Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Maze

The so-called Apotheosis Maze is an ancient structure of great power. It sits on an all but lifeless world on the seldom-traveled fringe of civilized space, yet still it draws visitors willing to accept it’s wordless challenge: Find the path through and perhaps attain godhood.

The maze covers nearly 20,000 m2. From a distance, it appears to be made of marble. Closer inspection reveals the material has an iridescent, oil-slick sheen when the light hits it right. Scanning reveals it to be much more than simple stone: There are patterns in its structure at the picometer (and possibly smaller) level: circuits repeating. The maze has a psionic presence, too--like faint, whispering voices in an adjacent room.

It’s said that no known weapon can damage the maze’s structure. It is uncertain whether anyone has ever actually tried. The guardians of the maze move quickly to stop any visitor who attempts violence against them or the maze. They wield quantum weapons, that are powerless cubes outside of their hands.

The guardians are tall, robed humanoids with enlarged craniums and skin as black as starless space. There are always three, though perhaps not always the same three. Their primary task seems to be to decide who may walk the maze from the supplicants present. They never allow more than five in, but the number varies; they often select fewer. Those they choose must divest themselves of weapons, equipment, and uplinks, and don simple robes before entering the maze.

Despite the fact that the maze is open to the sky, no one has ever been observed traversing it. It would appear that the maze's interior exists elsewhere. The vast majority of those who enter the maze never emerge. In fact, there is no recorded instance of anyone emerging--but many stories exist. All the stories suggest sophont beings who walk the maze transcend in some way--perhaps even to godhood. The hyehoon faithful believe their Mother Creator, Anat Morao, walked the maze before ascending into heaven where she continues to watch over her children. Some versions of Instrumentality doctrine mention attempts to walk the maze, either praising or condemning them. A conspiracy meme during the Radiant Polity held that the first psi mutant (an immortal being of immense power, supposedly) was born of a pregnant mother who had walked the maze.

The legends keep people trying. Some attempt to hedge their bets by finding a map of the maze. Such maps surface from time to time--and people have killed to get them--but as far as is known, they've all turned out to be fakes. A rumor current among spacers is that there’s a mendicant on a backwater world called Oriax, who carries the map (perhaps unknowingly) in his brain, but few have been able to locate the planet much less any miraculous vagrant.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ready for a Mall-Crawl?

This has been a good week for free stuff. Today, let me direct your attention to an offering from Justin, the chronicler of A Field Guide to Doomsday. Justin has served up The Ruins of Woebrook. It's either a stinging critique of 21st Century American consumerism disguised as an adventure module or an excuse for mall-inspired encounters with creative, punningly named mutant monsters: You decide!

The Cinnaman gives it two stick-sweet thumbs up/

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Strange Stars Appendix N

The Strange Stars setting I’ve been working is on is a combination of several different things I like in science fiction. I would call it: far future transhuman(ish) space opera. Far future sort of explains itself; it only has weird connections to the world of today.  It’s space opera, because its an adventure setting set in space (though more of the picaresque Jack Vance or Harry Harrison variety, than the “planet-wrecking" of Edmond Hamilton).
Unlike traditional, space opera whose basic form was laid out decades ago, I do want to take into account the effects of technology on human society--and humanity itself. This isn’t a new idea either really; there’s plenty of fiction in this vein and a few rpgs--though most of the rpgs seem to go for a smaller scope or harder science than space opera. I want Dune plus the stuff in Transhuman Space. The “ish” is because this sort of stuff is always going to take a bit of a backseat to the space opera.
I want both of these wrapped in the now even stranger visions of the future from the late 60s to the early 80s, shown on the covers of science fiction paperbacks, and in the Terran Trade Authority books. I want it to be populated by people like might show up in the pages of Heavy Metal in the works of Moebius, Caza, and Druillet, and in the disco-era stylings of the 70s sci-fi comics of Starlin, Cockrum, and Chaykin.
So here are some specific inspirations, broken up into where their influence is felt:
Human & Alien Cultures:
Wayne Barlowe. Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials.
David Brin. Contacting Aliens: An Illustrated Guide to David Brin’s Uplift Universe.
CJ Cherryh.Chanur’s Venture. (particularly the appendix on species of the Compact)
Frank Herbert. Dune.
Willis McNelly. The Dune Encyclopedia.
Jack Vance. “The Moon Moth” and other short stories, Planet of Adventure
David Zindell. Neverness.

