Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Underworld

Few of the Olympians are as feared by humans as the gloomy and sardonic Hades, the Unseen One. They believe him to be the King of the Underworld, but their primitive worldview misunderstands his true roll: Hades is both archivist and warden for his people.

After the Olympian coup against the titans, they found it necessary to imprison some their defeated foes. They placed the titans outside the Cosmos, in the mindspace or thought-body of the primordial Tartarus; One of their progenitors was to be the titans' new prison. The Olympians built an underground fortress to protect the Tartarean Projector (the only means of entering the prison--or letting anything escape) against attack by any of the titans' allies.

The new rulers of the Cosmos also decided to create a library to commemorate their conquest and the world they ruled. It was placed in the same fortress to be kept safe for future generations. The artifice of Olympians and the titans before them had recorded the history of the Cosmos; they had even recorded the experiences and personalities of selected humans and peserved them. These artificial "spirits" were given realms (created in the archive's network) to inhabit: paradises for the favorites of the Olympians and eternal punishments for those that displeased them. These archived records can be accessed in holographic projection at any time; the archive (the Underworld, to the superstitious Greeks who have glimpsed it) is a place full of ghosts.

The saturnine Hades is content among the collection is his charge. He has a companion, Persephone, a pale and beautiful young woman, friendlier than her lord, but with the same dark interests. Hades is mostly annoyed by humans that blunder into his domain, but Persephone's influence tends to lead him to only frighten them, rather than kill them outright. That mercy doesn't extend to those who are disrespectful or interfere with his servitors.

Hades carriers a bident that appears to be made of a black metal, but is actually a sophisticated technological device made of a polymer. He can shoot a beam from it to destructively scan and record all the information about a target. The bident can download this information at a later time. He also wears a black metallic skullcap on occasion, through which me can neurally access the databanks of the archive.

HADES'S BIDENT: 4ft. long (but capable of collapsing to 2 ft.). Once an hour, as per the Mutant Future power disentigration (up to 300 lbs.), except a total digital record of the target is created.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Please Stand By

Work has been killing me, so the blog has had to take a back seat. More Strange Stars, science fantasy Greek mythology, and other stuff to come.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: Growing Pains

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...

"Growing Pains"
Warlord #131 (September 1988) Bonus Book 6
Written by Steve Wilson; Pencils Rob Liefeld; Inks Jeff Albrecht

Synopsis: Jennifer sees an urchin on the streets of Shamballah steal a coin from the body of a dead man and decides to take him under her wing. She brings him back to the palace.

Masaq, palace soldier, believes she's wrong for trusting him. This makes Jennifer recall a stray kitten she took in as a girl. Her mother didn't want her to keep the cat, either. Jennifer tried to find the cat's owner, and she tries to find the boy's family, but only manages to tunr up and angry merchant that says the boy has been stealing from him. Jennifer defends the boy.

The cat tore up the furniture; the boy, Valdesar, steals a knife and disappears. Using her magic, Jennifer sees the past of the coin and sees that Valdesar had actually killed the man. Guessing what he might do next, she hurries to the merchant's dwelling.

The merchant's dead. Valdesar claims it was self-defense, but Jennifer doesn't believe him. The boy runs away just like the cat did. The cat run out in front of a car and the boy runs out in front of a team of horses. Both were killed.

Jennifer was sad as a girl and is sad now. Her father is gone, her mother is gone, and Tara is gone--and she's all alone.

Things to Notice:
  • Valdesar looks an awful lot like Tinder, but nobody ever comments on that.
  • This story makes the error of allowing DC's sliding timeline to seep into Warlord (which has previously been without it). Jennifer and a friend are shown watching a Mel Gibson film as preteen/early teen girls. According, to the established Warlord timeline, Jennifer was in her late teens/early twenties by the time Gibson was in feature films.
Where It Comes From:
DC's Bonus Books were a series of 16-page stories inserted in various comics that showcased new talent. A list of the various bonus books and their feature characters can be found here.

Monday, June 24, 2013


The Kosmoniks or Cosmoi are a clade of traders (and sometimes pirates) believed to be descended from space-adapted humans, now acclimated to hyperspace. Though they are most commonly found in their rune inscribed ships in or around the nodes or operating terminal stations near stars above the galactic plane (in the vicinity of Deshret, for instance), but they roam far into the Zuran Expanse.

