Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gargoyles, Guns, and Money

Last night, "Team Victory" made it to the end of the trail and brought a murderer to brutal, shotgun-blast justice--and made themselves a tidy some in the process.

They confronted Viviane Vandemaur about the murder of her husband over a continental breakfast served in her penthouse suite on the Upper Eldside. She was too tough an egg to crack easy, so they forced her into the pocket dimension bolthole accessible through the palimpsest they stole.

There, she bared her claws and went on the attack.  It took several shotgun blasts and sword cane stabs, but she finally fled through one of the openings in the floor to--well, whatever strange dimension was outside the cube.  Even there she tried to crawl across the outside surface and escape, but Boris was dogged, and Ivanka still had shells.

The thing that called itself Viviane Vandemaur eventually went flying off into otherspace.

Her gargloyle mook demanded the orb that kept him at bay in return for leaving them alone and--uncharacteristically trusting--the guys handed it over, after extracting a promise from the gargoyle to do them a solid at some point in the future.

That done, the gang headed over to Urania Vandemaur’s mansion to collect the bounty on her son’s murderer. They were surprised to find Indrid Bliss there with her.  Under the sharp eye of Urania, and with the other orb to exchange, Indrid filled in some of the missing pieces of the puzzle:  The original Viviane was the cigarette girl in the picture with John Vandemaur, whose identity and likeness his partner (the Viviane they all knew) stole.  Then, she got greedy and tried to steal Vandemaur’s identity (and his fortune) and cut Bliss out all together.  Bliss claimed to have botched the ritual that would have allowed her to steal Vandemaur's identity sufficiently to fool most magics, but she got the jump on him and put him in the coffin.

Bliss wanted the alien glass sphere back in return for this information, and Creskin (against his better judgement) was coaxed into giving it to him by Urania.  Bliss left, and no one was sorry to see him go.

The guys then collected their substantial payment, and left the games of the rich and sorcerous behind--for the moment.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Devil's Wings

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...

"Devil's Wings"
Warlord #93 (May 1985)
Written by Cary Burkett; Art Ron Randall.

Synopsis: In the windswept Bloodrock Mountains, Old Gris, a grizzled scout for the Husklaar Tribe, sees Lord Sabretooth leading a New Atlantean army through a pass that will take them to the gates of Shamballah.  Old Gris urges his pony to a gallop…

Meanwhile, in the Shamballan camp Morgan spars with one of his troops while Tara looks on in disapproval. She thinks a warlord’s time would be put to better use elsewhere. 

Beneath Fire Mountain, Jennifer’s still “studying” the Evil One’s gem. She asks Ashir to keep an eye on Tinder, as he may not yet be completely free of the gem’s influence. When Ashir asks why she doesn't just destroy it Jennifer has a “Gollum moment” and clutches the gem tightly to her chest. She recovers and says that she hopes to find a way to control the gems power. Ashir leaves with a worried look on his face.

Old Gris arrives at Warlord’s camp. “Tempering his salty language only slightly in deference to the Queen” he tells her war council what he saw:

If Sabretooth can join his forces with those already in Shamballah, the change of Morgan and his friends retaking the city will evaporate. They need a diversion to keep Sabretooth’s force from reaching the city until the Shamballan insurgents are ready to march.  Morgan and Trogero will lead a small force to try to delay the Atlanteans.

Far to the South, at the mouth of the Ramphos, Morgan has left a contigent of men encamped, awaiting Captain Hawk’s arrival with freed slaves.  Swift and deadly, the hooded Vashek assassins overrun the camp. They plan to set a trap.

Elsewhere, Sabretooth’s scouts find the trail of a group of men on horseback. They lead to what appears to be an encampment—flying the Warlord’s banner! Sabretooth can’t believe his luck.  He sounds the charge—and his troops charge right into Morgan’s trap.

In the battle that follows, Morgan and Sabretooth grimly strive to work their way toward each other, but when Old Gris calls out that the rest of Sabretooth’s army has arrived, Morgan and his raiders beat a retreat.

Morgan and crew come to a fork in a canyon pass. The left trail is the safe way through; the right leads to Devilwing Canyon. Morgan decides that they will go left, but first sweep the entrance to the right as if they were trying to cover tracks. My Sabretooth arrives he falls for Morgan’s ruse and soon:

Sabretooth tries to lead the tatters of army out of the canyon, only to have rocks rained on them courtesy of Morgan and his men. Morgan also suggests to Sabretooh that his camp is somewhere in the mountains: a lie. 

