Thursday, June 30, 2016

In the Vicinity of the Unthran Wood

The tents of the traveling Carnival Mirabilis are set up on the outskirts of Worroth town. Its owner, Slytus Ompt (known to authorities in various jurisdictions as Feldsphur Zwand and Archim Greff) purveys the usual shabby wonders: ailing chimerical beasts in cramped cages and faded eidolons from damaged ieldra crystals—but he also boasts a free plasmoid duelist who will engage in a nonlethal prizefight with any takers. The plasmoid (its name is a gurgling something like Gwoothl Ploorl) is a thane of a subterranean freehold captured by Ompt and drugged with injections of thrall slime so that it is too weak-willed to escape, though it yearns to be free. It will promise to reveal the location of underground treasures undercovered by its coalescence for aid in making its escape.

by Wayne Barlowe
A roadside shrine draws more pilgrims than might be expected due to its living statue of the Trell mystic, Agakamunath who is said to have physical ascended to a higher plane from that very spot. The full-size statue depicts the giant at the time of Schizopurgation, wherein he split from the primal chaos burdening his soul. Nonbelievers are more fascinated by the artifice of the  Hohmmkhudhuk craftsmen--and the persistent legend that the motions of the statue's limbs in the performance of the mystery provide a clue as to the location of the sky castle Agakamunath also renounced and its treasures.

Half-ruined Maggot Tower, deep in the forest, is avoided by most folk, and not merely because its rugose and twisted spire appears unpleasantly like its namesake. The tower is a relic of the power of a rogue Ieldri queen with an abiding hatred of humans. The tortures she inflicted on captives and the sacrifices to dark gods are said to have left her tower haunted. Some seekers after the magical secrets of the Ieldra and willing to risk phantom horrors for power.

These locales are in the same world as these two posts.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Trigan Empire

Before jumping back into the next volume of Storm, I thought it was worth mentioning another long-running comic Don Lawrence was the artist on: Trigan Empire (or originally: The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire). The strip ran in British children's educational magazines Ranger and then Look and Learn from 1965 to 1982.

It tells the story of long ago events on the planet Elekton, focusing chiefly on the foundation and travails of the Trigan Empire who are essentially Flash Gordon Romans.

I haven't read it, but Don Lawrence's art always looks cool, as does this map:

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Many Words of Jack Vance

The first edition of the Jack Vance Lexicon came out in the early 90s and goes for a high price today, if you can find one. Luckily, Spatterlight Press has come out with an updated edition by Dan Temianka, now available in hardcopy  and ebook. This covers all of Vance's neologism and generic names, and where possible, suggests possible etymologies. You'll find things like:

archveult: A species of tall, powerful magician with blue-scaled skin and a plumed headress.


cackshaw: A species of loud bird.

This makes a good companion to Weird Words: A Lovecraftian Lexicon by Dan Clore, which I've mentioned before. It covers both Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith and deals with obscure, real words, as well as neologisms.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Strange Stars OSR Excerpt and Update

After a delay for important non-rpg stuff, I've really been putting the nose to the grindstone on Strange Stars OSR. The guys at Hydra made some good suggestions on additional content and clarification on the manuscript and I have responded to those and will have it back in their hands this week for another round of proofing. Then it will be on to layout.

Anyway, here's and excerpt (except for the photo) from the NPCs and Adversaries chapter:


No. Appearing: 1-3
AC: 3
HD: 2
Saving Throw: 14+
Attack Bonus: +3
Damage: 1d6+2 retractable cyberclaws or concealed monoblade 1d8+1
Skill Bonus: +1
Movement: 40’
Morale: 10
The bioroids of the pleasure world of Erato have a myriad of modifications to primary and secondary sexual characteristics, sexual performance, and biochemistry. Always seeking to expand their market share, the Eratoans have began to generate members of their clade with new purposes. Bioroids with idiopathic poison biochemistry or weaponized genitalia command a high price on the black market as assassins. The above stats represent a somewhat less exotic assassin or covert bodyguard type.

