Monday, December 30, 2013

Humanity in the Strange Stars

Human soldiers in a still from a military recruitment animation
Evan of In Places (Spaces?) Deep asked on Google+ the other day if there were still humans in the Strange Stars. The short answer is "yes," though the details require a bit of explanation.

The over a trillion sophonts of known space can be placed in a few broad phyles or phenotypes: infosophonts, moravecs, and biologics. Biologics include the descendants of organisms that evolved naturally (either on Old Earth or some other world), created organisms, and bioroids (biologic androids). Members of subtribe Hominina comprise most of the naturally evolved biologics, though their are also uplifts and splices that contain genetic material from other (mostly Terran species). There are sophonts that may be exobiologics, but given what information has been lost in various dark ages, system crashes, and data corruptions since the human expansion, it is difficult to know for certain.

Two thrill-seeking humans find danger in a condemned amusement station
The human-descended biologics at a glance mostly resemble 21st century humanity, aside from a few cosmetic differences, like skin color. Centuries ago, they looked more like 21st century movie stars, but standards of beauty have expanded since. Beneath the surface, there are numerous small genetic tweaks and ubiqitous minor cybernetic enhancements. These vary from culture to cultural, and with tech level.

Baseline or near baseline delegates from a distant habitat
The terms baseline human (indicating beings who vary little from the basic type) and near baseline (beings unable to pass for baseline, but with few signifcant biological variations) are sometimes used, but these are obviously imprecise. The Phantasists, Zyann, Uldras of Boreas, and Ogüptans of Deshret would probably qualify as "baselines," as would most of the inhabitants of the Instrumentality of Aom. The Smaragdines, Algosians, and Vokun would be termed by most as "near baseline."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Another Weird Yule

Yesterday, the several members of my G+ Weird Adventures group reunited for a holiday-themed adventure. It was Yule-time in the City, and the "Team Victory" Detective Agency was holding an office party with Cornelius Doyle, Erskine Loone, and Boris Borofsky in attendance. Their secretary Lola DeWytt was also there, and she'd brought a new friend the "lovely and mysterious" Sara Snow.

The festivities were interrupted in short order by the kid gang known as the Hardluck Hooligans. It seems the Grumpf had not appeared to bedevil them, and the Hooligans suspected foul play. Why the concern? Well Da Brain (brainy kid with glasses) surmised that a Grumpf-less Yule would also mean a Father Yule-less season: something that just can't happen!

At Lola's urging, the gang takes the case with Sara tagging along. They start with investigating the place where Da Brain calculated the Grumpf should have appeared--and where the kids saw a out-of-place truck bearing the logo of Ardmann Commercial Displays. There is no sign of the Grumpf or the van, but they do find a amateurishly made flyer for Ardmann's.

Going the address listed, they find an old warehouse on Wharf Street along the Wyrd. The buildings got a freshly painted sign indicating it's Ardmann's. Sara and Loone go in to pose and potential customers, while Boris circles around back and Cornelius climbs a drain-pipe to the roof.

The interior has the necessary accoutrements of a commercial display business in the season: plyboard standups of reindeer, sleighs, and father Yule, and also some ceramic statues of what they take to be Father Yule's elf assistants. The two guys working there seem more like goons than salesmen, though, and Loone's power reveals they really just want the two customers to go as soon as possible.

There are other suspicious things. Boris finds the truck--and chains welded to the floor in the back of it. Cornelius peers through the skylight and sees something unusual (hidden from the view of Sara and Loone by stacks of crates): a big hole in the floor.

After comparing notes, the group enters the front door again, after Cornelius sees the two guys climb down a ladder into the hole. The investigation soon turns into a brawl, as the "elves" come to life and attack. The stone creatures are slow moving, but tough to harm, and our heroes are soon fighting a battle on two fronts as the goons start to climb back out of the hole.

Cornelius and Loone manage to force them back down while Boris methodically shotgun blasts the gnomes (as they now reveal themselves) to pieces. Unfortunately, Loone is pushed into the hole by one of the gnomes before they're all done in.

In the cave beneath, Loone discovers the missing (and irate) Grumpf, inside some sort of glass dome that looks like a giant snowglobe with metal antennae pointed at it. And seated on a throne, there's also the apparent mastermind of this plot: the maniacal Gnome King!