Appearance and Biology: Kosmoniks are short (1.4 m tall on average), lean, and have arms almost as along as their legs. They have dexterous, four digited hands and their feet are prehensile. Their gray skin is a flexible membrane, engineered to afford some protection against hard vacuum. Their most unusual trait are their faces: they are flat and hidden behind smooth, glossy masks, featureless except for their dark, membrane-protected eyes. This mask is thought to nanotechological device, but no non-kosmonik has ever had a chance to examine one.

All kosmoniks are mute. They communicate with each other via sign language, but carry translator devices to interact with other cultures.

Psychology: Kosmoniks are friendly, but superstitious. They are given to finding hidden meanings and interpreting signs and portends from events. All kosmonik groups have a set of taboos, but each kosmonik is likely to idiosyncratic ones, as well.

Stats/Abilites: Kosmoniks have ability scores in the same range as humans. They are able to withstand exposure to vacuum for two rounds before they must begin to make saving throws (and get a +1 to those saving throws). They also get a +1 to saving throws against radiation.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

In the Land of Arn

Continuing my reposting of Google+ of setting tidbits, here are some more pictures and more glimpses into a fantasy world:

At the Conclave of Sorcerers the haughty Mabdosir Turms made overtures to Vathluna Drox regarding the exchange of thaumaturgical research--and things more carnal.  Turms was only saved from more than a sharp rebuke by the gong announcing the start of the invocation ritual.

Hierodules perform in sexual rites within the temple of Meln itself, the oldest in the city, venerating the now nameless and distant gods of the city’s foundation. Hierodules come from all social classes and serve anonymously beneath masks that also seem to disguise their voices, lending them an otherworldy quality.  No one has ever noted a hierodule to age. It is presumed they do, as new initiates are selected from time to time, but no one knows what becomes of those that retire.  The inner sanctum of the temple holds a lingam with glyphs (worn and faded) that sages believe was a boundary marker of some pre-human civilization.

The Throne Room of Gaagmragog, sub-man bandit chieftain. His motley band of outlaw humans, sub-men, and degenerate species less identifiable, holes up in a series of caves inside a rock "island" deep in the Great Swamp

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Down These Mean Streets

Shadowrun has never had a good source book on New York City. Mike "Wrathofthezomibe" Evans (that mad man of gaming and Hellboy tattoos) has rectified that problem and added Vornheim inspired urban adventuring tools to boot.   What's more this Shadowrun Complete City Kit and New York City Guide can be yours for the low, low price of free.

Download it here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

In the Dharwood

Last summer, I did some picture-based riffing on a setting on Google+. Since only part of that ever appeared on the blog (and without pictures), I thought it might be of interest to my readership here. I did more than these three. If there is interest, I might re-post more. I might even if there's not.

Golden Men of Haoun Dhar: The only inhabitants of the ruins which give the Dharwood its name. The men are seen on occasion amid the tall columns (engraved with demonic faces) performing odd, communal rituals or standing like statues on the central ziggurat for hours on end.  At night they are sometimes glimpsed on the ziggurat’s pinnacle, seeming to make observations of the heavens with unusual instruments. Few dare approach the ruins for fear of the strange men, despite the legends of a fabulous treasure within the ziggurat.

Kro One-Eye : Alcoholic (and possibly consumptive) swordmaster. He lost his left eye either to an insurgent in the Dharwood or to an angry whore, depending on how deep into the cups he his when he gets 'round to the tale. He's a fixture in dives along Wine and Tavern Streets, regaling fellow patrons with daring (and dubious) tales of his youthful adventures, and the occasional demonstration of his skills. For a cup of watered wine he'll give a few pointers on swordmanship. For a bottle of good Kael whiskey, he'll take on a student. For a small cask of vintage Trosian Red, he'll fight at your side--as long as it doesn't take him far from the River District for long.

Mystery cult snake priestess: One of many such agitators in the peasant uprising in the Dharwood.  Nobles have been burned alive in giant wicker statues in heretical rites. Lawlessness and banditry are common throughout the region and travelers should take care.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


By way of example of the sort of thing I was thinking of with the Greek mythology science fantasy setting riff I blogged about, here are some ideas for cyclopes. As any one familiar with Deities & Demigods (or Greek mythology) knows, cyclopes come in two varieities: lesser and greater. Use your system of choice's stats for them.