Technology & Societies:
Tony Daniel. Metaplanetary.
Greg Egan. Diaspora.
David L. Pulver, et al. GURPS Transhuman Space and its supplements.
Karl Schroeder. Permanence.
John C. Wright. The Golden Age Trilogy: The Golden Age, Phoenix Exultant, and The Golden Transcendence.

Visual Inspirations:
Howard Chaykin. The adventures of characters Cody Starbuck (appearing in various places), Ironwolf (Weird Worlds #8-10), and Monark Starstalker (Marvel Premiere #32).
Jim Starlin. His Warlock stories (Strange Tales #178-181, and the various graphic novels and series related to the Dreadstar saga.
Steven Cowley (writer). Terran Trade Authority books.
Heavy Metal (magazine). particularly the works of Philippe Druillet (Lone Sloane 66, Salammbô), Moebius, Caza, and Enki Bilal (Exterminator 17).
Legion of Super-Heroes in the 1970s, particularly the designs of Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell, and a bit of Giffen's "Five Years Later" run beginning in 1989.
Star Wars, particularly Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: When the Gods Make War

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...

"When the Gods Make War"
Warlord Annual #6 (1987)
Written by Michael Fleisher; Art by Pablo Marcos

Synopsis: It turns out the aliens Morgan tangled with in issue #121 were mining a previously unknown element that can increase the killing power of Apokolips’s forces. Desaad has named it “Darkseidium” to suck up to his master. Darkseid has gathered the forces of Apokolips for a a full scale invasion of Skartaris to acquire the element.

The New God Lightray has been held captive by Desaad. A couple of careless guards allow him the opportunity to escape after accidentally filling him in on the invasion plans. Lightray flies back to New Genesis and shares what he has learned with the other New Gods. Highfather, their leader,dispatches Lonar to Skartaris to join forces with the Warlord. When Lonar swoops do on his space horse, Morgan is wary at first but the New God convinces him they’re on the same side.

In Kiro, Tara has located Y’Smalla, the woman who's been masquerading as her, but before she can get revenge Desaad shows up. He tells Y’Smalla about the impending invasion and gives her orders to assassinate Machiste.

In Shamballah, Morgan and Lonar are marshaling the troops for the assault. They don’t have to wait long.

All across Skartaris, the gods wage war against humanity!

To be continued...

Things to Notice:
  • This is the last Warlord Annual of this series and the last one period, to date.
  • This issue features pinups by Gil Kane and Dan Jurgens. 
Where it Comes From:
The guest stars and villians in this annual spring from the mind of Jack Kirby, a cosmology that is often referred to as the "Fourth World." The concept made it's debut in Jimmy Olsen in 1970 and blossomed into four interrelating titles. Essentially, it told the story of the conflict between the new gods from New Genesis and their foes on the world of Apokolips. Kirby's titles only lasted until 1973. In 1977, an attempt was made to revive the series, but it died almost as soon as it was begun due to the "DC Implosion." By the time of this annual, however, the characters and their conflict had been integrated into the wider DC Universe--as had Warlord with the events of recent issues.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Of Space Ages & Sorcery

The gestalt mind of Hereticwerks, aided and abetted by the equally outré intellects of Needles and Porky, have unleashed upon the unsuspecting blogosphere Space-Age Sorcery. It's 27 pages of enough weird science fantasy spells (and a few evocative tables) to fill a campaign, easy. It's so dense with cool not even light escapes its surface. I'm probably exaggerating a bit, there--but this is a unabashed plug not an unbiased review.

Anyway, check it out for yourself here and see if I'm wrong.

Oh, and for those of you that have been following my Strange Stars posts, here's a doc with some of the more esoteric terminology I've been using.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Pleasure Domes of Erato

During the time of the Archaic Oikumene, the most famous of the so-called “pleasure worlds” was Erato. Called the “New Venus” (the original Venus having been a much less hospitable planet around Old Sol), it was home to a collection of resorts and parks catering to every imaginable sensual pleasure. The domes were themed by passion or interest and provided a variety of different environments from lush gardens to freefall. The bioroid staff, in a myriad of forms, catered to every taste.