An attempt to move the antenna gives Loone a powerful arcane jolt of holiday spirit energy, so the team concentrates on trying to break the glass dome. Weaving through would be assailants in cat form, Sara is able to cut off a switch, which seems to make the energy inside the globe to begin to build up.

As he and his minions attack, the Gnome King explains his plan in true villain fashion: He planned to capture the Grumpf and Father Yule (two sides of the same coin, really) and siphon their holiday energy to imbue himself with. With the cosmic reset coming at the end of the year, the power would be granted to him forever.

He hadn't reckoned on Team Victory and Sara Snow. The rock-hewn Gnome King is too tough for bullets (as Cornelius finds out), but thrown rocks and a couple of gunshots, combined with the energy overload since the siphon was turned off, leads to the Grumpf breaking free, stomping the Gnome King into the dirt, then giving Cornelius a sloppy kiss before bounding out into the night.

The Gnome King's crying and Yule is saved, thanks to our heroes...and the Hardluck Hooligans are the first on the Grumpf's list for whupping!

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Weird Holiday Adventure

This weekend I plan to run a Weird Adventures holiday themed game. Through the magic of Google+, I hope to have players from my original G+ game, my ongoing face-to-face game, and the game run by Lester B. Portly (in which I'm a player). This will be the first time the various campaigns have collided met.

Last Yule, catching the Grumpf took a great deal of effort on the part of the Hardluck Hooligans and not one but two groups of adventurers. This year (5889, for those keeping track), the Grumpf is conspicuously absent and Da Brain of the Hooligans has a theory that Father Yule is also missing--and the holiday season itself is in peril! Hopefully, a group of adventurers can get to the bottom of it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

The Warlord is taking this Wednesday off for the holiday.

I hope everyone has a Yule that's cool!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fragmentary Cartography of the Zuran Expanse

I've been asked before for a map of the Strange Stars. While I don't have a map of that whole area close to ready to share by any means, I was playing around with some hexographing software last night and was able to duplicate relatively quickly the part of the Zuran Expanse I've discussed on the blog. Since I tend to jump around a lot in my posts, even this area is a bit sparse.

The Zuran Expanse, you may recall, is a region of space in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way without central authority and containing many isolated or damaged worlds. It occupies territory that was once the nexus of human and transhuman civilization. That is until the event known as the Great Collapse.

The map is scaled to 1 hex=1 light-year, so distances are approximate. The numbers next to the stars are the z-axis. A plus and green color is above the galactic plane; a minus and red is below.

The location of Sol is speculative. This system is quarantined by posthuman entities, so its status as the origin of the human phyle can't be verified.

The map uses the names travelers would most likely use. Some are a planet (Gogmagog) or station (Aurogov or the Library), and others are legitimately the star pictured (Sirius). Many of the star names we use today will be lost by that time, though Eridanus (our 82 Eridani), the primary of Aygo of the zhmun, and Sirius (lair of the ssraad) endure.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Brief Guide to Space Habitats

In most mature future cultures (particularly ones without terraforming), it's likely the majority of the population will inhabit artificial habitats rather than planets. The main reason (though there are others) is space: orbital habitats can be placed order planets or directly orbiting stars. They can be place in systems that never had planets form or even around brown dwarfs.

Here's a good article on the science behind orbital habitat design. Here are some of the designs that have been proposed over the decades:

Asteroids: provide a ready source of materials for habitat building. The "bubbleworld" or Cole habitat was proposed by Dandridge Cole in 1964. It's creation involves using solar heating to melt the interior of a iron or nickel asteroid and reshape it into a hollow tube. This can be spun to create gravity and soil and water placed on the inside.

Asteroids could be hollowed out in other ways to create habitable space, of course, but given their irregular shape it would be difficult to figure out how to create spin gravity.

Bernal Sphere: It's shape is optimal for retaining atmosphere and providing radiation shielding. If spun, gravity would be generated in a strip along its equator. Gerald O'Neil calculated that a sphere 1800 m in diameter could house 140,000 people comfortably.

Stanford Torus: From 2001 to Elysium, this is the classic habitat design. It has the advantage of a "wheel" with artificial gravity and a zero-g hub.

O'Neill Cylinder: A large habitat, with the maximal amount of habitable area for it's size, cylinders can be several kilometers in length and rotated on their central axis. Large windows can be placed in the walls of the cylinder that would provide day and night in rotation. Long cylinders will tend to tumble in rotation, so O'Neill proposed linking cylinders in counter-rotating pairs to stabilize them.

Bishop Ring: A torus, but much larger than a Stanford thanks to the utilization of carbon nanotubes in its construction. Bishop's original proposal describes a habitat would approximately 1,000 km in radius and 500 km in width, which would contain 3 million square kilometers of living space--something like India. Because of its size, it wouldn't need to be enclosed like the Stanford, either. It would be able to hold in atmosphere with a combination of its spin and tall (200km) retention walls.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Robots of Rome

Middle school World History really left out some crucial bits--like say, the robot building expertise of ancient Rome!

The Lokapannatti (an 11th-12th Century Pali cosmological text) tells the story of Ashoka obtaining Buddhist relics from the underground vault of King Ajatasatru. Like all good dungeon treasures, this one is guarded--by robots; bhuta vahana yanta, literally "spirit movement machines."  What's more, these robots are based on stolen Roman technology!

The thoroughness of this ancient text is such that it just doesn't drop a bomb like "Roman robots" and leave it at that. No, we get an origin story. See, Roma-visaya ("The Kingdom of Rome") has a class of skilled bahulayantakara ("machine-makers") who build these wonders for "commerce, agriculture, capturing, and executions."  These engineers are kept under close watch so that Roman technological secrets don't fall into the wrong hands. If they leave the city, they're chased down by a flying beheading machine!

An Indian entrepreneur from Pataliputra wants to get ahold of these marvels so bad he vows on his deathbed to get reincarnated as a Roman. Amazingly, that is exactly what happens! He then marries the daughter of a Roman inventor and when the time is right, snags some blueprints from his father-in-law. This is where his plan gets really complicated: he writes the secrets down and has the paper sewn into his thigh. Then, he tells his son to have him buried back in India when he dies. He leaves Rome and the robot executioner gets him.

His son takes his body (and the stolen secrets) back to Pataliputra and goes into the robot-making business for the king. The robots are still active a hundred years later when Ashoka shows up to reclaim the lost treasure. Lucky for Ashoka, the Roman that built them is somehow still alive and tells him how they can be disabled.

I got this story from Relics of the Buddha by John S. Strong, and with further details from here. Not that something so rife with gaming potential needs solid academic sourcing! It's just one step from this legend to a robot arms race between India and Rome and mecha battles across Afghanistan! 

Bhuta vahana yanta, go!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Space Fiends: Marauders from Hyperspace!

Some time ago, I did a post about using AD&D Fiend Folio monsters in a science fiction context. This post is a follow-up. it's not set in any particular sci-fi universe I've presented, any more than the write-up of the monster that inspired it was.

No. Appearing:1-4
AC: 4
Hit Dice: 1 (or better)
Saving Throw: as per class and level
Attack Bonus: +2
Damage: 2d8+2 mag rifle, 1d8+1 monoblade
Movement: 30'
Skill Bonus: +1
Morale: 9

Gathyengi are a xenophobic humanoid species who act as pirates, striking from hidden bases within hyperspace. They are theorized to be descended from humans abducted by the psionic Masters from Earth millennia ago to serve as both labor and food source.

Gathyengi (sing. gathyen) are ectomorphic, almost skeletal in appearance. Their skin is dusty yellow to the color of parchment, and leathery. Their skull-like faces, solid black eyes, and pointed teeth (likely ritually sharpened) give them a fearsome appearance in keeping with their reputation for violence.

A gathyengi raider will have a crew compliment of various classes, similar to any human vessel. A raid will be led by a captain of 4-7th level, depending on the size of the ship. It is likely there will be at least one combat psychic among them.

All gathyengi can shift back into hyperspace at will. Whether this is an innate ability or technological is unclear. Dead gathyengi shift back into hyperspace as well, thwarting attempts at close examination.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: Then...Now...

Here's another installment of my examination of  the adventures DC Comics' Travis Morgan--The Warlord.  The earlier installments can be found here...

Warlord (vol. 4) #9 (February 2010) Story & Art by Mike Grell

Synopsis: Morgan and Shakira are pursuing the remaining brigands that ambushed Morgan and his men last issue. Morgan believes they are under the command of Kate Archer. The brigands have fled into a swamp, where it's likely they're laying a trap.

Shakira says that "only a fool would go in there."  Morgan agrees. She hops off the horse and tells him she'll meet him on the other side.

There is indeed a trap waiting, but the brigands live to regret their ambush--at least briefly. Morgan cuts down a number of them, while Shakira leads others into an encounter with a tyrannosaur.

Kate Archer sees all this as she makes her escape. Morgan and Shakira head on back to Shamballah.

When they arrive, Ewan McBane greets them with his video camera. He's still in journalist mode. Tara punches Morgan for running of (as usual) but then kisses him, and the two head off to bed. [Actually, much of this issue is various characters--uh, finding romance. While not as explicit as cable tv even, Grell takes advantage of the lack of the Comics Code.]

Tinder shows Alysha the streets of Shamballah where he grew up. A young pickpocket reminds himself as a youth, so he gives the boy a few pointers and let's him keep some of the gold. Tinder gets around to kissing Alysha as well (finally), and when next McBane finds them they're lying naked on the palace grounds, Tinder strumming his lute.

Tinder relates to McBane why people originally followed the Warlord, and how Morgan seemed to change and give up on his dreams. McBane wonders what happened. Tinder suggests that McBane will have to ask Morgan.

McBane has already had his own romantic interlude. He visited Jennifer in her sanctum and she told him how her and her father came to be in Skartaris. With that exposition out of the way:

Morgan, in bed with Tara, wonders if he's getting old. He asks her if she remembers the bracelet he gave her when they met: his old watch, broken in the crash. 'Why would anyone build a device so they can know when to be old?" Tara asks. Here is Skartaris there is only "then, now, and next."

Tara suggests that, if he's not too busy being old, there are better ways to take a measure of a man. Morgan accepts that challenge.

Later, McBane interviews Tara, asking her about her and Morgan's son. She tells of his birth and how Deimos took him and how she never saw him again. But Morgan did. McBane asks what happened? She says he'll have to ask Morgan.

Meanwhile, Kate Archer comes to an ancient underground ruin. She seems to be following instructions from a small box. When she opens it, there is a symbol-inscribed skull inside. The skull apparently leads her to a crystal container with a body inside. She breaks it open and out falls:


Things to Notice:
  • Deimos seems to have a limitless number of resurrections by a limitless array of means. 
Where it comes from: 
This issue is deals with a lot of past issues: Morgan's first arrival in Skataris, his relationship with Tara, the kidnapping of their son and his apparent death in issue #21. The skull of Deimos goes back to the 1992 limited series.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Star Hunters

The djägga (or djaegga) are humanoids with feline characteristics. Though they are most on the Rim (where perhaps their native habitats can be found), they're encountered in most lawless areas of the Strange Stars. Djägga are hunters by nature, by instinct, and many choose to hunt nothing less challenging than other sophonts as bounty hunters or assassins.

Appearance and Biology
Djägga have been described as looking like a cross between a sphynx cat and a human. The have a basically baseline human body form (including a plantigrade stance), except for a felinoid tail. Their faces have a vaguely feline cast, as do their large eyes and large, somewhat high-placed ears. Though their skin is no more hirsute than the average humans, they are pigmented in patterns like cats. Many different pigmentation patterns are found among them. 

Djägga senses are keener than those of baseline humans, particularly hearing and smell. These are so acute that they are often taken as possessing psi-sensitives, but in fact powers of the mind are virtually unknown among them.

PsychologyDjägga are typically solitary beings, suspicious of others. Mating pairs may stay together for a time, but it's almost as common for pregnant females to become distrustful and secretive and males to become bored and drift away. Djägga encountered as a group are most often siblings of the same sex or a mother and her children.

Djägga tend to speak very little and are not particularly social, but they're loyal. They're also keen to avenge any perceived betrayal. Competitions can trigger their predator instincts, so it's prudent to avoid games with djägga,  particularly ones with a physical component.

Stats: Stars Without Number: Djägga require a Strength and Dexterity of 12. They don't have psionics. Traveller: Notable Dexterity (+1), but replace Social Standing with Charisma (where they have a -1).

