Monday, April 29, 2013

Queen of Diamonds

Like a jewel on the Rim of known space, the Fortuna system and its casino stations beckon. It’s one of the most glamorous destinations in the Strange Stars: Where else can fortunes be won (or lost) on a roll of the dice in view of a planet made of diamond?

The casinos, bordellos, and other pleasure stations are mostly found at lagrange points in the orbit of the gas giant, Fortuna IV. While the gambling houses are independently owned, they all rely on the keen Minds of the Gaming Comission. This ai collaborative ensures no one cheats and monitors all gambling aspects of casino operation as a service to the owners. No one knows the location of the Comissions’ primary minds, but it’s rumored to be deep within the atmosphere of Fortuna IV.

The most famous of the Fortunan casinos is the Wheel--a station designed to look like an Old Earth roulette wheel. It's rumored to be owned by Alys Eldorose, a famous gambler in her own right. Some say Alys was one of the original colonizers, whose mind sailed out on a lightship at 10% of the speed of light back in the Age of Human Expansion. If so, she would be thousands of years old. Alys is never known to have responded to these rumors, one way or the other.

Alys also owns the diamond planet, Solitaire (Fortuna I). She leases parts of it to mining concerns, but mostly uses it for entertainment and gambling. Bot races take place on the planet’s darkside with feeds for teleoperation and telepresence for the casinos' patrons. It’s rumored Alys may also have a data vault buried deep underground along the terminator, where the heat starts to climb to metal-liquefying temperatures.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Getting There is Half the Fun: FTL in Sci-Fi Settings

Faster-than-light travel is a staple of most science fiction: It’s hard to get strange new worlds and strange new lifeforms without it. There are a lot of different methods that turn up in fiction to get around, and the method that is the one “that works” in a given setting has implications on how adventures play out and even what sort of adventures are possible.

In Star Trek (and a number of other sci-fi universes), for instance, warp drive is the way it’s done. While the theory doesn’t always reflect the way it appears in story, warp drive is essential a means for going superluminal but just kind of ignoring Einstein. Ships still seem to interact with things around them as if they were traveling at “normal” sort of velocities.  This makes high-speed space battles do-able, and FTL travel itself doesn’t play a part in where bases or settlements will be put. Space travel is easily (maybe a little too easily) analogized to earthly exploration and warfare.

On common method is via hyperdrives or jump drives. Essentially these provide FTL via transfer to another dimension (“hyperspace”) where the usual physical laws don’t apply. This sort of travel comes with a lot of variants, but there are two factors that make the most difference: instantaneous vs. noninstantaneous and gates vs. no gates.

In the instantaneous variety, not much time (if any) is spent in hyperspace; it’s essentially teleportation. This means no FTL battles and perhaps no FTL chases. The tense moments are the ones leading up to the “jump,” because once that’s accomplished pursuers are lost and getaways made. (There is a variant where jumps might be short, defined distances, in which case you could have a sort of stuttering chase.) Like with warp drive, most of your adventuring time is spent in normal space, so the implications for setting design are pretty similar.

Noninstantaneous travel means ships spend some time in hyperspace. This allows chases (and possibly battles) in hyperspace, but also means that stuff can go on onboard a ship while the travelers maybe out of touch with the rest of the world. Also, hyperspace can have exotic hazards and even life. It becomes another interesting place to visit, not just a means for travel.

Nongated jumps mean a ship can do it on it’s on, whereas gated ones required specific structures or locations. Here, gates become places to meet and places to fight. Interstellar travel has choke points and routes like interstate highways. This can move space travel away from being like “ships at sea” to “like longhaul trucking.” Maybe (like in Cowboy Bebop) gates have tolls, so you could be stuck in one place until you’ve got the cash to proceed.

Anyway, there are other variables to consider (like whether people are awake in FTL or have to go into some sort of suspended animation). My purpose it not to give an exhaustive coverage of them all, but to suggest that these things aren’t just color or window dressing, but have implications for how the setting plays out and its feel.