Art by Chris Lazzer
Lesser cyclopes are biomechanical creations of the Olympians. Perhaps they were weapons in the war with the titans, but now they are used as sentinels or are found roaming free in desolate places. Most are still playthings of one Olympian or another, so tampering with them may well invite a god's wrath.

Lesser cyclopes are giants (20 ft. tall) and have rather simple operating parameters--meaning they tend to regard humans as things to be exterminated. Their solitary sensor (or "eye") is overwhelmingly their primary means of gathering data on their surroundings so that (combined with their limited intelligence) makes them easy to "blind." Some lesser cyclopes may be able to unleash an electrical blast from their single eye.

Greater cyclopes resemble lesser ones in appearing to have one eye, but are actually very different creatures. These are intelligent servitors, created to aid Hephaestus in his efforts. These gleaming skinned giants (about 10 ft. tall) have a constantly moving eye of piercing light in their otherwise featureless faces. Their scanning sensor collects information in array of different modalities. They can fire highly destructive beams if they have the need. They are dispassionate, utterly logical beings, not given to wanton violence, but also utterly without mercy.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: Vengeful Legacies

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...

"Vengeful Legacies"
Warlord #131 (September 1988)
Written by Michael Fleisher; Art by Jan Duursema

Synopsis: Maddox and Morgan are having a drink in Xur-Chemosh, reminiscing about old times. That is until Maddox reveals he was the one flying the MiG that Morgan shot down just before ending up in Skartaris. Morgan is drugged by the wine and when he wakes up he’s in a dungeon. Maddox plans to make him pay for those years he spent in the gulag.

Meanwhile, Aoife wakes up on the beach. She’s captured by soldiers and brought to the palace before Maddox and Mariah. Maddox is interested in her jeweled headband and wants to take it. Aoife realizes Maddox is evil and tries to attack him. He has her taken away. He backhands Mariah when she tries to intervene, then apologizes in typical abuser fashion.

Mariah asks about Morgan. Maddox tells her that he must have wandered off. In reality:

And that’s just the first torture he’s got planned!

Leaving that ugly scene gives us a chance to check in on the rest of Warlord’s cast. Jennifer’s spying on Khnathaiti’s spell casting. The evil sorcereress is calling on some ancient beings of darkness and it’s got Jennifer worried. Shakira is making out with two handsome shepherds when a bolt of energy strikes her and she disappears.

In Xur-Chemosh, a suspicious Mariah is armed and back in her old outfit, sneaking around:

Maddox is convinced Aoife’s headband activates the one mysterious machine in the ship he found. When he leaves to try it, Mariah sneaks in the free Morgan. Unfortunately, Maddox catches her in the act. He chains her up too, so she can watch Morgan die.

Before that though, Maddox tries out the headband and the weird device. Whatever he was expecting, it wasn’t the summoning of an angry eidolon of a long-dead Atlantean sorcerer—but that’s what he gets! It seems Garn Daanuth’s acolytes escaped the destruction of Atlantis in the ship to start anew in Skartaris. And the device?

Aoife begins to get images in her head. She sees a baby, found with the diadem in the crashed ship. The priests of Xur-Chemosh handed her over to an executioner, but the man couldn’t bring himself to kill a baby outright and set her adrift. She was found and raised by the people of Cuchulainn. The headband was passed down through the generations until it came to rest on Aoife’s brow. Aoife is a distant descendant of the acolytes of Garn.

Aoife manages to tap the devices power to allow her to free herself and Morgan. Just in time too, because the angry eidolon of Garn is beginning to shake Xur-Chemosh apart. They rush to the rescue, but Maddox won’t give up the headband without a fight. Morgan prevails, of course, and Aoife reclaims the diadem just in time to stop a massive wave from destroying everything. Being pure evil, Garn isn’t super-happy about this turn of events, but Aoife is of the proper bloodline, so he lets it pass.

Morgan and Aoife bid their good-byes. Mariah (amazingly) is going to stay with Maddox because he “in spite of everything” she knows he loves her. What’s a little attempt to boil her friend in oil and make her watch, right?  Morgan, prudently, has confiscated all Maddox’s guns.

