Thursday, October 30, 2014

Universal Monsters

I didn't really do any Halloween posts this year, so in grand tv tradition I'm going to rerun some Halloween specials of the past. Enjoy these monster meditations:

Frankenstein the gift of life keeps on giving.
The Mummy wrapped like candy, but not sweet.
Gill Man vs. Wolf Man head to head monster battle

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wednesday Comics: The Bearer of Bad Tidings

"Strangers in the Night"
Artesia #4 (April 1999) Story & Art by Mark Smylie

Synopsis: The troops give thanks to gods for the new day and the passing of the black sun. Stjepan, Atresia's brother, and his companions bring startling news from the south: The Thessid Empire has invaded the Middle Kingdoms.

We get a lot of background on the conflict:

The Middle Kingdoms have few allies. The League is holding back and Palatia, though a sworn enemy of the Empire, is mistrusted in the Middle Kingdom.

Artesia wonders if the Black Sun marked a defeat for the Thessids as it had before. Stjepan believes quite the opposite. Newly added to the Empire are the Isklids who worship Irre as the father of Islik from whom they claim descent.

It's a lot to take in. Their backwater homeland may be soon drawn into a war of great powers. Of course, Artesia and her lieutenants recognize Stjepan is a spy--they just don't know who he might be working for, as yet. It doesn't matter that he is Artesia's brother. The only blood that matters to her, she says, is blood that has been spilled. Her comrades are her kin, as far as she is concerned.

 The news has made their current conflict seem small. Some urge Artesia to take Dara Dess and depose Bran, others say she should march South. Artesia makes her decision:

She will parley with Bran. "The storm breaks and the wider world calls."

Things to Notice:
  • Smylie gives us quite a geopolitical tour of the Known World (and a lot of hints at its history) in the guise of current events.
Though events (and reputtation) have linked Artesia to war, this issue shows she's pragmatic. Despite Bran's betrayal, she intends to make peace to support the other Middle Kingdoms against Thessid-Gola.

Artesia's brother gets the spotlight in Smylie's novel The Barrow.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween Treat

Weird Adventures pdfs and bundles with the pdf are now on sale at 33% off as part of Drivethrurpg/Rpgnow's Halloween Sale.

If you've never picked up a copy, now is a good time.!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Welcome to the (Castle) Machine

Art by Jeremy Duncan
Castle Machina is the palace and workshop of Viola, the Clockwork Princess of the Country of Yanth. It sits at the center of a walled compound of laboratories, workshops, and barracks accommodating the Princess's gnomic associates.

The castle was built from the legendary Walking Castle of Mirabilis Lum. The old artificer reportedly chose the location because of the caves beneath. Using automaton workers, Lum turned the upper cave levels in laboratories--then disappeared into them, never to be seen again. His castle sat empty for a time, them artificers, tinkerers, and would-be treasure hunters descended upon it to scavenge Lum's secrets. Some fell to cunning traps Lum had left behind, but most lost their lives to simple heedlessness regarding the castle's dangers.

Over time, a tribe of gnomes was able to make a home in the castle and even began remodeling it to their needs. Their triumph only lasted a handful of years before they accidentally released a creature part-machine, part-ogre, Clanking Borgo, that made himself the castle's ruler. He enslaved the gnomes and exacted tribute from passing river traffic. This state of affairs lasted until the Princess arrived from places unknown to vanquish the ogre and very shortly thereafter be declared ruler of the whole country by the Wizard.

Despite being the center of the Princess's government, the castle has not being completely tamed. Oozes and slimes--the results of failed experiments and alchemical wastes--seep through the depths beneath. Dangerous automata and magical curiosities from all of Lum's travels lurk in forgotten rooms, waiting to be re-activated. There are even rumored to be unguarded portals to other worlds.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Art of Inspiration

The number of art books related to movies, computer games, and tv shows seem to have been increasing within the past few years. I just go the Adventure Time: The Art of Ooo this week, and Amazon helpfully tells me that art book for the charming animated film The Book of Life is now available. Though they can sometimes be a little pricey, I a good art book is great gaming inspiration.