Friday, April 26, 2013

It's Fun-Sized

Thanks to the largesse of Tim Shorts, I received the toy mini-comic sized adventure that is the Mini-Manor: Faces Without Screams in the mail last week. Small in size, perhaps, but not small in adventure. It's got face-stealing guys, naked goblins, and a merman berserker. If that list doesn't get you intrigued, you're probably just too jaded to be playing old school games altogether.

Check it out along with other fine GM Games products.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Other People's Weird Adventures

One of the cool things about getting Weird Adventures out there has been the opportunity to hear what other people are doing with it. Even more cool is getting the chance to be a player in someone else's game unfolding there version of the world. Lester B. Portly has been doing some playtesting of his pulp game Detectives & Daredevils on Google+, and I’ve been playing sometime trumpet player, sometime unlicensed private detective, Chick Marlowe. Lester has been taking us through a great interconnect set of crime stories involving Yianese drug-dealing tongs, alchemical drug formulas, and (possibly) jazz musician cultists.

Of course, watching somebody else play in your sandbox takes a little discipline. Even if you’re okay with them making changes (which I am), you've also got to resist the urge to jump in and “help out” when there’s a question about a setting detail that comes up. It’s been interesting to see how Lester has been making it his own. For instance, he tones down the fantasy/magic aspects of the setting a bit, though I think not as much as he initially thought he would. Still, his is a bit more “pulp world with more magic” compared to my “fantasy world in a pulp era.”

Anyway. I asked him a few questions about how he approached it. I don’t know if this will interest anyone but me, but here’s what he had to say:

What do you feel has been the hardest part of adapting the world for your own use? What amount of “weird” did I wanted my game to be. I wanted to be fairly accurate in capturing the flavour of the Weird Adventures book and I played around with the idea of cherry picking ideas, but settled on running the setting as written.

Because it is a distinct setting, I had to plug some minor details that were vague and hoped I wasn't screwing up stuff in the book that I missed. There were some things from fiction and history that I wanted to use that just wouldn't fit in.

What's been the most enjoyable part of doing so? I think that sticking with the setting as written has forced me to think outside the box. I enjoyed grafting on my own take to Weird Adventures.

Has your perception of the setting changed any in going from reading about and then playing in the setting vs. running it? The fantastic elements don't seem as problematic as I thought they would be. I wanted the weird elements to stick out. The bits that I have used worked fine without the game feeling like it was just standard fantasy in a hard-boiled drag.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: Incantation to Eternal Night

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...

"Incantation to Eternal Night"
Warlord #123 (November 1987)
Written by Michael Fleisher; Pencils by Jan Duursema, Inks by Tom Mandrake

Synopsis: In some extradimensional prison-realm, three formerly human, demonic entities sense their time to plunge Skartaris into eternal darkness is near. In their ghostly forms, they swirl around a crystal that holds their master, who only awaits their incantations to be reborn.

In Shamballah, Tara and Morgan are listening to the story of Kara and Jennifer’s story of their encounter with Azmyrkon. Suddenly, the eternal sun of Skartaris is eclipsed by the moon—a very rare event, and one that fills Tara with dread.

In the sewers beneath of the Shamballan slums, Redmond is waking up with a “I turn into a Sasquatch monster and kill stuff” hangover. His stolen pills are keeping him human shorter and shorter periods--and he’s more bestial now when he becomes the monster. He doesn’t even know what sort of animal he last ate.  Wait, what’s that in the pile of bones?

Redmond turns back into the monster, bursts up through the street, and goes on a rampage. News of the panic in the street reaches the palace. Morgan puts on his best gold mail muscle shirt and heads out to see what’s going on.

When Morgan gets to the poor part of town, he's accosted by a group of thugs. He makes short work of them, but while he’s in the midst of melee, Redmond sees him.

Redmond rants about taking him back to face a military tribunal for being a commie spy. Morgan realizes that the CIA agents travails in Skartaris have driven him from fanatic into complete insanity. Morgan begins to offer him help, but then Redmond transforms into the monster.

