Monday, October 31, 2011

Hobogoblin Garbage Kings

The City generates a lot of garbage, and most of it goes to the expansive Klaw Island landfill. Marshy Klaw Island has always had a sparse human population, but the coming of the landfill with its hills of garbage and pits of refuse has drawn gangs of hobogoblins.

The hobogoblins have divided up into tribes with zealously guarded territories. They mine the garbage for usable (and saleable) items. Hobogoblin “alchemists” have become adepted and making various minor potions with the most dubious of alchemical wastes, and can distill hooch from virtually anything organic.

The hobogoblins must defend their holdings from monsters of various sorts, attracted to the waste. They’ve been able to train giant rats as guard animals to protect their settlements from giant insects, aggressive fungi, or hungry otyughs. In years past, inbred wererat clans sometimes contested the hobogoblin hegemony, but periodic eradication and vaccination campaigns by City sanitation officials seemed to have sharply curtailed (if not eradicated) nyfitsanthropy on the island.

Hobogoblin legends tell of the first and greatest of the landfill kingdoms, Wastenot, a scrap Atlantis now sunk beneath the brackish waters of Lake Zathogua. Hubris of the swells in Wastenot led to neglect of due tribute to the beast of the lake, and all of Wastenot’s “grandeur” was pulled down by pale and vengeful tentacles in a single night.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gormenghast...with Pictures

I got home Friday to find the months-delayed Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy from Overlook Press waiting at my front door.  For you Mervyn Peake fans out there (and I know there are some of you!): It was worth the wait.  It's a handsome hardcover volume with an introduction by Michael Moorcock and illustrations by the author himself.  Like Swelter here:

One might wish for more professional illustrations, I suppose (Charles Vess, or the like, maybe) but seeing Peake's concepts of his own characters is great. 

For those unfamiliar with Peake or Gormenghast, here's bit of tease from the publisher:
"Enter the world of Gormenghast. The vast crumbling castle to which the seventy-seventh Earl, Titus Groan, is Lord and heir. Titus is expected to rule this Gothic labyrinth of turrets and dungeons, cloisters and corridors as well as the eccentric and wayward subjects. Over the course of these three novels--Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone --Titus must contend with a kingdom about to implode beneath the weight of centuries of intrigue, treachery, manipulation and murder."
There's also an official Mervyn Peake website here with more insights into the author and his works, including Gormenghast.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Two-Fisted Monsters

White Wolf gave us monsters as protagonists, but they wound up being so angsty. For the more pulp minded gamer--who likes they’re vampires more Dracula Lives! than Interview with the Vampire--here are some monstrous inspirations:

A bruiser made from dead bodies is pretty pulpy already, but Mark Wheatley combined Mary Shelley’s brainchild with crime fiction, creating Frankenstein Mobster. Grant Morrison’s version of the monster is sort of a pulp adventurer in Seven Soldiers of Victory and now appearing monthly in Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. In the 1977 novelette "Black as Pit, From Pole to Pole" Waldrop and Utley have the monster wandering into a Pellucidar-esque Hollow Earth.

Werewolves have shown up as bikers and Nazis. Dan Brereton’s Nocturnals gives us a two-fisted scientist who suffers from werewolfism (as the Comics Code would have it) leading a team of monsters. Marvel’s Man-Wolf winds up a modern wolf-man in a Medieval fantasy world as Stargod.

Dracula gets into all sorts of historical adventures in the aforementioned Dracula Lives! reprinted in Essential Tomb of Dracula, vol. 4 (tragically, without the two encounters with Solomon Kane!). Forever Knight gave us a vampire police detective. Nancy Collins’s Sam Hell, the Dark Ranger, is an Old West vampire fighting supernatural menaces in “Hell Come Sundown.” Of course, Kate Beckinsale as a werewolf-hunting vampire (in tight leather) in a sort of action riff on Romeo and Juliet still might be a little angsty, but I'll mention it anyway.  Mainly for the tight leather.

I bet with a little digging I could think of something for the mummy--but start with those and the get those creatures on the loose.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Warlord Wednesday: The Journey Back

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 Journey Back"
Warlord (vol. 1) #71 (July 1983)
Written by Mike Grell (Sharon Grell); Penciled by Dan Jurgens; Inked by Bob Smith

Synopsis:  In Castle Deimos in the Skartaris we know, Jennifer Morgan keeps a vigil at her magic mirror, holding open the portal in the hopes that her father and Shakira will make it home. We see a crystal ball among decorations in her sorcerous laboratory (which may be important later).