Things to Notice:
  • This is the final chapter of "Maddox's Revenge."
  • This issue has a "Bonus Book" story that features the second professional publication of Rob Liefield.
Where It Comes From:
Garn Daanuth is a from Arion, Lord of Atlantis. He's Arion's twin brother and as such some sort of great-uncle to Power Girl.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Gods, Heroes & Super-Science

Reading Lob's and Pichard's comic book adaptation of Homer's Odyssey from the pages of Heavy Metal has got me thinking what a great setting science fantasy Greek myth might be. Not recasting the myths into a science fiction context or something like that, but bringing a little Jack Kirby twist to the proceedings. Maybe a fantasy world that's post-apocalyptic, but where the apocalypse was the Titanomachy.

The heroes (the PCs) would be hapless Bronze Age Achaeans who are playthings for high tech cultures (aliens or extradimensional beings) who are there gods. Guys that look sort of like this:

Art by Pichard

Beings descended (or created) by extradimensional monsters like this:
by Jack Kirby
It would be a world informed by Chariots of the Gods reinterpretation as well as the usual interpretatio graeca. Maybe Nereids are scaled (as Pliny tells) icthyohumanoids from another world. The cyclopes may well be robots.

In addition to Ulysses above, the Orphans of Chaos series (where universe creating Saturn is a rebel against his hyperdimensional species that stands outside of time--and wants to destroy it) by John C. Wright would be a could inspiration. Any of Jack Kirby's mythology related works are also essential, particularly The Eternals.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Alliance

The Alliance is unique in the Strange Stars in representing interspecies cooperation on an interstellar scale. It was formed by seven peoples displaced by the Great Collapse. Initially distrustful of each other, they came to fear the lawlessness of the Zuran Expanse and religious strife in the center of the Radiant Polity more than sacrificing a bit of their own sovereignty.

Previously, we've touched on the smaragdines, the blesh and the gnomes.  Here's an overview of the other Alliance members:

The hyehoon are humanoids spliced from avian and hominid DNA. They have lighter frames than humans, but are strong for their weight. Hyehoon are a dynamic and inquisitive culture, producing explorers, scientists, diplomats and traders. They face internal strife from conflict with the minority religious faction known as the Eden Seekers.

The neshekk banking and investment clans are the financial backbone of the Alliance. Neshekk are greatly concerned (possibly obsessed) with security and privacy. They never go into public without their elaborate privacy screeens/firewalls called nizara in place. Off-worlders are restricted to certain areas of Kuznuh, the neshekk homeworld, and it is a misdemeanor to view any public space unfiltered by the metascape.

The Alliance's greatest warriors are the thrax. A clone race, created for war, they still structure their society along martial lines. They are known for their elaborate battle armor and their enthusiasm for hand to hand weapons.

The winged deva are the most mysterious of the Alliance's members. They can survive in hard vacuum unprotected and through space under their own power (at least for short distances). In their home system of Altair, they're repairing damaged moon-sized brains.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Man of Steel

I have a couple of friends whose primary request for a new Superman movie is that "Superman punch stuff" (action of that sort being in short supply in Singer's Superman Returns and Donner's Superman, too). I can unequivocally say the Man of Steel delivers in that department, that's not the only thing to like here. This new origin story for Superman follows on the heels of Nolan's Dark Knight films are delivers a pretty well-crafted film that just happens to be about a superhero rather than  working primarily on spectacle to disguise a lacking script--not that there isn't a lot of spectacle.

The film starts on Krypton. It's take has little references to several recent versions: Byrne's Man of Steel, Silver Age stories, and stuff more recent. There's also a bit of Russian cosmism and post-Alien techno-organic look. The headgear of the ruling council of Krypton reminds me a lot of Aelita.

When we get to Earth. Baby Kal-El is grown into an adult Clark Kent, set apart from the rest of humanity and drifting like Hugo Danner in Wylie's Gladiator. His growing up in Smallville is delivered in flashbacks interspersed throughout. Some reviewers have felt this made the film feel disjointed but I wasn't bothered by it. Lois Lane and Phantom Zone criminals appear in short order, making this film feel like it has a shorter ramp up than a lot of other origin stories to me.