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Smaug and his Desolation in 48 fps and 3-D

I saw The Hobbit II: The Legend of Smaug's Gold this weekend (in faux-IMAX, high frame frate, and 3-D for the full Jackson). There are no doubt a number of negative reviews out there and a number of positive ones, so you can mix and match or pick what goes with your preconceptions. Rather than trying to persuade you one way or another from an overall perspective, I'll just say: 1) it is not (as you're already aware if you saw the first one) Tolkein's Hobbit, particularly; and 2) it's got  swashbuckling action set-pieces in the Pirates of the Caribbean or Lone Ranger (2013) vein.

That out of the way, I'm going to talk about things I like about the movie that might be worth stealing for gaming.

Overall, Mirkwood and the fortress of the wood elves made me wish that Guillermo del Toro had directed, as I think he would have given them both a fairy tale-ish feel that would have been visual interesting and perhaps more in keeping with the book. However, Lee Pace's haughty and fay King Thranduil is pretty much spot on. There's a part where he let's his glamour slip and allows Thorin to see the scars he bears from fighting a dragon that does evoke elves of fairy tales or legendry that was a really good bit.

My another nice bit was Laketown. It evokes a very different feel from the Laketown of the book, but it's given a look sort of like a ramshackle Medieval Russian version of Venice. It's people are multi-ethnic and have clothing styles mixing the vaugely slavic, Tibetian, and even a bit of Mongol thrown in, but blended pretty well. It's Master is a rather Terry Gilliam-esque bumbling noble, equipped with a suitable obsequious assistant. The coldness, squalor, and police state ubiquitous informer culture the Master oversees, seems to be meant to evoke Soviet era Russia. The whole evoke is utterly un-Tolkeinian, but very interesting as a potential gaming locale.

After all of that, the movie finally arrives at Lonely Mountain and a solitary dragon. Smaug is menacingly portrayed (vocally) by Benedict Cumberbatch. The cgi design is nice, too; there's a little bit of Dragonslayer there, I think. Smaug's treasure horde is ridiculously large. There most be no more gold in all of Middle-Earth. As Dunsany would say: "Their hoard is beyond reason; avarice has no use for it." The encounter with Smaug in this treasure den does remind one how frightening dragons ought to be, something that has been lost a bit with their perfunctory appearance in fantasy games.

Desolation of Smaug isn't a book brought to life or even a great achievement in cinema, but there are things is in it to like and nice details to appreciate.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Charting the Stars

Some reason G+ discussion last week got into resources for real world star maps for science fiction gaming. Not everyone will find this necessary, and still fewer will be concerned with "accurate" habitable systems and planets, but for those that are here are some links I've found useful:

The Internet Stellar Database allows to to search for a star and find out its various catalog names, spectral data, coordinates, and distance from Sol. Very handy.

If you're interested in calculating the habitable zone around a star, this page is a quick and (relatively) easy reference. Sol Station has got that calculated for you for many stars and has some decent online star maps.

Maybe you want someone else to put in a lot of the work for you. Winchell Chung makes great real world star maps and you can purchase in print on demand a few varieties here at the aptly named 3-D Star Maps.

I haven't presented a map of the Strange Stars yet, but I intend to do so eventually. I will reveal a few of the modern designations of some of the locations I've already written about:
  • The green ssraad, as mentioned in the post about them live around the white main sequence star Sirius A. The blue ssraad call the white dwarf Sirius B home.
  • The Library of Atoz-Theln is in the Lalande 25372 system. Its primary is a red main sequence dwarf (M1.5 Ve).
  • Gogmagog, the site of giant robot battles, orbits β Comae Berenices, a yellow main sequence dwarf some 9.13 parsecs from Sol.
  • Aygo, the homeworld of the inverterbrate zhmun, and its co-orbital world of Erg are in the 82 Eridani system--which also has 3 super-earths we already know about.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Intoxicated in the Strange Stars

Within the borders of the Strange Stars there are a innumerable recreational substances available from the botanical relics of Old Earth to the ubiquitous, chemically facile ethanol and a whole galaxy (almost literally) of polychrome uppers, downers, screamers, and thinkers developed by across a million habitats. Here's a sampling of them:

aku: Also known as "ink." Aku is both the name of a small cephalopod-like creature whose native world or place of manufacture is lost and the pigmented mucoid substance it produces. The user places the live cephalod over there face and squeezes it to induce the creature to squirt its pigment into their mouth. The ink is a local anesthetic (causing "aku tongue"), but has central nervous system effects similar to cannabis. Long-term use permanently darkens the oral mucosa in idiosyncratic swirling patterns. 