While Redmond and Morgan fight across the city, Tara and her soldiers defend the palace and the newly arrived refugees against the fear-maddened Shamballan mobs. In the nether-realm, the crystalline egg begins to hatch as the inhuman sorcerers continue their mystic chanting.

A volcano erupts near Shamballah. The shaking of the earth causes Morgan and Redmond to fall from a bridge. Lava flows beneath them. Morgan holds on with one hand, attempting to save both of them. The creature that was Redmond, however, can’t let go his savage hate. Morgan has no choice:

His enemy dead, Morgan crawls back up to the end of the bridge and looks out over a city in flames!

Things to Notice:
  • And so, Redmond meets an ignoble end.
  • Since when is there a volcano near Shamballah? 
This issue brings Redmond's quest to an unceremonious and sort of anticlimatic end. The new villians are intriguing and more sword & sorcery than what we've seen in a while.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Library

The Library of Atoz-Theln is the largest repository of knowledge in the known galaxy. It contains the noospheric archives of many worlds from the time of the Archaic Oikumene (and sometimes even more remote eras), and significant physical media from cultures both human and nonhuman. Built before the Great Collapse in the interior of a dwarf planet, it now lies within the lawless sector known as the Zuran Expanse. Despite its location, it remains an important center for scholarship.

The library is housed on several underground levels, all climate controlled for the particular media they hold. There are rest areas and tranquil spots to peruse information interspersed throughout, and rooms they were once spartan but serviceable quarters for travelers. Animated wall screens depict famous figures from the mythology and history related to the acquisition and preservation of knowledge from many worlds.

The library’s inhabitants and staff are tall, thin, humanoids with narrow skulls called Atozans. While their ancestors have been in the library since before the Great Collapse, their society experienced a dark age and backslid to savagery. Battles were fought between tribes occupying the popular culture mediascape and exobiology specimen sections. Dynastic histories from that time (meticulously carved into crystalline display screens) suggest there was once a bloody chieftain who rose from the recesses of the human evolution virtual displays.

Eventually, the Atozans clawed their way back to civilization and restored the library as best they could to its previous functioning. There are few of them left--only around 200--but their lives are extended by nanotechnology, and they long ago fabered small-scale cloning facilities. The ancient Library Mind never fully recovered its faculties, but the Atozans have managed to kludge a solution to the elaborate classification system used to organize the library's holdings. This encrypted, ceremonial language is known only to the Atozans and not shared with outsiders.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

In the Cards

The Magi are a group of itinerant fortune tellers found throughout the Strange Stars but particularly in the Zuran Expanse. Viewed variously as mystics, cultists, or charlatans, and often treated with suspicion whatever the judgement, the Magi care about the opinions of other sophonts only to the degree it impacts their quest for enlightenment.

While baseline humanoid in appearance, Magi have a modified neural structure: The linkages within the reflexive system are enhanced, as is prefrontal-parietal interconnectivity. The result is enhanced intuitive and lateral thought processes and the ability to utilize controlled dreamlike states of consciousness. Another consequence of this restructuring (not fully appreciated when it was implemented millennia ago) is greatly enhanced precognition.

The Magi use these abilities (or tell customers they use them) for fortune-telling. Like all fortune-tellers before them, they’ve found that discerning what the client wants to hear and telling them that rather than giving vague impressions of the actual future is generally more likely to generate referrals and return business. Magi favor an elaborate cartomancy using a deck they call the Zener Tarot (suits of Circles, Crosses, Waves, Squares, and Stars), a series of questions (many wholly unrelated to the question at hand), and some physiologic biometric assessment of the client. Which parts of this protocol and necessary and which are just for show is a closely guarded secret.

Magi are also sometime gamblers. They enjoy almost any game of chance. They are often accused of cheating and find it prudent to leave the area quickly after any significant win.