Friday, June 24, 2016

More Descriptions for Hypothetical Hexes

by George Barr
4. On a frozen pass on trail to Hleng, the wind carries the hypnotic, banshee song of the Fell Waeroo, that chills the blood and draws prey into its clutches.

5. A permanent fae mist overhangs a small forest in the vicinity of the village Trinell. It hides the remnant of an ieldrawood. A small pack of wildling ieldri make their homes there, harrying and possibly stalking and killing any non-ieldra who enter. By way of a taunt, they will allow themselves to be seen before they strike, their cherubic faces gleaming with feral cruelty amid the uncanny foliage.

6. A small carvanserai displays an unusual relic: the skull of an usually large skarzg. The innkeep, Gan Thrut, says that tracks (like four clawed human hands) show that a family of smaller but still deadly skarzg still haunt the area. The local Prefect is paying a bounty on any further skulls delivered.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Master of Kung Fu

Last week, I picked on the first Master of Kung Fu Omnibus from Marvel. It was pricey, but it's some classic Bronze Age stuff, and given the rights issues involved, it is even less likely to see print again.

The series Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu was conceived out of necessity in 1972. The necessity being that Marvel was unable to obtain the rights to Kung Fu, the popular TV series. Marvel looked back to that pinnacle of Yellow Peril baddies, Fu Manchu, and crafted new character (a previously unknown son, Shang-Chi) and tied him into Sax Rohmer's stories.

The series is most written by Steve Englehart and has art by the like of Jim Starlin and Paul Gulacy. Stuff like this:

And this:

Stuff like that. Costly the collection may be, but you can't argue with the quality.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Three Descriptions in Need of Hexes

by Konstantin Komardin
1. An Amazon, Kai An Zura, is encamped beneath the boughs of an ancient tree grown from a seed brought from another world. She waits for something. A band of Gogs is desperate to remove her from  her camp, but so far they have had no success.

by juuhana
2. The tents of an itinerant mystery show are pitched in a clearing. Strange, half-working machines of the Ancients bring otherworldly sensory experiences or troubling, waking dreams. In one tent, a bored young medium smokes up wayward spirits with the polychromic fumes from a long-stemmed heka-pipe. Her turban hides a silvery tattoo of a third eye on her forehead. She will not speak of it nor of Hidden Ulumé, her home.

by P. Craig Russell
3. A small hilltop with frozen tableau: a courier in somewhat antiquated livery seems to pause from his journey to have a meal. What has held courier, mount, fire, and cookpot suspended in time for many years is unclear, but anyone who comes close enough to touch any of the above will fall prey to the same stasis.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Chances Are Walter Velez Has Illustrated Your Game

Sure, it's the Frazettas and Fabians, or Blanches and Buscemas--or even Elmores and Caldwells whose art fueled most of our gaming imaginations, but at least for my game, the works of George Velez hit a bit closer to what the reality is at the table.

Exhibit A. See that? That's a pudgy wizard running from a dragon that looks like it doesn't have a whole lot of hit points.

This is all the PCs trying to parley with the leader of the NPCs at once.

The fight didn't go exactly how you planned? Quelle suprise.

Hassled by annoying little people? It's been known to happen.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Battle for Earth

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Battle for Earth (1980) (part 5)
(Dutch: De Strijd om de Aarde)
Art by Don Lawrence & Script by Dick Matena

The Azurian ship arrives to take Storm to Mars for negotiations and exchange him for Ember. As soon as Storm is aboard the spaceship, "Ember" is revealed to be merely a projection.

Soon, the real Ember and Storm are brought before the Grand Council. They are offered the choice of having their minds erased--or death. They choose death rather than live as puppets under the alien yoke.

Meanwhile, Solon and Balder have traveled to Mars. They free the convicts working on the canal and incite them to revolt. In the chaos, the former Supervisor runs off with a plan to restore his position.

