Thursday, May 30, 2013

Terror and Atavism

The Eden Seekers are a group of antignostic sapience-rejectionists among the avian humanoid hyehoon, who sometimes engage in terrorist activities. Contrary to the beliefs of the majority of their species, they view their fabled creator, the genetic engineer Anat Marao as a satanic figure. Their ultimate goal is the purging of the hominid influence in their genome to return their descendants to the “pure” avian genetics of their presumed ancestors.

There is a wide range of expression of Eden Seeker beliefs. Some merely choose to engage in atavistic rituals where their minds are downloaded into bird-like bioroid bodies. Others actually actually have temporary (or permanent) nanosurgically restructuring. Still others are fanatic terrorists seeking to acquire and use weapons of mass gene restructuring.

Though their primary focus is on overthrowing the social structure of the hyehoon homeworld Omu, Eden Seeker extremists sometimes hide in Expanse or smuggle weapons through its hyperspace nodes.

Attributes: Force 3, Cunning 6, Wealth 5
Hit Points: 29
Assets: Boltholes/Cunning 6, Demagogue/Cunning 5, Laboratory/Wealth 3, Zealots/Force 3
Tags: Fanatical

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: The Brood

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 Last Dragon"
Warlord #128 (April 1988)
Written by Michael Fleisher; Pencils by Jan Duursema, Inks by Tom Mandrake

Synopsis: She’s got him: the “blood-mad fiend” who killed her mate and left her the last of her kind.

She is the dragon and the fiend is Morgan’s new friend Dreadnar. If Morgan gets in the dragon’s way, she’s willing to kill him, too. Dreadnar and Morgan dive under the surface of the lake. Dreadnar slices the dragon’s belly and she flies off. He thinks he’s driven her off, but in reality she’s just postponed the fight.

In Siberia, Danny Maddox picks the lock to the cell holding Mariah. He recruits her to help him in an escape attempt from the gulag—thinking he can use her as a scapegoat if things go bad. The two manage to waylay a guard and get a rifle.

The dragon flies back to her brood, thinking on her conflict with the biped (Dreadnar) as she does. Her kind had protected the humans of the Vale, but they relied upon them too. Only the blood of this particular race could nourish the dragon new borns. It was to this use they put the maidens the shamans sacrificed to them. When feminine struck the humans and they withheld the sacrifices, thinking the dragons were responsible, threatening the dragon’s hatchlings with starvation. The dragons retaliated, but the war has nearly destroyed her kind as well.

The dragon can see Dreadnar and Morgan approach in her mind’s eye. She realizes “the white-haired one” is not consumed by hatred and his blood won’t feed her young, but if he persists in helping the madman, she will slay him too.  She ambushes the would-be ambushers:

Mariah and Maddox haven’t gotten far into the wilderness before the gulag guards catch up with them. They’ll never make it to the rail line Maddox was opening to get to. Luckily, Mariah has another way out.

Morgan and Dreadnar are pended down by the dragon’s breath. Dreadnar knows the dragon will have to stop to take a breath eventually; when she does, he attacks.  Dreadnar’s attack is a distraction so Morgan can use his gun, but he doesn’t get a chance.

Mariah and Maddox are out in the snow. She can’t find the cave entrance. Maddox thinks she’s going crazy because she keeps saying “the pteranodon died here,” and the guards are almost on them. Then Mariah finds the pternanodon’s carcass that points them to the cave entrance. They run in, escaping their pursuers:

Even though Morgan didn’t get a shot off, he distracted the dragon enough that Dreadnar was able to jump on her head. Dreadnar stabs her skull, and she tosses him off. He falls to the ground; she hears every bone in his body break and knows her mate is avenged.

Morgan looks at Dreadnar then at the dragon. Their eyes meet and some understanding passes between them.

