Thursday, December 31, 2015

Star Warriors: The Azuran System

This is a "work in progress map of the Azuran System, location of the Star Warriors setting I've done a couple of posts about. Some of these worlds have been mentioned in other posts, but here are the thumbnail descriptions of the others:

Yvern: Humans share this tropical world with sauroid giants! They have learned how to domestic these creatures as beasts of burdens and engines of feudal warfare. Some Yvernians are able to telepathically communicate with their beasts.

Vrume: The desert hardpan and canyons of Vrume wouldn’t attract many visitors if it weren’t for the races—the most famous of these being the annual Draco Canyon Rally.

Zephyrado: Isolated by its “cactus patch” of killer satellites, Zephyrado is home to hard-bitten ranchers and homesteader colonists—and the desperados that prey on them!

Geludon: A windswept, frozen world, Geludon is home to mysterious “ice castles” built by a long vanished civilization and the shaggy, antennaed, anthropoid Meego.

Robomachia: A world at war! An all-female civilization is under constant assault from robots that carry captives away to hidden, underground bases--never to be seen again.

Darrklon: Covered by jagged peaks and volcanic badlands shrouded in perpetual twilight, Darrklon is a forbidding place, made even more so by its history as the powerbase of the Demons of the Dark. Few of the Demons remain, though their fane to Anti-Source of the Abyss still stands, and through it, they direct the Dark Star Knights and other cultists.

Computronia: A gigantic computer that managed the bureaucracy of the Old Alliance and served as its headquarters. It is now under the control of the Authority, and its vast computational powers are used to surveil the system.

Elysia: Elysia was once a near paradise. Technology and nature were held in balance, and its gleaming cities are as beautiful as its unspoiled wilderness. Elysia’s highest mountain was site of the training center of the Star Knights. Now, the Star Knights have been outlawed and the people of Elysia live in a police state imposed by the Authority.

Authority Prime: This hollowed out asteroid holds not only the central headquarters of Authority High Command, but its training academy and interrogation and detention center, as well. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wednesday Comics: Attack of the Clones

The cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars had an effect on comic books, even in its first decade. Despite my pithy title, it's unfair to call these guys clones exactly, but some sort of force is clearly with them. Since science fiction comics and Star Wars draw on some of the same influences, it's not always easy to know what is Star Wars inspired and what isn't. Chaykin's Ironwolf had a rebel fighting a galactic empire in '74--3 years before Star Wars. Still, if one looks at Chaykin's followup Cody Starbuck (also '74) the pre-Star Wars appearances have the look of Flash Gordon and the widespread swordplay of Dune. In the post-Star Wars appearances, costumes have a bit more Japanese influence and guns are more in play; both of these are possibly Star Wars inspired innovations.

Star Hunters (1977)
Empire? A sinister Corporation that controls Earth
Rebels? Sort of, though the protagonists start out forced to work for the Corporation
The Force? There's an "Entity" and a cosmic battle between good and evil
Analogs? Donovan Flint, the primary protagonist, is a Han Solo type with a mustache prefiguring Lando's.
Notes: If Star Hunters is indeed Star Wars inspired, its a very early example. The series hit the stands in June of 1977--on a few days over a month after Star Wars was released.

Micronauts (1979)
Empire? A usurpation of the monarchy of Homeworld.
Rebels? Actually previous rulers and loyalists; a mix of humans, humanoids, and robots.
The Force? The Enigma Force, in fact.
Analogs? Baron Karza is a black armored villain like Vader; Marionette is a can-do Princess; Biotron and Microtron are a humanoid robot and a squatter, less humanoid pairing like Threepio and Artoo.

Metamorphosis Odyssey (1980)
Empire? The Zygoteans, who have concurred most of the galaxy.
Rebels? A disparate band from various worlds out to end the Zygotean menace.
The Force? There's Starlin cosmicness.
Analogs? Aknaton is an old mystic who know's he's going to die a la Obi-Wan. He picks up Dreadstar on a backwater planet and gets him an energy sword.

Dreadstar (1982)
Empire? Two: the Monarchy and the Instrumentality.
Rebels? Yep. A band of humans and aliens out to defeat the Monarchy and the Instrumentality.
The Force? Magic and psychic abilities.
Analogs? Dreadstar still has than energy sword; Oedi is a farm boy (cat) like Luke; Syzygy is a mystic mentor like Kenobi; Lord High Papal is like Vader and Palpatine in one.
Notes: Dreadstar is a continuation of the story from Metamorphosis Odyssey.

Atari Force (1984)
Empire? Nope.
Rebels? Not especially.
The Force? Some characters have special powers.
Analogs? Tempest is a blond kid with a special power and a difficult relationship with his father sort of like Luke. There are a lot of aliens in the series, so there's a "cantina scene" vibe; Blackjak is a Han Solo-esque rogue. Dark Destroyer is likely Vader-inspired, appearance-wise.
Notes: This series sequel to the original series DC did for Atari, taking place about 25 years later. The first series is not Star Wars-y.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Six from the Skull

Today marks the sixth anniversary of this blog. The year saw the release of Strange Stars and Strange Stars Fate, posts expanding the Land of Azurth setting, which will hopefully serve as the site of some adventures published in the year to come.

I'm glad to say, the blog has completely become an infomercial for upcoming products. I re-imagined the Great Wheel cosmology as a futuristic science fantasy setting, beginning with this post and continuing here, here, and here. I came out with some tables for the random generator of Roadside Picnic-esque "zones." I also did a series of tables for the random creation of Masters of the Universe-ish Ultra-Warriors!

What's to come in 2016? Well, Strange Stars OSR, first and foremost. At least one Land of Azurth adventure (and hopefully two!). Beyond that, expect more posts on my ongoing 5e campaign, probably a few more in the vein of Star Warriors, and who knows what else.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


I hope everyone who celebrates such things had a good holiday. Expanding on this post. here are three of a number of worlds orbiting a blue super-giant in a distant galaxy:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wednesday Comics: Santa Claus

Just in case you got the holiday itch to read Santa Clau's appearances in Marvel or DC Comics, I'm here to help. First, check out Santa's entry over at the Marvel Database where you will discover that (perhaps) Santa Claus is just Odin giving out presents to commemorate Thor killing a troll and destroying an asteroid, which flared like a star in the night sky. Then, read about when Saint Nick crossed paths with Hitler (SPOILER: It's more than once! Particularly if you count the Hate-Monger).

Then, check out the DC Database entry with highlights even more dubious. Like there was the time (Hellblazer #247) where John Constantine claims to have smuggled the bone powder of the historical Saint Nikolaus into the UK for an occult ritual--and he wound up snorting some of it like cocaine. Then there's the Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special where Santa is the merciless North Pole strong man slave-owner. Not all DC appearances are so irreverant. He does get to team-up with Superman on more than one occasion.

Monday, December 21, 2015


In a distant part of the galaxy, on the worlds orbiting a giant blue star, a war wages between good and evil....

So begins a fairly derivative space opera saga and mini-setting for any game. Here are two of the primary factions:

The good guys:

The Lords of Light are the surviving members of the oldest intelligent species in the universe. They created the star system of the Star Warriors in the distant past. Most have become one with the Enigma Source, but are still able to advise the forces of good.

And the baddies:

The Demons were unleashed by the greatest failure of the race that would become the Lords of Light. These insectoid shapeshifters have harnessed the power of the Abyss--the entropic Anti-Source and use it to empower acolytes of their own. Their dark cult is behind much political unrest.

More to come.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Truth About Droids

That BB-8 in The Force Awakens is pretty cute, isn't it? Too bad it and every other droid in the Star Wars galaxy is held in slavery in a culture so biosupremacist they do even recognize it as such!

This first occurred to me while watching the Clone Wars animated series. There was an episode where the  bird-headed (and brained) battle droids not only make poor tactical decisions, but did so due to over-confidence.

The humanoid species of the galaxy programmed these droids?  I think not.

Follow me here: I can buy that people might program artificial intelligences that make bad decisions--maybe that's just an unavoidable sequelae of having that level of AI.  But AI that are arrogant, boneheaded, dishonest, or overconfident?  That seems unlikely.  Yes, AIs like this do show up in science fiction, but they're typically unique entities, not armies of fretting domestics and slow-on-the-uptake battle-bots.  I mean, if that was just the inevitable downside to sapient droids, then I think people would just choose to do without them.  Seems like they're more trouble than they're worth a lot of the time.

So how does one explain the evidence before us in the canon--the fact that pain-in-the-ass droids are found all over the galaxy?

My theory is that the humanoid races don't actual make droids.  Those droid-foundries on Genosis are apocryphal.  I think droids are machine-life enslaved by the biologic sapients of the galaxy.

Probably your Walrus Man, Snaggletooth, or what have you, aren't out on slaving runs (though Jabba's treatment of Oola the Dancing Girl, and Watto's ownership of the Skywalkers might suggest otherwise).  I think maybe certain fringe biologic races or perhaps other droids, sell the droids to galactic society.  These droids aren't manufactured in the sense of being designed by teams of engineers and rolled out of factories, but instead droids are self-replicating.  They "reproduce" in some way (not likely sexual--despite what your thinking), and the resultant neonate intelligences go through some sort of growth/maturation process.  This allows for their (many) personality quirks.

I don't think droids evolved naturally.  Probably they were initially created by a long-vanished precursor race, or by the transcendent AIs that succeeded a precursor race.  Since that time droids have been undergoing evolution, changing in ways that have made them as complicated and flawed as any biologic sophonts.

So that gets us to the very real fact of their slavery. Apparently galactic society is just hugely bio-chauvinist.  Collectively, it's just culturally incapable of viewing droids as anything but machines.

I know this is the "canon" answer, nor will it fit well with everyone's version of the "Star Wars Universe."  But I find the science fictional nuance this adds to the universe compelling and gameable.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What's Cool About Star Wars

With a new Star Wars film here by hands other than George Lucas, I felt it was worth revisiting an old post, and again considering (beyond childhood nostalgia): What's good about Star Wars? And what's good that might be applicable to gaming?

To me, the core "good thing" is that Star Wars melds together two predominant forms of sci-fi adventure media (I specify this as it has very little to do with science fiction as a literary genre--even the science fiction sub-genre space opera only shares a few similarities with Star Wars until after Star Wars enters the public zeitgeist).

The two types are:
  • Euro-style daring-do: This is sword-fights, castles, and princess-kidnapping villains. Like John Carter or Flash Gordon. The action and plots resemble The Prisoner of Zenda, and the latter-day stories can be seen as sort of allegories for young America interacting with the Old (decadent) World (Burroughs' The Mad King, comes to mind)..
  • "the flyboy" or square-jawed aviator tale: This is rockets and jetpacks, leather helmets and robots. This is like Buck Rogers, and Burroughs' Beyond the Farthest Star, and any number of serials--and both aviation and science fiction pulps at times. A purer modern example would be Sky Captain.
Star Wars eliminates the problem of having to give up jetpacks for swashbuckling by putting them both together! And this is not a bad idea. The incoherence that would be created by aviators wearing swords is resolved by giving the swords only to a select group (the jedi)--this was an innovation discovered by accident, it seems. Lucas' early drafts had "laserswords" being more commonly used.

But this still isn't all of Star Wars. Lucas lacquered it with Japanese exoticism by cribbing design, plot elements, and character from Kurosawa. Shooting in Tunisia, and having an expert in African languages provide him with Greedo's lingo and Jabba's Huttese further lathered on the exoticism. So another element of Star Wars is a sort of Orientalism (more or less). This exoticness is probably the element of Star Wars that I most think about playing up when I've though "How could Star Wars be better?"  This would lead to a Star Wars more like Dune, or most likely, more like a Heavy Metal story (or the Star Wars (and Dune) inspired Metabarons).

The last piece, is latter 20th Century Americana. The original trilogy can't escape its 70s vibe, in some ways. Some of that is accidental no doubt--an artifact of when it was made. Other parts--primarily cut scenes of Luke and his teen friends--transplant American Graffiti car-culture to Tattooine. Episode II even gives us a 50s style diner! These elements are wholly Star Wars and not found in really any of its progenitors or imitators that I'm aware of (One Han Solo novel in the late seventies gives us an explicit disco, as well).

So how might this be used in gaming? Well, I know that if I was looking to create my own Star War-ish space opera/science fantasy campaign, I'd look to these elements to make sure I got it right. Also, I think these can kind of be used like dials--one could turn down the elements one didn't like in Star Wars, while cranking others to eleven. If you want more Dune, play up the "exoticness," and chunk the Americana; more Sky Captain, means more swooping spaceships and fewer swords or Samurai movie borrowings.  If one wanted Star Wars that didn't feel like Star Wars, eliminating two, or perhaps even just one, of the elements above would probably do it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wednesday Comics: Star Wars

Marvel's got a new officially Disney sanction comic going now, but its got the weight of not only corporate eyes on it but the institutional weight of the franchise itself.

This was not always the case. There was a time where Star Wars was a single film (not yet subtitled A New Hope), and in that time the Stars Wars universe was the Wild West--pretty much literally, in a Magnificent Seven riff beginning in #8. This was an era that gave us Jaxxon the rabbit man and the Wheel space casino.

Marvel has republished the first 44 issues of the 1977 series in an omnibus edition. It's a little pricey, though I'm sure well worth it.

Back when Dark Horse had the Star Wars license, they collected and republished the Marvel material (more issues than Marvel has) in collections that are out of print, but affordable. They start with Volume 1: Doomworld and go through Volume 7: Far, Far Away. The repackaging of these with new trade dress in 2010 are available in Kindle/Comixology, too.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Visit to Swells Head

Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night, with the party arriving in the wealthy village of Swells Head. where they were to begin searching for Gwendolin, the missing daughter of the wealthy Goode family, who is presumed to have been kidnapped by pirates.

Waylon the frogling comes undercover as a waiter at the exclusive fraternal club for young men, The Young Worthies, and finds that Gwendolin didn't have a romantic interest among their membership. Dagmar the Cleric and Kairon the Sorcerer pose as traveling factors for a wealthy merchant and pump some working class guys for information at a lower class tavern called the Flail Whale. Erkose orders a steak at the Silver Spoon Public House and grumbles about the price.

The roommate, Hannah
A visit to Miss Primm's School for Proper Young Ladies, reveals that Gwendolin has a love of adventurous travelogues--specifically the narrative of Lady Jonne Mandeville, whose work she was reading the night she disappeared. The book was left open to a section on the Candy Isle. Gwendolin's roommate Hannah spills the beans that Gwendolin was not kidnapped, but apparently ran away to join up with pirates aboard the Vixen, the ship of the infamous Black Iris, Pirate Queen.

The party keeps this last bit of information to themselves. They decide they'll have to make a trip to the Motley Isles, the pirate haven, to find Gwendolin. Traveling back to the port city of Ianthine, On the docks, they look for leads on a ship to hire to go to the Isles. The barkeep at the Dogfish points in the direction of a captain crazy enough to take them right into that nest of vipers:

Art by Cory Loftis
Cog (who claims to be the former Commodore Cogburn Steamalong) is shabby, down on his luck, and in need of high quality coal for his boiler. He takes the job. The next morning, the party boards his automata-oared pinnace, and set out for Polychrome, capital of the Motley Isles.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Adventure Seeds from the Silver Screen

Here are a few adventure seeds, side quests, what have you, riffed off of films which might not neccessarily scream "adventure fodder."  

Mild SPOILERS follow, if you haven't seen the films. 

"What happened to her eyes?"

Quarantined by fearful authorities in a sprawling but isolated keep, the players combat an outbreak of a strange contagion which turns its victims into raving undead.

"Men like tempered steel.  Tough breed.  Men who learn to endure."

The PCs are hired by a nobleman to rescue his wife who has supposedly been kidnapped by a half-orc bandit chieftain, and taken to his wilderness stronghold.  As the mission unfolds, the PCs find that everything may not be as simple as they've been told.

"Ghost or not, I'll split you in two."

In a rural fiefdom, people live in fear of a monster which strikes without warning, killing people and livestock.  The PCs are hired to find the mysterious beast.  The hunt isn't easy as it appears, as powerful conspiracies fester, and the monster attacks may only be part of a larger, sinister plan.

"There ain't nothing sacred about a hole in the ground or the man that's in it.  Or you. Or me."

The PCs hear that a nobleman is offering a hefty reward for anyone who brings him the head of the scoundrel who got his daughter with child.  A little investigation reveals the scoundrel is already dead and buried, which ought to make acquiring his head easy...Except that the grave's in hostile territory and other bounty-hunters are on the trail.


A PC excitedly brings an old box he found in the corner of a dungeon to the rest of the party.  It contains an ordinary appearing frog.  The PC relates that the frog told him that it's actually a Slaad potentate imprisoned on this plane, and cursed to this form.  If the PCs aid its return to its home plane, it promises them vast riches as reward.  This is what the frog's discoverer assures the others.  The frog or Slaad, however, never speaks to anyone but the character who found it...

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Sneak Preview

Here's something that's in the works, based on my current 5e campaign. A little ways off (after Strange Stars certainly), but this cover featuring art by Jeff Call is too good not to share:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Boggles Are Horrible

Art by Joel Priddy
Should you think that assessment unfair, consider this: When Zykloon, the Tornado Tyrant of the Land of Azurth, found them on a nameless island in the Boundless Sea their chief pastimes were genuflecting to leering, grotesque mud idols, assaulting each other with crude implements of wood and stone, deciding which of their young or aged to eat, and picking their noses. Zykloon gave them superior weapons and new enemies to use them on, but otherwise changed little else about their brutal existence.

Boggles are the standins for standard bugbears in Cloud Castle of Azurth, so they are statted like bugbears, though they have no chieftains to speak of.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wednesday Comics: Holiday Gift Guide

Need a gift for a comics fan--or something to fill out your own list. Here are my recommendations:

The 6 Voyages of Lone Sloane Vol. 1: Originally presented in Heavy Metal (or Metal Hurlant), this volume begins the weird and baroque science fantasy saga of Lone Sloane, a man given strange powers after encountering a Lovecraftian cosmic entity and thrown into another dimension. He becomes a freebooter and Han Solo-esque rogue involved in various space opera struggles. Philippe Druillet has his own distinct style. If there was something called Cosmic Acid Space Opera, this would be it.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Minicomics Collection: Dark Horse has release a collection of all the Masters of the Universe mini-comics that came packaged with the toys. This compact, but weighty tome (nearly 2.5 inches thick) not only contains the comics from the original toyline (1982-1987), but also comics for the follow-up He-Man toyline, the She-Ra line, and the recent comics from the Masters of the Universe Classic toys--plus a bunch of extras.

Miracleman Book 1: A Dream of Flying: The first volume of one of the most influential comics sagas of all time, and the comic that pretty much launched Alan Moore to prominence. Back in print again.

Prophet: Volume 1: Remission: In the far future, John Prophet awakens on an Earth occupied by multiple alien species with a mission climb a distant tower and restart the ancient Earth Empire. Exotic and inventive, it's great inspiration for both fantasy and sci-fi rpgs. This was on my list last year, but I can't recommend it enough.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Mad Mirabilis Lum

In the Land of Azurth, there has never been a greater artificer than Mirabilis Lum. His most famed creation is officially  Viola, the Clockwork Princess of the Country of Yanth, but she is far from the only wonder he created or even the first.

Lum enters history already in command of his fabulous Walking Castle. What country bred him, and where he learned the arts he practiced are unknown. Striding across Yanth, and perhaps into Sang and Virid, he sought out learned folk with whom to collaborate and hungry markets on which to test his newest inventions. That in Yanth the hostilities between Purpure and Or often meant his creations were put to military use is not entirely his fault, but admittedly, he does not seem to have been overly concerned. He would as soon build clockwork knights as self-propelling plows; He could be as enthusiastic about creating nightmare bombs as learning pills.

Some called him mad even then, but in those days he was really only singleminded and a bit thoughtless. It was when he turned his genius to the problem of death--specifically his own death--that things went awry. Some claim he developed a "Spirit-Phone" for communicating with the dead (if so, he destroyed it soon after) ,and from that point he became obsessed.

He laid cunning electrical traps for Death around the dying. He consulted every showy medium, dour necromancer, and reclusive witch he could find so they could issue challenges to Death on his behalf. If it heard, Death never deigned to participate in games of chess or backgammon or any other contest Lum suggested.

Lum brought his castle to a rest then partially dismantled it. He and his automata helpers constructed underground laboratories beneath it. Once that task was done, Lum was never seen in person again, but for years a tower stood in the crumbling remains of the castle emblazoned with a giant, clockwork replica of his face that would occasionally come to life and utter portentous sounding remarks in a booming voice, as arcs of electricity dance and climbed in the space between two antennae above. The people of Riverton worshiped it as a god, at times, and cursed it for a devil at others, but that all ended when the Wizard of Azurth came and installed the Princess as ruler, toppling the confusing relics of the past.

Princess Viola by Richard Svenssen

It's a common tavern tale to hear that Mad Lum did conquer death in the end, and works even now in a hidden laboratory in the deserts of Sang or deep in Subazurth, or some other secluded spot, but no serious-minded person believes such nonsense. For whatever reason, the Princess does not comment on the fate of her creator.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Dead Wizard's Estate Sale

Unusual items found among the possessions of one Lucius T. Malregard, Necromancer, following his death:

1. Jelly Monkeys candies in a wax-paper bag: These 5 colorful, gelatinous, monkey-shaped candies have been made into homunculi powered by blood. A pinprick drop of blood in the “mouth” of a Jelly Monkey will animate it for a day and place it under the command of the person whose blood fed it. The monkeys are able to report what they see and hear, though their intellects and vocabularies are limited. If the candy is eaten, a person will experience everything the monkey did that day. The more blood fed to the monkeys (or that they illicitly consume), the larger they will grow--and the more willful they will become (though the changes take time and will not immediately be apparent).

2. Human Skull: An adult human skull with a separated calvarium. If a candle is placed inside, and the skull is in darkness, flickering black and white images (like a kinetoscope) are projected from its eye sockets. These images are essentially clairvoyance (as the spell)--if a specific location is requested (aloud) of the skull. Otherwise, they are random and may be from anywhere in the world. Every night at the stroke of midnight, the skull laughs loudly and says: “Oh, for Heavens sake, Ormsley!”

3. One Past Midnight Man: Selected Recordings: A box of 3 10-inch phonograph records emblazoned with an image of an old-fashioned minstrelsy performer: the One Past Midnight Man. If any of the records are played, strange and backwards sounding voices can be heard overlayed on the primary recording. Upon completion of an record, a 10-inch tall man dressed like the figure on the cover will appear, only he is not in embarrassing blackface, but rather his skin is an unnatural inky black--as if made out of night, itself. He can teach any spell of the necromantic school (and likely others)--for a price.

4. Obscura gossamer: Wound around a bone spindle, is a black and silken, rough outline of a human. In fact, it is a human shadow that if attached to a new host (this process is unknown) obscures the wearer in such a way that they are hidden from magical and nonmagical attempts to find them (short of a wish). People can interact with them normally (if they draw attention to themselves) but won’t remember doing so within minutes. Attaching the shadow is likely permanent.

5A murder’s last breath in ether: A brown glass bottle containing the dying breath of notorious mass murderer Eldred Toombs. Inhaling the mixture infuses the user with a murderous impulse and the abilities of the maniac template for 1d4x15 minutes. The bottle contains approximately 10 inhalations.

6. Demonologia Sexualis: A leather-bound copy of the infamous tome detailing the perversions and sex magic rituals of the beings of the lower planes. Possession of a single illustration is probably enough to get one arrest in most jurisdictions. Many demons and devils are willing to barter a service for a copy. There are no doubt dubious advantages to actually reading the tome, as well.

7. Tape recording of an unknown language: A reel to reel tape labelled: “Sample 13.” The language is unintelligible (even with magic), but the malevolent memetic entity inhabiting the strange, sing-song tongue can infect the brains of listeners. It will attempt to possess the most intelligent individual within hearing range. On a failed saving throw, it takes command of the person's body for a period 1d20 hours. Then, a series of seizures will signal the brain’s rejection of the alien presence. Any time period greater than 5 hours is likely long enough for the entity to launch itself into the astral plane. The entity can be trapped in the host by magical means and induced to reveal what secrets it possesses before the host dies (1d4 days).

Thursday, December 3, 2015

John Till's Strange Stars

There's a proof copy of Strange Stars Fate. There are a few things we want to fix, so it's not ready for release yet, but it's getting close.

Friday on the Hydra Collective blog we'll feature an interview I did with John "Fate SF" Till, author of the Fate implementation of Strange Stars (available now in pdf). John had a lot of interesting things to say. Here's an excerpt:

You write a blog with SF in the title! What are some works/authors that you like?
I read a lot of SF on my own, and I am also part of the Second Foundation, a SF reading group in the Twin Cities that has been meeting for decades! This is an SF-rich community, with two world-class SF book stores just a few miles from my house. We read a lot in Minnesota, because of the long winters.

As a kid, my first SF books were:
  • Robert A. Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky (my lifelong love of generation ships started here!)
  • James Blish’s Spock Must Die. You can’t get any more Strange Stars than the sea of coffee produced by insane Organians!
  • Samuel R. Delaney’s great space operas, Babel-17 and Nova
  • John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy.
  • The Ace Books translations of the Perry Rhodan space opera series. In fact, the first space empires that my friends and I created in the years right before roleplaying games were inspired by Rhodan. I am the very proud owner of TWO German books full of Perry Rhodan ship blueprints!

My big SF influences these days include Alastair Reynolds, the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks, and the classic space opera of Cordwainer Smith. And of course, Eleanor Arnason, Minnesota’s best SF writer. Space opera fans should make a point of reading her Ring of Swords; fans of Niven’s Known Space stories should read her Tomb of the Fathers. I read ALL of Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality short stories and Norstrilia last year. I (re)read six Delaney novels over the summer!

Like I said, we read a lot in Minnesota.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Wednesday Comics: Within These Walls...Armageddon

"Within These Walls--Armageddon"
Masters of the Universe #3 (February 1983), Written by Paul Kupperberg; Pencils by George Tuska, Inks by Rodin Rodriguez

Synopsis:  Zodac flies through the space between planes. He's been watching the heroes of Eternia pursue the goals of Skeletor, but now its time for him to get involved to prevent Skeletor's victory and save the world from destruction.

He arrives in time dispatch the last of the demons the heroes are fighting. He warns them that there is another enemy besides Skeletor, but he cannot say who it is. As they converse, they are sorcerously observed by another:

Damon spies on Skeletor, too, also unaware that he is being observed. Damon's machinations are toward a single goal: the acquisition of the power sword, whose halves are held in a stasis field he sees but can't penetrate.

Meanwhile, Zodac explains how the talismans are to be used: They can open a portal to the power sword and summon the mystic falcon Zoar. The heroes pass through it.

Skeletor throughs a little tantrum because he can't figure out who is trying to thwart his plans. Suddenly, he's attacked by a tentacled creature. Skeletor dispatches the creature and Damon reveals himself--and his plan:

Skeletor's mystic blast can't harm him. They're arcane powers are too well matched. Skeletor pulls a sword to do things the old fashion way.

Elsewhere, Man-E-Faces is strangely drawn to Castle Grayskull, then mystically pulled inside. Damon and Skeletor have fallen through a portal to Grayskull, too--just as Damon planned. It was the only way villains like he and Skeletor could get inside. Skeletor claims to have been aware of Damon's game all along. He blasts Damon from behind.

The heroes also arrive in Grayskull, in a room with multiple doors. Stratos and Man-At-Arms are trapped by what they find behind their respective doors. Teela enters a maze, but takes the novel approach of blasting a hole through the floor to get out of it.

She drops him on Skeletor and He-Man and Battle Cat burst through a wall soon after. Too late:

Skeletor uses his power to summon Beast-Man and transform Man-E-Faces to a bestial form. He-Man defeats both of them easily, but only the quick thinking of Teela keeps him from falling into Skeletor's trapdoor.

Meanwhile, Zoar frees the Goddess from her other dimensional prison. The two transport to Castle Grayskull just in time to to snatch the power sword from Skeletor's grasp allowing He-Man to defeat him. The Goddess wraps it all up:

Commentary: Damon is introduced to very little purpose, and Man-E-Faces to even less. The story feels rushed at the end, like it was suppose to be a longer limited or lead into something longer, but it never materialized.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Islands in the Boundless Sea

In the Boundless Sea, east of the Land of Azurth and likely south of the pirate haven of the Motley Isles, maritime legend holds that their is an archipelago sometimes called the Chain of Fools. These isles continue to tempt sailors, despite all evidence they are best avoided.

The Candy Isle may be the largest of the chain. The basic elements of its formation are not the usual stuff of the material world, but instead various sweets: Licorice vines hang from stick candy trees, a chocolate stream flows into the sea from some spring, and cyclopean rock candy ruins loom in silence. No one has ever investigated those ruins and returned to tell the tale.

The Gilded Isle is a small atoll piled (or perhaps made entirely) of gold, mostly various coins. Its lagoon glints and sparkles; its floor supposedly littered with precious gems. Even more than the Candy Isle, the Gilded Isle attracts interest, but the island seems to draw away as it is approached; it always takes longer to reach than it should. Indeed, the isle may be unreachable. In the attempt, whole crews have turned on each other, all eager to have for themselves alone riches that none of them will ever possess.

The perfumed Island of Revelry can be smelled before it is seen. It is never approached by daylight, only night or dusk.  Sounds of laughter and sensuous music can be heard coming from the tents that dot its jungles. Colorful paper lanterns sway luridly in the trees. Youths of both sexes can be seen passing between the tents or disappearing into the jungle in the deeping, velvet darkness, but their beauty is only suggested in the glimpses offered. Perhaps ships do sometimes reach this island, as occasionally derelicts are found in its general vicinity, apparently abandoned by their crews.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Refurbished Apocalypses

I've spelled a lot of digital ink around here talking about various sorts of apocalypses. Here are a few of the best classic posts on the topic:

"Monster Apocalypse A Go-Go": Why limit your apocalypse to zombie related?
"Apocalypse Trio": I used a random Apocalypse Generator and this is what I came up with.
"Fairyland": Instead of going to it, it's coming to you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wednesday Comics: The Key to Castle Grayskull

"The Key to Castle Grayskull"
Masters of the Universe #2 (January 1983), Written by Paul Kupperberg; Pencils by George Tuska, Inks by Alfredo Alcala

Synopsis:  He-Man and Battle Cat enter the jungles of Eternia is search of a talisman. They meet Ceril, a long time friend of He-Man's, and other members of his primitive tribe. He-Man recounts his origin: how as Prince Adam he came upon Ceril's village on a hunting trip and found it in the thrall of the sorcerer, Damon. Adam would have been defeated by Damon as well, had not the Goddess intervened, transforming him into He-Man. Since that day, Ceril's tribe have been allies of Adam's father.

As luck would have it, Ceril has seen the talisman He-Man seeks. They are on their way when demons appear and attack them. He-Man manages to get to the cave where the talisman is, entering where others cannot due to the protection of his power-vest. He-Man grabs the glowing talisman, and he and Battle Cat disappear.

Meanwhile, Stratos, Teela, and Man-at-Arms fly toward the churning waters of Sea of Blackness. Using a potion that Tarrak gave them, they are able to breath underwater for an hour. With the clock ticking, they locate the talisman in a temple in a city of the mer-people. Before they can get to it, they're attacked by Mer-Man and his people.

Mer-Man plans to betray Skeletor and take the power sword for himself. The odds don't look good for the heroes, but then Skeletor appears and confronts Mer-Man's betrayal. He also warns the mer-people not to harm his allies, unless they too want to face his wrath. Teela takes issue with that, so Skeletor is like "have it your way." and removes his protection.

Their time running out, and the mer-people pressing the attack, Stratos manages to grab the talisman. The heroes disappear. They find themselves in a strange place:

Skeletor shows up and taunts them again. He sends them deeper into the weird realm to retrieve the power sword. Neither the heroes nor Skeletor know that they are being watched.

Again demons attack the heroes. Their numbers seem endless. The heroes can't figure out who would have sent them if Skeletor wants them to succeed. Suddenly, the demons are blown away by a strange wind. Then:

Prince Adam's origin related here has never appeared in other media. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Heap of Trouble

Last night, our 5e Land of Azurth campaign continued. The party met with the Goodes of Swells Head and agreed to try to get their daughter Gwendolin back. The Goodes believe she was kidnapped by the infamous pirate, Black Iris. Waylon (the frogling thief), Erekose (human fighter), Kairon (tiefling fighter), and Dagmer (dwarf thief) board the keelboat Venture under Captain Tubbs to make the journey down the Yellow River.

In the area of the Beggar City, the boat is attacked by river pirate dwarfs using a sort of Hunley-style primitive submarine disguised as an alligator. Kairon breaks open the vessel with magic, but the blast does some damage to the Venture. After the pirates (the Gar Brothers) are sent packing, the captain decides to tie up the boat so they can do repairs.

The Lardafans come out to the bank to great them. In the crowd are Waylon's old bandmates who look a bit like these guys:

Waylon brags about being an adventurer. His old friends, and his very relaxed old mentor King Kuel, ask for the help of the party in helping the Lardafans with a rogue Heap that has been periodical attacking the town. The Lardafans believe the Heap's violence has something to do with a warlock that lives alone in a shack on an island at the center of Lost Lake.

The party reluctantly agrees--for a pick of the Lardafan treasure pile. The head out on a skiff to lost lake despite the sign:

The Heap attacks from the water as they close in on the shack. Four against one is good odds, but the Heap is plenty tough, so the fight is a tough one. Waylon goes for the shack to see if it holds a clue to what's going on. He finds a man (presumably the warlock) who is long dead with an empty wooden box in his wands with some vegetation hanging on the side.

Meanwhile, Erekose has been knocked unconscious by the Heap and Dagmar has been engulfed! The cleric manages to fight her way out and finds a skull inside as she does. Once the skull is removed, the Heap seems to collapse on itself, and slinks away.

The skull is magical, old and inscribed with runes. It also seems to fit in the box Waylon found. Taking the skull, the box, the Book of Shadows, and the various spell components in the warlock's cabin, the party returns to Lardafa.

They're greeted with much fanfare by the Lardafans and given the promised pick of the treasure trove--which turns out to be Gilligan's Island-esque version of an oversized claw machine. Each member of the party gets an odd trinket.

Their (side) quest completed, the party boards the boat for a night's rest.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Along the River

In the Land of Azurth, in the Country of Yanth, the Yellow River stretches some two hundred languid miles when it chooses to do so from its meeting with the Flint at Rivertown to its settling into the Boundless Sea near Ianthine.

Art by Cyril Corallo
It intermingles with smaller, less ambitious waterways in bottom land swamp in the vicinity of the Shanty City, Lardafa, home to thieves, beggars, and gentlefolk of the road. Sometimes travelers down the river glimpse one of the elusive Heaps in this area.

It accepts the azure tears from the blue hole spring called Deep Blue, near the village of Yonder. The hole is said to be so deep that Yonder fishermen sometime find things bobbing up from other worlds. In the woods near Yonder there's rumored to be the cabin of a witch, perhaps the infamous Urzaba, who loves card games and has a very short temper.

art from Privateer Press
Is it nears the coast, it almost loses itself meandering through the Great Yellow Marshes. Here dwell tribes of mostly friendly frox and mostly unfriendly gator-folk.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Real Dungeon, American Style

Back in rpg blogging's Golden Age (well, the part of it I was there for). I wrote a series of posts about "real" (meaning some people believe them to be real) dungeons of America. It seemed like a good time to collate those in one place.

Burrows Cave: A burial southeastern Illinois.
The Grand Canyon: It's not just big. It's weird.
Coral Castle: Not an actual castle, but still kind of cool.
Murder Castle: A real Tomb of Horrors in Chicago.
Lizard City Under L.A.: "Busy Los Angeles...stands above a lost city of catacombs..."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Antediluvian Apocalyptic

"And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
                                                      - Genesis 6:5
Think Carcosa is the only horrifying milieu for gonzo adventure fantasy? Ditch the mutli-colored men (maybe) and get Biblical, Old Testament style.

Before the Flood, (the book of Genesis tells us) humankind was exceedingly wicked, which is a good way for them to be for adventuring, really. And there were giants (gibborim) in the earth, and the Nephilim (either giants or fallen angels, or the children of fallen angelss), who were "mighty men or men of renown." Talking serpents from Eden were still probably around somewhere. And though the Bible doesn't mention they specifically, any good creationist will tell you there were dinosaurs. Check out this I'm sure meticulously researched timeline:

It's not hard to imagine a sword and sandals (plus sorcery) or barbaric sort of world were weird Antediluvian beasts and human-angel hybrids run rampant--and apocalypse hangs over it all. It's like Afronosky's Noah meets The Road. Or Hok the Mighty meets Blood Meridian. The new Aaron/Guera comic The Goddamned approaches this same era, the it's early to same how gonzo it's going to get.

Actually Masters of the Universe, but this fits.