Then came the Great Collapse. For a few generations, the last visitors to Erato and the humanoid administrators lived an end-of-the-world party in high decadence: then the bioroids took over. They developed a society of their own, closed off their world to the rest of space.

Sometime near the end of the Radiant Polity era, Erato was re-contacted, and reemerged as a purveyor of pleasure. As before, it offer a variety of experiences in a discrete setting--but this this time under the control of the bioroids themselves. They’re an eclectic bunch: androids, gynoids, and a number of combinations thereof, with a myriad of modifications to primary and secondary sexual characteristics, sexual performance, and biochemistry. The facilities are less expansive than in days past (as many are given over to expanded living areas, storage, and manufacturing for the bioroids), but current visitors don’t seem disappointed.

Ever seeking to expand their market share, the Eratoans have began to generate members of their race with new uses. Bioroids with idiopathic poison biochemistry or weaponized genitalia command a high price on the black market as assassins.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


No. Appearing:1-4
AC: 4
Hit Dice: 1
Saving Throw: Warrior 1
Attack Bonus: +0
Damage: by weapon, or 1d4
Movement: 20’
Skill Bonus: +4
Morale: 7

The Engineers [mnadnzat; mnaat sing.] are a cybernetic species and citizens of the Vokun Empire, responsible for much of the Empire’s technology. Though they are essential to the Empire’s function, the vokun keep them under close control due to their fear of artificial intelligence.

Appearance and Biology: Engineers vaguely resemble isopods of ancient Earth, but with more human faces. The average 1.2 m tall and have eight limbs, but typically ambulate bipedally. Either of their upper pairs of limbs may be used as manipulators, though the first pair is shorter and more dexterous. Though they have an internal skeleton, they also possess thick plates of carapace that extend the length of their bodies. This carapace has an iridescent sheen as it has a coating of metalofullerene. The integument of Engineers comes in several different colors that may denoted their caste.

Engineers as a species have integrated with their technology. All adult Engineers have metaganglia providing conscious control of many aspects of their bodies' functioning and linking them to their spimes and noosphere. If an Engineer’s body is badly damaged, they can download their minds into another from a remote backup.

Other than having a sense of their species as a whole, Engineers do not recognize kinship, nor do they form pair bonds. Mating is a casual affair with no real associated emotion. Young are born in communal nurseries and are pre-sapient. They crawl around Engineer ships, directed by signals from adults, just another tool. Those that survive the second instar are “uplifted” to full sophont status by infection with the appropriate nanites.

Psychology: Engineers are somewhat literal-minded and pedantic, though they're fairly gregarious when their is a topic of conversation that interests them. They are adverse physical confrontation and danger, often to the point of cowardice from the perspective of other species. When they feel endangered they attempt to roll themselves up as much as possible. They make poor fighters, but their aptitude for technology makes them excellent technicians and (of course) engineers.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Strange Stars

After over ten posts, I've finally decided (maybe) on a unifying title for the science fiction setting posts I've been doing: Strange Stars. Why that? I don't know. It sounded better than anything else I came up with. There is a real thing called a strange star--though I don't know that that has anything to do with the setting.

So anyway, now those posts will be found under that label.

More to come.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Appearance and Biology: Ibglibdishpan are spindly humanoids with yellow skins. Their skulls are large, hairless, and somewhat ovoid, but this appearance is accentuated by a shield-shaped “mask” of osteoderm covering their face above the jaw. They do not have external ears or noses. Ibglibdishpan exhibit very little sexual dimorphism [in fact, discussion of gender is considered rude by them.]

History: The ibglibdishpan are citizens of the Vokun Empire. Their natural cognitive traits have been enhanced by a vokun eugenics program and genetic modification to make them “humanoid computers” capable of computational tasks beyond most unenhanced humanoid brains.

Psychology: Ibglibdishpan tend to be restrained in their emotional responses compared to other humanoids. They also tend to lack empathy, and are sometimes at a loss as to my other humanoids don’t take the obvious, logical action. They are often considered pedantic and overly precise. They tend to avoid violence and make poor warriors. Due to their neuronal structure they are prone to the development of obsessions and compulsions, or perseverations of certain behaviors.

Stats: Intelligence of at least 14. Charisma and Strength no higher than 10.

Mental Breakdown: There is a 25% chance with any intelligence related skill check or other intelligence related task, that the peculiar mental structure of the ibglibdishpan may lead to some sort of failure. A save vs. Mental Effects must be made. On a failed roll, consult the following table:
1 catatonic state, repeating the last statement made for d100 minutes
2 screams for d100 seconds, then returns to previous activity as if nothing happened.
3 develop a phobia which lasts for 2d12 weeks.
4 Develop a reaction akin to Stendhal Syndrome for d4/2 hours.
5 seizure for 1d4 min. -1 to all rolls until a period of rest.
6 Lose 1-2 points of intelligence for 1d20 days. At that the end of that period, a second Mental Effects save must be made. Failure means the loss is permanent.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: Clouds of War

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...

"Clouds of War"
Warlord #121 (September 1987)
Written by Michael Fleisher; Pencils by Art Thibert, Inks by Pablo Marcos

Synopsis: Two armies face each other across the Ebondar River. On one side is a contingent from Kaambuka led by General G’Barr, and on the other is a Shamballan force led by Travis Morgan, the Warlord. The armies engage and Morgan moves to avoid bloodshed. He goes straight for the general and defeats him in one on one combat.

Morgan demands to know why the Kaambukans have invaded Shamballan territory. The general accuses them of launching catapult attacks on their capital for 3 days--something Morgan knows they didn’t do. The Kaambukans retreat, leaving Morgan to puzzle over what the hell is going on.

Meanwhile, Kara and Jennifer can’t find the demon. They utilize the history tapes of the Atlanteans to try to find ways to locate the demon and combat him. Turns out:

Azmyrkon had a tripartite rod--”a weapon of unimaginable power.” He wrecked a lot of havoc until Arion showed up to throw a beat down on him and lock him in a prison. He split the demon’s rod into three pieces and hid them.

An earthquake interrupts the ladies’ history lesson and it appears to be an ominous sign.

Morgan is roaming around the desert looking for Tara. He comes across some guys in futuristic gold outfits doing some futuristic stuff with rocks and a launcher. They shoot at Morgan, and he returns fire, knocking one out before he gets knocked out by a rockslide himself.

That gives us a chance to check in on Morgan's CIA nemesis Redmond, who has now undergone full yeti transformation. He’s not about to wait around until the Atlantean snowmen have made enough depilatory for everybody. He stills the antidote and escapes after shooting two of the hairy folk that saved his ungrateful life.

In Kiro, Machiste is being pushed to war on Shamballah by continued reports of raids. He doesn’t buy it, but his ministers are instant. “Tara” is being no help--because she’s really chaos-sowing Y’Smalla disguised by Akolipsian tech.

The real Tara is being kept chained in a dungeon, about to be whipped by a sadistic thug, until:

She eaves him chained to the wall and escapes.

Kara and Jennifer find Azmyrkon causing the Mountain of Dragons volcano to erupt so he can get the first peice of his weapon. Our heroines take him on, but after a battle they’re only able to escape with their lives. Azmyrkon carries the day.

Morgan finally wakes up from his umpteenth concussion since the start of this series. The guys in the weird outfits are gone--except the one he had grazed. Morgan manages to wake the guy up. Before Morgan even thinks about harsh interrogation techniques, the guy begins to panic and warns Morgan to stay away

Elsewhere, a cackling Desaad watches the scene on a console. He presses a button and the man disintegrates before Morgan’s eyes.

Things to Notice:
  • Unlike Morgan and Machiste, Ashir, King of Kaambuka, doesn't lead his armies from the front.
  • Redmond (yet again) takes his quest for revenge too far. 
  • Y'Smalla didn't have very good security on Tara.
Where it Comes From:
Here we have the first appearance in story in Warlord of Arion, Lord of Atlantis.

Jerry Bingham's cover for this issue recalls Frank Miller's cover for Daredevil #189 from 1982:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Tales from a Spacer's Bar

A Tale from a Spacer's Bar is a two hundred (at least) year-old work of fiction that has appeared in many different media. It's author and the world that it originated on has been lost to history--in fact several variant forms exist, so it is difficult even to determine what the original contents were. The work is an anthology of intertwining short stories and vignettes that the nameless narrator hears (and ultimately participates in) in several different bars catering to star pilots and crew on several different worlds. Here are a sampling of images appearing in various adaptations of  A Tale over the years:

"The Prospector's Tale" involves an encounter on an all but lifeless world between a determined misanthrope and a deva. The prospector is taken to the devas' diamondoid sphere habitat, where ironically, his dislike of his fellow man saves him from a demon sprung from the malfunctioning moon-size brain.