He is brought before the Grand Council and informs them of the army that's coming. He asks only for the right to kill Storm and Ember who brought about is discommendation. The Council grants his request:

The execution is broadcast to the rebels to get them to stop fighting. Storm and Ember appear to be blasted to nothingness. The Grand Council is confused by the lack of bodies. The Supervisor reveals his deception. Those two are useful to him and the Grand Council who humiliated him is not:

The Supervisor plans to complete his coup on another Azurian colony. He takes a spacecraft and forces Storm and Ember to go with him. Storm secretly programs a random coordinates in the dimension control, however, and they are dropped into the middle of a storm. The Supervisor, convinced the larger craft is doomed, abandons ship in a small vessel.

Storm manages to safe the ship and pilot it back to Mars. There they reunite with their friends and make plans for peaceful co-existence with the Azurian former convicts. Many other Azurian former colonists accept the treaty as well, but on the Moon, a new Grand Council of hardliners forms. An armada of ships sets out for Earth to purge the disloyal Azurians and kill Storm!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Into the Ether

Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night with the party finally getting a demonstration from Princess Viola of the projector they found several sessions ago. The projector is an etheric viewer and if left on long enough, it can open a portal into the etheric realm. Within the glowing circle of light cast by projector the party sees the guy above trying desperately to get their attention!

When they can finally talk with him, he says he is a Super-Wizard named Zuren-Ar. He claims to have rebelled against his people for their crimes--the crimes that led to their destruction--and was made a political prisoner in the Etheric Zone for his trouble. His partner was also a dissident, and she is imprisoned somewhere "even worse." That worse place is the Carnelian Hypercube, a prison in the deep either where those who offend the gods (perpetrators of "Crimes Most Cosmic") are locked up.

Zuren-Ar would be detected due to his immense super-wizardry, but he reasons the weaker PCs could slip into the prison. And he has a plan to do it.

The players were not immediately trusting of Zuren-Ar, but no one from the Princess to the Abbot of the local shrine of the Handmaiden of Knowledge had a lot of information on the Super-Wizards or the Hypercube to refute his story. Eventually, their desire for adventure and their hope for treasure carried the day. They got the Princess to blast their weapons and armor with radiation to make them ethereal-ready, and off they went.

Zuren-Ar's plan was this: He knew of a bounty hunter transport of prisoners headed for the Hybercube. The party could take them out and use the bounty hunters' credentials to get past the ten-eyed giant security guardians on the outer surface of the Hypercube.

The bounty hunters and their caged captives were on the back of a giant eel-thing. The hunters were a motley bunch of "astral mutants." The leader, Maloclus:

And his compatriots, the warrior-monk Maarta and the very excitable, necro-blast wielding Drednar:

The hunters were tough, but six on three (Zuren-Ar sat back to gauge his allies' ability) wasn't a fair fight. Their strange weapons, alas, were not particularly lootable as Maarta's sputtering energy blades required psychic training and discipline, Drednar's wailing-ghost necrogun was powered by his personal connection to the Negative Energy Realm, and Maloclus's plate armor was cursed (according to Zuren-Ar).

The party talked with the other prisoners. Only two of the three were left as a negative energy being had escape during the melee. One was a rabbit-man named Jaka Oloap from the world of Lagomorfa who claimed his crime was offending the Bright Lady (Rabbit Folk goddess of the Moon) by flying a craft to the moon and crashing the rabbit godlings' lunar revelry. The other was an elderly sadsack who said his crime was instituting "excessive bureaucracy" when he was administrator of his world. Neither of them were going to rat the PCs out to the prison guards.