But Dreadnar isn’t quit done yet. He hurls his weapon into the dragon’s skull. She topples over, dying—but crushing him in the process. “The monster is dead,” Morgan thinks, and it’s unclear which of the combatants he refers to. He rides away, while Dreadnar’s blood seeps down:

Things to Notice:
  • This is the only issue of Warlord narrated by a dragon.
  • The cover image doesn't really happen in the issue.
Where It Comes From:
This issue continues the story from the last issue, but recontextualizes things to give it more nuance. This isn't the first time in the Warlord saga that a monster has come off sympathetic, but it has been  while.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Resumption and A Witch

After a 4 month hiatus, we resumed our face to face WaRP Weird Adventures game last night. After spending several sessions trying to acquire the snowglobe that was the key to get into a dead sorcerer's palatial (and presumably treasure-laden) estate from a group of Hell Syndicate goons, our heroes had finally headed out on the train to Shamballa (the aforementioned estate), only to get off the train in a hick Southron town.

There, they were sucked in by the sob story of a gator-woman who told them that some gator-folk children had been stolen by a "pirate witch" that lived in a lake deep in the swamp. Three sessions later (after wrangling a gator-folk guide and tangling with deformed bandits in a steam-powered truck) they finally met "the pirate witch." That was only after a short trek through the swamp and the sauve spy in the party sweet-talking her doe-eyed and legless "grand-daughter," Elvinny.

The semi-aquatic witch is apparently trapped in the rotting wreck of her pirate ship by some sort of curse--and her bulk (not all of which is apparent above water). She wants the PCs to break her out. They're undestandably wary and try to stall for time to get more information. Most of the group head back to the town of Bullneck to "get supplies." Poor old Yianese gentleman, Professor Po, has to stay as the witches hostage.

And so, a side episode stretches to four sessions, but the players' seem to be enjoying it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fiend Folio...IN SPACE!

If your looking for some alien monsters for any old school science fiction game you could do a lot worse than starting with the original Fiend Folio, I think. I'm not even talking about things like reskinning undead as nanotech animates or victims of exotic plagues (though you can certainly do that); I think there are a lot of creatures in there that are just straight up science fiction.

The first creature listed are aarokocra, which are just straight up birdmen--like the Skorr of the Star Trek Animated Series and a bunch of other places. The algoid is a psionic algae colony; the CIFAL a colonial insectoid intelligence (it even has an acronym name). Osquips are pretty much ulsios from ERB's Barsoom stories. The grell already looks like a pulp sci-fi monster: I think there was one in Prometheus, wasn't there?

Yeah, there it is.

Anyway, demon, devils, and elemental princes are out without substantial overall, but some less interesting monsters for fantasy purposes might be made a bit more interesting in a science fiction context. Lava children   might be a silicon-based lifeform that (like the horta) needs to be contacted rather than killed. Yellow musk creepers and zombies (undead also-rans) would work great in a horror scenario on a deadly jungle world. Even the much maligned flumph is less silly when it's a weird alien (maybe).

Friday, May 24, 2013

Another Futuristic Cross Section

As the lady says: "Very impressive." You'll have to embiggen it to get the full effect, though. Even then, the writing is sort of small.

This is a cross section of the base of the Legion of Super-Heroes in DC Comics as it appeared Who's Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes (1988). It's quite a step up from their first headquarters:

Nothing says "serious superheroes" like an inverted rocket with the words "club house" on it.

Anyway, I don't think I have to point out the numerous game uses you could put a map like this to: super-villian lair, future moonbase, science fantasy dungeon. Go crazy.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Aurogov is a movement or polity based in the Zuran Expanse. It has been described as a quasi-religious voluntary tyranny (though its leaders consitently deny its religious character). Participants advance through levels ("The Protocol") wherein Aurogov teachings take greater and greater control of their lives. Adherents typically begin with a download of Aurogov’s open license self-help software, distributed by parties unknown in the noosphere of most civilized worlds.  The seed software slowly evolves into a nonsapient ai mind emulation of the (perhaps mythical) founder of the group ("The Prime"). Its progressive audits and critiques of the thought processes and behavior of the user lead to progressive behavior modification of susceptible individuals. "Advanced" members without public relations duties tend to dress in the same grey uniform like garments and use frequent aphorisms from Aurogov teachings in their speech.