The enraged devilwings force the Shamballans to retreat, as well, so they’re unable to finish the Atlanteans off.  Morgan charges Old Gris with hanging around and leaving false trails and the like to further confuse Sabretooth.

Back near the Shamballan camp, Tara removes her sword and armlet to take a dip in the river. Tinder and Chakka see the armlet, the one that Tinder views as his—and ironically it is, but also it’s an unrecognized link to his true parents, Morgan and Tara. Tinder considers taking it but he doesn’t want to hurt the Queen. He hesitates.

When Tara emerges returns from her swim, she finds the armlet, her momento of the son she believes dead, gone.

Things to Notice:
  • The New Atlantean Hell apparently has sixteen layers.
  • To Ashir, "keeping an eye" on Tinder involves teaching him to pick padlocks.
Where It Comes From:
The corrupting power of the Evil One's gem was probably inspired by the One Ring in Lord of the Rings or maybe from Der Ring des Nibelungen.

The tribe of Husklaars probably owe their name to the term huscarl, referring to personal troops or bodyguards. Gris is the French and Low German word for "gray."

Monday, May 28, 2012

WaRPing Weird Adventures

I didn't rush to download any 5e playtest documents this last week, but I did download the WaRP system rules released by Atlas Games the week before under the OGL.WaRP stands for "Wanton Role-Playing," but what it is is the basic system used in Over the Edge. New OGL systems tend to pique my interest, so I thought it might be fun to try for a Weird Adventures game.

I got together the Sunday before last with most of the potential players for character creation. Despite the fairly "rules lite" nature of the system, it still took the players a bit of time to come up with concepts and traits. Being able to do just about anything can some times be as paralyzing as having too many skill or feat options to pour over.

Ultimately, a fairly interesting party began to take shape.  We've got a Yianese professor of arcane antiquities and amateur sleuth, a hoodoo woman, a former professional assassin, an international thief for hire, and an enigmatic woman who can change into a cat (or is that vice versa?). A disparate group, for sure, but hey--the City's a melting pot. It looks like it's going to be an interesting game.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dustbowl Gothic

Fantasies set in a 1930s sort of setting are pretty rare, so when I heard about Robert Jackson Bennett's Mr. Shivers it piqued my interest. The titular Mr. Shivers is a scar-faced murder roaming Depression era America, a boogie-man among hobos and itinerants--and perhaps a supernatural entity.  The novel tells the story of group of disparate individuals, their lives destroyed by an encounter with Shivers, who set out on the road to find him and bring him to justice.

Bennett's prose is probably most reminiscent of Stephen King.  The view it presents of the American Dustbowl touched by creepy horror recalls HBO's Carnivale.  Still, the tale it tells is its own and is engaging in a gritty, pulpy sort of way.  Bennett sometimes tends to have the characters give a little more exposition about the facts of the Dustbowl or the Great Depression than seems realistic, but this is a minor complaint.

The novel would certainly make good inspiration for a Depression era horror or dark fantasy campaign.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Stupid Little Fairies

An elvish sorceress from the eldritch future world sometimes called the "Planet of the Elves" blasts a couple of pesky ultraterrestrials.  These creatures are said to flit across the ether on their shifting-patterned wings, but more commonly arrive in craft of some sort.

Sorceresses shouldn't be confused with "wizards" who are a whole another sort of being, separate from elves, dwarves, or their lesser kin.  Wizards are extremely dangerous for many reasons--not the least of which being all seem to suffer from some form of insanity, the product of their quest for power at all costs.

Elsewhere, in a dwarven tavern, an adventurer regales the other patrons with a tale.  The trophy under his foot is the head of one of the Metal Men who are sometimes encountered in the ruins. Some are friendly; some are not.

Both pieces are by the very talented Steve LeCouilliard.

Everybody have a good Memorial Day weekend. I'm starting mine early!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Beneath the Planet of the Elves

Every elf or dwarf is aware of the horrors that lurk in the underground ruins of the long dead race of Man: crawling things with superstitiously shunned names, lurching things with nigh unpronounceable names, and oozing things left fearfully unnamed. But none of those evoke more horror than the Cult of the Dread God.

The cultists are utterly subterranean, emerging only briefly at night.  They resemble elves or dwarves, for the most part, except that they are taller and their features (when they are seen) are coarse and with an unhealthy waxiness.  They all dress in the vestments of their order and reveal little more than their faces.