This scene is from a retro-psychedelic sim version of "The Clubber's Story." The club habitué (already high on chroma) takes a large dose of an experimental drug called "Proteus V" (a substance generally thought to be fictional). After a serious of comical mishaps, ve accidentally opens a forgotten spacetime oubliette and frees an angry contingent of amazons. Even worse, the amazon commander takes an amorous interest in ver.

"The Three Grifters and the Almost Aptheosis" involves the mysterious artifact known as the Apotheosis Maze. Two humans and a moravec in possession of a dubious map of the Maze set out in a stolen ship with the plan to walk the path and gain godhood. The ambiguous ending of the tale inspired the "Blue Shift" movement in the Gods and Devils neurosymphony by the composer collective Orm 7 Trang. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Cold War

The moon Boreas is covered by an ocean eternally sheathed in ice. Though this environment is harsh, a blue-skinned humanoid people called uldra have made the mood their own. With few exceptions, the uldra have built their settlements beneath the surface of the insulating ice, exploiting the sunless seas. At some point, the uldra city-states discovered they weren’t alone: there were monsters in the depths. That was when the war began.

Given the average thickness of the planetary ice sheet, the only source of energy in much of the ocean are deep sea volcanic vents. All sorts of life are found in the oases surrounding them, including a life form unique to Boreas: sapient organisms called “cold minds.” The cold minds are vaguely like colonies of coral, sometimes extending for miles. Their intelligence is adapted for their colder, less energetic environment; their thought processes are laboriously slow compared to humans. it took them decades to decide what to do about the invaders on their world and decades more  to formulate their counterstrike.

Decades ago, the uldra city-states warred against each other. They grew bioroid sea beasts as terror weapons. While not all of the warbeasts were accounted for at the end of the conflict, they had been built with a failsafe: They ceased function if they didn’t receive periodic treatments of certain chemicals. It came as a shock then, when warbeasts began attacking again-- and wouldn’t obey any of the emergency halt codes.

Tensions flared and there were accusations that one city-state or another was responsible. Only after after parasitic organisms were found in the nervous systems of the recently dead that rose to attack their horrified fellows, did the uldra suspect they had another enemy.

And so the war goes on. Uldra rangers are vigilant for attacks of war beasts or undead and exotic, weaponized sea life native to the Boreal ocean. They have destroyed cold minds at times, but the oceans are dark and deep, and the their enemies too dispersed and resilient.

Some uldra have suggested attempts at negotiation, but even if they could find a way to communicate with the slow cold minds, it could be generations before they reached any meaningful dialog.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Emerald City of Smaragdoz

The capital and only city of the world of Smaragdoz is the green crystalline megacity of the same name, which is also the de facto capital of the Alliance and a nexus of trading routes. Smaragdoz has a unique form of government: a psydemocracy group-mind. The captured thoughts and desires of the citizens form a composite psionic entity that makes all the polis’s laws by decree. This civic mind often manifests as a giant disembodied head off-worlders sometimes refer to as “The Wizard.”

The land beyond the capital is divided into four bucolic prefectures: Smalt, Gules, Xanthic, and Purpure. Though pre-industrial in appearance and pace of life, these carefully controlled farmlands, orchards, and forests are more a sanitized, theme-park version than a replication of any historic rural environment. The farms and hamlets are  inhabited by Smaragdines disinclined ito city life, criminals sentenced to labor, and atavism tourists in animal bodies. The convicts aren’t under any restrictions--other than being forbidden from returning to the city until their sentence is up and being followed at all times by conscience wisps. The wisps provide escalating levels of admonishment and finally neurologic lockdown if the convict attempts to commit further offences.

The inhabitants of the prefectures are not part of the civic mind, but the mind monitors the prefectures and interacts with them through avatars. Scarecrows in fields are often criers announcing important events, and quaint clockwork robots help settle disputes among the rural folk.

The outer border of the province is formed by the Waste, or the Deadly Desert: a “no man’s land” made as lifeless and poisonous by the environmental nanites as the prefectures are fertile and inviting. The lands beyond the border are genuine wilderness.  These sparsely populated lands are home to political dissidents, radical nonconformists, and criminals.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Instrumentality

Attributes: Force 8, Cunning 5, Wealth 7
Hit Points: 49
Assets: Space Marines/Force 7, Planetary Defenses/Force 6, Strike Fleet/Force 4, Zealots/Force 3, Pretech Manufacturers/Wealth 7, Marketeers/Wealth 5, Organization Moles/Cunning 5, Cyberninjas/Cunning 3
Tags: Theocratic, Planetary Government

The Instrumentality of Aom is a theocracy controlling several systems in the Orion Arm and providing spiritual guidance for the faithful scattered throughout many more. It aggressively seeks to expand its sphere of influence, primarily by peaceful conversion, but it’s not opposed to violent conquest.

“Aom” can be many things (depending on the context and the audience) but is generally described as both the godhead and the godhead-receptive spiritual being complex. Church liturgy often uses litanies of statements of opposites to analogize the ineffable Aom.

Church hierarchy has both an exoteric and esoteric version of its history--and the exoteric version is carefully crafted for a given audience and prone to revision with each doctrine update. The esoteric version conforms to known history in most respects. The faith had its origins in the early days of the Radiant Polity. Two memetic engineers working for a political action group became interested in ancient forms of spirituality and embarked on a private project. The Church views this as divine inspiration; whatever the case, the engineers set their ais to synthesizing a belief system from the commonalities of the “paleo-faiths” still extant within the human sphere: Trimurtitarianism, Prosperity Wicca, Mantrayana Hubbardism, Santerislam, Metaqabala, Ghost Dance Sufism, the Tao of the Taheb, veneration of the Mahdi Magdalene, various public domain forms of Corporate Confucianism, and others.

The first version spread rapidly after release into the Polity noosphere. Soon, various permutations of the faith were being practiced in different systems. Conflict between sects followed. The developers were both martyred in the first twenty years of the faith’s existence. The sectarian strife and clashes with other memes intensified over decades and eventually tore the Radiant Polity apart.

The Instrumentality was one of the entities to emerge from the four centuries of chaos that followed. The numerous sects had been winnowed down to a single orthodoxy with a rigid hierarchy. While the Instrumentality’s evangelists revise doctrine to best win converts, on the worlds already under church control it’s rule is uncompromising, even if it’s actual tenets are sometimes vague.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: Vale of the Snowmen

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...

"Vale of the Snowmen"
Warlord #120 (August 1987)
Written by Michael Fleisher;  Pencils by Art Thibert; Inks by Pablo Marcos

Synopsis: Redmond (the CIA agent that came all the way to Skartaris just to prove Morgan was a commie spy) wound up in one of Skartaris’s icy valleys after his fall at the end of last issue. Succumbing to the cold, he falls face down into the snow. A group of yeti-ish guys come to his rescue.

Down in ol’ Castle Kraken Lake, Morgan is fighting his way through the balding, ponytail-wearing (actually they’re probably going for a samurai thing) kraken assassins. The whole time he’s thinking about what he overheard: that Machiste hired them to come after him. He doesn’t buy. He grabs one of the kraken guys and makes his escape out a window. The guy tells him they’ll never make it through the krakens, but Morgan figures the little whistles the guys wear do something.

Meanwhile, Jennifer is awakened by a searing, pervasive emanation of evil. She casts a spell to transport her to it’s source:

Jennifer throws up a magical shield, but Kara’s superhuman strength is rapidly wearing her down. Jennifer channels her magic into breaking the demon’s hold on Kara. She manages to do it, but while they’re busy the demon disappears.

Morgan gets back to Shamballah and finds it under attack by the forces of Kiro. In the midst of battle, Morgan does some more thinking. While Machiste may be angry with him, breaking his alliance with Shamballah would harm his city and his people. it doesn’t make sense.

Morgan may not have much time to figure it all out. The raiders are repulsed, but now the Shamballans are clamoring for war. How long will Morgan be able to hold their anger back?

Redmond wakes up in the high tech city of the yetis. They speak to him telepathically and tell him they are the descendants of an Atlantean colony. Some weird magic in this valley transformed their ancestors into hairy snowmen. They've recently discovered an element that will return them to human form, but they won’t use it until they've purified enough for all. Redmond thinks that’s all pretty unfortunate--until he sees the yeti hairs start sprouting on his own arms!