Aurogov is thought to have its origins on Old Earth and is a multi-geneline--even mutli-species--organization, but its primary functionaries are a clade of gray-skinned, long-chinned humanoids who call themselves "Technicians" but are known to those outside the organization as Aurogovans. Defectors from the organization report the Technicians' habitat within the Expanse is also the home of the Ascended Masters of Aurogov: Individuals who have obtained superhuman powers by mastering all stages laid out in their central texts. There are always three Ascended Masters and they always hide their faces behind masks like giant eyes. They are either posthuman masterminds or a bit of theater to provide cover for the real leaders, depending on what defector you ask.

There are allegations or rumors that Aurogov and its Ascended Masters have a hidden agenda: they are actually engaged in a secret, psionic distributed computing project. Every new participant in the Protocol--every new mind they can access--brings them closer to their goal.

Attributes: Force 3, Cunning 6, Wealth 5
Hit Points: 29
Assets: Demagogue/Cunning 6, Organization Moles/Cunning 5, Marketers/Wealth 5, Security Personnel/Force 1
Tags: Theocratic

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: The Last Dragon

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 Last Dragon"
Warlord #127 (March 1988)
Written by Michael Fleisher; Pencils by Jan Duursema, Inks by Tom Mandrake

Synopsis: Believing Tara dead, Morgan has left Shamballah and returned to wandering. After an encounter with a smilodon, followed immediately by an attack by a pack of raptors, Morgan is saved by a masked bowman named Dreadnar. Morgan loses his horse to the raptors, but decides to travel with Dreadnar for a bit.

Meanwhile, Khnathaiti is hiding from Skartaris’s eternal sun in a cave beneath the volcano. Her powers have diminished since the death of the Scavenger, but she manages to suck the life force of a rat to stave off decay. She swears vengeance on the Warlord who reduced her to this.

After acquiring some now horses, Dreadnar leads Morgan to the Vale of the Dragon. Here his people lived for a thousand years, worshipping the dragons that dwelt there and sometimes appeasing them with sacrifices of “unblemished maidens.” One year, the shamans withheld the sacrifice due to a famine, and the dragons attacked. Dreadnar and his elder son returned to the village to find it destroyed.

The two went on a rampage of revenge against the beasts, killing all but one: a female, with eggs. She ambushed them, killing Dreadnar’s son in a blast of fire. Dreadnar escaped with his life, but:

Morgan and Dreadnar come upon some scroungers digging around the remains of Dreadnar’s old village looking for valuables. Dreadnar routs them and would have killed their leader, but Morgan convinces him the rat isn’t worth it. The scoundrels haven’t gotten far when they’re roasted by dragon fire. Morgan and Dreadnar run for it and dive into a nearby lake for protection.

When they come up for air, it seems the danger may have passed. When again:

In the Siberian gulag, an old enemy of Morgan’s, Danny Maddox, watches Mariah be dragged off to be punished after standing up to the sadistic guards. She’s stuck in an unheated cell with no food. Maddox gives her a little gift:

Things to Notice:
  • Shakira gets big hair in this issue.
  • While it isn't the first time, the dragon in this issue is a "fantasy dragon" rather than a dinosaur like in previous issues.
Where It Comes From:
This issue shares a title with a 1985 film, but there really isn't a relationship between the two.

Danny Maddox first appeared as a young bully in Travis Morgan's hometown back in issue #91. Fleisher brought him back and gave him many more run-ins with Morgan over the course of their lives as depicted in Secret Origins #16 (July 1987), which seems to set-up his appearance here.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Retrofuture Crosssections

So Haynes Publishing has just released Dan Dare: Spacefleet Operations as part of their Owner's Workshop Manual Series, which already includes a couple on ships from Star Trek and one on the Thunderbirds.

While I have only passing familiar with the venerable British science fiction comic book hero, the sample illustrations shown in this article (from which the base above is taken) lead me to believe this manual would be very useful for any pulp sci-fi game.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Reboot and Its Application

Like a lot of other people, I caught Star Trek: Into Darkness over the weekend. My capsule review: If you liked the first one as you watched it you will probably like this one as you watch it. If you liked the first one, you probably also experienced an increasing irritation with it the more you thought about it in the hours and days that followed. I suspect that will be you experience with this one.