In future Australia, Morgan and Shakira make their way on horseback across the Outback to the southern coast. Morgan figures the best way back to their time is in the inner earth, even though the colonized and heavily populated Skartaris of this age isn’t the one they know. He thinks they’ll need a boat to Antarctica, but when they get there they find a connecting bridge has been built, leading right to the inner earth. They head down to a trading post to book passage.

When Morgan pays in gold coins, the clerk gets suspicious he might be a “mutie” and calls the law. Morgan shoplifts a few things off the shelves and takes off before the cops arrive. On horseback, our heroes race through the town and onto the bridge. Morgan knows the authorities will just be waiting on the other side. He formulates a plan…

On the distal end of the causeway, two border guards in a flier have already been alerted to our heroes’ presence. They swoop in to arrest them. With a little transformation trick, Shakira and Morgan get the drop on them:

They commandeer the flier:

Morgan flies okay, but they hadn’t counted on defenses. Other fliers come after them and they’re shot down. They try to make a run for it, but the guards shoot Morgan, knocking him unconscious.

He awakens, still groggy, to find himself with Shakira behind a dumpster near a house. The guards are still out looking for them. Shakira climbs through an open window and—finding the owner inside—threatens him with Morgan’s pistol.

Luckily, the guy speaks Skartarian, and even more luckily, he’s a medic. He’s able to bandage Morgan’s wound and give him a transfusion. He tells them his name is Gyre, and mistakes them for members of some militant Skartarian faction.

They tell Gyre they need to get to Castle Deimos to meet someone and (surprisingly) he knows the place! But is Morgan well enough for travel?

They hail a flying taxi and take it through the streets of an utterly transformed Skartaris to Castle Deimos…

The old castle has been turned into a troop outpost and all the equipment inside removed. Feeling defeated, Morgan thinks they might as well go in and have a drink. About “4 Bourbons later” Shakira notices something—a crystal ball just like the one in Jennifer’s sanctum. Gyre tells them it’s from the actually Castle Deimos, like of the decorations.

At that moment, the television news report declares Morgan a mutant fugitive. The bar crowd starts to get ugly. Then, Shakira notices something else:

The mirror over the bar is Jennifer’s magic mirror! Our heroes leap through and arrive back in their own time.

Things to Notice:
  • This is the first issue with a cover by someone other than Grell.
  • The letter column of this issue features a letter by a Matt Brandal who says he's a Dungeon Master in "Dungeons and Dragons" and he's used Morgan's adventures as adventures in his game, because his player's don't read Warlord.
  • Amazingly the magic mirror portal stayed open over centuries.  They just don't build them like that anymore.
This is the last Grell penned issue of Warlord of this volume.  It would be nearly a decade before he writes the character again.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I'd Play That Game

I think this would make a great incident in a weird (or just slightly quirky) Western game.  Note that ol' "Rail Splitter" Abe seems to have chosen to take on Scalphunter in the oval office--meaning he's wrestling in an official capacity.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


With the Weird Adventures manuscript, at least.  There's still some proofing, layouts, and minor (hopefully) edits to be done, of course, but since those things have been proceeding apace, there's actually not much of that left either, barring something unforseen.

It looks like it will come out between 140-150 pages, based on the number of words, and depending on how illustrations fit in, and the like.  Over 100 pages have been layed out so far.

So thanks to everyone for their patience and continued support!  I'm glad to be able to say the wait is nearly over.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pop Quiz

Somehow this middle school City History Quiz circa 5888 slipped between dimensions and into my possession.  Number two pencils ready? 

Answers below...

1. C: Wychwire was so charismatic people often didn't notice the "irregularity" of his left lower appendage.  A cast of his hoofprint is on display at the City Historical Museum.