The lizard man piloting the eel just wanted to get home to his latest five hundred hatchlings, so he piloted on. To the Hypercube they went...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ethereal & Astral

My 5e Land of Azurth game continues this afternoon and it may well see the PCs sojourning into the Etheric Zone (i.e. Ethereal Plane). Here are some old classic posts I wrote on the two from which I'm be mining some ideas:

"Plane Talk About Ethereal Matters"
"Ad Astral (Plane)"

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Discovering the Hill Cantons: Some Questions for Chris Kutalik

As any reader of my blog knows, setting creation is an interest of mine. With Misty Isles of the Eld out, it seemed like a good time to pique the brain of a consummate rpg world-builder, Chris Kutalik.

Some things you’ve said have given me the impression that the Hill Cantons evolved from earlier settings of yours or at least revisions of earlier setting ideas. Is that the case? What relationship does the current setting bare to the ur-Cantons?

I had played a couple months of 3.5 (my only exposure) in an Austin's friends immediately before launching the Hill Cantons in early 2009—but it was the first time that I had played a tabletop rpg after an almost 25-year break. I had fallen back into my first love, historical miniature wargaming, three years before (mostly for the zen of painting miniatures over frigid Detroit winters).

Starting to think about actually running a campaign just opened up the flood gates of my imagination, but the first rush of things was heavily influenced by the hobby-driven reading of periods I was painting armies for. The pike and shot era (16th-17th century) was pretty high on that list and it just clicked with my deep impressions of the whitewashed Slovak towns I lived in with their baroque chapels and museums to forgotten wars against the Turks. And my brain was on fire with Henryk Sienkiewicz's trilogy (With Fire and Sword, the Deluge, and Fire in the Steppe),  a series set in the anarchic steppe wilderness of the then immense Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. I just knew that my game had to have broad-mustachioed, fierce (but noble) cossacks, feathered hussars and the great sweep of a vast, hotly-contested borderlands. That vision melded in my mind with my own personal obsession  with the heretic-driven battles and social upheaval of Bohemia of the Hussite Wars. So the ur-Cantons was something much more of a thinnly-skinned, mush up of a real world time and place—very much the setting of a historical wargamer in other words.

But a funny thing happened as I got closer to the game and had to design adventure sites.  I revisited on the fiction front old fantasy favorites like Jack Vance. Lyonesse in particular swept me away and the tone and flavor started seeping in. But even more so in the first year was the gonzo spirit of Holmes basic (my first brush with the game). So you had sleestaks sharing hill tops with wandering, puffy-shirted and slash-hosed landsknechts trading bits of repartee.

In other words all this shit got thrown into a stew that was still pretty distinct at first but increasingly just became its own thing with its own peculiar dynamics.

One thing I love about the published Cantons stuff is the mix of “serious” world-building, pulp fantasy color world-building, and some outright farce (much of which seems drawn from personal experience)? Is that all accidental or do you have a clear idea when you write something whether it feels like the Cantons or doesn’t?

Hmm that's a surprisingly difficult question. I think you hit some of the Big Three in the Hill Cantons, a mixture of: a. my love intellectual exploration of our pre-industrial world (so I will geek out reading an in-depth study of weird-seeming currencies like spiral snail shells and coral cones in Africa that gets translated into a whole giant snail hunting economy inside a ruined, time-shifted city); b.There is a layer of the Hill Cantons that is for sure accidental in that it evolves straight out of the unpredicatibility of play in a long campaign with beautifully anarchic players. So you have on-the-spot creation and co-creation that come straight out of the whimsy of the moment. Like when Cole (who plays the murderous clown Taurus) asked me in the middle of a session, “how do you have half orcs but no vanilla humanoids in your world?” Which led to a whole somewhat hilarious narrative between the two of us about how orc slave-lovers were a hotly-fought over population in the decadent Hyperborean civilization yadda yadda.

But most of it is not purely accidental, yet also not totally intentional in the strictest sense of the word. Mostly when I am writing or just ruminating on the setting there is a huge amount of free association involved and it's occasionally quirky ass stuff well out what I normally draw on when thinking about D&D and rpgs. So the usual wells are books or personal experiences.