Anyway, I don't want to talk about Into Darkness so much as the application of things like changes continuity in one way or another in rpg settings. Certainly, there are examples of retcons and reboots in published rpg settings; I'm more interested in what people do in their own homemade settings.

I suspect mild retcons are pretty common in long running campaigns. A little change in some aspect of setting when the GM gets a better idea never really hurt anybody--particularly if the PCs haven't even directly interacted with it yet. If they have, it gets a little trickier, but if G+ posts are any indication, settings are sort of continuous works in progress, even well after play starts.

I don't know about anybody else, but I've engaged in wholesale rebooting of one setting for much of my D&D career. The world of Arn (that I started this blog discussing) has elements that go back to junior high, though its gone through 3 map changes, place name changes (and sometimes back again), and conceptual shifts from vaguely backgrounded generic D&D world, detailed pastiche of Leiber, Howard, and Burroughs, synthesis of those S&S elements with whatever historical period I was interested in at the moment (from Ancient Rome to the 16th Century), and so on.

All of these permutations could be seen as just cannibalizing old ideas for economy of imagination, except that some of the same characters and background elements have been consistent pretty much the whole time--though their presentations have changed. The founders of one of the main cities in the world(s), have gone from actual PCs, to historical personages, to likely mythological characters.

Not only does this sort of thing save work, but I think it can allow for some of the depth of background that comes from a long-running campaign without actually having run a continuous campaign for all that time.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Suit Up

art by Simon Roy
EXOSKIN: a vacc suit of programmable matter. An exoskin forms around a wearer as they pass through a suit membrane aperture found before the airlock on a spacecraft. Once a wearer is clear of the membrane, the suit takes only a few seconds to finalize its configuration. Exoskins come in various forms from skintight to bulbous and oversized. They can be programmed to have slightly different properties, including opacity, color, texture, and thickness. They typically have the features and attachments common to other sorts of vacc suits, other than armor. Suit membranes have supplies of programmable matter based on the crew compliment of the ship. Small ones can create 5 suits. Larger ones may be able to create 20 or more with less than a minute in between. [Essentially the same as the Vacc skin in Stars Without Number in game terms.]

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Penitents

They often call themselves “Penitents,” though the rest of the Strange Stars know them as Deodands—if not some other slur. By whatever name, they are a people viewed as cursed and bringers bad luck. They’re marked by their peculiar coloration: white on one side and black on the other, with a sharp division in between. A few try to hide it, but most accept it as a sign of their crimes as a people.

Deodands are believed to have been a prosperous people at the time of the Great Collapse. They were kept safe through the years of crisis that followed by a godlike posthuman mind. At some point, the people that would be the deodands commited some great crime against their god. They were punished with their unusual appearance, but also with a peculiar form of immortality. Any time a deodand dies, a nanomod in their bodies sends a signal via quantum entanglement to some hidden body bank. A copy of the dead person’s mind is downloaded into a new body, which is delivered back to the deodands' home station via a casket-like, adamantine, life support pod falling from a small hyperspace node. Whatever a deodand may accomplish in life, death causes him or her to start over as a naked beggar on streets of their decaying habitat. They remember only that they have lived previously, but only the barest details of their past lives.

While a few may come to view this immortality in a positive light, most do not. A few have tried to find a way to cheat resurrection, but things only seem to prolong the time to resurrection rather than preventing it. Attempts to remove the nanomods only lead to the deodands death. Deodands are incapable of having biological children, and few try any other method.

Each deodand handles their curse differently. Some become extremely repentant and join ascetic or flagellate cults. Others revel in debauchery (the better to show their sinfulness and guilt) and become sybarites or criminals. Most live marginal lives of poverty and substance abuse in their native habitat or elsewhere. None of these groups contribute anything positive to the reputation of their people among other culture.

The few wealthy deodands would pay almost anything to someone willing to end their curse buy finding the source of their unwanted resurrection and shutting it down.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: The Queen is Dead!