The various Art of Star Wars books are pretty good--particularly for the prequel trilogy, where you get more concept art and discarded designs. For instance, early designs of for the character that became Darth Maul was a female Sith. This design later became the basis for Asaj Ventress. Unfortunately, these are out of print, though you can still find them.

The Avatar: The Last Airbender art book is a great one in terms of inspring production art and world detail. For The Legend of Korra, we've an art book for each season, so far. They are similar to the one for the original series, though individually not quite as good, probably because they aren't as concetrated. Still, they're well worth checking out.

The aboslute best ones are when the art book casts itself in a fictional context. The World of King Kong purports to be a history of Skull Island, but it's actually a fantastic guide to all the creatures created for the 2005 film.

Not all art books are created equal, alas. I found the Adventure Time book a bit disappointing as inspiration (better is The Adventure Time Encyclopaedia). Some of the movie related ones have beautiful art, but are low on concept art or hints of world detail where the real inspirational gold is to be found.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Rabbit Folk in 5e

Art by Jerome Jacinto
The Hara or Rabbit Folk have their own subkingdom within the Country of Yanth, though wandering swords-rabbits and minstrels of their kind may be encountered all over Azurth.

The Rabbit Folk live in underground warrens they call commots, where the peace is kept by knights led by a reeve. All the warrens are ruled by a king, currently one Lapin XXII who spends his days at leisure in the opulent burrow he shares with his harem.

Rabbit Folk balladeers tell of the tragic fall of a sister Hara kingdom whose warrens were invaded by a giant rattlesnake. In the tales, the undying king, maimed by the snake's vemon, roams the land in disguise, searching for a noble Hara (or any other hero, really) to restore his kingdom.

Hara are shorter than humans and thinner of limb, but sometimes plump in body. Their fur may be any color from white to black, with some shade of brown being the most common.

Art by Tony DiTerlizzi

Hara Traits
Ability Score Increase. Dexterity increased by 2 and Charisma by 1.
Age. Rabbit Folk live shorter lifespans than humans on average with only a few living beyond their 70. They are mature by their early teens.
Alignment. Hara tend toward good but can lean toward Law or Chaos.
Size. Hara are between 3 and 4 feet tall. Small.
Speed. Rabbit Folk are fleet of foot and have a base walking speed of 30 feet, despite their size.
Leaper. Rabbit Folk can make a running high jump or long jump after moving only 5 feet on foot.
Lucky. A Hara can reroll a 1 on an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw.
Nimbleness. A Hara can move through the space of any creature of larger size.
Languages. Rabbit Folk can speak and read Common. They also speak their on tongue, which they write in the standard Azurthite script.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Strange Stars: Welcome to the Outer Rim

There aren't too many more updates before we'll be done with the Strange Stars Setting Book. Here's the rough layout for the Outer Rim:

There are a couple of typos there, but it looks great overall. I worry a bit about the type size. It's always a struggle between cramming as much info in and the aesthetics.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Artesia

My Artesia review will return next week. For now, here's a few illustrations from Artesia Annual #1.

Here are some bannermen.

And the King's Guard.

Monday, October 20, 2014

New to Rivertown

Yesterday was the inaugural session of my 5th edition Land of Azurth campaign. Kully Keenstep (Jim, bard), Kairon (Eric, tiefling sorcerer), Waylon (Tug, frox thief), Dagmar (Andrea, dwarf cleric), and Berekose (Bob, fighter) all happen to arrive on the same keelboat, Berta Mae. After stopping an extortion attempt by river rats (the mostly human kind), the five draw the attention of Mayor Yrrol Gladhand.

Gladhand gets them put at the top of the list of audiences with the Clockwork Princess, Viola, and also gets them rooms at the Dove Inn. He wants them to get in the Princess's good graces, and then report to him and the City Council on things that might be of financial interest. Not knowing what else to do, the group agrees.

The next morning, they take the ferry over to Mechanicstown, the collection of laboratories around Castle Machina. The gnome guards usher them into the audience chamber, where a pre-occupied Princess soon enters. She agrees to help them with their various requests, but asks them to perform a simple task for her first: take a small velvet bag to a man in the third level beneath the castle. She shows them on a map where to go but warns them against going any place else, lest they run afoul of the tribes of Looms. None of them known what Looms are, but they are assumed to be quite dangerous based on the context.