2. A: Who would give a vorpal sword away? And the Natives were unlikely to want Dwergen brides.

3. D. I'd like to think he reconsidered his frugalness in his last moments--but maybe not.

4. C. The "Golem of Capitalism" was reportedly gold-plated and had the head of a bull--or so the folk song goes.

5. A. There's a fanciful statue commemorating that sagacious serpent in Eldside Park.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Warlord Wednesday: The Outback

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 Outback"
Warlord (vol. 1) #70 (June 1983)
Written by Mike Grell (Sharon Grell); Penciled by Dan Jurgens; Inked by Bob Smith

Synopsis: Outside a compound in the Australian Outback in a post-apocalyptic future, a woman with a rifle has the drop on Shakira and Morgan, who she thinks are “muties.” She hasn’t anticipated Shakira’s shape-changing abilities, however, and our heroes quickly get the drop on her.

Morgan proves their good intentions by returning her rifle to her. Still wary but willing to take a chance, the woman invites them back to the compound. There, they meet her male companion Dan and find out her name is Lisa.

Morgan and Shakira introduce themselves. Dan asks if Morgan is “named after the famous one.” Morgan doesn’t know how to respond to that.

Sitting in the couple’s retro-futuristic living room, Morgan asks them to catch him up on the major events since the Vietnam War. Lisa thinks he’s playing a game with them and leaves Dan to tell them while she feeds the livestock. Dan begins by explaining it wasn’t war (as Morgan had supposed) that caused the devastation, but instead toxic waste! The manufacture of the nuclear arsenals of the major powers that made war unthinkable slowly poisoned the earth. By 2089, the earth was nearing the end of human habitability.

The U.S. government had forseen this outcome for decades, and as far back as the sixties, had began planning for escape to another planet. In 1972, another option presented itself: a U.S. Navy expedition found the North Polar opening to Skartaris. In 2089, after the polar ice caps receded and the environment was in an advanced state of deterioration, the U.S. announced its 1972 discovery to the UN.

A committee was established to determine quotas for each nation. Within a year, the greatest migration in human history began. Those outside the quotas were left to live in a nightmarish world. The descendants of those who survived are mutated and primitive.

Meanwhile, in the inner earth, the native Skartarians were absorbed into the outer world population. An interesting element of Skartarian culture:

Dan and Lisa were born in Skartaris. Now, the population in Skartaris has grown too large, and the government has began offering special benefits to couples willing to become outer world pioneers.

Morgan contemplates telling Dan his story, but decides against it. He trades his gun and ammo for a saddle horse and he and Shakira set out again for the coast.
Things to Notice:
  • "Mutie" is always a good slur for mutants in any work of fiction.
  • Ironically, when faced with extinction, modern civilization those the same escape to Skartaris as ancient Atlantis.
  • The next issue blurb actually gives the title of the previous issue.
Where It Comes From:
Escape from the earth as the solution to environmental devastation was probably inspired by the 1977 UK television program Alternative 3, or the 1978 novelization. The secret space program to leave the earth beginning in the 1960s seems directly borrowed from there.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Life and Times of Johannes Cabal

Jonathan L. Howard's Johannes Cabal is a necromancer and (as one might expected) a disagreeable sort of guy, though not in the usual cackling villain sort of way. True, when we first encounter him in Johannes Cabal the Necromancer he’s running a travelling carnival as a cover for collecting souls for Satan--but he’s got important goals. Mainly, it's Cabal’s arrogance and disregard for social niceties that make him unlikable--but those qualities only make him more enjoyable to read about.

Cabal has appeared in three novels. The first tells the story of the carnival and features Cabal’s more moral brother, Horst (a vampire). The second, Johannes Cabal the Detective, has Cabal on the run in a Ruritanian crazy-quilt Europe and forced by circumstances to solve a series of murders on an airship.

Both of theses novels feature quirky characters and a good deal of humor amid the soul-stealing, political intrigue, and murder.

Cabal himself emerges as a more complex character than he first appears. He’s a misanthrope by all appearances, but he wants to conquer mankind’s greatest enemy--death.  He just doesn’t care overmuch who he’s got to kill or what amoral direction his “studies” have to take to do it.

The world of the novels is ours but with some differences: extra European nations, ornithopter-like aircraft, and a generally higher profile for necromancy, most prominent among them. The time period the stories takes place in is pretty vague, too; it mostly seems to be loosely Edwardian (maybe late Victorian), but with occasional mentions of science/technology that might even place it in the early 1960s.

