Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dark Days in Noxia

"Noxia, the northern country of Azurth, was once a region as bright and as hopeful as any other. Its Princess might be said to have been a bit moody, true, and given to overly romantic notions, perhaps, but she was young. Such things are not unexpected. It was her misfortune to fall in love with a witch. A witch with a vengeful former lover and partner in crime. Tragedy was the result, as one might well imagine: curses of eternal sleep, pacts made with dark powers, and a land cast into perpetual shadow."

-  A History of the Land of Azurth

High Concept: A fairytale kingdom gone post-apocalyptic under the rule of a Dark Queen.
Conspectus: the Sun and the Moon permanently eclipsed by a shadow moon; the blighted land and depopulated settlements stalked by humanoids, monsters, and undead; isolated human settlements under the thumb of dark elf overlords; treacherous mountain peaks; a valley of giant thorns; a vampire queen and her gargoyle minions.
Media Inspirations: The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe and The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis; Maleficent (2014); the "evil queen" portions of Snow White and the Huntsman (2012); the stuff having to do with the Necromancer in Peter Jackson's Hobbit films, Hammer's "Karnstein Trilogy", Winkie Country in The Wizard of Oz (1939); Eva Green as Morgan Pendragon in the Camelot TV series. Just about anything with a country under the rule of a Dark Lord might have something.

Art by Alberto Bontempi

Friday, August 29, 2014

Empire Island Revisited

Coming just in time for the resumption (at least for one more session) of my long hiatused Weird Adventures game this Sunday, Lester B. Portly unveiled on G+ this map of Empire Island with the neighborhood key arranged in alphabetical order. Handy!

Hospitals are marked with red crosses, but I would warn user that this information is for planning purposes only and may not reflect the current location of medical facilities. For instance, Aldwood (consumed as it is by a fictional reality) doesn't have an accessible hospital.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Witches of Ix

Art by Ian Miller
It is likely you will never have cause to visit the land of Ix, and in this, you should consider yourself lucky. The only exception might be those who have the misfortune to live in blighted, ghoul-haunted Noxia. To you Noxians an oft cold and mostly gloomy land of forests, bogs, and mountains, infested with goblins and ruled by witches, may not seem so dire. Remember though that you must cross the toxic badlands of the Waste to get there.

Ix has only one town worthy of note, and it cowers in the shadow of Hexenghast, an impossibly large and sprawling castle built beyond the memory of Ixians. Hexenghast is large enough to accommodate the four Great Houses of Ixian Witches and their various servants, mercenaries, guests, and prisoners. In fact, it is so large it houses these individuals and still has a great many halls and rooms that are unoccupied and perhaps unexplored for centuries.

Art by Yoshitaka Amano
A grand coven of the leaders of the Great Houses rules Hexenghast (no mean feat, given all the infighting and intrigue). The management of the rest land is done by lower level witches with mundane human and goblin subordinates. Mostly they are concerned with the collection of Hexenghast's due in taxes and farm goods, but they also suppress any unauthorized practice of magic and promulgate state propaganda.

There is an order of witches known as the Witchfinders. These cloaked figures appear within a day of the birth of any child in Ix. Every newborn is examined, and if the child bear some witches' mark, it's whisked off to Hexenghast and given over to one house or another to raise. When the children come of age, they cross the flickering Ghostlight Bridge that spans the chasm between Hexenghast proper and the sub-castle of the Scholomance. There, they are tutored in the dark arts until they are ready to assume their adult role in Witch society.

It has been the custom for new graduates of the Scholomance to spend some time abroad before settling into Hexenghast, engaging in the sort of infamies that youths who are schooled in the Dark Arts and confident in their own superiority are wont to engage in. This was the context in which Angvaine and Nocturose crossed into Noxia all those years ago.

Art by Yoshitaka Amano

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wednesday Comics: The Price (part 6)

We continue our examination of Jim Starlin's Dreadstar Saga with The Price. The earlier posts in the series can be found here.

The Price (part 6)
Eclipse Graphic Album Series #5 (October 1981) Story & Art by Jim Starlin

Synopsis: When next we see Darklock, he's discussing his resignation from the priesthood with the Lord Papal. Papal says he's sorry to see him go, but Darklock knows he's happy to see a rival eliminated. Apparently, the story is that Sister Marian died in a gas main explosion.

When Darklock is gone, the Cardinal congratulates Papal on getting rid of him. Papal berates his suboordinate: Can't the Cardinal sense Darklock's power? It's as much as a god's.

Darklock buys a ship and crews it with robots. Once it's ready, he takes the journey to the frontier and a world called Caldor. There, he makes camp and waits.