The humor often comes out of the particular dry, pessimistic strain of  Czech humor with its two souls of low humor farce and absurd, subtle satire (put together in some of the Czech classics like Hasek's Good Corporal Svejk) and that's as much or more about my upbringing as its my reading. Like you can hear the dark humor of my dad channeled into a lot of those places in the Cantons.

I think it explains my attraction to Vance's picaresque writing and how his tone and thematic attention to the absurdity of human social and religious mores show up a lot in the world. (You know, when it's not just killing creatures and taking their shit in a dungeon.)

So you know the players run into a buzz-saw-wielding Human Resources bot repeating “downsizing” or hear rumors of the Isle of Bureaucrats and its troubles with the neighboring Isle of Cannibals. Or encountering (and freeing) the chained and dying Slavic Pagan god, Veles, under a lake near their holding.

Your players (at least on G+) have contributed elements to the Cantons that have appeared in publications? I would think there would have to be something a player has come up with at some point that just didn’t fit with your conception or you just didn’t like. Do you have a canonical Cantons in your read and another at the table (like Barker’s “real Tekumel”) or do you just let it go where it goes?

They have indeed, especially Fever-Dreaming Marlinko which has probably more than a healthy amount of easter eggs and campaign in-jokes. Co-creation has always been something I enjoy in the running of the campaign (you know like that half-orc joke above). I bent the stick back a bit in the published version of Misty Isles, a campaign area that the players have never actually reached. It's for the best perhaps as Marlinko did get some constructive criticism over the in-jokey Church of the Blood Jesus, a syncretistic marriage between the medieval church and local dionsyiac rites founded by a drunk Irish priest player-character. In retrospect I would have cut the entire section. It worked well enough an organic evolving humor bit in the campaign, but it's thematically jarring and perhaps borderline puerile in translation.

That last question is well-timed. I had the good fortune in playing in a Jakallan underworld game at North Texas RPG Con a few days ago with Victor Raymond, a former player in MAR Barker's Thursday Night group. Chatting with him the next day he relayed how often when Barker was asked if such and such NPC created by a EPT gamemaster would fit into his Tekumel, the professor would more often than not say something like “oh yes such and such, I know him well” and then launch into a long discursion about his or her personality and position in the empire. I love to death that embrace of others creativity alongside the absolute confidence, the real sense of weight and reality in your own mindspace world (also what a wonderful bit of showmanship, really).

I'm not there (yet at least). I will freely admit to spending stressful hours at work or late insomnia nights ruminating and day-dreaming about totally non-game related parts of the setting like what a typical day is like in the streets of Marlinko, but really it's much more of a place that evolves with the needs and events of the game. It's very much still just a place to sustain D&D like things in other words.

Well mostly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Storm: The Battle for Earth

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Battle for Earth (1980) (part 5)
(Dutch: De Strijd om de Aarde)
Art by Don Lawrence & Script by Dick Matena

The saucer holds an Inspector of the Azurian Grand Council. His arrival (plus a timely avalanche) allows Storm and Solon to escape capture--and even comandeer the saucer. For all his failures, the Supervisor will be expected to give an accounting before the Council.

Storm and Solon discover the ship they have us a dimension-ship when they find themselves in another universe--and under attack by a winged, reptilian creatures that live in space. The creatures are about to break into ship, but Solon shifts them again to a watery world. That doesn't turn out so well, either:

They shift a third time, and finally, they're back in the Himalayas. The creature attached to their ship dies. By the time they get back to the monastery, though, the Supervisor and the Inspector have taken off, bound for the Grand Council on Mars--and again taken Ember with them.

On Mars, the Grand Council punishes the Supervisor for so mismanaging things on Earth. It's set to work with other convicts on the dome-vaulted canals. The Grand council plans to correct the Supervisor's mistakes--and the first step in that agenda is dealing with Storm.