After perform the ritual they are given, the Lift rumbles downward to "L3." They make their way down the hallway, but right before the doorway, Waylon and Erekose notice a glistening: a gelatinous cube blocks the way! The group goes around to another entrance. This one is blocked by old furniture, but it's easily movable. All the while, they hear the sounds of chanting and ritual, but they never see what they assume to be the Looms.

Through the grimy window of the laboratory, they can see a pale, flickering light. They enter and find a path amid the old laboratory and alchemical equipment. They can hear strange, distorted voices. They come upon the source of the light: an odd large, magnifying glass-like lens, and a man-shaped thing of metal looking into it. The metal shape turns toward them.

A voice emerges from a grating in its chest, and it asks if the group brought "them." They hand the bag over, and it dumps the contents on the table--tiny, metal pieces. It turns back to the lens and says: "we can renew our game."

Dagmar sees inside the round, glass opening in the thing's body to see a motionless old man with tubes stuck in him.

The group returns to the surface, where the Princess agrees to look into the things they asked about, and gives them a few leads.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tales of the Weird and Fantastic

Just in time for Halloween, Pulp Mill Press has released a second volume of Libram Mysterium edited by Sean Robson, this one subtitled Tales of the Weird and Fantastic. While the first volume was Sword and Sorcery tales, this one focuses on horror and macabre in the pulp vein. I haven't read this one yet, but I'm looking forward to checking it out.

It's available for the Kindle and most other electronic formats.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Azurthite Bestiary: Death Dwarf

Death Dwarfs are repulsive creatures inimical to all other life. When the Anti-Sun was invoked by the Gloom Elves' ancient spell, the Death Dwarfs followed it into Azurth and made their home in the subazurthian depths. They hate all life, but respect power, after a fashion. The have no allies; only enemies and masters.

Death Dwarfs speak a strange, backwards sounding language, which can be crudely interpreted if a Subazurthian listener views the Death Dwarf in a mirror as they are speaking. Death Dwarfs can understand Undercommon fully well. Their eyes glow in darkness, but are blackest voids in even dim light. Their blood is equally black and mildly caustic. They subsist on a diet of corrosive minerals and poisonous ore.

In a rage, Death Dwarfs can release their anti-energy and swell to a monstrous size, like some funhouse mirror negative image.

Death Dwarfs are the Land of Azurth version of Duergar. They are statted the same, but have the following regional effects around their lairs:

  • Plant life sickens and dies, adult animals weaken, and their progeny are born deformed within 1000 ft.
  • Food brought into a liar becomes rancid within a day and water becomes poisoned.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Three Rivertown Criminals

Honest Jon
If you need something illegal, not quite legal, or just not something to be inquired about in polite company, then Honest Jon may well be of assistance to you. He also specializes in finding a buyers for items of complicated provenance. All for a fee, naturally.

Calico Bonny
She is the Queen of the Floating World, and her palace is the only true ship among it's ramshackle flotilla, the Queen Azura. Bonny is never seen (though she is rumored to have met the Princess), but conducts her business through a succession of lissome girls all called "Fleur." No new gambling barge or pleasure boat opens without her approval. And the Queen always gets her tithe.

Art by Dan Norton
Mapache "Cleanhands" Took 
There is no "raccoon thieves' guild" in Rivertown. The very notion is absurd. Even if there were (which of course, there most certainly is not), it's ringleader and mastermind wouldn't be a shabby, gentleman of the road like our Mapache Took. Ridiculous. Completely ridiculous.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Strangers in the Night

"Strangers in the Night"
Artesia #3 (March 1999) Story & Art by Mark Smylie

Synopsis: Night falls over the battlefield and something strange is in the air. Artesia tells her troops that the door to the underworld has been opened; it is not their goddess Djara and her companions, but the Wild Hunt that roams this night. She tells the warriors to stay close to the ghost heads--heads of the fallen placed on stakes--tonight: One ghost will ward against another.

Artesia rides out to warn the scavengers they've seen among the fallen.

She finds they are not human but hathaz-ghul. They can't be harmed by mere iron, but Artesia's rune-inscribed sword is something different. She's only just defeated them and finished off her dying horse, when she feels it coming. She runs for the ghost wards, but:

She boldly tells the master of the Wild Hunt that he has one night given to him by Yhera, and this is not it.