Vanth asks the stranger who he is. Darklock tells him as he removes his hood, and we see his deformed, almost skeletal visage for the first time post-burning. Darklock says he has sacrificed much to get to this point. He is here to be Vanth's comrade and mentor.

Vanth doesn't understand much of this. Darklock suggests they can talk tomorrow; For now, Vanth should return to cat people and tell them he means no harm. He also hints he knows of Vanth's sword.

When Vanth is gone, Darklock muses about the future:

Then, he thinks of Marian:

"...And I'm pray you'll have forgiven me by then."

Things to Notice:
  • Darklock's encampment on Caldor looks a lot like the Lars home on Tattooine on in Stars Wars.
  • In fact, there's a bit of a Star Wars vibe to the whole Vanth-Syzygy interaction.
In the end, The Price has similar themes to Metamorphosis Odyssey: A man makes a decision with horrible consequences convinced that this is the best thing for the future.

It's funny that the titular hero of the graphic novel and series to follow has been a secondary character in stories focused on his succession of advisors. It's like Arthur had two Merlins and both of their stories got told before his got started. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Strange Stars Evolution

I've shown this page from the Strange Stars setting introduction before, but this is the latest iteration. Lester is has been honing the layout over time, and I think it looks great. The is is a bit over half done in layout.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Gloom Elves

Gloom or shadow elves are a subrace found in Noxia, the somber northern country of Azurth. They are Noxia's primary inhabitants, having risen from underground habitations to colonize the surface with the Witch Queen Morthalia's ritual working that caused Umbra, the Shadow Moon, to stand still above the land and made it visible to mundane eyes. The gloom elves were at first allies of Angvaine and Nocturose when the pair of would-be conquerors arrived from the Witchocracy of Ix. Ultimately, they sided with the rightful queen Morthalia after the usurpers fell out, and it's likely their wizards taught her the Umbral ritual.

Gloom elves have skin colors ranging from ashen to dark gray. Their eyes range from pale to the color of bloodstone. They are often thin by elven reckoning and have larger ears. Gloom elves are longer lived than other elves; they can live over a millennia. However, they decline more rapidly with age. This is often cited as the reason for their morbid pre-occupations and yearnings for undeath.

Ability Score Increase. Intelligent score increased by 1.
Superior Darkvision. Radius of 120 feet.
Sunlight Sensitivity. Gloom elves have a disadvantage on attack rolls and on vision-based Wisdom (Perception) checks in direct sunlight.
Cantrip. Gloom elves know one cantrip of their choice from the wizard spell list.
Weapon Training. They have a proficiency with rapiers, shortswords, and hand crossbows.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Frog Folk in 5e

Frox or Bufokin (a bit of a misnomer, as frox resemble frogs more than their warty, dry-skinned cousins) are amphibious humanoids native to the bottomlands and marshes of the country of Yanth. Following rivers, they've ranged beyond their ancestral home to be a common sight in river towns. Their call and response work songs can be heard dockside all over Azurth. Frox work as bargemen or stevedores in civilized areas, and as hunters, farmers, or guides in their villages.

Frox legends say they come from a land across the Boundless Sea, which they left to escape persecution by a terrible and poisonous race of toad-folk, but this claim is considered doubtful by the scholars of Azurth for many reasons--not the least of which being that the Boundless Sea has no other side!

Frox are generally shorter than humans and tend to be thinner of limb, though many develop a potbelly as they age. Their skin colors are generally a dull green or brown, though they range from muted reds to purplish-gray.

A wealthy Frox businessman and tribal chieftain visiting the palace

Frox Traits
Ability Score Increase. Dexterity increased by 2 and another ability score by 1.
Age. Frox live shorter lifespans than humans on average with only a few living beyond their mid-60s. They are mature by their early teens.
Alignment. Frox tend toward good but are have no special affinity for Law and Chaos.
Size. Frox are between 3 and 4 feet tall. Small.
Speed. Base walking speed in 25 feet.
Jumper. Frox can long jump their full Strength score in feet from standing start, and double their Strength in feet with at least 10 feet of movement in a running start. They can high jump a total of 6 feet (rather than the usual 3) + their Strength modifier in a moving high jump and  half that for a standing jump. They have an advantage on Dexterity (Acrobatics) checks to land in difficult terrain.
Swimmer. Frox can swim at their full movement rate and rough waters only cost them 1 extra foot for each foot of movement. They use double their Constitution modifier for the purposes of holding their breath.
Resistance to Poisons. Frox have an advantage on saving throws against poison and resistance against poison damage.
Moisture Dependent. Frox require twice as much water as most races. However, submerging most of their body in water for 20 minutes or more reduces their requirement to standard levels.
Languages. Frox can speak and read (limited) Common. They also speak their on croaking, chirping tongue, which has no written form.

[Thanks to Evan Elkins, the creator of the Froglings, the basis for the Frox.]

A frox traditional dwelling

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Planning for 5e: The Races

The traditional D&D races as presented aren't in many cases a precise fit for what I want to do with the campaign I'm planning, but I want to use more than I might otherwise to give D&D 5 a good trial, and to make things easy on my players.

Elves: They’ll be there, but I’m not sure quite how yet. Maybe some wood-elves with a Hobbit vibe to them. They will probably be rare, and in isolated places, at least within the Land of Azurth.

Dwarves: There probably will be something pretty much like the D&D standard dwarf, but these guys will be rare. The more common dwarf type will be something like the Kologor dwarves of Hollow World, i.e. the beer-drinking, ninepin-playing variety. There may also be something like the Dark Sun dwarf in the arid parts of Sang.

Halflings: Halfings will be in abundance, though they may not be distinguished from other “little people” races as much as in standard D&D. I suspect they may well have a chance of unusual traits like on the Dwarf Land trait tables.

Gnomes: Gnomes will just be another variety of little folk, distinguished only by their aptitude as tinkerers. There will be a number of them clustered around Viola, the Clockwork Princess of Yanth.

Tieflings: These will be the majority of the population in Daemonland beyond the borders of Azurth. They’ll show up elsewhere, but rarely. In appearance, they’ll typically be more DiTerlizzi than the 5e illustations.

Dragonborn: Though they may be a bit different, they’ll be found in Sang, but probably not elsewhere.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Sketchy Syzygy

The end of The Price will wait another week. I read 5e instead of writing the post. Enjoy these renditions of Syzygy Darklock by other hands until that time:

Angel Medina gives us Dreadstar and Syzygy with a 90s sensibility.

alientechnology2mars delivers this cool rendition.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Maps for a Fairy Tale Pointcrawl

Looking around for cool fantasy maps, I've come across of number of maps of fairytales/folklore/myth. They don't have any hexes (though that could be remedied), but they've got all the encounters laid out right their for you.

Probably the biggest and best of these is Bernard Sleigh's "Ancient Map of Fairyland." It's really big, but you can peruse it and soak up all its detail here. If that's too much here's the slightly less detailed Jaro Hess map of the "The Land of Make Believe":

The writing is small there, but this blog post runs down a list of all the points.

Saving the easiest to read (and most modern) for last, here's a map by Walt Kelly of Pogo fame:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lay of the Land

This is stuff I'm working on for my anticipated 5e game. It's all subject to change without notice:

The land is laid out like a rough circle, and at its center is a city-state with crystalline spires, a Sapphire City grown from jewels that were alleged to be fragments of stars. The master of this city is not a king or emperor, but he does claims stewardship over all the land. He is famed as a wizard, and his greatest act of thaumaturgy was growing the Sapphire City. The Wizard seldom wastes his magic on such gaudy displays, though, and the more cynical speculate his primary art is something other than magic. All agree he is a man of cunning.

Four countries encircle the region of the Sapphire City. Their rulers are a contentious lot, but deference (or fear) of the Wizard holds them in check.

The country to the East is Yanth, and its colors are violet and yellow. It's ruler is a Clockwork Princess, at once wondrous artifact and great artificer, renowned across the land. 

The country to the South is called Sang; Its color is crimson. It's ruler is the famed Princess of Battles, said to have hatched from an egg in a dragon's brood and to have vowed to take no lover who did not first best her in combat.

Artist: Yoshitaka Amano
The country in the West is Virid, and green is its color. The Enchantress who rules it is said to be the most alluring woman in the world. She has a palace beneath the waters of an inland sea.

The country in the North is Noxia; Its colors are the black and gray of its blighted and gloomy landscape. Its dread Witch Queen cares little for the living and is obsessed with death--and undeath, and has been so since her lover fell into an eternal sleep.

Friday, August 15, 2014

One Universe Supers

Not too many years ago, I spent a lot of time constructing (in my head mostly, but also some notes and timelines) a superhero crossover universe inspired by Philip J. Farmer's Wold Newton family (or the expansion of the idea by Win Eckert and others). I've never wound up gaming in this universe, but I still think it would worth trying one day. The basic elements are these:
1) The comic books and other media we get are actually fictionalized/disguised versions of events in a real universe. They probably have as much relationship to real events and people as the movie Tombstone does to the OK Corral and the lives of the Earp brothers.
2) There is one, primary Earth. All the Marvel and DC heroes (as well as a number of other comic and pulp characters) inhabit this world.
3) This world is as "real" as our world, except for the inclusion of superpowers and what not, so people and institutions have behaviors and motivations much more similar to what we see outside our window than in the pages of kid's funny books. Also, "realistic" means people age; no sliding timescales.
Here are some examples of how that would be put into action:

Does there just happen to be two brash bowman who wind up with blonde girlfriends with sonic screams? Nope. Green Arrow is a legacy hero, and "Hawkeye" is the original's sidekick grown up, who was briefly a villain, then an authority-questioning hero. he didn't pay enough attention to his side kick, and the kid fell into drug abuse, but eventually gets clean and becomes a SHIELD agent.

Or, here's the true history of some reptile-themed villains: A scientist named Curt Connors, desperate to help injured vets like himself, sets up a special clinic in the Florida giving an experimental treatment--with tragic results. One of these before doomed veterans gets his wife pregnant, and the child grows up to show latent genetic damage and enters a life of crime:

Anyway, you get the idea. It's amazing how many of connections like these you could make, and I think it would make for a fun campaign with a lot of room for creative (at least in "discovering" connections) with the advantages of using established comics universes.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Collect Them All!

Do you remember these STRANGE STARStm  action figures from the early 80s? There was this guy, the robot and the green woman--and a bunch of aliens.

Probably not (though if you do, email me) because, as far as I know, they don't exist. This is a super-cool promo bit done by the ever talented Lester B. Portly featuring artwork by Eric Quigley. And before you ask, rest assured work on Strange Stars continues.  We aren't just playing around.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wednesday Comics: The Price (part 5)

We continue our examination of Jim Starlin's Dreadstar Saga with The Price. The earlier posts in the series can be found here.

The Price (part 5)
Eclipse Graphic Album Series #5 (October 1981) Story & Art by Jim Starlin

Synopsis: Leaving Taurus Killgaren a smoldering skeleton, Darklock returns to Sister Marian. He tells her he killed his brother's murderer, but the man was not the bloodthirsty fiend he had imagined. Sister Marian doesn't understand, but Darklock says it doesn't matter.

Instead, he asks her a question about a hypothetical moral quandary. If she could play a major part in an event that would change humanity's destiny for the better, but it required her to sacrifice her own life--and her death would be painful and horrible: Would she do it?

Sister Marian doesn't know what he's going on about, but she's a nun of the Instrumentality: If the gods' required she lay down her life for the betterment of humanity, she would.

Darklock was afraid she would say that. She asks what's wrong and calls him her love. He acknowledges that he loves her, too. He had never dared speak of it because of their vows. The truth is, he has never been a pious man; the priesthood was just a means to comfort and power. But she did believe, and her piety rubbed off on him. He would never have soiled that with his lusts. He loved her, though--and will to the end of his days...

Marian is in a dark room, confused. Then she remembers Darklock was never one for hypothetical questions:

First Darklock hears her prayers. Then come her screams.that seem to go on forever. Finally, there are her last, choking sounds. What he hears last is even more horrible: her body being eaten. When  it's done, and the door opens, he enters the room and takes the power:


Things to Notice:
  • Always wise to be careful who you answer hypothetical questions.
And so, Sister Marian pays "the price"--and so does Darklock. She gives up her life or is tricked into doing so, and Darklock gives up the thing that he loves the most. In fact, Darklock has paid a series of prices for power: he does not pursue a relationship with Marian in the name of his vows (which by his own admission give him access to power), he sacrifices much of his body to gain the power to kill Killgaren, and then this.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Class as Race

If you watch Thundarr the Barbarian (and you should) you'll notice that "Barbarian","sorceress", and "wizard" as treated almost as if they are special classes of individuals rather than just vocations or cultures. We don't see any evidence that barbarians come from anymore primitive a background than a lot of other characters, but they dress is skins and are all tough fighters.

In fantasy comics (at least older ones) people tend to dress more for their particular skill set than for any cultural reason. Forest thieves tend to look like Robin Hood, despite other characters dressing in Sword & Sorcery fashion. You know have a pretty good guess and what their skill set just by looking at them.

Both of these things lead me to the same thought. Maybe "race as class" in D&D doesn't just apply to demihumans? It could be that all classes are, in fact, races--or at least some sort group identity. It could be that you don't choose to be a fighter or a magic-user: You're born one.

I don't know what the"in world" explanation would be for this. Being chosen by the gods would be one explanation (something like Exalted's castes), but far from the only one. Maybe it doesn't need explaining--it's just another weird thing about a world with underground structures full of monsters and magic.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Thinking About 5e

Not the map of the world, but same sort of place
When we finish our current Weird Adventures campaign, some of my players have expressed interest in giving 5th edition a try, which appeals to me too. In honor of a whole new edition, I've been thinking of trying a little bit different sort of setting. Instead of doing another variation/evolution of my high school setting, I think I'll do something a little more whimsical, maybe?

Something that apes the concern for serious world-building (or lack thereof) found in the pages of Sword & Sorcery comics of the Bronze Age like Claw the Unconquered and Warlord (I say "apes" because I'll never not be concerned with world-building in some way), a bit of not taking things too seriously like DC Comics' Nightmaster, Scott Driver's Dwarf Land, and Oz; and a touch of Adventure Time gonzo.

Things it will probably have: Post-apocalyptic elements, a (possibly hidden) city of wizards, some variation on the countries I wrote up for Dwarf Land. elemental lands at the cardinal directions, a Demonland of horned people for whom "Evil" is "Good", and reskinned races as well as the standard races.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Why Isn't There A Game For That?

There are a number of genres/subgenres that are under-utilized or not utilized at all in rpgs, despite the fact they would probably work pretty well. Here are a few off the top of my head:

Humorous Adventure Pulp
Basically this would cover the whimsical, fantastical, and often violent world of Thimble Theatre (later Popeye) and the Fleischer Popeye cartoon. A lot of fist-fights, fewer guns. This would also cover Little Orphan Annie, various kid gang comics, and (on the more violent end) Dick Tracy.

Wainscot Fantasy
Little creatures hiding in the big world. Think The Burrowers, The Littles, and Fraggle Rock.

Kid Mystery Solvers
Scooby Doo is probably the most well-known example, but you've got several Hanna-Barbera returns to the same concept. Ditch weird pet/side kick, and you've got The Three Investigators, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys.

Wacky Races
I've written about this one before--and Richard has run it. Still needs a game, though.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Products from the Blog Roll

So why I'm toiling away on one project, blogger compatriots are getting stuff out at a much quicker rate. I've mentioned Tim Shorts's stuff before (and he just keeps making more of it!). I've also mentioned Garrisonjames over at Hereticwerks before, but I've neglected to mention this cool new mini-dungeon Taglar's Tomb for you OSR gaming:

Plus, it's pay what you want.

Porky of Porky's Expanse! has also been working like a dwarf in a mine (minus the singing) and totally without my notice, until he dropped a pay what you want mini-zine totally reflected of his weird and thoughtful style: Delver's Digest. It's also pay what you want:

After digesting the digest, check out Polycosm Publishing's other wares.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Wednesday Comics: The Price (part 4)

We continue our examination of Jim Starlin's Dreadstar Saga with The Price. The earlier posts in the series can be found here.

The Price (part 4)
Eclipse Graphic Album Series #5 (October 1981) Story & Art by Jim Starlin

Synopsis: In his sanctum, Taurus Killgaren is well aware that Darklock comes to kill him him. His demon familiar asks what will happen. Killgaren replies: "Most likely, I will die," but he adds that at last Syzygy Darklock will see the truth.

Darklock arrives sooner than expect and demands to know what truth, though he blasts off Killgaren's legs and disintegrates the sorcerer's familiar before getting the answer. 'Why?" he demands.

Killgaren tells him. The dread veil sorcerers are actually cosmic scholars, studying the dark sciences for the betterment of mankind. In his studies, Killgaren saw signs of a stellar event that would have a positive effect on humanity. This future was tenuous, though, so he set out to find a way to unsure it came to pass. it turns out either Syzygy or his brother was fated to play a part in this future, yet it wasn't clear which one. Killgaren chose Szygy and used his powers to influence him into the priesthood. One problem remained; despite a "certain immorality" on Darklock's part he was loyal in friendship...

To gain the power from the demon, Darklock must sacrifice the soul of the mortal he most loves in the universe: Sister Marian.

Darklock can't imagine what the sorcerer thinks would move him to such a deed. Killgaren shows him a vision of the future in his mystic orb:

Darklock doesn't want to accept it. He wonders why Killgaren did this? Was it to steal Darklock's place in the cosmic drama?

Killgaren laughs, then gives his reason:

Darklock responds:

Things to Notice:
  • If the dread veil sorcerers are so benevolent, why are they called "dread?" Or maybe it's just the veil plane that's "dread." 
Now, "the price" referenced in the title is revealed. The only question is whether Darklock will pay it or not.

Darklock's vision of the future also gives us our first link to Metamorphosis Odyssey since the intro. Vanth Dreadstar's face is among those he sees.