crown, and the responsibility he’s shirked. Morgan is on his way to Shamballah--and his wife with whom he intends to reconcile.

The two haven’t long parted ways, when Morgan is startled by a meteorite streaking across the sky--one that must have chanced to fall through the polar opening and into Skartaris. Morgan is unaware that the meteor’s fall is even stranger than he can guess. It passes through the “corona” of Skartaris’ eternal sun and is bombarded with radiation. It crashes into the jungle, where a serpent comes to bask in the warmth of its eldritch emanations.

Morgan’s ride takes him close to the place of the meteorites fall. Due to the strange flow of time in the inner world, there is no way to know how long its been since he saw the shooting star. In an area of the jungle darkened by the tree canopy, amazons in reptilian headdresses ambush Morgan. Their numbers, and Morgan’s reluctance to fight women. allow them to take him down with a club to the back of the skull.

When Morgan awakens. he's tied before a throne of a bone, where a beautiful, green-skinned woman with a reptilian cast to her features, reclines. This is the cobra queen. She moves toward Morgan with a raised dagger, but instead of using it on him, she cuts his bonds.

Morgan is mesmerized by her sensuous grace; she moves in for a kiss. Suddenly, there’s a stirring in the underbrush, and the cobra queen recoils in terror. Morgan goes to investigate and finds it's only a small mongoose.

When Morgan turns back to the woman, he finds a giant cobra in her stead! The cobra queen’s hand-maiden’s flee in terror, but Morgan lunges with his sword. He stabs the serpent through its hood, but then is caught in its coils. His sword is wrenched from his grasp. Desperately, he stabs at it with his dagger, hoping to loosen its hold enough so that he can pull his pistol.

Finally, he’s able. He shoots the cobra in the head, killing it. He wonders for a moment if it was a woman who became a snake, or a snake who became a woman? Putting such idle thoughts aside, he rides on, leaving the mongoose to sniff at the body of what is now a beautiful woman once more.

“Wizard World”
In the forests near Shamballah, Tara, Machiste, and Mariah also see a fragment of the falling star coming down. Mariah, aware of the rarity of such a sight, rides ahead into an ancient ruin to investigate. Tara warns her that legends say this is a place where black arts were practiced in the Age of Wizard Kings, and magic is said to still be in the stones. Mariah dismisses all that as superstition.

As Mariah gets close to the meteorite fragment, a strange tear occurs in the fabric of reality, and she falls in. Mariah emerges from her fall through darkness inside of a pentagram inscribed on the floor--startling a diminutive wizard who had been trying to summon a three-headed dog!

The wizard (who addresses her as “demon”) tells her he’s Mungo Ironhand, Sorcerer Supreme, and that this is the Age of the Wizard Kings--it won’t be called Skartaris for another eon or two. He says he’s summoned her to do his bidding, and now he bids her to kiss him. Mariah firmly declines.

Meanwhile, back in Skartaris, Tara tries (unsuccessfully) to stop Machiste from following Mariah into the rift...

Things to Notice:
  • Skartarian time weirdness is used in the furtherance of plot (sort of).
  • Apparently, Skartarian cobras have some constrictor-ish characteristics.
  • This is the first Warlord issue with a back-up story.
Where It Comes From:
This issue was perhaps inspired by the 1972 film Night of the Cobra Woman, wherein a beautiful woman, who transforms into a cobra, must seduce and suck the life from men to stay youthful.  It's also possible that the 1966 Hammer film, The Reptile wa in inspiratiom.  Here, a woman cursed by a snake cult takes on a reptilian form--much less attractive then our cobra queen in this issue.

Wizard World is both more "high fantasy" than Skartaris, and more humorous as well.  Grell seems equally inspired by Lord of the Rings and The Wizard of Oz.  Cigar-chomping Mungo Ironhand was perhaps inspired by a another cigar afficiando wizard with a not dissimilar personality--Avatar, from the 1977 animated film, Wizards.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Skills They Didn't Even Know They Had

In preparing for my groups foray into the Weird Adventures in the City, I’ve been thinking about skills. Of course, this isn’t everyone’s old school cup of tea, but particularly in a more technologically advanced setting like this one, I feel like it has its place.

What I don’t want is a complicated system with a lot of different skills to keep track of like GURPS, or even d20, or the like. Instead, I’d like broad abilities that work well with a sort of pulpy not terribly realistic flavor, and won’t bog the GM (myself) or player’s down too much. Most of all, I want them to suggest things the characters can do that enhance role-playing, rather than have players over-concerned with scanning character sheets for what they can or can’t do. In I way, I may be thinking more broadly; maybe abilities is a better descriptor than skills.

I think I’m going to employ Delta's "Target 20" mechanic--not just for combat, but as a central mechanic for skills/abilities, too. Player’s will add the pertinent ability modifier (mostly intelligence) to a role of the d20, and then the GM will apply a modifier based on some determination of difficulty, and the result most be greater than or equal to 20.

This line of though got me thinking about the skills/abilities that character’s have that aren’t (at this point) clearly delineated. Certainly place of origin and social status convey some benefits. The same goes for the "adventuring profession" itself.

Classes would confer skills, too, which would improve with level. Here’s some examples of what I’ve been thinking of:
  • Fighters: assess quality of weapons, care of weapons, possibly some tactics, or even strategy
  • Clerics: theology, liturgy, performing rituals, church gossip/personalities/history
  • Magic-Users: magical history and theory, maybe a bit about magical creatures?
  • Thieves: well, thieves already have an array of skills. Maybe these should be moved to a similar mechanic.
I’m not sure that these skills all need to be individually defined. In fact, I’d prefer that they aren’t. Anything that a player can convince the GM that its reasonable for him to know because he’s a cleric, I think he ought to be able to have a chance at--the GM’s job would be to assess a modifier based on not only difficulty, but how much the GM judges the character’s likely to know just based on his profession.

Anyway, all somewhat theoretical at this point.  I’ll give some examples soon that I intend to use in my Weird Adventures campaign.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Vampires and the City

“The face of evil is always the face of total need.”
- William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch
The vampires which haunt the City’s streets and prowl its night-spots are somewhat different from those which might be encountered in other places, other worlds.

First though, the similarities: they are indeed undead, and they must drink the blood of the living to survive. Specifically, the blood of living humans; the blood of other animals will stave off withdrawal, but won’t give them the high they crave, and leaves them in a weakened state. Like vampires elsewhere, they’re nocturnal hunters who can’t stand the light.

Unlike the cloaked, evil masterminds of some fiction (or the immortal brooders of other fiction), the City’s vampires are perhaps best analogized as addicts or junkies. A vampire in need of blood is afflicted by terrible physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal. Whatever their moral or ethical feelings were in life (or even in their undeath), the need crippling need drives them to harm others.

In the early stages of vampirism (perhaps the first few weeks after they rise), most enjoy the “high” of blood-drinking. Many only take it from semi-willing victims they have seduced, and are often careful not to kill. Some may only need to ingest blood every other week at this stage. Over time, tolerance develops, and the amount of blood needed to hold off withdrawal becomes greater--as does their willingness to do almost anything to get it. Advanced-stage vampires may need to consume blood nightly.

This increased use takes its toll on their body. Nature abhors the vampire, and immune elements in the blood they ingest lead to the the development of sores on their undead skin. Older vampires often loose their hair and muscle mass, and have yellowed nails, teeth, and jaundiced whites of their eyes.

Eventually, they are either killed in their pursuit of blood, or their need develops to the point where they can no longer feed it, and rest throughout the day. At this elder stage, their metabolism seems to shut down. They may spend months, even years, in torpor, only rising for frenzied binges, then sleeping again. Some later stage vampires move to injecting blood rather than drinking it, as it takes less to generate the desired effect.

Vampires of the City possess most of the usual vampire powers when flush with blood, however within 4-5 days for young vampires, and perhaps only as little as a day for older ones, these powers fade to something approximately an undead version of their previous (living) capabilities. These vampires are not affected by holy symbols (unless, interestingly, the vampire was devout in life, and the symbol in question is the one of the vampire’s religion), nor running water. Sunlight does burn them, as does silver. Those with magical sight can see that vampires cast two shadows--one normal, and one which has a hazy appearance and a gauzy texture. In a mirror, the one “normal” shadow visible to everyone, can be seen to move independently of the being casting it.

Not all drained of life by a vampire become one (the chance is perhaps 1 in 4). It is unclear why some develop the curse and others do not. Ghouls can be killed by vampires, but never rise.