But Artesia has already chosen sides.

Her spirits rebuke the Master of the Hunt to be gone. Artesia has been claimed by another. "Ah, the heart of war, After so long." the huntsman says. "I am glad."

He departs, leaving Artesia to wonder who it is that can banish the Wild Hunt. Then, she's distracted by the cry of the dying Dymas. He explains that he had to change sides because his king told him to. He would never side with the Knights of Agall and the other outlanders, though. He worries that the death guides have not come, that the souls of he and his men will be lost.

Artesia reassures when that they will keep the vigil for his journey. Their prayers will give his soul 7 days to find their way. Then, they come. And Dymas sees them.

Artesia says her prayers to Geniche, goddess of the Underworld. Though she is afraid, she looks the goddess in the face:

Artesia flinches from the bright light, and then the goddess is gone--along with the souls of the dying.

Her troops find her their in the morning. They tell her three outlanders slipped by the pickets last night. Artesia sees the ones they speak of approaching. They say they have come to the highlands to find a woman: a woman captain, once a king's concubine. A woman born in the lowlands, but come to the Highlands. A witch like her mother.

Artesia embraces her brother, Stjepan.

Things to Notice:
  • With his recitation of the rumors about her, Stjepan relates a lot of Artesia's backstory.
The Wild Hunt, which appears in this issue, is a well-known European myth, with the Master of the Hutn varying, depending on the culture. The corpse-consuming hathaz-ghul are inspired by the Arabic ghul (ghoul).

Monday, October 13, 2014

Yanth Cartography

The map above by Gus L of The Dungeon of Signs is of the Country of Yanth in the Land of Azurth. Gus has faithfully reproduced the style of the Orrey Blundur, Royal Cartographer to King Cyan of Azurth. As is custom following the Bichromatic Compromise, the Country of Yanth is colored yellow. Mundy was a practitioner of artistic cartography, favoring a aesthetically pleasing arrangement of feature over accurate representation. The geography of Azurth has never been quite as settled as it is in other lands, so this is perhaps not as great a failing as it might seem.

Blundur is rumored to have disappeared into a trap street he inserted into a map of the Sapphire City the week before, then subsequently discovered in the real world.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Slumbering Ursine Dunes

The Kickstarter for Slumbering Ursine Dunes will be coming to an end on October 14, so if you haven't got in on it yet, time is drawing nigh. I've been a backer since the day the Kickstarter began. While I'm sometimes iffy about rpg kickstarters (their track record isn't great), I know any reader of the Hill Cantons blog knows that Chris has been a critic of kickstarters in the past, and he and the Hydra Collect have done everything right with this one--like having the product actually mostly finished before starting the kickstarter.

Now knowing the guys involved and having played in the Hill Cantons G+ campaign in the past, I do not pretend any review I would give of Dunes would be entirely object. (If you're looking for probably a more objective one than mine, Gus L has given us one.) I can tell you while I like it and why I think it exemplifies what is good about DIY gaming products, in general.

First off, Dunes takes place in Chris's very flavorful and original campaign world, the Hill Cantons. The Cantons is one of those rich, long-running D&D that most of us wish we had, but don't have the discipline to pull off. The Hill Cantons is pulp fantasy setting, less Howard or Lovecraft, and more Vance and Leiber, infused with a strong Slavic flavor. It manages to avoid the "learning curve" problem associated with settings like Tekumel or Glorantha, while managing to be distinct from the Forgotten Realms also-rans. Dunes mixes bear gods and alien technology and makes it all fit together with a large amount of wit.

If that weren't enough, it's written in such away that it's easy to tweak or remove the Hill Cantons elements (great as they are) so that you can make it your own. Anthony (Straits of Anian) Picaro is adapting it to his fantasy Pacific Northwest (and that's going to be available through the Kickstarter to backers at some levels). I think I'm going to use it as the basis of my annual Weird Adventures Yule Special. It's going to be the inspiration and framework for a tale of combining Father Yule, Ruthenian Bear Folk, and the aftermath of the Weird Adventures version of the Tunguska event. It's robust enough to be what works best for you campaign.

So back it, already! The Kickstarter ends Wednesday.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Strange Stars Update and Contents

The Strange Stars systemless setting book is almost done! Here is the list of contents, and the likely order they will be in:

Categories of Sophonts
Starships & Travel
The Alliance
The Coreward Reach
The Vokun Empire
The Outer Rim
The Zuran Expanse
Psi & Psionics

The book looks to be on schedule to come out late this fall. John "FATE SF" Till has the Fate Sytem Book virtually complete in draft, but having been focused on the setting book, I'm lagging on the Stars Without Number adaption, and both still need proofing and layout. I don't want to delay the setting book, though, so we're looking at a staggered release, with the system books following (hopefully) in a couple of months.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Azurthite Bestiary: Bugbear Nightmare

In dark places where nightmares thicken and curdle, bugbears are born. They're gangling things with burning coal eyes that stare out of snarled fur, black and featureless as the night sky between the stars. They haunt abodes of fear and shadow: abandoned houses, ancient ruins, sunless forests; they even squeeze into the recesses of children's closets and the forgotten world glimpsed in the gaps between floorboards. Any dark corner is a door to a bugbear. They crawl out with great sacks clutched in their spider-fingered hands. Snickering, murmuring, they snatch up children and small folk in their sacks and kill those who try and stop them. They drag the children back to their damp, subterranean otherworld, and what happens there is best not discussed.

Besides (one presumes) their kidnapped victims, bugbears subsist on such inedible provender as glass shards, potash, and the heads of rabid bats. They consider certain venomous toads an utter delicacy.

Azurthite bugbears are statted like regular 5e bugbears with the following differences:

Skills Stealth +6

Special Abilities:
Plastic. Bugbears can squeeze through spaces as small as 1 inch.
Shadow Stealth. While in dim light or darkness, a bugbear can hide as a bonus action.
Sunlight Weakness. In bright sunight, bugbears have a disadvantage to attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Black Sun Rising

"Black Sun Rising"
Artesia #2 (February 1999) Story & Art by Mark Smylie

Synopsis: Artesia awakes from a dream--a portend, perhaps--of her mother being burned at the stake, telling her daughter to join her. It is morning. Artesia rises from between her two slumbering bedmates to greet her lieutenants. Some of the force have left them over night, but others have rallied to her, unwilling to accept the Divine King over the goddess Yhera.

She summons spirits to help her dress for battle. They whisper that their mothers, the goddesses of war are eager for the feast to come. Once dressed, she turns to deal with her bedmates--assassins sent by Bran. She awakens them from the magical sleep she put them under and tells them they have one chance to go for their daggers:

The assassins dead, Artesia and her company head for the field of battle. Besides their original foes, the knights of Agall and those that deserted them over night are under Bran's wolf banner--now arrayed against them. Artesia orders their own wolf banner taken down. They will only use black banners to match the black sun of Irré:

Artesia gives her troops a rousing speech. They must turn against their king because he's betrayed their land and their goddess to usurpers. The coming of Irré is a good omen for them. The speech works, and the battle is joined.

She uses her magic to cause panic and slays several Agall Knights herself. In the end, Artesia's enemies are routed, but after such an unnatural day, she fears the night to come.

Things to Notice:
  • Like more than one hero, Artesia had sex with the assassin(s) before killing them. Priorities.
Smylie's Known World is an interesting mix of historic sources, but the gods and goddess seem mostly Ancient Greek inspired. The name of the Known World's Queen of Heaven, Yhera, clearly shows its derivation from the Greek Queen of Heaven, Hera. Irré the Black Sun, is a sun god, but mostly has the negative aspects of Apollo's portfolio (he is the god of plagues, for instance), while his brother, Illiki Helios gets the more positive aspects. Besides the Greek elements, the two seem to borrow from Egyptian myth: the bull aspect of Illiki is reminiscent of the Atum-Ra, and the relationship between the brothers resembles myths related to Osiris and Set.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Azurthite Bestiary: Behir & Beholder

Continuing my series of monsters from the 5e monster manual rethought for the Land of Azurth:

The behirs of the caves and caverns of Subazurth are somewhat smarter (somewhat) than those of other lands, but they are no less malign. If anything, their pompous air makes them even more intolerable; being eaten by a reptilian monster is one thing, but being condescended to beforehand is really too much! Behirs crawl out of their hiding places, slithering along the ceiling and out of passages that would seem to be too narrow for their size. They are surprisingly quiet, too. Many travelers are unaware of their presence, before they introduce themselves from out of the darkness and engage the frightened folk in conversation.

The thinly veiled threat of being eaten is ever-present so most humor the behir as they hold forth on art and letters or current affairs. Their knowledge is woefully outdated and incomplete (coming as it does from conversation with previous victims or from books the barely literate creature did not read in great detail) when not completely made up. What makes this discourse even less tolerable is the superior air and snide tone the behir affects at all times. A guaranteed way to end the conversation is to point out an error on the behir's part, but this ending is unlikely to be a happy one.

There is a strange kingdom in Subazurth called Beautia. The folk of the kingdom are human, but its ruler is the Beholder, an exceedingly unhappy alien monster, stranded in this world. The Beholder is first and foremost an aesthete, and its deep melancholy arises from the ugliness it perceives in the world around it. How it misses the natural beauty of its homeworld: the sharp dimpling of the pools of bilious ooze by the fierce shard-rains, the moans of the pungent flesh-stalks as the writhing, pulsating grub-parasites suckle at their ichor.

Being of an extremely sensitive disposition, the Beholder has been driven mad by its exile. Its mood seesaws between tittering hysteria and spells of sobbing depression. Mostly, it retreats into solipsistic denial and attempts to remake its kingdom into a more pleasing form, punctuated with the occasional disintegration of a subject who has failed to be entirely pleasing. To that end, its subjects wear spherical masks in imitation of their king's form and pretend to be pre-adult instars of its species. Many of Beautia's folk actually believe they are--spiritually, if not physically. Their state religion preaches spherification and eye-multiplication in successive reincarnations, until beholder perfection is reached.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Weird Dread Machine

Gus L over at Dungeon of Signs has released another in his series of free adventure pdfs, Dread Machine. As with all of Gus's products its got good layout for a free product and is enlivened by his appropriately stylized art and maps.

Gus says of the adventure: "Designed to be used in any fantasy setting, it is not intended to be especially strange or outside the norms for most traditional fantasy adventure games." While I think this is true, in the sense that it's implied setting seems to be a pre-industrial sort of world, I think it sells the the flavor of the module short. I would say that Dread Machine (like most of Gus's rpg work) has a vibe of the New Weird about it, like the world of China Mieville, Jay Lake, or K.J. Bishop. While I think many will view it as similar to the sort of gonzo flavor Old School D&D is often touted as having (and sometimes actually did) there is a coherence (or the illusion of coherence) that sets it apart from the mere gonzo, and an attention to (to coin a term) "fantasification"--seeing sci-fi elements through a fantasy lens. This is something I tried to do a lot with Weird Adventures and something that is different from the approach to sci-fi elements of say Expedition to Barrier Peaks.

Not that you have to be interested in any of that to enjoy the adventure. It's deeply "old school" in structure and setup but adaptable to any school you want. Check it out.

And while you checking things out, I think Dave Johnson's gonzo Grandpappy Cromdar's Whizbang Zoo! may not hit the same notes as Dread Machine, but could go on the playlist of "old school made new."

Friday, October 3, 2014

Azurthite Bestiary: Aarakocra & Azer

The 5e Monster Manual is a good book, but it has a lot of monsters I won't use. Or, one's I probably won't use as is. Here are a couple of with rethought fluff for the Land of Azurth, but I imagine they'd work anywhere:

Art by Yuriy
There is an island, far to the east in the Boundless Sea, littered with broken, stone structures and monuments engraved with human faces. The builders of the temples and monuments are long gone, but small tribes of bird folk with feathers of dull bronze and crests like peafowl camp amid the ruins and hunt in the forests. These folk are the Aarakocra, and all found in the villages are female. The Aarakocra mostly avoid visitors, disappearing into the forests or flying to high perches, but they will fight fiercely against aggressors and thieves.

In the decaying grand temple, the few, more brightly plummaged, male Aarakocra make their homes. They are the priests and husbands of the females. They lead their harems in worship of their holy object: a great egg with a surface like polished marble, veined in rainbow colors. It is said to be the egg of the Simurgh, the God-Queen of All Birds. The Aarakocra allow no other race to view their religious mysteries, and will capture any defilers of their rituals and lock them away in aviary-like cages to be tended and observed by the priest males for the rest of their days.