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 Queen is Dead! Long Live The Queen!"
Warlord #126 (February 1988)
Written by Michael Fleisher; Pencils by Jan Duursema, Inks by Tom Mandrake

Synopsis: Machiste, Jennifer, and above all Morgan, grieve Tara’s death, while (in her lair) the evil Khnathaiti laughs. Tara really isn’t dead, merely soulless and in the sorcereress’s thrall. Soon, she will rise and be the plaything of the Scavenger of Souls.

The Scavenger sneaks into Tara’s pyramid tomb:

Meanwhile in Siberia, Mariah is being interrogated by the KGB. They know who she is and how she disappeared at Machu Picchu. They think she’s a CIA spy. Ultimately, she’s dragged off by guards to be “disposed of.”

In Kiro, Tara walks through a barracks full of sleeping guardsmen, stealing their souls as she goes. The soldiers rise and follow here. She enters the kings chamber and awakens Machiste, who at first thinks he’s dreaming. The Scavenger forbids her from taking the king’s soul: He wants it for his own. He grabs Machiste by the throat and begins sapping his soul away. Machiste doesn’t go down that easy:

Machiste tells them both to get the hell out before he gets really angry. They slink away with the souls they have, warning that their mistress’s day is coming.

Sometime later, Machiste bursts into Morgan’s chamber and tells him he’s seen Tara alive. Morgan doesn’t believe it, until Machiste mentions the Scavenger. Morgan, Machiste, and Jennifer go to the cave beneath the volcano. Jennifer leads them through the cave to find:

Our heroes attack Khnathaiti’s thralls. Morgan makes his way to Tara, but she struggles against him and he can’t get her away.Morgan fights with the Scavenger, but the villain gets the better of him. Hearing her mate’s name and seeing him close to death somehow frees Tara from evil’s control. Before the Scavenger can strike the killing blow against Morgan, she attacks. The Scavenger throws her aside and she falls from height. Morgan strikes off the Scavenger’s head with his sword.

With the Scavenger dead, Khnathaiti looses the power she infused in him, she flees. Our heroes are victorious, but at what cost?

Despite appearances, Tara (still) isn’t dead—but Jennifer keeps the truth from her father. Khnathaiti still has Tara’s soul, so she is in a state between life and death. Jennifer could restore her, but only to a state of “unlife” and torment. Jennifer entombs her body with protective spells, hoping that she can find a way, someday, to restore her fully.

Things to Notice:
  • The flashback to the events of First Issue Special #8 shows Morgan with the goattee he didn't have at the time he first met Tara.
  • The cover of this issue is very 80s.
Where It Comes From:
Mariah's Russian captors make reference to events of her first appearance way back in Warlord #6. Government agents thinking she's a spy mirrors Travis Morgan's ecperiences with his own government on two different occasions.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Labyrinths of Shadow

The planet Tenebrae in the Zuran Expanse lives up to its name. In the gloom beneath perpetually darkened skies, the all but lifeless wastes hold the ruins of two civilizations  These ruins draw treasure seekers and archaeologists, but they don’t easily give up their secrets.

Tenebrae was a terraformed world and once home to thousands of colonists. A few large surface craters suggest this civilization was destroyed by meteor impacts and the nuclear winter that followed. This is believed to have been a purposeful assault rather than chance encounters. Most life above the unicellular level was destroyed.

Sometime later, the enigmatic zurr arrived. As on every other world with a zurr presence, only what appear to be ritual sites have been found: Three labyrinthine structures the size of small cities are evenly spaced along the equator. They’re made of a rock-like material with the appearance of basalt not found elsewhere on the planet.

Artifacts are found within the labyrinths, seemingly at random: small, nonrepresentational sculptures, pieces of the elaborate ceramic masks the zurr seem to wear (seen in the holographic images with the appearance of mid-reliefs embedded in the walls), and oddly, personal items the previous human civilization the zurr or someone else must have excavated from older ruins.