The third Johannes Cabal novel is apparently out in the UK. Johannes Cabal: the Fear Institute is about an expedition into the Dreamlands, which sounds promising. Howard sprinkles the occasional Lovecraftianism in the other novels, so it will be interesting to see what he does there.

In preparing this post I ran across an article written by Jonathan Howard himself about Cabal on D&D website. I’ll let the author himself tell you how Cabal can inspire gaming. He even gives a character sheet!

I can say the novels are well worth a read.

Friday, October 14, 2011

In This Thrilling Episode...

If you have an interest in hero pulps or movie serials, you'll want to check out Curse of the Phantom Shadow on Kickstarter.  It's a film project by Mark Ross that's an homage to exactly those sorts of media.  Here's an excerpt from the synopsis:

The year is 1948 and the United States has a new enemy, The Phantom Shadow. This dark figure has diabolical plans for captured scientist Dr. Hammond and his War Department weapons of mass destruction. When the Phantom Shadow launches a missile attack on key locations in the United States, the government takes action.

There is only one man to call: elite government operative, Agent 236!  Agent 236 is dispatched to rescue Hammond and stop the Phantom Shadow's nerfarious plans.

Check out an excerpt on the project page here.  It's fun and looks like a labor of love for all involved.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thraug's Head

Not so long ago, a patron at one of the saloons or beer gardens on the southeast riverfront of the City barony of Shancks might have encountered the not-quite-deceased head of a monster, preserved in a jar. If they sat close to the distorted and slack-mouthed visage in the murky liquid, they might have heard its muffled, gurgling whispers.

The head of Thraug was a fixture along the narrow peninsula that bore his name, Thraug’s Neck. Popular superstition held that the head was good luck--certainly its original owner would have agreed it was better to have it than not. Unfortunately, for the eponymous merman (or merrow, some say), his luck ran out the day he quarrelled with Jarus Shanck, one-time assassin turned landowner.

Opinions differ as to what precipitated the violent encounter, but historians and folklore agree that Jarus Shanck never did require much excuse for murder. His preservation of his opponent's head in jar of alcohol is also viewed as in keeping with his macabre sense of whimsy.

Shanck gave the head to a henchman who made it the centerpiece of a tavern he opened. And so began Thraug’s vigil: watching unblinking through smoke-smudged glass as those around him pickled themselves from inside out. Some strange magic kept the merman’s head alive and he was said to speak prophecy--usually the ultimate fate of the person listening. He could be enticed to answer specific questions at times, though his answers were circumlocutious. Other times his utterances were merely pained observations on the fickleness of fate and the ephemeralness of this world, which listeners never failed to find insightful and moving.

More than one aged barkeep will tell you (with a nostalgic gleam in his eye) that a few words from ol’ Thraug were always good for another round.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Warlord Wednesday: Links

Life interrupted my regularly scheduled review of the continuing adventures of Travis Morgan, the Warlord.  We'll return to that next week.  In the meantime, here's some Warlord-related links to check out: - the official website of the original writer/artist and creator of Warlord.
The Warlord - Scott Dutton's great Warlord fansite.  He's also got a page of links.
Fanzing's "The Warlord Reading Guide" - A short analysis of the first Warlord series with recommendations.  Also look for "The Quotable Warlord" on the same site.
Hardin Art Studios - The blog of the artist who did great work on several issues of the most recent Warlord series.  The art on this post is his.
Edit: Jim Shelley suggests I add my college term paper style musings on Warlord as a fable on imperialism at the Flashback Universe.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Legend & Folklore in a Fantasy World

Perusing The Sutton Companion to British Folklore, Myths, & Legends got me thinking about the place of the strange, mysterious, and magical in fantasy worlds. The British Isles have got stories of all sorts of fairies, lake (and well) monsters, and more than a few witches--all of which could be easily approximated in local tales of nearby monsters in any fantasy rpg setting.

But real world folklore gets weirder than that. Ned Dickson’s skull on Tunstead Farm in Derbyshire would tap against windows to warn farmers about sick animals or cause the walls to shake as a sort of burglar alarm. Several phantom coaches roam the night roads. Every ghost is a story, not a monster to be battled.