Though the earth and the works of man are minuscule in comparison, the Sun is really only a dwarf amongst its starry kind. It is a dwarf made of dwarves, countless throngs of them, formed from the pure elemental fire of heaven. They labor at the work of the cosmos and dance and sing radiant hymns to the glory of the gods. Sometimes, a solar dwarf is snatched from the outer layer of the churning multitudes by magic, or a few are cast into the void in a gout of ecstatic toil and fall to earth. These visitors clothe their celestial fire in shells of aurichalcum and all give their name as Azer.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Mapping Yanth

I've been trying to but together a map so I can send notes off to Gus L of the Dungeon of Signs to get a map like this cool ASE one he did. Mainly, I just seem to be adding now locales and not getting much drawing done.

So far we've got:
The Vale of Thorns
The Warrens of the Rabbit Folk
Mount Brawl
The Mounds of the Ancients
The Great Standing Stone Sages
Apiaria, the Hive City of the Bee Folk
Lardafa, the Shanty-City of the Swamps
The Elder Dragon
Aldwode Forest
The Motley Isles

Some of these places I've talked about before, but the pictures will have to serve for the rest at the moment.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wednesday Comics: Artesia

"Walking the Line"
Artesia #1 (January 1999) Story & Art by Mark Smylie

Synopsis: Two forces prepare to meet on the field of battle. The captain of on one company, Artesia, offers up a prayer: "Yhera, Queen of Heaven! Yhera Anath, Queen of War! Strike off the chains of the Gorgonae! Loose the Three Sisters of Battle!"

She continues her prayer and her soldiers add their voices to hers. Then, the battle is joined.

When it's over, Artesia's side is victorious. The carrion crows come to feed and Artesia senses the coming of the guides of the dead. At her request, they show her the spirit world.

Fear cuts through her religious ecstasy when she sees Geniche, Queen on the Underworld. The goddess assures Artesia it is not her she came for and kisses her on the lips. She returns to the mundane world still trembling from the touch of the divine. Used to this sort of thing, Artesia's men, go about their business: Ferris plans to go to the nearby temple of Hathnalla to ask her cult sisters for aid; the men plan to give the honored dead over into their care and make camp near the temple.

King Alexus, leader of the opposing army, sees the spirtiwalkers glow around Artesia and knows why he lost the battle--and why his cousin Bran didn't even bother to show up for the battle. Artesia replies he's hiding in shame, since he let his concubine lead his army into battle. Alexus gets to the point and asks Artesia to join him.

Either or both. He also offers a place for her company. Artesia declines. Her lieutenant notes that Alexus seems in good spirits for a man about to loose a third of his lands and just saw his champion beheaded. He knows something. "It matters little; the die is cast," Artesia replies. She's in a hurry to get home before the Coming of Blessed Night.

Home is Dara-Dess, a Highland citadel held by King Branimir of Huelt. Artesia is not only his captain, but his concubine--and his priestess. In Yhera's shrine she offers up the head of the vanquished champion as sacrifice.

In the next hall, she presents the banner of the enemy and the most prestigous hostages to her king. Bran is pleased; he wishes her company to feast and celebrate at the citadel. Artesia demures, citing her need to secure the field of battle and press on. She has one more stop before she goes:

Her concubine-sisters can't understand why she has chosen the ways of war. Lysa the oldest of them, says Artesia has turned from the true of arts of women and of civilization and clad yourself in iron. Artesia counters that she will have them all. Lysa also has a prophecy to give:

The other concubines are afraid. Artesia says they should come with her, but Lysa replies they cannot. Artesia leaves with a sense of foreboding.

And well she should. Her king conspires with witchhunters.

They are mistaken, though, that Artesia didn't sense their presence.

Things to Notice:
  • Artesia's armor is much more "fantasy female" than it will be in later issues.
Smylie starts his story in media res and pretty much expects you to follow along. He lets context and iconography allow the reader to figure out enough about the deities he names by analogy to real world ones to be able to keep going. Here's a resource, though, to help sort them out.