There are said to be underground blood-parlors in certain parts of the City--decadent establishments which first appeared in the Old World, where younger vampires and vampire-wannabes gather to feed their mutual habits. There are also rumored to be procurers who find “fresh blood” for vampire clientele for a price.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

More Cryptids

These 3-4 foot tall humanoids have leathery skin, webbed hands and feet, and hairless, wrinkled, frog-like heads. They're typically found around rivers or creeks in wilderness areas, though what they’re doing there is any body's guess. Leaders carry wand like devices that produce sparks, which can probably be used as a weapon. These creatures were sighted in our world on May 25, 1955 at 3AM by an unnamed businessman near a bridge alongside the Miami River in Ohio. Ohio Frog Men: #App.: 3-6; HD: 1, AC 7 [12]; Atk 1 bite (1-4), or weapon; Move 12; Save: 18; Special: wand (1d6 points electrical damage on hit).

MOMO (Missouri Monster)
A anthropoid creature with a large, pumpkin-shaped head, and black fur so shaggy that no facial features can be discerned, beyond perhaps the occasional glimpse of eyes. It has three-toed feet. Like the skunk-ape, momo exudes a nauseating stench. Momo is always hungry and has been known to kill small animals for food, or steal human food Yogi Bear-style. In our world, Momo is sighted in Missouri in wilderness areas along the Mississippi River.
Momo: #App.: 1; HD 3; AC 5[14]; Atk 2 claws (1d4); Move 9; Save 14; Special: stench: save vs. poison or -1 to attacks due to nausea.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Old School RPG Blogger Advancement Table

Humorously inspired by Cyclopeatron's recent post listing old school blogs (with the caveats he provides), here are the level titles associated with each rank and number of followers...
  1. Newbie                0
  2. Beginner              5
  3. Enthusiast           10
  4. Commentator      20
  5. Thinker              40
  6. Maven                80
  7. Pundit               160
  8. Sage                  320
  9. Guru                  640
You'll note that none of Cyclopeatron's listed bloggers have reached 9th level.  This is because the internet is a well-run and strict campaign devoid of Monty Haul-ism.

You know, if that chart doesn't do it for you the list could also be mapped to the Marvel Super-Heroes RPG rankings-- in which case this corner of the blogosphere goes from Feeble (no comment on quality, of course) to Shift Z.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Exterminator in heavy enviromental gear

The exterminators of the City are a special breed, as hard-bitten and courageous as any adventurer. The ones deserving of that appellation are not the day-to-day workers in the private pest control business (though some of them are tough cases, too), but rather the highly trained and perhaps a little crazy men (and few women) working for the Municipal Department of Animal and Pest Control.

Escaped familiars or the occasional wandering monster from out of the wilderness are the sort of calls that will bring out the men of the MDAPC, but their work a day grind is the monitoring and clearing of the various subterranean areas beneath the City. The City was built on swampy land crisscrossed by creeks and streams. These swamps were drained, and many of the waters directed underground through tunnels. Add to these waterways the sewers, steam tunnels, and subway stations that support the modern city--to say nothing of the occasional underground structure built by the Ancients. All these subterranean environments support life.

In the upper levels, one mostly encounter creatures which may have wandered down from the surface, or vermin swarms, or larger than normal specimens of such. Dangerous fungi are not unknown. Here the exterminators must also be careful to respect the ghouls and give them wide berth.

In the mid-levels, or in wetter places, various slimes, oozes, and molds are found. These strange life forms are born of the effluvia of industrial alchemy, the sludge of botched thaumaturgy, or the strangest flourishes of Nature--or possibly all three. Control of these lifeforms requires special preparation and often protective garb.

The lowest levels present the strangest and most eclectic challenges. There are prehistoric holdouts evolved (or devolved) to hideous, blind forms in eternal darkness. There are chimerical creatures produced by the decadent sorceries of the Ancients. There are even extraplanar visitors trapped their for millennia, summoned by prehuman wizards, and held behind eroding wards.

In other words, the brave officers of the MDAPC face most of the challenges faced by your average professional adventurer. The only real difference is, they have a city pension to look forward to instead of a treasure haul. Is it any wonder many give up civil service in favor of putting their skills to use elsewhere?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Warlord Wednesday: Atlantis Dying

Let's re-enter the lost world with another installment of my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"Atlantis Dying"
Warlord (vol. 1) #27 (November 1979)

Written and Pencilled by Mike Grell; Inked by Vince Colletta

Synopsis: Along the Terminator, Deimos returns to his fortress astride a winged reptile. His servitors are surprised to see him alive, and also surprised by his new, more bestial appearance. Deimos explains he is beyond death, but his dark magics fused parts of Tara’s dog's body with his as he regenerated. Deimos pushes his lackey aside with his impatience to consult his crystal ball. In it, he’s sees an image of a primitive man encountering a sabretooth tiger--a primitive that is somehow Travis Morgan.

Morgan realizes he is reliving one of his previous incarnations. He wonders how many lifetimes he lived between this nameless primitive and Travis Morgan. He has little time to consider this question, as the tiger pounces--and kills him.

Morgan next finds himself in the form of Gaius Thelatos, scientist of Atlantis, being honored for his greatest achievement. Thelatos conceived of a way to pump seawater into volcanoes and so generate steam for heat, holding back the Ice Age that grips the world outside. Gaius Thelatos has saved all of Atlantean civilization--at least for a time.

Morgan lives in glorious Atlantis as Thelatos for years, until one faithful day when an earthquake strikes. Thelatos investigates and finds that his invention has ultimately led to cooling and contraction of the lava fields, leaving Atlantis resting atop a thin bubble of rock. And now, the bubble has begun to crack.

The Atlantean council refuses to heed Thelatos’ warning, but King Thorkall does, and sends away a colonial expedition so that their civilization might survive. Thelatos is offered a place on the ships, but declines, feeling himself responsible for what is to happen. And so, in that year Atlantis sinks beneath the waves and another of Morgan’s past lives ends.

Morgan experiences many more incarnations. He is a Nubian gladiator who dies in the arena during the reign of Augustus Caesar. He’s Lancelot du Lac, and the musketeer, D’Artagnan. He’s Jim Bowie, and Crazy Horse. He’s a doughboy who falls at Argonne. Despite the diversity of his lives, he’s almost always a warror.

Finally, he’s again Colonel Travis Morgan being asked to volunteer for a dangerous mission over the Soviet Union. At that moment of decison, he thinks again on everything that flollows after that point: his crash in Skartaris, Tara, Machiste, and the people who looked to him as a leader. He realizes he can’t turn his back on them...

And steps through a portal, back into present, and almost into the path of Chakal’s ray beam. He shoots Chakal’s gun, which only bends its barrel--but its enough. The next time Chakal tries to fire the damaged weapon, it begins to overheat. Before Chakal can do anything, it explodes.

Ashir asks Morgan where he went, but Morgan can’t recall. Wherever it was, its obvious nothing changed in the present, so Ashir admonition about trying to change the past must have been right. Morgan decides his only recourse is to make the best of the future.

Things to Notice:
  • Poor Shadow gets his bits ignobly mixed with Deimos.
  • We see the "secret origin" of the Atlantean fleet that founded Skartarian civilization, last seen in issue 5.
  • Travis Morgan exists in an alternate universe where fictional characters are real as he was both Lancelot and D'Artagnan in previous lives.
Where It Comes From:
Grell's past life exploring story recalls The Star Rover by Jack London, though the emphasis on "warrior" lives perhaps owes more to Robert E. Howard's reincarnation stories staring James Allison.

Atlantis here isn't the undersea kingdom of most comics, but instead an advanced, pseudo-Greco-Roman land of (some) pulp/adventure fiction.  It's also possible Grell took some influence from cinema like Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961), or Hercules and the Captive Women (also 1961).

Morgan's past lives include fictional (and perhaps semi-fictional) characters.  Lancelot first comes to prominence in Chretien de Troyes' Le Chevalier de la Charette ("The Knight of the Cart") in the 12th Century, though his name is first mentioned in Chretien's Erec and Enide.  He's been an important part of the Arthurian mythos ever since. 

D'Artagnan was created by Alexandre Dumas in his novel The Three Musketeers, and appears in the two sequels (Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne).  The character was loosely based on a real person, Charles de Batz-Castlemore, Comte d'Artagnan, by way of a heavily fictionalized biography, Les mémoires de M. d'Artagnan by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras.

Morgan was also a couple of people of relative historical importance.  Jim Bowie (1796-1836) is notable for dying at the Alamo and giving his name to a knife, and Crazy Horse (1840-1877) for being an Oglala Lakota war leader, and possible participant at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

They Came From Inner Space

Spurred by my discussion of ‘80s toylines as gaming inspiration, Scott mentioned the Micronauts as another possibility, and set off a chain of enthusiastic agreement from just about everyone else. For me, the Micronauts of the Marvel comic are what I remember most fondly rather than the Mego toys than spawned it.