What really concerns the Magi and drives their wandering isn’t the future, but the nature of reality. As an order (perhaps as a glitch in their neural arrangement) they are haunted by contemplation of the simulation hypothesis: they fear the world as they perceive it is only a computer simulation. Their hypercognitions and precognitions only fuel this ontological fear. The Magi search for either conclusive proof these fears--the final “tell” that will give away the game--or evidence of the transcendent uncomputability of universe, a concept they hold in awe and fear like unto a god.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Welcome to the Machine

“Moravec” is the term generally used among the Strange Stars to refer to self-replicating robot sophonts. They are differentiated from “bots” (manufactured robots, typically low or nonsapient) and von Neumanns (self-replicating robots, low or nonsapient). The appellation comes from the surname of a historical Old Earth scientist-prophet. It apparently came into use through the more flowery “Children of Moravec”--a line from a protest song sang during smartmob events by moravec revolutionaries who regarded the extant term “robot” as a slur. At least, that’s the history as remembered by some moravecs; it all occurred millennia ago, and more than one dark age (major and minor) lies between then and now.

A moravec mercenary from a promotional vid
Today, moravecs are as varied as humanity’s biologic descendants. Many are humanoid in form (or android or gynoid) and inhabit worlds less tolerant of biological life. Others have forms reminiscent of arthopods and crawl over asteroids or comets, sometimes with their intelligences distributed over an entire swarm. Still others have spaceship-sized bodies: The warrior-poets of Eridanus are one militant order in this last group.

A warrior-poet prepares for combat--and composition

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Servants of the Zhmun

The zhmun inhabit a domed city on the small, austere world of Aygo, orbiting a yellow star in the Zuran Expanse. Their famed wealth comes from ancient treasure stores (the contents as much of value as art objects or archaeological finds as anything else) and by their control over the mining rights to three superterrestrial worlds in their home system. Enforcement of these rights and protection from interstellar marauders of the Expanse comes via their alliance with sophont, ship-sized moravecs that have patrolled the system since ancient times.

Zhmun are thought to be bioroids due to their unusual structure. They're invertebrates with ameboid characteristics, despite being multicellular. A zhmu uses the hydrostatic pressure of internal fluids and the ability to quickly alter the rigidity of its tissues to hold itself in a roughly humanoid shape. Zhmun who can’t achieve consistent humanoid appearance are second class citizens—“globs.”  Zhmun are asexual (though sometimes assume gendered titles) and reproduce by pinching off a bit of their substance and tossing it into comunnal vats of doughy proto-zhmu plasm. Zhmun are only allowed to contribute to vats in their living districts, which are rigidly segregated by status. While zhmun don’t need to sleep in the human sense, they do need to relax their hold over their form for a few hours every few standard days. They're also said to re-encode information from ancient brain scans from their sacred stores every week or so, but it is uncertain if this serves a ritual or biologic purpose.

Zhmun perform no manual labor, but insist that their needs be provided for by biologic entities, not robots. Higher status zhmun perform no work at all. They affect an air of nobility and assume lofty, nonsensical titles. They spend their days in artistic pursuits or idle pleasures, as befits their station.  Globs direct zhmu business interests and supervise their myriad of alien employees and servants in the name of a zhmu master. Menial tasks are performed by a slave clade of unknown origin, collectively called yoom. Yoom are low on the sophont-scale and are bred in a variety of function-based forms from brutish, thick-browed laborers and bodyguards to sleek, quadrupedal racers.

The zhmun’s paid employees arrive from the co-orbital planet, Erg. There, a rundown spaceport, mining camps, and shantytowns attract the desperate and down an out of known space. They watch the job listings, hoping to get a lucrative position with the zhmun, either serving them on Aygo, or working in their mining concerns on the neighboring planets. or (dare they hope?) representing zhmu interests on other worlds. While they wait, they pay rent to the zhmun on whatever shabby accommodations they can find, and go in debt buying food and entertainment in zhmu-owned businesses.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: The Scepter of Doom

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 Scepter of Doom"
Warlord #122 (October 1987)
Written by Michael Fleisher; Pencils by Art Thibert, Inks by Pablo Marcos

Synopsis: While the Shamballans rebuild their city, Jennifer Morgan and Kara (aka Power Girl) are battling the demon Azmyrkon and his scepter of power. The demon has united two of the three pieces and our heroes are having a tough time coping with his onslaught. He even creates a rogue wave that threatens to wash over a coastal settlement, but Kara generates a wave of her own to turn it back.

Morgan is preparing to host dignitaries from all over Skartaris, trying to repair the mistrust sown by Desaad. He’s most looking forward to the return of Tara, his queen. In Kiro, that queen is preparing to come home with their friend, Machiste, who still can’t forgive what happened between Morgan and Mariah.

Redmond has escaped the Valley of the Snowmen. He takes the antidote he stole from them and finds he does de-Sasquatchify. He continues on his dogged and ridiculous quest to bring Morgan to justice. He winds up in a town, where his attempt to pay for a meal with U.S. currency and his reverting to manbeast form leads him to take a girl hostage to get out of town ahead of angry villagers.

Azmyrkon goes after the next part of his power rod in a desert. Kara finds the last piece with her X-ray vision, and then borrows into the earth to get it while Jennifer distracts the demon with her magic.

The demon’s too strong though, and they can’t hold him off for long. Azmyrkon manages to get the jewel for his rod from them and gets pretty cocky:

The ladies are still in the fight, but things are going badly. Jennifer makes one last, desperate play: She drains all her magic into Kara to fortify her strength enough so she can wrest the rod from the demon’s hands. Then she blasts him with his own weapon:

Back in Shamballah, the dignitaries have begun to arrive. Tara arrives and greets Morgan warmly. Machiste on the other hand:

Things to Notice:
  • You've got to give it to Redmond, he's persistent.
  • Desaad has disappeared back to Apokolips. 
Where it Comes From:
This issue is largely a wrap for the dangling business from the New Gods arc. It does give Powergirl and Jennifer something more to do.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sword & Backpack

Over at the Sword & Backpack blog, Gabe Soria has been working on a neat (and free) rules-lite (he says "minimalist") old school inspired rpg that seems to be aimed at younger audiences. Soria says his goals were to make:  "A) the first RPG designed to be played out of a grid-paper Moleskine, and B) the only RPG inspired by Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies and Factory Records."

It's got a bit of an Adventure Time feel, I think, but it also sort of evokes the original 1966 animated Hobbit to me for some reason.

Check out (and download) the free basic rules here and go here to find out how to assemble it. Then peruse the rest of Gabe's posts for further broadsheet expansions and things like sountrack "mixtape" playlists.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

It's Not Easy Being Green (Ssraad)

No. Appearing: 2-12
AC: 5
HD: 5
Saving Throw: 12
Attack Bonus: +7/+6/+6
Damage: 1d4 tongue slap (+poison, see below) or 1d8 bite; or by weapon 
Movement: 30’
Morale: 12

The green ssraad control the ancient habitats in orbit around Sirius A. Intensely xenophobic, the only non-ssraad they allow in the system are their slaves (and future meals). From Sirius, they stage raids on other systems and engage in a protracted war with the blue ssraad.

The green are the smallest ssraad species (2.13 m), but also the most intelligent. They believe themselves to be the closest in form to the zurr, whom they worship as their semi-divine progenitors. Of all the ssraad, the green most closely resemble anthropomorphic toads. Their plump bodies and thin limbs make them appear much less threatening than the reds or blues. Appearances can be deceiving.

The green ssraad generate a paralytic biochemical that they can deliver via their sticky, extensible tongues. Anyone hit on exposed skin by their tongue must make a Physical Effects saving throw (Toxicity 10 Interval 1 hour Virulence 2) or be paralyzed. Three failed saves means a victim's breathing has also been paralyzed and he or she begins to suffocate without respiratory support. Other ssraad aren’t paralyzed, but instead become docile and submissive. The green can also deliver a cocktail containing hormones and plasmids which trigger parthenogenesis in any ssraad species. The genetic material in the plasmids causes all offspring produced to be born as green ssraad. Greens refer to ssraad undergoing forced parthenogenesis as slrnn meh (“breeders”) and they automatically lose status in ssraad society. Greens cover their skin with an ointment made from human endocrine elements and other ingredients to insulate themselves against such assaults by rivals.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sights in the Strange Stars

Few galactic sporting events offer the sheer spectacle of the giant robot combats of Gogmagog. The robots are of unique design (but all humanoid) and tower anywhere from around 10 meters to over 80 in the world’s low gravity. Mostly they stand waiting for some signal—or maybe just the right moment. They may not move for years or even decades. Then abruptly, they sally forth to engage one of their fellows in hand to hand combat.

That’s when the motley bot breaker gangs go into action. They race to the location of the latest match on their dilapidated walkers, their howdah shantytowns rattling with the jarring motion and their frantic preparations. They have to work fast to salvage what they can from the defeated giant before the swarms of von Neumann machines skitter and crawl from their underground lairs to repair the fallen gladiator—and dissemble the bot-breakers’ tools and transport for raw materials. What the bot breakers can get away with they can sell to fringe scientists and inventors trying to duplicate exotic alloys or wealthy collectors looking for an alien objet trouvé.

A more transcendent vista can perhaps be found around Altair, the home system of the winged deva. Ten moon-sized artificial worlds are strewn like jewels around the oblate star, their diamondoid coatings glinting and iridescent in its light.  These are said to be huge brains, or perhaps the separate components of one even larger mind. Some appear damaged,  the result of some ancient war. The deva flit between between them, working to repair the spheres and restore the mind.  They let few visitors enter the spheres themselves, though that may be with good reason. Rumors abound that the damaged psyches of the spheres produce dangerous qlippothic demons from deranged code.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: A Look Back

Since last Warlord Wednesday completed my review of the Warlord annuals, I thought it was fitting to take a moment and look back at where we've been:

"Gateway to Doom" in Annual #1 (1982) found Shakira and Morgan trying to help a well meaning minstrel win the heart of a stuck-up princess.

Annual #2 ("The Prophecy," 1983) was sort of a prologue to the New Atlantis Saga, introducing Krystovar the Healer and New Atlantis, itself.

"Full Circle" in Annual #3 (1894) tied the New Atlantis stuff to the mythology of Warlord, by explaining the link between the beast-making device of the New Atlanteans and that of the aliens of the Blood Moon. It also gave us the chance to see that Deimos came from a long line of villains.

Annual #4's "Sins of the Father...Fate of the Son" (1985) has the Evil One rearing his ugly head and the Hellfure sword makes a reappearance. This also marks the end of the "Tinder is secretly Morgan's son" storyline. Not because it's resolved, but because Tinder is soon dropped from the series. This issue also has a map of Skartaris.

Annual #5 (1986) saw Morgan return to Earth for an encounter with technologically advanced Mayan-descendants and the CIA--primarily he dogged Redmond--in"The Uxmal Encounter."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Another Review

If you're still sitting on the fence about picking up Weird Adventures (and I'm sure there's still somebody), check out a new review over at the excellent blog Daddy Rolled a 1.

Stay a while and look through Martin's other interesting posts, as well.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Blue Monday

Continuing my exploration of the inimical ssraad:

No. Appearing: 2-12
AC: 4
HD: 8
Saving Throw: 11
Attack Bonus: +8/+8/+8
Damage: 2d6/2d6 claws, 1d12 bite
Movement: 30’
Morale: 12

The blue ssraad make their lair in stolen asteroid habitats huddled close to the cinder of Sirius B. From this base, they launch raids across the Expanse and wage a grinding war against the green ssraad holding Sirius A.

The hulking blue (3 m tall) are the most massive of the ssraad species and are more intelligent and organized than the red. Still, they have no hierarchy beyond the tribal level, where the strongest rule, and what technology they possess is stolen.  They force captives to remodel their starships for the ssraad’s large frames before they kill them. They can employ weapons, but they prefer to use the bone spur claws that grow from dorsal surface of their hands, and their massive jaws.

Ssraad reproduce asexually. Dominance challenges between ssraad can lead to slashes along the back of the loser by the victor’s bone spurs that (combined with chemicals introduced into the loser’s bloodstream from the victor’s saliva) stimulate grow of eggs beneath osteodermic plates on the loser’s back. These eventually bud off into larva, to which the adults pay little attention. The victor sometimes passes genetic material to the loser’s eggs through his saliva in a manner similar to bacterial conjugation.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Red in Tooth and Claw

The decimated systems and damaged worlds of the Zuran Expanse are stalked by several hostile sophont species. Among the most feared are the ssraad [ʂra:d], who claim the whole region as their own by reason of their supposed descent from the enigmatic zurr for whom the Expanse is named. Others have theorized that the ssraad are more likely a creation of the zurr—and perhaps their undoing. No biologic evidence of the zurr exists to prove or disprove either theory.

The three species of ssraad are differentiated by color and some morphological features, but all are bipeds with broad, wide-mouthed heads and bumpy skins, reminiscent of toads. The species exist in a state of mutual hostility. The two dominant species (the blue and the green) employ the reds in their warfare against other and other sophonts.

reconstruction of red ssraad image from visual cortex of victim

No. Appearing: 1-4
AC: 5
HD: 6
Saving Throw: 13
Attack Bonus: +6/+6/+6
Damage: 1d4/1d4 claws, 1d10 bite
Movement: 30’
Morale: 10
Red ssraad at nearly 2.5 m tall and have dull red skin. Though sophont, red ssraad act more like ravening animals than sapient beings. Often only their sadism gives them away. They do not build or create, but are capable of utilizing technology when necessary. Red ssraad are used as shock troops and terror weapons by the greens. They are phenomenal hardy and regenerate 2 hit points a round.

Red ssraad reproduce in an unsual way.  They parthenogenetically produce eggs that must incubate with a living host. Ssraad use their hollow tongues to inject eggs (40% chance) into a host on a bite that does damage. Once inside, the egg gestates for 3 weeks. After that, the host falls ill for approximately 24 hours with nausea and abdominal pain before the ssraad larva eats its way out of their body, killing them.

Friday, April 5, 2013


The blesh are members of the Alliance in the Orion Spur. Unique among the Alliance species (and rare in the known galaxy), the blesh are gestalt beings, a blending of human and nonhuman.

Appearance and Biology: Physically, the blesh are six-limbed bipeds, with some vaguely insectoid features. They appear to made of crystal, with translucent bodies within which their organs (like strangely-shaped decanters) can be glimpsed.  They are likely either the bioroid creations or descendants of a long dead species. Blesh do not reproduce sexually, but are instead grow like fruit from specialized cybernetic “trees” on their homeworld.

History: Until their “Great Awakening,” the bioroids were a post-sapient species; they had long ago broken the strange-loop of self to live edenic lives in the tranquil gardens of the totally controlled biosphere of their homeworld. All their needs were provided by the techno-organic trees they tended. Sometime in the dark age following the Great Collapse, a slower-than-light ark, launched from Old Earth long ago, crashed on their world. The trees dutifully downloaded the refugee human minds from the ark and (reading the ark's purpose) began distributing the minds to their charges/gardeners. The blending of the human minds and the minds and bodies of the bioroids formed the merged entities who call themselves blesh.

Psychology: There were 1803 human minds recovered from the ark. Every blesh is one of these minds blended with a bioroid post-sapient to form a new consciousness. They name themselves by combining the name of the human mind, a number designation related to the tree they grew from, and a monosyllabic prefix. Blesh are a peaceful species with respect for other sophonts. They have not historically been explorers, but they believe their culture to be enriched by learning about other species, and they are interested in galactic stability. Perhaps from the human elements in their minds, they have a great curiosity about ancient human artifacts. Though the blesh have the memories of the human part of their composite mind, these memories belong to someone long dead and have for them a dream-like quality; they feel like visions of the past rather than events actually experienced.

Stats: Blesh have a minimum Intelligence and Constitution of 9. Due to their synthetic biology, they have a +1 to saves against most poisons and diseases. Their integument provides AC 7 against weapons Tech level 3 or less. Their bodies heal slowly, however, without the aid of their engineered trees (+1 to all roles for length of time required for healing).

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: the Gods Make War (part 2)

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. This is part 2 of my review of the last Warlord Annual:

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

Synopsis: When last we checked in on Skartaris, the Apokolipsian invasion forces were attacking all the city-states.  Lonar wants to use his mother box to call in reinforcements from New Genesis. He gets taken out, but Morgan manages to grab the mother box and escape.
In Kiro, Y’Smalla (disguised as Tara) makes her move to assassinated Machiste. She might have succeeded, had the real Tara not come to the rescue:

The two identical women fight a pitch battle. Y’Smalla, fearing she’s out-matched, escapes out a window.

Tara and Machiste join the battle outside and spot Desaad watching the proceedings with glee. They decide to drop in on him. A cowering, defeated Desaad delivers an ironic line:

The Apokolips army is forced to withdraw from Kiro, but Shamballah is still under siege. Morgan manages to get a message sent via the mother box before the Apokolipsians find him. His pistol jams and things look grim, but then the cavalry arrives in the form of a contingent of new gods. Living up to his nom de guerre, the Warlord takes command: He sends the new gods out to liberate the other Skartarian city-states while he takes one of the new Darkseidium Apokolips rifles and goes after Mantis, the leader of the Apokolipsian forces in Skartaris. Lonar worries about Morgan facing Mantis alone, but Morgan says he can handle it.

So we get a lot of snippets of fights among new gods: Lightray takes down Kanto in Bakwele. Orion puts a beat down on Kalibak in Kallistan. Forager disgraces Baron Vundabar in Kaambuka. Everywhere they go, they tell the people they come at the Warlord’s bidding, rehabilitating the image tarnished by Desaad’s shenanigans.

All the while, Morgan is maybe regretting taking on Mantis alone. His gun doesn’t work against him. All he can do is evade—which in the end, turns out to be enough. Mantis drains his power trying to hit him and is forced to return to his power pod.

Skartaris is freed. All the new gods boom tube back to their respective worlds. Lonar warns Morgan before he goes that Skartaris still has the ore Darkseid wants—and the lord of Apokolips doesn’t take defeat gracefully.

Things to Notice:
  • Lonar's predictions about a return of Darkseid prove false. He doesn't show up again in the series.
Bonus Pin-up:
From Gil Kane:

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Gnomes of Dzrrn

The gnomes are a member species of the Alliance. They hail from ancient subterranean habitats on Dzrrn, a large asteroid. They've colonized more asteroids in their own system and in others.

Appearance and Biology: Gnomes are small (1.-1.3 m) humanoids with loose, wrinkled skin and large ears. Most gnomes encountered will likely be male, but there is little sexual dimorphism. Gnome clans are seldom made up of more than 100 individuals, though they tend to have close ties with nearby clans. Only few individuals in a clan are capable of breeding at a time, though a female may breed with multiple males. Mating produces an organism the gnomes call a”mother”--essentially an external womb. The mother generates gnome embryos from the genetic material donated from its maternal gnome and all the males she mated with. The female coordinates the mother’s care, but all members of clan take part.

Gnomes have castes, as well. Most males (and a few females) are “workers” responsible for the care and maintenance of the habitat. The somewhat taller “managers” are disproportionately female, but still numerically mostly male. They have primary responsibility for the rearing of children, the protection of the clan, negotiation with outsiders, and strategic planning.

Psychology: Gnomes are gregarious and inquisitive, but deliberate in their thought process. They seldom act rashly. They observe less need for personal space than most humanoids, and in fact, are prone to depression if forced into situations where they can have little physical contact with others for extended perionds. Many gnomes suffer from a fear of open spaces, and may experience a panic reaction.

Stats: Gnomes have a Constitution of 9.