There are some changes to the Superman mythos (as if there was one unified version) that may bother some people. Jonathan Kent's portrayal, for instance, seems to be the many thing people have a problem with--though I don't think that's the biggest change.

The film is very serious; it's definitely in a different vein than the Marvel films. It works, but it could have had a few more bits of levity without much changing the weightiness they seemed to be going for. The film's palette is muted: from Krypton to Kansas there isn't anything colorful here. Several reviewers have said the action sequences sometimes go on a bit too long, and I can see that (though I really wasn't bothered by it), but what really got to me was how many bystanders were probably killed off-screen in all the destruction. This breezy attitude toward mass destruction is a trend in summer (uh, spring) blockbusters in general, so it's not flaw of Man of Steel alone, but I still feel like it's a flaw.

So anyway, that's my take. Check it out.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Torturers

Art by Brom
There are a lot of bad things that can happen to travelers in the Zuran Expanse, not the least of them is falling into the hands of the people of Algos. They're often called "algophilists," and though the ancient term was originally synonymous with masochist, the Algosians are not as particular about whose pain they enjoy.

Algosians are disciplined in their pleasure-seeking. There is an almost monastic structure to their society and a purity (if such a word applies) of purpose. They worship the historic torture cult of the Faceless Ones like gods. It's thought that they may in fact be the bioroid creations of those ancient sadists, designed to satisfy their creators' need for playthings who were durable, resilient--and even appreciative. The Algosians learned much from their masters and now apply that knowledge to those that fall into their hands.

Not usually given to direct attacks on vessels, the Algosians rely on kidnappings to get most of their victims. They operate clubs or brothels in some spaceports, though their involvment is usually secret. Some physicians and medical researchers seek them out in an attempt to gain access to their extensive observations  on the physiology of various in regard to pain tolerance or pleasure responses.

 The Algosians appear as pallid, thin humanoids. They are physiologically similar to baseline humans in most respects but have higher than average constitutions (minimum 12) and resistances to pain. Their natural recovery of hit points is at twice the normal rate, though medical care or biopsionics effect them the same as they would anyone else.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: Past Lives

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 Vision Quest"
Warlord #130 (July 1988)
Written by Michael Fleisher; Art by Jan Duursema

Synopsis: Morgan is bathing in a pool when he thinks he hears a voice calling his name from behind a waterfall. A vision of Tara emerges from the falls; she seems to be trying to tell him something. Then, the vision’s gone. Aoife tries to comfort him. Morgan’s still too caught up in grief to see the woman right in front of him.

Meanwhile on Xur-Chemosh, Maddox has practically become a god, using the alien spacecraft (apparently designed to be an all-purpose colonization tool) to plant crops and even build a city. There’s just one machine in the craft he can’t figure out; the helmet won’t tell him about it. The craft does, however seem to take control of his arm to make him fire a weapon when the ship is attacked by a plant creature.

The evil sorceress Khnathaiti has retrieved the amulet Jennifer gave Tara from the volcano and is trying to control its magic herself. Her use of it forces Jennifer to constantly guard against her opening a conduit between the two of them.

Morgan and Aoife are almost at the Tourmaline Sea. Aoife has another vision:

She is convinced her destiny awaits her on the island.

They’ve reached the coast but how do they get to the island? Aoife’s got that covered.

Over the open ocean, they run into a storm. The lightning does something weird to Aoife. She faints and the carpet plummets from the sky. Morgan loses Aoife in the waves.

In Xur-Chemosh, Maddox and Mariah are getting close. A sneak attack by a group of priests spoils their good time. Danny handles it with brutal efficiency:

Morgan washes up on a beach. He makes his way to a city where he chances to encounter his old friend Mariah in a lizard drawn carriage.  Unfortunately, she’s also with his old nemesis, Danny Maddox:

Things to Notice:
  • This is the second chapter of Maddox's Revenge.
  • Shakira (in her brief freelance exterminator appearrance) is a lot beefier than usually drawn.
Where It Comes From:
This issue references explicitly Morgan's previous relationship with Maddox as mentioned before.