alcohol: Though ethanol substitutes that produced comparable effects without end-organ damage are known, their use is not as widespread as might be expected. The most primitive civilizations only know the original, and the most advanced ones use their mastery of nanobiotechnology to fix any damage their indulgence might cause. Cheap bars use synthesizers that can dispense alcohol of any variety, while high-class ones pride themselves on having finely crafted varieties.

chroma: A white, iridescent crystalline powder typically insufflated or inhaled from exploding "bouncing balls", but it can be ingested or injected intravenously. The substance has psychedelic and mild euphorigenic properties. It's particularly known for producing illusions of color alteration. Druggie lore holds that some users have experienced new primary colors like jale or ulfire.

momentomori: A rare and expensive drug, produced by a spider-like bot that, when released, clamps itself on the forehead of a corpse and injects its nanite payload into the brain. Within 15-20 minutes, a teardrop black shape begins to form from an orifice in the bot. It condenses into an almond-sized jewel. When allowed to dissolve on the tongue, the jewel delivers a vivid experience of the departed's last minutes of life (no more than half an hour, depending on how long it's been since their death. Bodies dead longer than 24 hours yield only fragments, if anything).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: The Forgotten (part 2)

Here's another installment of my examination of  the adventures DC Comics' Travis Morgan--The Warlord.  The earlier installments can be found here...

"The Forgotten" (part 2)
Warlord (vol. 4) #8 (January 2010) Story & Art by Mike Grell

Synopsis: The beast-men attack. Morgan tries to scare them off with a shot fired into the air. That only cows them briefly. Morgan is forced to fight them with sword and pistol.

The scene cuts to Morgan and a group of warriors (some of whom look familiar: like members of the group he fought to save the woman) on a balcony overlooking the ruins of the city.

They enter a great hall, lined with alcoves containing statues that Morgan figures are gods. The warriors joke about the half-ruined statues, but one of them, Garn, gives a warning: Gods have power so long as a single person believes in them.

One of the men asks Morgan what he believes. The Warlord finally replies:

Morgan tells them that most people where he comes from believe in a god, but they have many names for him or her and they fight about who's right. One of the men suggests that men don't need a reason for war. As if to prove his point, another man suddenly takes an arrow in the throat. Brigands are attacking!

Morgan goes into a rage and starts killing. A peal of laughter feels the air. Morgan turns:

The woman or goddess pronounces him her champion. She tells him he has always served her, and she has always been at his side. Through Vietnam, through the slave rebellion he led, his defeat of Deimos. Every violent deed. She made him the Warlord.

As she presses her blood-stained lips to his, she promises that when he dies it will not be "feeble from the infirmities of age but blood-spattered in the glory of battle" with his name shouted in the hall of heroes.

Morgan hears his name being called--but it's Shakira shaking him awake. He asks what happened. She suggests maybe it was an ambush while she was off hunting. Morgan says, "no, it was only a kiss." Shakira thinks he's hallucinating.

She hands him his sword, saying he'll need it. Morgan agrees.

They mount Morgan's horse. He asks Shakira if she believes in the old gods. She says "no." Morgan responds:

Things to Notice:
  • It's left a bit unclear (at least to me) exactly how Morgan's men died.
Where it comes from: 
This issue is largely a retread of issue #14. There, the supernatural woman telling Morgan she had always been with him was explicitly Death, rather than a more nebulous goddess. Death is depict as a raven-haired beauty in Skartarian attire with some Indian accessories, whereas this goddess is white-haired and attired in a white tunic, but perhaps they're both different aspects of the same being.

Monday, December 9, 2013


Thorgal is another Franco-Belgian fantasy comic, but it does happen to have been translated into English by Cinebook--and it's well worth checking out. Created by Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme and Polish artist Grzegorz Rosiński in 1977, the series continues in periodic albums to this day.