The cover to Micronauts # 1 (January 1979) shows the influence of Star Wars as much as the toyline. Particularly note black armored Darth--uh, Baron--Karza menacing the heroes. The similarities don’t end there. There are two droids (Biotron and Microtron), a princess (Marionette), and a hero who taps into an enigmatic, quasi-mystical force (The Enigma Force).

Despite those similarities, Micronauts has a lot of interesting ideas of its own, though the basic set-up is pure space opera: Commander Rann returns from a 1000 year (mostly suspended animation) exploration of molecular-model resembling worlds of the Microverse (a “sub-atomic” universe), to find his old teacher (Karza) has led an insurrection and become dictator of Homeworld. Rann teams up with the overthrown royals, Princess Mari (Marionette of the Farah Fawcett hair), and Acroyear (armored warrior of Spartak), and Bug, insectoid wisecracker.

A simple story, sure, but it's the details that really make it work. Baron Karza’s coup was supported by much of populace because he promised them immortality through the use of his DNA-altering Body Banks, which he also uses to make inhuman soldiers from political enemies. The Acroyear people of Spartak are the obligatory warrior race, and are never seen outside of their cool armor. They've also got slightly oversized mediveal weaponry sorrounded by energy and Kirby dots.  Unlike Darth Vader, Karza has a white armor-clad opposite number in the person of Prince Argon.

Micronauts had 57 issues of its original run. That was followed by a crossover limited series with the X-Men. The final series, Micronauts: The New Voyages, had writer Peter Gillis and artist Kelley Jones taking the team out of their familiar haunts and into unexplored regions of the Microverse. It’s a well written series, though strikes a different chord than the space operatic original, and serves to “finish” the Micronauts story.

So fan of the toys or no, those with an interest in, or looking for inspiration for, classic seventies cinematic space opera, ought to give Micronauts a look.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Inspiration from Weird Menace

"Weird menace" or "shudder" pulps featured lurid stories in the horror genre with bizarre villains hatching macabre plots, and graphic (for the era) scenes of torture and murder.

And they had some really great story titles.  Titles where thinking of the sort of adventure that might have said title is possibly better than reading the story.  Here, presented for your inspiration, are a few choice ones:

"Satan's Roadhouse" by Carl Jacobi, Terror Tales (Oct. 1934)

"Death Teaches School" by Nat Schachner, Terror Tales (April 1935)

"Devils in the Dust" by Arthur J. Burks, Dime Mystery (Dec. 1935)

"The Shriveling Murders" from Dr. Death (April 1935)

"Brides for the Swamp God" by J.G. Quinliven, Terror Tales (May 1936)

"The Molemen Want Your Eyes" by Frederick C. Davies, Horror Stories (April/May 1938)

"Girls for the Coffin Syndicate" by Russell Gray, Dime Mystery (April 1940)

"March of the Homeless Corpse" by Wayne Rogers from Terror Tales (March 1941)

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Signs on the side of the lonely, cracked roadways leading into Char Hill warn away would-be visitors. Even from the outskirts, the stench of burning is in the air, and there are faint tendrils of smoke. Char Hill is a ghost town, but was once a prosperous Steel League mining village built atop rich coal deposits. That was before the fire.

There is still argument over how the fire that made Char Hill uninhabitable got started. Whatever the cause, the coal seam fire that began a decade ago still smolders. As with previous such fires, the combustion of coal deposits either released (or spawned) mephiti--creatures sometimes called “imps”, but which are actually para-elementals of smoke (“airy fire”). Mephiti are cruel creatures, who delight in causing harm. They rose into the unsuspecting town on plumes of toxic gas.

Though some died with the emergence of the mephiti, rising temperatures, and clouds of poison gas, the fire grew slowly enough so that most townsfolk had ample warning. The town of Char Hill was quickly abandoned, and officially unincorporated.

Rumors persist, however, that some townspeople remain. Some are perhaps bootlegging alchemists seeking to derive valuable substances from the toxic vapors rising from underground. Others are cultists who believe an ancient god-thing was trapped in the coal-veins beneath the town and the fire is the means of the thing's phoenix-like resurrection. Experts dismiss this belief as baseless, and the product of brains perhaps already damaged by toxic inhalation.

Still, no thorough investigation of the town has been made since the fire began.