In Kiro, Machiste receives a report that Kiro’s outlands are being harried by raiders flying the Warlord’s banner. His ministers want war with Shamballah, but Machiste is unwilling to do so yet. The ministers are surprise to see Shamballah’s Queen Tara, cooling her feet in a fountain in the palace’s gardens. They’d be even more surprised if they knew she was a Vashek assassin using alien technology to disguise herself as the Shamballan Queen. The real Tara is locked away in a dungeon at that moment.

In another plane of existence, Desaad, Torturer of Apokolips, watches the machinations of his protege Y’Smalla with pleasure. Desaad has more plans for Skartaris, right now though, he’s got the New God Lightray to torture.

Things to Notice:
  • Morgan's outfit seems somewhat different from last issue.
  • The New Gods are back in Skartaris.
Where it Comes From:
The snowmen in this issue resemble the snowbeast from issue #9, but presumably there isn't any evidence of a relationship between the two (other than the first story probably inspired the latter).

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Slavers

Slavers (yssgalahl is an approximate rendering of their autonym) are aquatic sophonts who look vaguely like 4 m long mucus-covered catfish with tentacles. The Slavers are a psionic species who use their abilities to stun prey in their native oceans. They had never developed more than the most rudimentary tool use, until human explorers fell prey to their attacks. Off world organisms lacked the psionic resistance of native fauna; the explorers were mentally dominated rather than merely stunned.

The Slavers had acquired space travel.

Only the sheer size of galactic civilization, their aquatic nature, and the resistance of other psi-capable species kept them from establishing a vast empire. Instead, they resorted to becoming slave traders. They keep those they need to serve them on their world and in their ships and sell the rest on the galactic market. There are places where “naturally” grown sophonts are preferable to bioroids or robots. The Slavers are the primary suppliers of Minga slave women.

No. Appearing:1-4
AC: 4
Hit Dice: 8
Saving Throw: 11
Attack Bonus: +8
Damage: 4 tentacles (1d6 + slime)
Movement: 10’/60'
Skill Bonus: +1
Morale: 9

The slime coating the Slaver’s tentacles is a paralytic to life native to its world, but cause skin changes to humans which lead to 1d4 damage each interval the affected isn’t kept cool and damp (Toxicity 8, Virulence 3, Interval 5 minutes). Slavers can create realistic sensory experiences in the minds of biologic sapients if they fail of Mental Effect saving throw. The Slaver’s also possess an ability similar to Overpowering Will, which they can use 3 times a day. The power can be used on any single individual within 9 meters. If a being is dominated, they will serve the Slaver until some external force breaks the control. If the enslaved individual is separated from the Slaver by more than a kilometer, a new saving throw roll is made every day.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Never Trust the S'ta Zoku

The star folk or s’ta zoku are a nomadic, starfaring human culture found throughout the known galaxy. While star folk of all ages presumably exist, the ones most frequently encountered as visitors to other societies are in their teens twenties (or wear bodies that appear as such), so they’re sometimes called “star children.”

The star folk live in space, traveling between worlds in caravans of their living starships. They declare “festivals” on planets where they make landfall--sharing eclectic, primitivist music, non-fabricated wares, psychedelic drugs, and xenophilic sexual encounters. In passing, they impart facets of their quasi-religious philosophy (a mishmash of various aspects of ancient mysticism memes) that embraces the seemingly conflicting elements of radical individualism and universal interconnectedness. 

They also play practical jokes and minor confidence games meant as performance art or rituals on authority figures and those they consider too narrow-minded. They use no currency, so either barter for goods and services or rely on gratuity. Neither of these traits have endeared them to more controlled societies.

Despite their preference for “natural” or pre-nanofaber clothes and items, the s’ta zoku seems to have access to advanced technology. Some engage in radical body-shaping, modifying their baseline form or changing their sex on a temporary basis. Self-organized groups of star folk youths share box-like devices that may contain picotechnology and be the product of a long dead culture. The star folk have formed something of a “cargo cult” around them.  

The boxes are thought to be artificial intelligences. They are attuned to the mental state of their associated groups; they emit sounds and their surfaces display changing color patterns that act to reinforce group cohesion and mental well-being. Star folk groups seldom make significant decisions without consulting these devices.