The cultists possess powers of the mind allowing them to stun or control even the most strongly willed elf or dwarf.  They march their victims, puppet-like to their own sacrifice--for that is what the cultists seek when they emerge from their underground temples or monasteries.  Little is known of their hungry god other than his name--which is not commonly spoken for fear of drawing his attention--and that name is Ba’am. No elf has seem the god or his altar and lived.

There are adventurers' tales that suggest their waxy countenances are not the true faces of the cultists, but merely masks.  Whatever they were before, their god has changed them in strange ways. Tales speak of glimpses of bruise-colored tendrils writhing beneath their masks and uncovered heads, hairless and rugous, pulsing with malevolent intelligence.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Evil in Ebony

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...

"Evil in Ebony"
Warlord #92 (April 1985)
Written by Cary Burkett; Art by Pablo Marcos.

Synopsis: An Atlantean scouting party returns to Shamballah through the forest of Ebondar. Their arrogance at their control of the area makes them an easy target for an ambush by the Warlord and his band. Morgan plans to do some scouting of his own within Atltantean-controlled Shamballah and needs this party’s livery to pull it off.

Meanwhile, underneath Fire Mountain, Jennifer continues to study the Evil One’s artifacts and tells Tinder about her previous encounter with him. The Evil One can’t de destroyed forever, but has been disembodied. He can only return if he can possess another physical form.

While Jennifer is talking, Tinder has been staring into the Evil One’s gem:

Jennifer is able to sever the link with her magic before the Evil One can take him over fully. She locks the gem up so it can’t be any more trouble—she hopes.

Back at Shamballah’s gates, Morgan and Krystovar, dressed as Atlantean soldiers, manage to bluff their way inside. Morgan sees a couple of soldiers stealing from a street peddler and intervenes. He cuts the fingers off one guy’s hand as he tries to take a piece of fruit. Morgan and Krystovar share a tense exchange of glances when the healer insists on tending the wounds of the soldier Morgan maimed.

Looking around, Morgan notes the placement of the defenses around the walls—particularly the energy cannons. He sends Shakira out in cat form on a special scouting mission. Easily completing the mission, she runs into a snag on the way to the rendezvous when a sadistic Atlantean decides to sick his lizard dogs on her. He loses sight of the animals in the chase, but when he catches up to his dogs they’re both dead!

Unbeknownst to Shakira or her antagonists, the old witch, Saaba, has watched these events unfold and now follows the cat with interest.

In Hunker’s Tavern, Krystovar and Morgan are arguing over their differing ideas about mercy toward their enemy. The debate is cut short when Shakira arrives and suggests they get out of Shamballah while they can. The three ride out of town, unaware that Saaba (in crow form) is following them.

They haven’t gone for before she uses her magic to cause trouble:

Morgan and Krystovar manage to stay out of the earth elemental's reach long enough to scramble up a hill and dislodge a boulder. This causes an avalanche to bury the creature. Our three heroes head back to their camp—but not before inadvertently allowing Saaba to overhear their plans for a two pronged attack on Shamballah using the underground tunnel they had used to escape the siege.

Saaba flies back to Shamballah to inform Lord Sabretooth of the Warlord’s strategy.

Things to Notice:
  • Saaba the witch again rears her ugly head. She was last seen in issue #84.
  • Morgan so dislikes Kystovar's compassion that he almost starts a fight over it.
Where It Comes From:
This is issue is mostly build-up for bad things to come for our protagonists.

The earth elemental that appears in this issue owes more to Dungeons & Dragons than to Paracelsus's conception.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Room at the End of the Hall

An ominous door at the end of a hall in a cheap tenament somewhere in the City.  We step over the drunk sleep it off outside.  Behind the door we find:

1. Two sets of men's clothes in puddles of goo.
2. A roiling red-tinged fog that seems to pulsate as if with the beating of a heart.
3. A well-dressed man from nowhere.
4. Walls bear but for peeling paint.  The faint sound of a child sobbing.
5. A group of 1d6 hobogoblins gathered around table watching two men play Russian roulette.
6. A single bed with a large constrictor snake curled upon it with a ominous bulge.
7. Smears of blood on the floor; a naked hanging lightbulb swinging, as if recently disturbed.
8. A nest of bugbear hatchlings and their strange birthing machinery.
9. A hillybilly giantess in a gingham dress sitting on a bed and sobbing into her hands.
10. The grim reaper seated at a table with a chess board.
11. The complete skin of an elderly man draped across a bed as if in repose.
12. Pulp magazines stacked almost ceiling high and forming a veritable maze.

Other ideas?

Sunday, May 20, 2012


The usual D&D races getting a little stale? Just give them a makeover and keep the old mechanics.  Try these knew visuals on for size:

For Elves:
Insect(-ish) men.

For Halflings:
Satyr-like guys.

For Half-Orcs:
Hairy hominids.

For Warforged:

Okay, that last one may be a bit of a stretch.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Planet of the Elves

In elven village and dwarven hamlet, elders warn children of the dangers of venturing too far into the wilderness.  Out there in the wastes, the well-worn admonitions say, lie half-buried ruins--the blasted and timeworn remnant of a world that was.

Reckless youths and greedy treasure-seekers have long ignore the warnings of their mothers and fathers. They brave the wilds to seek out these ruins, where tribes of giant Hairy Ones and worse things hunger for elf (and dwarf) flesh, and they delve into subterranean depths where baroquely insane wizards give flesh to monsters out of nightmare.

Many of these foolhardy adventurers don’t return home.  The skillful and lucky ones that do win glory as well as treasure.  They become heroes--for the wise amongst their peoples well know that every  bit of forgotten knowledge or ancient artifice brought up from underground brings their races closer to wresting the world from the grip of Man’s long ago folly.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Kind of Dame Gargoyles Like

In the City, Creskin, Don Diabolico, and Boris (now calling themselves--somewhat prematurely--Team Victory) had dinner at the posh “Pauper’s Row” mansion of Urania Vandemaur. They discovered the Vandemaur matriarch most certainly does not approve of the cigarette-girl from across the Eldritch River that her son, John, chose to marry. In fact, she’s certain Viviane killed her son--and is willing to pay to have her brought to justice by any means necessary.

Never ones to blanch from suggestions of illegal deeds where money’s involved, our heroes take her up on her offer. They also take note of a tidbit dropped by Urania--insignificant to her, but very significant to our would-be detectives: John Vandemaur had remarked that "even gargoyles loved" Viviane.

A late night meeting with a shady forensic necromancer confirms the skinned body they found was indeed John Vandemaur and that he may have been betrayed by someone he called “darling.” His traumatized soul can’t give them anymore, but that’s enough.

The boys are eager to confront Viviane, but she won’t see them until tomorrow. They try to use the map they took from Bliss’s extradimensional bolt-hole to find more clues, but without a lot of success. Finally, they're able to use the second glass sphere to contact Bliss, and he offers a meeting back at Club Tekeli-Li.

One exorbitant cab ride later, they’re attempting to interrogate Bliss at the club. He wants the spheres back, but our heroes won’t budge. They manage to get Bliss to give up quite a bit: He was Faustus Bleys--and the inhuman being that calls itself Viviane Vandemaur was Bleys’s scribe mentioned in the tome. Viviane double-crossed Bliss for obscure reasons and put him in the coffin. He also claims she killed John Vandemaur. Still, Viviane’s motives remain a mystery. Why did she hire them? Was it just to get them out of the way as Bliss claims? And what’s the true purpose of the spheres? Bliss wants one badly (the one they stole from him), as he says it allows him to open “certain doors.”

Our heroes meeting with Viviane will likely turn into a battle--against an inhuman killer.

This adventure also marked the debut of Creskin’s new henchman (courtesy of Fleischschild’s Institute in Lichmond): cornfed and none too bright, Moose Magoon:


Creskin plans to put him in a sequined outfit as a stage assistant, too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Reminiscing

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...

Warlord #91 (March 1985)
Written by Cary Burkett; Art by Dan Jurgens.

Synopsis: Morgan, Tara, and their friends decide to head back to the Valley of the Lion to check on the refugees they left encamped there. The villagers around Shaban D’Aba told them about a bridge across a ravine that will greatly shorten their journey.

When they arrive at the bridge, they find it guarded by a giant warrior, who demands they send out a challenger to fight him. On the other side of the ravine, he displays the heads of the challengers he’s defeated. He claims he ate their bodies. Morgan’s response:

As he steps out unto the bridge to meet the giant, Morgan remembers another bully he face before: Danny Maddox, the scourge of Thomas Jefferson Junior High. Morgan stood up to Maddox to protect his friend Chuck. He beat Maddox—just like he beats the giant now. That long ago battle was when he met his first love—Rachel, who would be his wife.

Morgan is lost in the past for a moment before his friends summon him back to the present. Together, they cross the bridge.