It seems to me that most fantasy game encounters are mundane compared to this sort of stuff--or perhaps, utilitarian is a better word. As it has been said before, there ought to be more weird, unpredictable things in game settings.  Not just in the Weird Tales sense, but in the good, old-fashion folktale sense.

Beyond that, there ought to be more stories told by the local tavern denizens that are just stories. I don’t think the demonstrable existence of magic in a world, would make people less likely to make up tales to explain odd events or simply to pass the time--if anything, a world full of magic that the common man doesn't understand would seem likely to increase this sort of thing.  More events would need folk explanations; more fears would need comforting.

Player characters (no paragons of scientific rationalism, themselves) ought to never know whether the rumor they’re hearing is the inside-scoop on a local monster or another tavern tale. There ought to be as many fake magic items being horded away as real ones--maybe more.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Warlord Wednesday: Back Out

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...

"Back Out"
Warlord (vol. 1) #69 (May 1983)
Written by Mike Grell (Sharon Grell); Penciled by Dan Jurgens; Inked by Mike deCarlo

Synopsis: Morgan, Jennifer, and Shakira are preparing to return to their own time through the magic mirror before its power fades. Machiste and Mariah are staying behind, as is (apparently) Rostov.

The three step through—but only Jennifer arrives back in Castle Deimos.

Morgan and Shakira awaken in a modern city. When Morgan sees the Syndney Opera House, he realizes where they are. The two begin to explore. Strangely, there are no lights on, nor any people around.

Well, almost none. There are these street punks dressed like an 80s pop band:

Before the punks can do anything but pose, Shakira changes into cat form and jumps on the leaders face. Flashdance punk pulls a gun, but Morgan is quicker with his own pistol. The woman has her gun out, but she sees the look in Morgan’s eye and surrenders. Morgan confiscates their guns and ammo, but lets the surviving two go. He gives a gun and holster to Shakira.

Morgan thinks he knows what happened and explains his theory to Shakira: A nuclear war must have occurred, but Australia wasn’t a prime target so it wasn't bombed. Radioactive fallout would have spread here, though, killing the people and leaving the city empty.
Morgan believes their only way back to Skartaris is to make for Antartica and go through the south polar opening. Any other course would take them through greater exposure to radiation. The two begin a trek to Australia’s southern coast.

They travel for several days relatively uneventfully. Then, in the desert, Morgan sees fresh hoof prints left by a shod horse. Morgan follows them, interested in seeing what civilization is out here.

They come to a cliff overlooking a large farm surrounded by a high fence and barbed wire. They discuss the possibility of getting some horses, but then:

Things to Notice:
  • Morgan likes to draw maps in the dirt, if you haven't noticed.
  • Morgan's just assuming there's a south polar opening to Skartaris.
  • We get a hint that Shakira may have been to the surface world before.
Where It Comes From:
The title of this issue certainly refers to Morgan meaning "back out" of Skartaris, but is also a play on "Outback"--where some of the story takes place.  The Australian post-nuclear war setting may owe something to On the Beach (either the 1959 film or the novel), where survivors wait for a cloud of radioactive fallout out to arrive and kill them.

Monday, October 3, 2011

In the Blood

The element iron has a special status: it carries oxygen on our blood; it’s the most abundant element in the earth’s crust; and it has the most stable atomic nuclei. More to the point for fantasy gaming: "cold iron" is said to ward off or harm fairies, ghosts, and/or witches.

In the novel Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington, magical attitude is inversely related to iron in the blood. A necromancer explains it this way:

“Iron, as I’ve told you, is one of the only symbols that represents what it truly is, here and on the so-called Platonic level of reality...Because it is true material and not just a symbol of something else, iron restricts our ability to alter the world, be it talking to spirits or commanding symbols or however you put it.”

Not only does this nicely tie some of the real properties of iron with its folklore properties, but it would have some interesting implications in fantasy games. Prohibitions against metal armor and the working of magic make sense in this light. Even more interestingly, it might it explain why D&D mages tend to be physically sort of weak--they need to be somewhat less robust in order to work magic well. Maybe higher Constitution scores actually impairs magic, or impairs the “level” a mage can advance too? That might also example the traditional dwarven poor magic aptitude: they’re hardy, creatures of the earth (where iron’s abundant).