These trinkets can bring a few credits in the right markets, but the most valuable of the Tenebraean artifacts are the obsidian pentachorons. These items (or perhaps their 3 dimensional shadows) are found ensconced in rare alcoves in the walls of the labyrinths, where they have the appearance of glassy, black pyramids. When held by a sapient being the pyramid takes on the appearance of a 4-dimensional solid rotating through 3-dimensional space. The rate of rotation of a pentachoron changes in the presence of a hyperspatial node. Psi sensitive individuals holding a pentachoron hear a multitude of whispering voices. The objects are resistant to damage, but they can be destroyed—though only utterly. No one has ever succeeded in fragmenting or shattering one.

The pentachorons and the other treasures are zealously guarded by short humanoids called “skulkers.” Little is known about them, except that they appear to inhabit subterranean warrens beneath the labyrinths, they shun bright lights, and they are utterly hostile to other species.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Gamers & Grognards suggested a blogfest in honor of Ray Harryhausen's passage. I didn't figure I could do much better than this post I wrote back in 2010:

"Swords & Stop-Motion"


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Aliens to Know and Fear

I keep thinking I'm going to stat these guys, but I haven't got around to it yet, so I figured it was time to share. I don't know the original artist or source, but this should prove a handy reference for "real world" close encounters. You can't tell the players without a scorecard.

1. Roswell, 1947. As described by Beverly Bean, who reportedly had the bodies described to her by her father who had guarded them: "He said they were smaller than a normal man--about four feet--and had much larger heads than us, with slanted eyes, and that the bodies looked yellowish, a bit Asian-looking."
2. Valensole, 1965. Maurice Masse a French "agriculturalist" saw a spaceship and these guys
3. Villa Santina, 1947. An Italian artist was able to sketch his close encounter.
4. Salzburg, 1957. A soldier in the U.S. Army supposedly described these guys to a Canadian newspaper.
5. California, 1952. Orthon of Venus gave a message to George Adamski about nuclear energy.
6. São Francisco de Sales, 1957. Antonio Vilas Boas was abducted by these smartly uniformed guys who took him to have sex with an alien babe.
7. Voronezh, 1989. Robotic alien shows up in Russia to hassle teenagers as witnesses look on.
8. Aveley, 1974. Weird aliens abduct a whole family.
9. Pascagoula, 1973. Carrot alien. Only in Mississippi.
10. Caracas, 1954. He had a sphere motif going on.
11. Greensburg, 1973. Bigfoot-UFO team-up.
12. Kelly, 1955. Better known as the Hopkinsville Goblin Case--which I have statted.
13. And the Chupacabra needs no introduction.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: Queen's Requiem

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...

"Queen's Requiem"
Warlord #125 (January 1988)
Written by Michael Fleisher; Pencils by Jan Duursema, Inks by Tom Mandrake

Synopsis: The Shamballan survivors of the volcanic eruption numbly work to bury their dead. A cloaked figure arrives to add to their misery: the newly made Scavenger of Souls. Morgan rides up and catches him crouching over one of the dying. Morgan recognizes him and they scuffle. His barest touch on Morgan’s bare arm paralyzes it, allowing him to escape. Morgan realizes if he hadn’t pulled himself free, the touch would have killed him.

In the palace, Jennifer shares what’s she’s learned about recent events with Tara. The volcano eruption and the eclipse aren’t separate events, but harbingers of a doom that threatens the world. Jennifer has discovered an evil lurking in a cave beneath the volcano. Tara says she’ll go check it out. Jennifer suggests maybe she should wait for Morgan, but Tara sets her straight:

Jennifer gives her the magic talisman given to Morgan by V'Zarr Hagar-Zinn (is issue #114).

In that cave, the Scavenger has returned to his mistress and is regurgitating the souls he collected for her nourishment. Khnathaiti tells him her origin story: how she ruled over Mu, sucking souls, until all their greatest wizards teamed up and imprisoned her in the sarcophagus. The Scavenger isn’t paying a lot of attention as he’s watching Tara approach in the scrying pool, and drooling over her. Khnathaiti tells him he can have Tara’s body—as long as she gets Tara’s soul.

Elsewhere in Skartaris, Mariah, wandering in the wilderness, enters a cave to rest and winds up walking through to Siberia. She sees Soviet soldiers setting up a satellite dish. When a pteranodon flies past her through the cave and attacks. Mariah jumps out to help them. She repaid for her heroism by getting taken captive to be taken to the KGB.