The protagonist is Thorgal who was found as an infant in a small raft (resembling a miniature Mercury mission splashdown capsule a bit) by a group of Vikings. He's taken in and raised by their ruler, Leif Haraldson and given the name Thorgal Aegirsson, in reference to the two gods who perhaps brought him to the Vikings. The first English volume (Child of the Stars, not actually the originally beginning of the series, but the earliest chronologically) is a series of short stories as Thorgal comes of age. The most fantastic of these is Thorgal's quest to help a dwarf (Rosinski draws them like the common conception of gnomes) bring a "metal that doesn't exist" to the dwarfish king and save him from the serpent Nidhogg. This adventure ends in the birth of Aarica, Thorgal's soul-mate and daughter of his nemesis Gandalf the Mad. Young Thorgal later saves young Aarica from nixies, who have malicious led her to a mountain to die. This establishes the friendship between the two, which is important because the Northern folk otherwise reject Thorgal as an outsider.

Later volumes see Thorgal and Aarica marry (and eventually have kids) and leave the North. Their travels don't seem to bring them much but more danger. They tangle with 3 aged sorcerers who kidnap Aarica and set up an elaborate contest only meant to ensure their continued immortality. Later, Thorgal is falsely accused of a crime and carried off as a prisoner on the Black Galley to be punished by the tyrant of the city-state of Brek Zarith. Thorgal escapes of course, but then is told Aarica (and their unborn child) are dead. This ultimately leads to a journey back to the Second World (the realm of gods and fairies he had visited as a boy), and to a meeting with the capricious personifcation of Fate, before a descent into the Underworld.

That's all in the first 3 volumes!

Thorgal has a feel that reminds me a bit of older works like Prince Valiant as much as modern comics. This effect is probably enhanced by Rosinki's illustratorly style. Thorgal is not as violent as many American comics. Not that there's not a lot of action, but thinking seems to get him through scrapes as often as fighting. It provides an interesting mix of mythology, science fantasy, and adventure--and really great art.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Map en français

Here's another comic book map, but this one is from a French comic Forest of Opal (Les Forêts d'Opale) written by Christophe Arleston and drawn by Philippe Pellet. It's a fantasy in a secondary world (Opal) with a number of nonhuman species. It has not, unfortunately, been official translated into English as far as I know, though scanlations exist.

The map's in French, too, but I don't think that will limit its use.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Touring the Strange Stars

The great luxury star liners afford passengers the opportunity to see the civilized worlds in high style--and their are no more opulent ships in known space than those in our Galburac-class. These vessels provide accommodations and recreation for thousands of guests in a variety of different artificial environments.

An endless party awaits travelers, enlivened by stops at exotic resorts and a full array of the latest recreational cybernetics and chemicals.

But these festivities are only a small part of the recreational experiences our star liners offer...

When on safari in our hunting preserve habitats, make sure to follow the instructions of the djägga guides. They'll be sure to remind you that blushing shraik always travel in mating pairs!

Or for those looking for adventure of a more spiritual variety, an aero-sled ride through the canopy of the jungles of Dodona surrounds you in the songs (both auditory and psychic) of its contemplative trees.

Book your star liner cruise today!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Warlord Wednesday: The Forgotten

Here's another installment of my examination of  the adventures DC Comics' Travis Morgan--The Warlord.  The earlier installments can be found here...

"The Forgotten"
Warlord (vol. 4) #7 (December 2009) Story & Art by Mike Grell

Synopsis: A crow flies across the Skartarian landscape and arrives at the scene of a battle amid ancient ruins. The crow lands on the seemingly dead body of Travis Morgan--and finds out that Morgan isn't dead!

At that moment, a beautiful, white-haired woman in a white tunic comes running toward the ruins, chased by a group of warriors.

Morgan dispatches most of them, but the leader has dragged the woman to a precipice and is dragging her by the neck over it. Morgan shoots him. The man has one word for Morgan before he topples over the cliff:

Morgan saves the woman from falling. She asks him if he's now her "champion." He can't remember.

Morgan dreams of his past fights from his days as a gladiator to leading armies. He awakens, and finds the woman tending his wounds. He can't even remember his name at first, but the woman knows him: Travis Morgan, the Warlord. She briefly recounts his history. She knows a lot about him, but Morgan can't remember who she is, though she does seem familiar. When he asks, she replies:

She's not terribly offended he can't remember her. This is a place of lost things, after all.

She takes him on a tour of the ruins. She tells him they were built by people who came here fleeing a great cataclysm. For hundreds of centuries they built cities and temples to their old gods. But then, there was the Great War. When their followers died, the old gods faded from memory. The survivors degenerated to little more than beasts and the cities crumbled. Of the gods, only a few remain: the most powerful, the most terrible. Occasionally, something summons them back to walk the mortal world.