Magic carpets are a fairly common fantasy trope, but this is the first one in Warlord.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Weird Town: Investigative Sandbox

Watching the 2012 Dark Shadows move this weekend got me thinking about the original show and just how many unusual things happened in that sleepy little Maine town. (True, some of them required time travel and even visits to parallel timelines, but still the same town.) It occurs to me that it would interesting to do a campaign set in a town with weird secrets like Collinsport, Twin Peaks, Crystal Cove from Scooby-Doo, Mystery Inc., or the titular Happy Town (in a show that died too young). A sufficiently large single edifice would do, too--like maybe Gormenghast.

The difference between these settings and larger settings is that investigation not exploration is the order of the day. They differ from traditional investigative settings in that the locale itself is mysterious, unlike New York City in any police procedural or Arkham in Lovecraftiana. This kind of campaign may be better suited to a game that has more of an investigative focus like GUMSHOE or even good ol' Call of Cthulhu. The PCs are probably new in town to heighten the mystery, but some may well have past connections to it: A connection that should give them a reason to investigate.

If you want to do more action-adventure stuff, you probably need something like more of a mysterious island like in Lost or--well--Mysterious Island. There, exploration and investigation can go hand in hand. Just make sure to play up the uncovering as much as the discovering.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


The Wanderers are named for their habit of roaming the Zuran Expanse. While this might not be a remarkable activity for more common sophont types, the Wanderers are figures of mystery and wonder because they are posthuman minds the size of asteroids or small moons.

No one knows much about them. It's speculated that their former homeworld is some devastated planet or habitat within the Expanse. The popular belief is that, as they watched their civilization dying in the Great Collapse, they uploaded their minds and rejected humanity.

Whatever their origins, the Wanderers are currently hypersophonts whose minds reside in vast honeycombs of computronium, covered by a protective crust of rock or diamondoid. They vary in size from 15 to 20 km in diameter. Its unclear how many exist, but there are thought to be no more than a hundred. They are occasionally encountered in a group of as many in five, but such meetings are rarely observed as they tend to take place in the outer edges of solar systems.

The Wanderers don't seem to leave the Expanse; whether this is due to their leisurely sub-light speeds or some attachment to the area is uncertain. They rarely engage in communication with other sophonts, but sometimes they send a remote (varied forms, but mostly humanoids) to trade with other beings. The things they seek are sometimes necessary supplies but other times artifacts of no apparent value.

Occasionally, thieves get the idea that Wanderers have valuables in their interior--or at the very least, they can be relieved of their computronium. If this has ever actually been tried, it doesn't seem that it has ever been successful. The Wanderers zealously guard their privacy.

[Check out the Strange Stars Index page link in the sidebar for more on the setting.]

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Strange Stars

With nearly 40 posts in the Strange Stars setting, the sagacious Robert over at Rogues & Reavers suggested it might be time for an overview post to make it easier for people to see how these far-ranging elements sort of fit together. I’m not sure the best way of doing that (one might want to start with the inspirations here), but I’ll sort of summarize what’s been presented so far:

The Strange Stars is the sphere of the human phyle in the far future, a time millennia after the first human expansion and the rise (and fall) of builders of the hyperspace nodes, the Archaic Oikumene. In the current era, the Strange Stars are fragmented into smaller cultures and civilizations.

The former cradle of the Archaic Oikumene is a depopulated area without a central authority known as the Zuran Expanse. The Expanse is home to dangers like the inhuman ssraad (in three colors), and ruined worlds that entice treasure-seekers like Tenebrae and the Library of Atoz-Theln. It’s also home to unusual cultures like the invertebrate zhmun of Aygo and the self-improvement cult of Aurogov.

Art by Peter Elson
Spinward from the Expanse is the Alliance, a union of species allied for protection and trade. Members of the Alliance include the green-skinned psionicists of Smaragdoz, the privacy obsessed neshekk of Kuznuh, the avian-humanoid splice hyehoon of Omu, the human-alien blended cyborg Blesh, the gnomes of Dzrrn, and the angel-like deva of Altair.

Bordering the Alliance is the expansionistic and theocratic Instrumentality of Aom.

On the other side of the Expanse is the Vokun Empire. Besides the decadent vokun, the empire contains several client species. The cybernetic crustacean-like Engineers build much of Vokun technology. The yellow-skinned ibglibdishpan are their biologic computers. The kuath are bioarmored child-soldiers.

There are a number of other interesting cultures and worlds: the oneirochemist Phantasists, the ancient mind excavators of Deshret, and the warrior-poet moravecs of Eridanus, among others. The major galactic powers are at least openingly cordial (whatever may go on behind the scenes) and trade takes place between the two “civilized” portions of the galaxy that must pass through hyperspace nodes in the “wilder” areas (not just the Expanse, but the Rim and Coreward Reach, as well). New cultures, lost since the Great Collapse are discovered from time to time, and their are number of ruined worlds with treasures to loot.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


We resumed our Google+ Star Trek game last night in Starships & Spacemen 2e. I had done some statting of Trek stuff that I hadn't shared on the blog, so I thought this was a good time to give the wider internet world a view of some of that.

Here are my stas for Phaser Type I from the original series, gleaned from FASA's version and non-RPG sources.  The ranges are low compared to the weapons given in S&S, but shorter ranges are in keeping with what we see in the show.  Weight of a Type I phaser is 0.44 lbs. The "drain" uses FASA's assumptions of 20 shots for the Type I.

Type I Phasers have the following settings:
1- stun: Save vs. stun check at a 2d6 penalty or be knocked unconscious for 1 turn. Range: 100’ (Drain: 1)
2- wide angle stun: Same as Stun above, but generates a cone-like beam extending for 30’. At 30’ it is 6’ ft.wide. (Drain: 4)
3- Heavy stun: Save check vs. stun (2d6 penalty) or be knocked unconscious for 2d4 turns. roll 1d6 for the results: 1-2, no damage; 3-5, 1d6 hp damage; 6, 2d6 hp damage. Range: 100' (Drain: 2)
4- heat: 1d3 damage to living things, but mostly used to warm up objects when applied over longer periods (roughly 1 round). Range: 6’ (Drain: 1)
5- disrupt: 2d6 damage. Range: 70’ (Dain: 2)
6-dematerialize: 4d6 damage on a hit, Save vs. energy attack or be disintegrated. Range: 30‘ (Drain: 4)
Overload: A phaser set to overload makes a progressively higher pitched warning sound for 1 minute until it explodes, doing 1d6 x its remaining charges in damage.

The purpose of the variable penalty on the stun effect was arrived at in playtest. It was a way to ensure stun was usually effective while still proving a bit of chance to it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: The Vision Quest

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 Vision Quest"
Warlord #129 (May 1988)
Written by Michael Fleisher; Art by Jan Duursema

Synopsis: Morgan is awakened from a nightmare about Tara and the Scavenger of Souls by a woman on “bronto-charger” who’s being chased by “blood-crazed marauders.” As he’s wont to do, he leaps to her aid without any real clue as to what’s going on. Morgan and woman (no slouch in combat herself) quickly dispatch the marauders.

She introduces herself as Aoife, Battle Maiden of the Cuchulainn Clan.

Morgan knows those people. Aoife is pretty far from home. She explains she’s chasing a vision she had:

Somehow, those images mean she is to meet her destiny on the Isle of Xur-Chemosh in the Tourmaline Sea. Morgan has never heard of it, but he's just wandering anyway, so...

Meanwhile, in another part of Skartaris, Mariah’s bathing in a pond under the watchful eye of Danny Maddox. That turns out to be luck when a winged serpent attacks her. Danny does it in with his automatic rifle.

Immediately after, they meet a group of veiled tribesmen visiting the watering hole. The tribesmen lead them back to their village in the middle of an unusually parched desert, surrounding a half-buried spaceship.

Not everybody is so welcoming. The high priest thinks no one can kill a sky serpent. He warns the strangers to stay away from the shrine. We also learn the name of this place is Xur-Chemosh. Quite a coincidence, eh?

Despite the priest’s warning, the first thing Maddox and Mariah do is check out the spacecraft. They find a skeleton with a weird flight helmet—which Maddox immediately puts on. The priest arrives and starts calling them defilers. Before the situation can escalate:

Maddox knows how to stop them. He presses a button and energy beams shoot out of the spacecraft, killing the monsters. Maddox is hailed as a savior.

Beginning their quest for Xur-Chemosh, Morgan and Aoife enter a village. Aoife gets a premonition that a stone wall is going collapse, she manages to scatter the villagers, but would have got hit by it herself, if Morgan hadn't intervened.

Back in Shamballah, Jennifer is worried about what’s going on in Khnathaiti’s cave beneath the mountain. Jennifer puts a spell on a bird and sends it out to do some recon. Khnathaiti sees it coming and knows whose it is. She blasts it—blasting Jennifer, as well.

Things to Notice:
  • This is the first issue of Maddox's Revenge.
  • The letter column reports that Warlord goes to bi-monthly with this issue due to lowsales.
Where It Comes From:
With the introduction of Aoife, Fleisher starts hitting Celtic mythology and languages pretty hard. "Aoife" itself is an Irish female given name meaning "pleasure" or "radiant." Cuchulainn (Irish for "Culann's Hound") is the name of a Irish mythological hero.

Xur-Chemosh, on the other hand, comes from "Chemosh," a god of the Moabites mentioned in the Bible.

Monday, June 3, 2013

IN SPACE II: Modrons and More

When I did a post about using Fiend Folio as a source for aliens and monsters in a science fiction game, the idea met with a lot of enthusiasm, largely because everybody likes the Fiend Folio. I'm going to court a little more controversy today and assert that Monster Manual II may be even better in this regard.

First off the easy stuff. It's got a whole slew of dinosaurs and giant (and minimal) animals and insects. Those are mostly kind of boring though. A bit more interesting are exotic things like the aurumvorax or is it a Barsoomian honey badger? Who knows.

The cool stuff comes with the monsters that are already sort of sci-fi. The aboleth remind me a bit of Larry Niven's thrint (except in appearance) with no modification. The Vagabond's description already tells us it's from another planet. The cloaker and the crysmal likewise work pretty much as is. Memory moss is positively Star Trekian, if we only make it's power psionic instead of magical. The wemic are a lot like Poul Anderson's Ishtarians in appearance.

Art by Wayne Barlowe

Then there are ones that will take a little more thought. Maybe a demilich is some sort of nanoswarm? Is a Tarrasque a fearsome bioweapon of an extinct civilization? And the Modrons? Well, I figure they're probably sentient programs living in an ancient computer network, Tron or Reboot style, waiting on adventurous netrunners to stumble into their mainframe.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Hellhound on My Trail

art by Alan Davis
Of all the dangers in the Zuran Expanse (and there are many), perhaps none provoke as many nightmares the hellhounds or fury hounds. Though there are less than twenty of these monsters in existence, they’re reputed to have decimated small cities and forced the destruction of entire habitats in an effort to keep their threat from spreading.

The hellhounds are synthetic beings, sophont weapons of mass destruction; though if the tales are to be believed, they were originally created for a very different purpose. Allegedly they were once the playmates of  lonely prelapsarian princeling in an isolated habitat. Though their basic minds only mimicked sapience, the canny princeling improved their programming, possibly by using elements of his own neural structure.

The princeling grew to a psychopathic adulthood. He hosted sadistic games for the amusement of his courtiers (mostly mind-copies of himself) in which victims were hunted by his former toys, evolved to a more suitably vicious form. In time, the creatures had outgrown this roll, but by then it was too late for their master to stop what he had thoughtlessly begun.

They still hunt, but are generally undiscriminating: Anyone and everyone are fair game. They aren’t mindless beasts; in fact, they're quite erudite and likely to attempt to engage their prey (or at least taunt them) with allusions to and quotations from pre-Great Collapse works of art before the kill.

The hounds are the size of earthly great cats and appear as vaguely canine in form, but with triangular heads more reminiscent of birds of prey or perhaps serpents.  Their faces are much more expressive than an animal's would be. Their bodies are made of computronium sheathed in a quicksilver smartmatter skin. Their limbs can contort or flow in surprising ways, and they can squeeze themselves into smaller spaces than might be expected. They regenerate damaged; a fist-sized portion of their substance can regrowth the entire creature with time, an energy source, and a material substrate. They can survive for indeterminate periods in hard vacuum.

They hunt in packs.

No. Appearing: 1-4
AC: 4
HD: 7
Saving Throw: 11
Attack Bonus: +8/+8/+6
Damage: 2d4/2d4 claws, 1d8 bite
Movement: 40’
Morale: 10
Special Abilities: Their hides provide a -2 penalty to hit with laser weapons. They regenerate 3 hit points per round, starting after 2 rounds of combat. They have the ability of total cellular regeneration similar to the biopsionic power Nine Lives.