In the Valley of the Lion, Ashir interrupts Jennifer Morgan’s study of the gem she got from the sanctum of the Evil One. Discussing the refugee camp, Jennifer mentions “Robin Hood”—a reference Ashir doesn’t get, but a stray thought that reminds Jennifer of her childhood.

She recalls the adventure stories her father read to her, the death of her mother, and the years she believed her father to be dead. Then she found her father alive, in a magical world, living out his fantasies of adventure. She sheds a tear.

Leagues away in Bakwele, the ninja-like Vashek assassins torture one of Patch’s crew for information about the Warlord. The man tells them that Morgan is working for Captain Hawk. The pirate will be their next target.

In his spherical spacecraft, the Monitor reviews some of his history tapes. This helpfully summarizes the history of Skartaris and Morgan’s advent in that world for the new reader.

In the Valley of the Lion, Tinder sees Tara arrive with what he thinks is his talisman on her arm. Tara sees the boy looking at her jewelry and recalls how she met Morgan and they fell in love. He gave her armband—really his wrist-watch—and she later gave it to their infant son Joshua as a toy. Tara believes Joshua to be dead. She has no idea that the young boy that seems so interested in her armband is actually Joshua, but with no knowledge of his true parentage.

Things to Notice:
  • Again we get an appearance by the Monitor. This was done in most DC Comics as a lead up to Crisis on Infinite Earths.  His appearance here also serves as a good reason for an origin recap.
  • This isn't the last we'll hear of Danny Maddox, Travis Morgan's school-age nemesis.
  • This is the first appearance of the Vashek assassins, too.
Where It Comes From:
Most of this issue summarizes events we've seen before, most notably from Warlord's first appearance in First Issue Special #8.  Jennifer's memories of her life after her mother's death and then her father's disappearance were referred to in dialogue, but depicted here for the first time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Comics to Game

The recent Avengers film has put superhero gaming into my mind, at least as idle consideration.  The new Journey into Mystery collections and the classic Avengers: Kree-Skrull War, got me to thinking about campaigns in superhero games.  Previously, I've done more "done in one" sort of games--though I have done a Secret Wars riff in the past. I think that you could pull off a comic book "epic," though.  Not one of the currently decompressed storylines with a lot of talking heads, but one of the more episodic, action-based stories of the Bronze Age and early Modern period. Something that would provide the room for the player's to make fairly divergent choices than the heroes did on the comics page.

One of the storylines that I think could form the underpinings of a great rpg campaign would be "Lost in Space-Time" in West Coast Avengers.  It's got Rama-Tut, Kang, a host of Old West Marvel heroes, and the Living Totem.  That's epic.

The Kree-Skrull War would be good, too.  Particular if player's could come close to the "hip" dialogue.  Surely extra points would have to be accorded to any character who could replicate the likes of Clint "Goliath" Barton's patter here:

"This is your ten-foot toreador talkin' at ya, crew. Just got a call from Janet Pym--Hank's own ever-loving spouse--otherwise known as the Wonderful Wasp. Don't get it all but seems there's trouble brewin' up in Alaska, where she and Hank are. So, I'm off for the Big Icebox--and hopin' the rest of you aren't too far behind. This sounds big."

Sounds big, indeed.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dwarf-Land: The Celestial Empire

Here's another mysterious location in Scott's very cool Dwarf-Land that he's leaving for individual DMs to develop.  Given the information presented in Scott's original document, here's my unofficial take:

The Celestial Empire of the China Men is far from Dwarf-Land proper.  It is said to lie a distance farther than from the earth to the moon--which is not so great a distance in Dwarf-Land as in the world we know, but still very far. Merchant caravans from this far-flung empire follow tortuous trails, passing through desert wastes, dessicated seas, and strange-spired cities, and with them they bring the legend and rumor that has formed the total of dwarvish knowledge of this land.

The China Folk are so named because all wear masks of fine porcelain among outsiders--or perhaps (as some travelers’ tales say) their faces are, in fact, made of living porcelain.  Perhaps lending credence to this claim, the skin of high born persons of the China Folk is exceedingly fair and unblemished, often a perfect match for their masks.

The masks are not precisely mobile, but they do change expression. This always happens suddenly.  At one moment, a China Man’s visage man be a mask of joviality, the next, a mask of irritation--but it remains always a mask.  Their aspects change less frequently than the faces of unadorned men, only marking extreme swings of emotion. Canny traders from Dwarf-Land cultivate keen ears for reading Chinese voices.  

The masks tell something of social class.  Those of the peasantry are often grotesque in countenance, with exaggerated grins, outsized noses, or bushy brows.  Their expressions seem to represent the essential character of the person wearing them.  Peasant masks are often chipped or at the very least spider-webbed with fine fractures.

The masks of the upper class are simpler, perhaps more dignified, in mein.  However, even the most  staid among them is not above painting on some brightly colored decoration or swirling pattern for feasts or appearances at court. Courtiers often wear bemused grins beneath shrewdly narrowed eyes; Courtesans favor tiny, puckering bows of crimson painted on fullest swell of their lips. The nobility often sport well-manicured beards and drooping moustaches.

Those of the upper class would die of shame (perhaps literally--Celestial Emperors have been known to order ritual suicide if their serenity is disturbed by unsightliness) if their masks were chipped or cracked.  The palace of their Emperor is said to be filled with cushions and pillows so that the fine china masks of His August Personage and his most beauteous wives and courtesans are never put at risk of damage.

The only exception to the pristine visages of the aristocracy are among the warrior caste. Some ferocious generals have been known to go to battle with the faces of grinning, horned demons.  A certain feared assassin of the Empire is said to wear a mask with a long and prominent crack running from his eye down his cheek, like a deep and unending river of tears.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dwarf-Land: The Empire of Zoob

Scott of the Huge Ruined Pile remarked that the Empire of Zoob is one of the locations in his very cool Dwarf-Land that he was going to leave for individual DMs to develop.  Given the information presented in Scott's original document, here's my unofficial take:

The folk of the Empire of Zoob are a secretive lot, freely sharing only two things with outsiders: commerce (which fills their coffers with gold) and cunningly devised tortures (which they work upon any and all who transgress their elaborate and harsh legal code). The nigh-paranoid secrecy of Zoob extends to the workings of its government. It is known that the Empire is ruled by a Cabal of  Magi, but the members of this body never appear in public and only make their will known through edicts issued on anthropodermic broadsheets posted in public fora.

The religion of Zoob is likewise somewhat obscure.  It's primary faith, the Cult of the Weird God (liturgically named Undying ul-Zoob-ra in the Empire), is divided into several sects adhering to different interpretations of the pronouncements of the god's numerous (the exact number also being a point of contention) prophets. The Undying ul-Zoob-ra, Himself,--or perhaps an earthly beast holy to the god (this is one of the doctrinal issues the sects argue over)--dwells in a palace-cage in Zoob's holy city of Baphoum. The god (or holy beast) appears as a giant anteater with the ears of an ass and the wickedly clawed limbs of a cassowary. At the Festival of Yala-ul-Zoob, the beast is led through the streets by gilded chains held by his attendant clerics so that his holy talons may trample ecstatic worshippers, thus ensuring their place in Paradise. 

Men of Zoob dress in elaborate and colorful robes. They refuse to be seen in public without jeweled turbans and veils that hide their faces, save their kohl-rimmed, exotically colored eyes. Women wear little but gold ornamentation, tiny, sweetly chiming bells, and intoxicating perfumes. The Dance of the Bloody Scimitars, performed by a group of the women of Zoob selected by lottery when an execution draws nigh, is said to be the sight of a lifetime--and indeed it must be, as few if any outsiders survive it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Two Things You Should Buy

While I'm off today for a state holiday, so the easiest post I could imagine was to point you to some great stuff done by some of my favorite fellow bloggers.

The Manor is a 'zine by Tim Shorts of Gothbridge Manor, and its got a lot of old school goodness, including random tables and a micro-adventure--plus highbrow stuff like a poetical ode to the umber hulk. It features art by Jason Sholtis and Johnathan Bingham (two more fine bloggers).  Reserve your copy today! 

Weather all gloomy in your crumbling keep by the stormy sea?  Kill that ennui with the decadent pleasure of role-playing with a gothic touch.  Jack over at the Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque has created a "greatest hits" compilation of blog posts and made them available in hardcopy.  Highlights include his recent series on demi-humans and the core fear that embody in his World Between setting, rumors, spells, villians, and more.  What I love about Jack's stuff is how he manages to inject a touch of the literary in terms of mood and tone, while keeping the game-play firmly old school. Follow the links to get your hard or soft copy today.  And the pdf is free, ya cheapskates!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Demons of Days Past

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...

"Demons of Days Past"
Warlord #90 (February 1985)
Written by Cary Burkett; Art by Rich Buckler.