The woman asks Morgan if he believes in the gods. He doesn't. "What if," she asks, "they believe in you?"

Morgan doesn't have a chance to answer, because at that moment some of those degenerate beast-men attack!

Things to Notice:
  • This issue doesn't follow directly from last issue.  More to be revealed.
Where it comes from: 
Presumably, the ancient people who settled Skartaris that the woman talks about were the Atlanteans. The portrayal of their buildings and their statues have an Ancient Greece sort of feel. This is consistent with Grell's portrayal of them in his earliest accounts (like issue #27). Later portrayals (paticularly later creators) are not as consistent and make Atlantis more generic Sword & Sorcery looking.

Monday, December 2, 2013

More Weird West

Last year, I recommended Felix Gilman's The Half-Made World and the (free online) short-story "Lightbringers and Rainmakers" set in that same setting. The sequel The Rise of Ransom City brings together the characters in the two previous works to put an end to a disastrous war between the oppressive order of the Line and their steampunkian AI masters, and the violent chaos represented by the Gun and their outlaw agents to whom they granted superhuman abilities.

Rise of Ransom City purports to be the edited form of the autobiography of self-educated inventor Harry Ransom, and so it's first half is his early life and travels in the West. Some readers might become impatient before the dangling plot from The Half-Made World finally surfaces. Still, there's a lot of color and travelogue in the early chapters that might be of particular interest to gamers. We learn for instance that: "Ford was also haunted by a Spirit that resembled ball-lightning and darted up and down Main Street at dusk, causing strange moods in women" and "dope fiends littered the streets of Caldwell, basking like lizards in the summer heat."

We don't get as much insight into the inner workings of the Gun and the Line as we got in the in the first novel, but we get more details about how their viewed by the rest of humanity and how they interact. I wish Ransom had given us more tidbits on infamous agents of the Gun from The Captains of Crime: Their Glorious Lives and Their Ignominious Ends that he reads from at one point.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Traveller: Vokun

Appearance and Biology: Vokun are virtually identical to baseline humans in outward appearance, except that their skin color is various shades of blue. Those superficial similarities belay a great deal of variance from baseline in their overall physiology: Vokun are extremely durable and heal rapidly, even able to regenerate lost limbs. Vokun store a great deal of fat as the age, to the degree that most elders become sessile. Vokun behavior is also much more under the influence of pheromone signals than other near humans.

History: The vokun species emerged from a hostile, predator-filled environment, where tribal groups competed fiercely for resources. Eventually, groups of allied elders were able to extend their pheromonal influence over progressively larger bands of youths until more stable societies were established.

The vokun eventually spread out into the stars and formed an interstellar empire. The freer they became from scarcity and conflict, the more indolent and pleasure-seeking the vokun grew. As a result the immobility that comes with age occurs much earlier for modern vokun than their ancestors; many are very obese by their thirties and on their way to immobility by their forties.

Vokun society is maintained through the use of mandatory chemical regimens for youth. These provide most of the benefits of exposure to elder pheromones, limiting their impulsivity and allowing better cooperation and subordinance to authority.

Psychology: Outside the influence of elders, young vokun find it somewhat difficult to restrain their antisocial impulses. They are emotional and violent and tend to think of only short-term gain. Elder vokun are still egoists, but they peruse their goals in a more measured way and plan better for the future. Indolence has infected all of vokun society, and they rely increasingly on subordinate species to do most of the work of maintaining their empire.

Stats: Vokun youth have Strength +1 and Endurance +2, but effectively Intelligence -1 due to impulsivity. Middle-aged (34+) vokun have Endurance +1, Social Standing +1, and Dexterity -2. Elder vokun have Endurance +1, Social Standing +2, and Dexterity -2 with an inability to move from one spot without help. All vokun heal extremely rapidly. They heal their Endurance DM for an hour of rest. If they remain active, they heal 1 point per hour. They are able to regenerate (as per the Psionic Power), recovering their Endurance DM in characteristic points for every day of rest. They can't regenerate if they remain active.

[Jumping on the G+ Traveller bandwagon here. These guys are from my Strange Stars setting, but could be plugged in anywhere.]