Morgan, still feeling drained by the Scavenger’s attack collapses into bed. Shakira in cat form comes out of hiding to curl up beside him. While he sleeps, Tara enters the cave.

She encounters the last remaining lackey of Khnathaiti. A ring she’s wearing seems to drive him away, but then, the Scavenger appears. She strikes at him with her blade, but he is unaffected by mortal weapons:

Meanwhile, the dead rise in the Shamballan streets. They began shambling toward the volcano—and the cave.

Morgan wakes up. He feels a presence in the bedchamber--and he’s barely able to dodge the cloaked figure’s sword slash! Morgan pulls his own sword, but his only holding his own against his attacker. In a last ditch effort to avoid a descending blade, he flips the figure off a balcony—and see’s it’s Tara!

Things to Notice:
  • Duursema has eveybody suddenly with exuberant Bon Jovi-esque hair.
  • You would think Jennifer (as supreme Skartarian sorceress) might get more involved in fighting a magical menace.
Where It Comes From:
As she tells the Soviet soldiers in this issue, Mariah Romanova is indeed a citizen of the U.S.S.R. (and former national fencing champion!). It isn't something that has come up a lot since the seventies Grell issues. Morgan too emerged from Skartaris into Soviet territory (back in issue #52), though he didn't use a cave.

At this point in the history of the title, DC Comics editorial policy is that Skartaris is in a separate dimension accessible via the Poles, rather than an inner earth.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Mountain Lair Map

Remember back in the early days of the "War on Terror" when bin Laden was suppose to have a cool super-villain (or orc chieftain, what have you) lair beneath a mountain in a cave complex called Tora Bora ("Black Cave" in Pashto, which only adds to the mystique)? Turns out that wasn't true, but in the those days of fevered speculation, the Times of London produced this cool cross-section:

Obviously, you could put some sort of terrorist mastermind there, but it could also double as the sanctum of Cthulhu cultists or goblins, or whatever. Reality's loss is your game's gain!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Traveling the Strange Stars

Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Archaic Oikumene is the hyperspace travel network. Though the means of the network's engineering—even much of the basic science science behind it—has been lost, current civilization is still able to make use of it to travel the stars faster than light. The rediscovery of a lost node is a major find, potentially introducing uncharted systems to interstellar civilization.

In the present era, the topology of the network appears to be much simpler than in ancient times. In most cases, nodes only connect to one or two neighboring nodes. The technology behind the nodes is at least partially psionic in nature. Specially trained psi-sensitives (or specially gengineered sniffer animals) can detect inactive nodes. Re-activating one requires brute-force hacking and psionically transmitted passcodes. Experts in hyperspace net architecture believe there is a quantum encrypted strata that at one time connected individual worlds—maybe even individual citizens. This higher end network is inaccessible in the current era.

Active nodes have exit and entrance gates fitted to them and terminal stations, located a safe distance away. Most of these structures date back centuries; a few even to the Oikumene. In civilized areas (particularly those once under the control of the Radiant Polity) tolls are often charged for network access and every ship passing through must have an identification transponder. So-called “black gates” exist, hidden in out-of-the- way systems that provide access without going through the public nodes. Military controlled gates sometimes exist, built near and accessing public nodes, but are given priority.

The conduits through the hyperspace are like latticework tubes of exotic matter. The distance between two points in normal space has very little to do with transit time through hyperspace. Instead, congestion and poorly understood conduit properties ("bandwidth") play a greater role. Terminal traffic control authorities try to manage congestion, but nodes deliver faster travel times to other destinations regardless—and this can vary over time.

While starmaps tend to represent the network as composed of simple lines between nodes, the internal workings of the network are considerably more complex. Most cultures rely on advanced computers to perform the rapid and complicated computations necessary for navigating hyperspace, though, some cultures have engineered biologic minds with intuitive abilities in these areas.