They contact Earth and demand Storm come to Mars, otherwise Ember will be killed. Storm agrees, only on the condition that the ship that comes to bring him to Mars will also return Ember to Earth. It's agreed.


Monday, June 6, 2016

I Was Going to Stat These Guys for 5e...

...but I was too tired after getting home from NTrpgcon, so "Toast" and "Toast, Burnt" will have to wait. I did not get the Field Guide to Encounters (where those two "monsters" come from), but I did get this other old Judge's Guild stuff from the con: Shield Maidens of Sea Rune and Operation Ogre. The former is part of the Wilderlands, the latter has a fairytalish cover and a modernish title and content that doesn't really match either. In fact, Siembieda draws a completely different sort of ogre on the cover than the interior. I also picked up what a think is the last of the Talislanta books I didn't have, Thystram's Collectanea, and the Role-Aids supplement, Undead.

I demured from Chaosium's Thieves' World Companion and some Japanese D&D modules, mostly due to price--beyond the quite reasonable objection that I wouldn't use them. Not a bad haul, though.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Mortzengersturm at NTrpgcon

Saturday morning I ran a playtest of Mortzengersturm, the Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak. It went well, with the player's really diving in and giving the pregens some really funny characterization. And in the case of Billy Longino's Zabra Kadabra, illustration:

Zabra stole Mort's magic items!
Dennis Higgins described Azurth in his first exposure as "Disney meets Adventure Time!" (presumably with the man-eating manticores being a given. Justin "A Field Guide to Doomsday" Davis said he kept imagining it all as a Rankin-Bass stop motion feature. Justin's lips to God's ears!

Kreg Mosier, fellow Hydra Collective member Humza "Legacy of Bieth" Kazmi, and my wife Andrea (who's played this adventure 3 times now1) rounded out the group. It was a good time.

Friday, June 3, 2016

NTrpgcon Day One

James Aulds had this shirt made from my design and it is awesome
North Texas rpg con had an auspicious start for the Hydra Collective with our very first official con booth. All our stuff was selling well as were Jason Sholtis's adventure zines (the exclusive disappeared before I even arrived) and artwork by Jason and Dave Johnson. Positive things were said about Strange Stars by at least one old school luminary, which was gratifying.

Yesterday evening, my wife Andrea and I and a few other Gplussers, including Mike Davison, played in Jason's Operation: Unfathomable game (Andrea's pull quote: "truly unfathomable" (in a good way)). My pregen was a timelost Buck Rogers/Rocketeer type named "Smash" Hannigan so I got to subject the group to my attempt at a rapid-fire, mid-Atlantic accent. It's the little pleasures, you know?

Today, time to hit the dealers room and spend money on things I don't need by must have. I'll be manning the booth this afternoon, so if you're at the con and I haven't met you yet, stop by!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Battle for Earth

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Battle for Earth (1980) (part 4)
(Dutch: De Strijd om de Aarde)
Art by Don Lawrence & Script by Dick Matena

It's been months and the Supervisor still hasn't returned Ember. Luckily, Solon remembers (finally) that the Supervisor used to talk about a secret base in the Himalayas. Storm and Solon take off to find it.

With poor visibility in the driving snows, they crash their plan into the mountain. They survive and make their way into a cave only to be set upon by another threat:

They drive the creature away, but the melee led to the collapse of the tunnel entrance. They have no choice but to go deeper into the cave where amazingly, they find a jungle valley.  After being chased by a reptilian monster, they make a raft. The current is strong and they are carried along not to a falls, but to a torrent of water streaming upward! They're carried up it and their raft is smashed on a ledge. From there, they pass through a tunnel and step out again into the snows--with the Azurian Chultu Monastery in sight.

An Azurian patrol has discovered the the wreckage of their plane and informed the Supervisor. He watches Storm and Solon approach with a captive Ember close at hand. Our heroes walk right into a trap.

Suddenly, a strange spaceship appears out of nowhere: