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.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wednesday Comics: Masters of the Universe

"To Tempt the Gods"
Masters of the Universe #1 (December 1982), Written by Paul Kupperberg; Pencils by George Tuska, Inks by Alfredo Alcala

Synopsis:  On Eternia, a world with a "medieval exterior" but whose technology nevertheless outstrips that of Earth, there's a party (dancing girls) for the Queen. Man-At-Arms asks the King where his heir Prince Adam is. The two commiserate over how irresponsible Adam is.

That's Adam's cure to jump the hedge and make an appearance. Apparently, he's been dallying with a young lady...

They are commemorating the arrival of the Queen on Eternia 25 years ago. Adam heads off the his chambers to get his gift for his mother. He regrets he has to play this false personality and disappoint his father.

At his door, Adam is assailed by magical power. The room is filled with demonic presences. Adam dives over his bed to escape--and finds Cringer waiting there. Cringer tells him Skeletor had his presence known here.

The mention of Skeletor's name galvanizes Adam into action. He and Cringer run to the Cavern of Power. There, they are transformed into He-Man and Battle Cat. Even then, they here the sound of mocking laughter.

Skeletor gloats that he has the Goddess captive. He did battle with her, and though she kept the two halves of the power sword from his grasp, he managed to defeat her. He knows that only a heroic soul will be able to find the power sword, and he plans to force He-Man to do it for him by having him seek out three talismans representing the sea, the sky, and the cosmos that will lead to the swords.

He-Man knows the cosmic star cluster is in the hands of the royal wizard, Tarrak. He meets Teela, captain of the guard, and enters the palace, He meets his parents, though they don't recognize their feckless son in the heroic He-Man. They enter Tarrak's chambers and find:

Man-At-Arms here's the clamor of battle and joins in. Once the demon's are defeated, Tarrak reveals that they stole the talisman in the shape of the nexus constellation.  Someone else is after the talismans, too.

Meanwhile, Avion is attacked by dragonriding beastmen. It's Stratos they're after. The birdman flies to the castle. His strength failing, only Tarrak's magic saves him. He-Man notices Stratos is wearing the talisman of air. Our heroes now have one in hand.

This issue is the introduction of Prince Adam. He's a bit more Don Deigo Vega in concept than the overmuscled Billy Batson he'll become in the cartoon. Still, the genius of the "fantasy superhero" are definitely here. Eternia is much more "standard fantasy comic" than it is later, down to Teela's outfit that doesn't look anything like the toys (until this). Still, this is much closer to the universe sketched in the original Don Glut mini-comics than what is to follow.

Zodac really has a Metron of the New Gods vibe here. This begins the transition from his original intended role as a villain to the heroic role he has in the mythology now.

Under interesting detail: Stratos's wife is completely human rather than anthropoid like him.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Strange Stars Fate A-Z

Just in case you missed it last week, the Strange Stars Fate rule book pdf is available. The softcover files are with OBS and hopefully will be approved for printing soon.

While you wait, check out the "Strange Stars A-Z" series John Till, the author of the Fate rule book, has been doing on his blog.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Random Ultra-Warriors

Interested in generating the sort of visually distinct science fantasy characters of the sort found in Masters of the Universe? I've got a set of random generators for you. Pair the Random Ultra-Warriors Creator with your favorite science fantasy/post-apocalyptic rpg and your ready to create characters so distinctive they ought to be sold separately in their own blister pack.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Strange Stars Fate Released

The wait is over--at least for you Fate fans. The Strange Stars Fate Rulebook written by John Till edited by myself and featuring art by David Lewis Johnson, Adam Moore and Reno Maniquis and layout and design by Lester B. Portly is here!

For those of you of more old school tastes, you are not forgotten. The OSR rulebook is in the works. Stay tuned.

It's Full of Stars

Strange Stars, Weird Adventures, and products by my Hydra Co-op partners Slumbering Ursine Dunes and Fever-Dreaming Marlinko are in a Bundle of Holding--along with Gnomes of Levnec, Owl Hoot Trail, Beyond the Wall, and Red & Pleasant Land! Check it out and get some good stuff.

Speaking of Strange Stars, here's a sequel to my post on random adventure idea generation for the setting:

The Hunt: The PCs search for [A] [B] but must contend with [C]
A: 1 A Eden Seeker terrorist cell  2 A bioengineered horror from the surface of Phobetor  3 Convicted megacorp executive 4 A thief with a stolen bioweapon 5 A Wanderer Avatar
B: 1 across the deserts of Deshret  2 in Smaragdoz City  3 through the forests of Woon  4 on the planet Rune  5 during a party in a domed city on Aygo  6 under the ice on Boreas
C: 1 the Pharesmid Syndicate  2 the hellhounds  3 Talosian Moravec supremacists  4 a squad of Thrax  4 a djagga bounty hunter  5 Instrumentality agents  6 a Circean witch

The Challenge: The PCs (or one of them) participates in [A] on [B].
A: 1 A martial arts competition  2 A high-stakes gambling tournament  3 A race  4 A hunt for an exotic animal  5 A deadly game  6 A battle of the bands
B: 1 A vessel circling a hyperspace anomaly  2 a domed area of an asteroid  3 Interzone  4 the wilderness of Smaragdoz  5 Gogmagog  6 the diamond planet Solitaire (Fortuna I)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wednesday Comics: 8HOUSE

8HOUSE is a science fantasy anthology series from Image, where each arc can be read alone, but also apparently forms a part of a bigger universe. So far, we've had Arclight, Kiem, and Yorris. The first two chapters were written by Brandom Graham of the Prophet revamp, while the third is written by Helen Maier.

So far, I've read the Arclight issues, both drawn by Marian Churchland, They tell the story of queen on a alien, desert world who's trapped in a root-like body while an alien masquerades as her. She's served by one androgynous knight (the titular Arclight) while the other knights unknowingly serve the pretender. Blood forms the basis of the magic wielded by the knight's and others, and their are border creatures that are made of it--the living border's of the "Blood Lands."

In other words, it shows the sort of inventiveness that characterizes Graham's other work. If the other chapters are as good, 8HOUSE is going to be quite an epic.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Your Pain is Their Pleasure

Here's another excerpt from Strange Stars OSR: an Algosian as written up by Robert Parker.

No. Appearing: 1-3
Hit Dice: 2
AC: 6
Saving Throw: 14+
Attack Bonus: +2
Damage: 1d8+1 monoblade or 1d8 stun baton, 1d6 + special (Via Dolorosa Agonizer)
Skill Bonus: +2
Move: 30'
Morale: 9
Algosians are humanoid torture cultists in the Zuran Expanse. They are thought to be the bioroid creations and former servitors of the Faceless Ones, an ancient sadist cabal. The Algosians learned a lot from their masters and now apply that knowledge to those that fall into their hands.

Algosians rely on kidnappings to get most of their victims. To this end, they operate clubs or brothels in some spaceports, though their involvement is usually secret.

In combat, Algosians relish the use of their Via Dolorosa, devices inherited from the Faceless Ones and passed through the generations. Each is unique in design particulars, but all are wand-like devices that deliver a concentrated burst of microwaves to exposed or lightly covered (normal clothing) skin, causing excruciating pain. A hit with the Via Dolorosa does 1d6 points of nonlethal damage and calls for a Physical Effects save to avoid being utterly incapacitated by pain for 1d4 rounds.

Algosians are resistant to pain (Savings Throw 9 vs pain-related effects) and their natural recovery of hit points is at twice the normal rate, though medical care or Biopsionics effect them the same as baseline humanoids..

Sunday, November 8, 2015

MOTU Minis Maximized

Dark Horse has release a collection of 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.

As I've mentioned before, my favorites are the original series written by Donald Glut and drawn by Alfredo Alcala that present a pulpier, less superheroic version than the ones DC would follow them up with, or particularly the ones after the cartoon became popular. Still, all of them have good bits--plenty of things stealable for a game. Like these time demons:

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Azurth Dictionary

The beyond the blog, my periodically updated Dictionary of the Land of Azurth is the definite guide to the setting. Here's the latest version, updated to cover things like the Whim-Wham Stone, the Aldwode and the peculiar people of Swells Head.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wednesday Comics: Back to the Spire

The Spire #3-4 (September and October 2015); Written by Simon Spurrier, Art by Jeff Stokely

It's been a while since I reviewed The Spire, but you can read the about the previous issues here. Now the Tithebound, various tribes of nonhuman "skews", arrive at the Spire to pledge their allegiance once again. The Medusi (the people of our heroine, Shå) break protocol by escaping that they be allowed to take the fugitive Soulbreaker with them. That's complicated by the fact nobody knows what the Soulbreaker looks like.

Meanwhile, Shå is trying to catch a serial killer who's stalking the Spire--and seems to be able to get into locked rooms and disappear swiftly. A dagger with an unusual symbol is left at one of the crime scenes.

We also find out that Shå's past is a bit mysterious. She awakened in Spire with a note telling her what she was and that she needed to hide or be killed. She also has been an adult in the city for a long time. For over 30 years, in fact.

A cloaked and masked figure attacks the head of the medusi contingent. Shå arrives too late to stop it, but soon enough to be mistaken for the Soulbreaker by the other medusi.

After a brief skirmish, the mistake is rectified. The medusi tell her they're about to be sent on a mission--a suicide mission--by the Baroness and they ask her to intercede.

Shå has her own problems with the royals. The Baroness publicly chastises her for not catching the murderer yet. She's also in the doghouse with the Baroness' sister-- Shå's girlfriend--because she found out Shå never told her age.

The whole Spire has got bigger problems. The Zaorim are massing for war.

Monday, November 2, 2015

It's Not Easy Being Green: 2 Strange Stars Clades for SWN

Here's another excerpt from the Strange Stars OSR rulebook, currently in the works: two clades without much in common other than their green skins:

Physical Characteristics: Biologic humanoids with skins in various shades of green.
Psychological Characteristics: Smaragdines see themselves as heirs to the technology and sophistication of the Archaic Oikumene and view psi abilities as the way of the future. They are the visionaries of the Alliance, but often viewed as a bit arrogant by its other members.
Names: Smaragdines have a personal and gens name. The personal names are frequently chosen from Old Earth mythology or literature. Smaragdines often retain the gender association of the source name out of respect, but not always. The gens name is a copyrighted reference to a specific registered genetic lineage; it is typically that of one or more of an individual’s parents, but not necessarily. Gens are from similar sources as personal names, but tend to be derived from ancient mythological or literary wizards or monsters. Samples:
Personal Names: Accolon, Belphoebe, Dindraine, Finn, Gloriana, Phaon, Rinaldo, Sedna, Tsais, Thalna.
Gens Names: Euryale, Glatisant, Hydra, Mazirian, Prospero, Simurgh, Typhon.
Backgrounds: Any, though Adventurer, Hacker, Noble, Politician, Researcher, and Soldier are most fitting.
Classes: Any.
Attributes: Standard.
Psi-Society: Smaragdine society is based on psi-use. All citizens of Smaragdoz have the equivalent of the discipline Mental Link.
High Tech: Smaragdine is tech level 5 society, though much of their technology is not exportable.

Physical Characteristics: Biologic sophonts blending plant and animal characteristics. Skins of various shades green (due to presence of symbiotic cyanobacteria) and foliage-like hair. Local groups vary a great deal in height and build. All virid are linked by nanotechnology to the world consciousness of their homeworld, but this obviously does not extend over interplanetary (or greater) distances.
Psychological Characteristics: Virid are gregarious and pleasure-loving. Coming from an idyllic garden world, they are closely attuned to nature, but naive regarding the hazardous of other, less pleasant worlds--and of civilization.
Names: Virids use “translated” plant or nature-themed names with other sophonts. 
Backgrounds: Tribesman, Adventurer.
Classes: Any but Psychic.
Attributes: Most virids have ability scores in the same range as humans, though larger or smaller tribes will vary. 
Photosynthetic Symbiotes: Living nanotech supplements virid metabolism and causes faster healing when they are under visible light sources with spectra similar to their native yellow sun. Every day spent in direct sunlight allows them to heal 1 additional hit point, and every day resting in direct sunlight allows a virid to recovery 2 additional hit points. They also lose System Strain at a rate of 2 points a day in the sun. 
Phytoxin Resistance: Virids get a +1 to Physical Effect saving throws against plant-derived toxins.

For more Strange Stars stuff, check out John Till's ongoing A to Z here.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Bone Tomahawk

The Western horror film (or Horror Western) subgenre is a Boot Hill populated enough that you can probably think of a few, but neglected enough that very few of them are particularly good. Bone Tomahawk (now on streaming services) sits comfortably within that small group--and probably among the best of that company.

Briefly, its apparently sometime in the 1890s (though it looks more 1870s-80s) two bushwhacker thieves (Sid Haig at his most Denver Pyle and David Arquette pretty much David Arquette) accidentally enter a secluded canyon where a lot of human bone decoration should tell them they are in a place they shouldn't be.

Eleven days later, Arquette is mark as suspicious by the constabulary of the town of Bright Hope. Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) puts a bullet in his leg to keep him from escaping. The Samantha O'Dwyer (Lili Simmons) either a doctor or a nurse, I'm not sure, is summoned to provide medical assistance, leaving her broken-legged cowboy husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson) convalescing at home.

That night after some strange sounds and the slaughter of the man tending the stables, a prisoner, a deputy, and Mrs. O'Dwyer are missing and presumed kidnapped by Indians. Or not Indians, as a locale Native American informs them; a degenerate, subhuman, cannibal tribe called "troglodytes."

Stalwart Sheriff, hobbled cowboy and worried husband, Walter Brennan-esque "back up" deputy (Richard Jenkins) and dandified former Indian fighter (Matthew Fox) set out to find their townsfolk and bring them home, wholly unprepared for the horrors they will encounter.

People have likened Bone Tomahawk to The Searchers meets The Hills Have Eyes, but it lacks the scope and drama of the former and the visceralness of the latter. All the actors are competent and their characters well-realized and the dialogue is a bit of Tarantino, a bit of Deadwood, and generally good. The only problem is for its running time, the characters aren't given a whole lot interesting to do or talk about. The journey to the Valley of the Hungry Men doesn't really build tension like it could have, and the horror of the troglodytes isn't developed in the same way it was done in a film like The Hills Have Eyes or The Descent. There is violence, certainly, and a bit of gory, but it didn't feel like there was as much of either as the setup called for.

Those criticisms aside, it's a competent film well worth seeing. The nature and proclivities of the troglodytes make me wonder if perhaps the Appalachian crawlers of The Descent are descendants of an eastern branch of the troglodytes?

The troglodyte's eerie communication suggested a number gameable thing to me. It's been proposed than though the Neanderthals lacked full verbal communication as we know it, they might have used singing to convey information and coordinate efforts, as musical ability appears to evolutionarily older. It's certainly a potentially strange and inhuman sort of trait Bone Tomahawk puts to good effect.