The poorly understood relationship between psi and hyperspace has led to more than a few fringe and paranoid memes, as well as legitimate scientific inquiry. So far, no theory is satisfactory. Psi-sensitive individuals tend to find hyperspace travel a bit uncomfortable. Many report the strange sensation of being watched.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Iron Men

I saw Iron Man 3 last night. It was enjoyable; along the level of Iron Man 2, I would say--so judge that how you will. It certainly took an interesting approach in that there was a lot of "iron" and a lot of "man," but seldom did the two come together in the usual way.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Anthology Crawl

News of Andrew J. Offutt's passing on April 30 got me to thinking about the Sword & Sorcery anthology he edited (Swords Against Darkness) and fantasy anthologies in general. It seems to me you could use such an anthology (or anthology series) for inspiration and nonrandom "random placement" of encounters/things of interests in a hexcrawl or dungeoncrawl.

Simply pick an anthology. Read every story in it (even the duds--but skimming is ok) and pick some interesting element out of each, be it a monster, encounter, location, or item. Place these on your map in order, or arrange them to taste. You could even get more "madlibs" about it and predetermine what you were going to take from each story (an item, a place, an encounter), before you read (or re-read) the story, forcing you to stretch your creative a bit more to fit it in.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: Scavenger of Souls

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...

"Scavenger of Souls"
Warlord #124 (December 1987)
Written by Michael Fleisher; Pencils by Jan Duursema, Inks by Tom Mandrake

Synopsis: Morgan goes running across the devastated and burning city of Shamballah to the palace and his mate, Tara. He finds her in the ruins, trying to rescue a girl stuck under a timber. Together Morgan and Tara free her but then find themselves surrounded by flames. Kara aka Power Girl swoops in to rescue them.

Meanwhile, Jennifer thinks something more than a natural disaster is going on. In her sanctum, she summons “benevolent elementals” to query them:

While our heroes fight the fires and advancing lava in Shamballah, the three inhuman sorcerers swarm around a golden, skull-adorned casket—the thing that was inside the crystal egg. Their Mistress has survived the crossing. “Let evil rejoice.”

To revitalize herself, she sucks up the energy of one of her lackeys. Then she tells them to go out and find more fools to serve her.

After hours of dealing with the disaster, Morgan and Tara return to their bed chamber. They’re still filled with a sense of foreboding—and they should be, because at that moment, two-bit Aquaman foe, the Scavenger is shooting his way past their guards and into the palace. He uses his scorpion ship to bust into the palace vault.

Morgan’s awakened from sleep. His keen plot senses detect that something’s afoot. He and Tara surprise the Scavenger mid-theft. Scavenger knocks out Tara and grazes Morgan’s shoulder with a shot. He thinks he’s free and clear to escape in his craft. He’s mistaken:

The ship crashes. Morgan beats the hell out of the Scavenger and would kill him, but Tara intervenes. Scavenger may have lost the battle, but he’s just the kind of scum the sorcereress Khnathaiti needs. She transports him to her lair and offers him a job.

The Scavenger isn’t impressed by her magic tricks or her offer. He’s a bit more impressed when she syphons the energy from another of her servants, and transforms herself from an old crone to a beautiful younger woman. Has she moves closer to him, the Scavenger asks if she’s going to “waste him.” The sorcereress replies: “No part of you is going to be wasted, Scavenger. It shall all be…used.”

While the sorceress does her evil work, Jennifer and Kara are making their good-byes. The elementals told Jennifer that Kara was needed back on earth. Reluctantly, Kara leaves to return to the DCU proper.

Meanwhile, Khnathaiti’s work is done:

Things to Notice:
  • Morgan thinks (for some reason) that Skartaris doesn't need superheroes.
  •  Khnathaiti is even worse on henchmen than the usual evil mastermind.
Where It Comes From:
The Scavenger (Peter Mortimer) first appeared in Aquaman #37 (February 1968). He was always looking for an ancient alien device called the "Time Deccelerator." Apparently, he eventually found it and that's what ultimately landed him in Skartaris, where he shows up in issue #118. He went from a couple of other changes and retcons beyond the one here before getting killed in Hawkman #15 (1994).

Kara does indeed return to Earth, and next appears a few months later in Infinity, Inc. #50.