Synopsis: While Tara supervises the unloading of supplies and the building of shelters for the ex-slaves they’re expecting Captain Hawk to be bringing them, Morgan is off staring at the primitive beauty of Skartaris, his thoughts in turmoil. He knows he has responsibilities but he yearns to run off and have adventures, leaving them behind.

Suddenly, he finds he’s no longer alone. An old man with a staff is behind him. Somehow, the old man seems to know the conflict in Morgan’s heart. The old man tells him that once in a while, a man comes along who can do great things. The choices men like this make effect the lives of others. He gives the examples of King Arthur and Lancelot—both great men who chose different paths. Morgan asks the old man to speak more plainly, but when he turns, the old man is gone.

Meanwhile, Jennifer has used her magic to locate Tinder. She recognizes the chamber he’s in, because she had been there in the distant past, when she and her friends confronted the Evil One. Tinder and Chaka mesmerized by the gem they found last issue. Jennifer is able to counteract the spell and free them. Jennifer confiscates the gem, as she realizes it contains a portion of the Evil One’s power. Ashir, ever the thief, is busy gathering gold pieces, until Jennifer warns him of the deadly curse on them.

Back at the mouth of the Ramphos River, Tara reminds Morgan that he needs gold to pay off Hawk. Morgan knows just the place to get it—the pyramid of Shaban D’Aba where the mages of the Age of Wizard-Kings hid their treasure.

They have to do some climbing to get there—and Morgan has to grapple an orange dimetrodon:

Eventually, they make it to Shaban D'Aba. They’re greeted by a group of villagers bringing a sacrifice to appease a demon. They barely have time to ask “What demon?” before a multi-legged creature with a lion’s head and a body of flame attacks.

Their swords have no effect. Their only chance is to escape into the inside of the pyramid. Unfortunately, the demon merely turns to smoke and streams inside behind them. Morgan prepares to make their last stand, but Tara notices an open bottle with emblazoned with the same symbol that the demon wears. On a hunch, Morgan points the bottle at the demon and the creature is sucked inside. Tara quickly stoppers it. Danger averted, Morgan and Tara kiss.

Things to Notice:
  • This issue places Warlord firmly in the DC Universe for the first time by having a cameo by the Monitor. This was done in most DC Comics as a lead up to Crisis on Infinite Earths.
  • Again we see an example of the wide variety of orange prehistoric reptiles in Skartaris.
Where It Comes From:
Morgan first discovered the treasure-filled step pyramid in the ruins of Shaban D'Aba back in issue #31.  We later discovered (in issue #66) that Jennifer Morgan was instrumental in developing the plan to hide the gold of the wizards there--which is also the issue where she visited the Evil One's lair as she mentions here.

The demon in this issue was clearly inspired by Buer, a "Great President of Hell," who appears in the 16th century grimoire Pseudomonarchia Daemonum.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Real Dungeon, American Style: Burrows Cave

A man just finishing his lunch on a bluff overlooking a valley in southeastern illinois steps on a flat rock and falls into the entrance of a cave. There he found a crypt with skeletons adorned in bronze, armed with swords, and surrounded by gold. This isn’t any pulp story or movie serial, but the account of one Russell Burrows from 1982. The story is, of course, controversial--but a little controversy is hardly unheard of for a dungeon, American-style.

Anyway, this is what Burrows said he found:

“I saw a full human skeleton reposing on a large block of stone. It scared the hell out of me! Then I began to see other things lying there with those bones. I saw ax heads, spear points, and something else—metal! The skeleton was laid out upon a solid block large enough to hold not only the remains but artifacts as well."

"The artifacts include ax heads of marble and other stone material, an ax head of what appears to be bronze, a short sword of what appears to be bronze, and other artifacts which might be considered personal weapons. There were also a set of three bronze spears, the longest being about six feet long and the shortest about three feet... The skeletal remains bear several fine artifacts such as armbands, headbands and other such items, all off gold. "

Quite a haul--and that was presumably just one of the 13 burial crypts. Burrows claimed to have sold the gold (which is probably a crime). Artifacts that supposedly came from the cave appear to show a mismatch of ancient world cultures and a few things reminiscent of Native American designs (See some of them here). In other words, the sort of things that cynical scholarly types would decry as forgeries. Where’s the fun in that, though?

Burrows Cave would make an interesting locale for a pulp game, but it’s map could be used for any sort of setting.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

D&D Most Cosmic

Before I talked about the possibilites of fantasy gaming enlivened by concepts of gods borrowed from comic books. In that discussion, I neglected the abstract cosmic entities, peculiar to Marvel--several of whom were the creation of Jim Starlin. Adding these sorts of deity-level beings also suggests a way to revitalize the hoary old great wheel or develop a trippy planar travel sort of setting wholly different from Planescape.

Let's take a look at a few of Marvel's concepts given form:

The Living Tribunal has three faces representing equity, vengeance, and necessity, and he likes to go around judging things.  He might be the supreme being--or he might just be the supreme being's prosecutor.  He's probably lawful neutral (or maybe just lawful).

In a lot of fantasy Law and Chaos are in opposition.  In the Marvel cosmic entities pantheon, Lord Chaos and Master Order work in tandem, perhaps manipulating events to show the superiority of one side or the other? Maybe they're engaged in a debate or a game rather than a battle?  Separately, Lord Chaos has a visage that could easily hang above a humanoid altar and bald Master Order could easily be the patron of monks.

Chaos and Order also have a servant embodying both of their philosophies (perhaps the True Neutral of balance?) called the In-Betweener, who sometimes seems to pursue his own agenda.

Eon is a weird looking guy that guards the cosmic axis. (Maybe that's what the Great Wheel spins around?) He can also dole out "cosmic awareness" if he needs to.

That's just a few examples.  Perusing the list of the beings appearing in Marvel's various cosmic sagas out to offer a lot more ideas.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Images From Beyond the City

Even if the locals think it's the center of the world, there's plenty of adventure to be had beyond the City:

"Yeah, she was a thousand years old and evil, but you had to admit: that mummy could make a cleric kick out a stainglass window."*

The whole time they were guests of the Monkey King of the South Seas they were in constant danger from his capricious (and often deadly) sense of humor. Still, he had a helluva palace band.

Everywhere the two grifter eikones manifested, they acted out the same mystery play.  Thick versus thin.  Lean versus plenty. Either way, it never worked out well for the locals, in the end.

"The Courser is our only chance to make it in time!  If we can outrun Grandfather Winter, we can easily reach the Northern Ruthenian wastes and retrieve the fragment before Donander's zeppelin is even across the Staarkish border."

*With apologies to Raymond Chandler for partially appropriating his line.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Doorway to Weird

Last night was another installment of our Weird Adventures game in Lorefinder.  The gang was reunited after a few weeks of partial party adventuring and they made their way back to the Thaumaturgical Society library in Paladin Hill. Thanks to Creskin's membership, they got access to the tome they were looking for in manuscript form: Incursions from Elsewhere by Montagu Ware.

Poring over the manuscript, Creskin finds a chapter on Hoborxen and its alien overlay. Interestingly, Ware mentions a visit by a wizard from the alien city--Faustus Bleys--and his nonhuman scribe.  There was once an illustration on the facing page but it had been torn out.  Creskin also notices the page he's reading is a palimpsest--and the original writing not quite scraped off appears to be a still-functional spell. The spell (when read) should open a doorway to a pocket dimension.

Creskin tears out the page and the guys leave with the librarian none the wiser.  In a secluded alley in Grimalkin Village, Creskin reads the spell.  The page expands to become a doorway.  They step through into a crazy cubical bronze room with doors on all the walls and the ceiling.  And perhaps weirdest of all, a floating, mumbling head in the center.

An attempt to decipher the head's utterances, gets acid vomitted at Creskin for his trouble.  Bored with that conversation, Boris puts a bullet through the head before it can attack them.  Don Diabolico explores the other doors finding: a gold box containing restive, jumping bird skulls, each polished to a porcelain sheen and wrapped in tissue paper; a room that's walls and ceilings are coated with moving globules of a viscous, oil-slick irridescent substance; and a room indentical to the one they're in--complete with duplicates of our heroes in it.

Diabolico plays with these weird places, while Creskin and Boris are sure that all of them are potentially deadly.  After Boris goes out and comes back with a ladder, their able to get into the strangely normal room on the other side of the ceiling door.  Amid the fairly mundane furnishing, they find Indrid Bliss's coat, another glass orb, and a photo of a younger John Vandemaur and Vivaine Vandemaur dressed as a cigarette girl--in a hopping Club Tekeli-Li!

Taking these items with them (as well as an ooze sample and the box of bird schools), the gang runs into Indrid Bliss on the way out.  He's miffed they broke into his place and demands his "beacon" back.  Creskin threatens to break the orbs and Bliss back off, disappearing into a shimmering door.

Questions abound, but the boys are more convinced than ever that Viviane Vandemaur is hiding something.