Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Legend of Yggdrasil

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

Storm: The Legend of Yggdrasil (1981) (part 2)
(Dutch: De Legende van Yggdrasil)
Art by Don Lawrence & Script by Kelvin Gosnell

The strange creatures hitch the wrekage (with Storm and Ember inside) to a ceratopsian that drags it back to their base. They leave them on a big bullseye. The reptilian humanoids inspect the the two humans, and one of them who claims to be a High Priest declares them fit sacrifices for Yggdrasil.

Ember is having none of that:

The High Priest wants to kill them now, but he's stopped by a towering member of his race. Wag-Nar reminds the Priest that the law requires that they choose the way they die: A quick merciful death or a death with honor in the arena.

At first, Storm tries to avoid a fight, but Ember wants to fight the priest, but Wag-Nar swats her aside. They can only fight the Master. Storm agrees--and he wants to fight now. Storm is the first human ever to fight Wag-Nar. The creature accepts his request.

Unfortunately, Storm is outmatched. Wag-Nar prepares to kill him. He holds up the holy symbol of Yggdrasil prepares to offer his sacrifice. Storm recognizes it: "a tyrannosaurus!" Wag-Nar stops and has Storm repeat the name, then he asks Storm what his name is.

There is a murmuring among the crowd. A prophecy has been fulfilled! The famous warrior Bora-Ston had a vision that a brave human name Storm who knew Yggdrasil's true name would unite these creatures with their goddess.

Storm and Ember are adopted into the tribe:


Monday, August 29, 2016

National Park Dungeoncrawl

Need a dungeon map for you next adventure? Just stock one of these cave national park maps.

Here's Carlsbad Caverns:

And Mammoth Cave (at least the tour routes):

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Subterranean Heaven

Who says mythic underworlds have to be dark and unpleasant? The underworld of Patala in Hindu cosmology is described as more luxurious than celestial heavens. It's the abode of various clans of Asuras and nagas. The sage Narada says of it in the Vishnu Purana:

"What," exclaimed the sage, "can be compared to Pátála, where the Nágas are decorated with brilliant and beautiful and pleasure-shedding jewels?"

There, its described as more like another plane in D&D terms, or at least a fairyland. The Bhagavata Purana keeps in definitely subterranean (though it does use a word for it that  cna be translated as "planet"):

"Below that world there is Pâtâla, the world of the master snakes...Most addicted to material happiness they all live with the shortest temper. They have five, seven, ten, a hundred or a thousand hoods, with on their crests fixed the most valuable gems the effulgence of which disperses the vast darkness of the caves of Pâtâla."

So a subterranean ream lit by the light of all the jewels worn and used in construction? Sounds like the sort of place adventures would want to visit. Of course, they have to contend with the material wealth loving demons, ghosts, and snakes that live there.

I don't see any reason dungeons (in the D&D sense) have to be so, well, dungeon-like. If they're opulent, but no less deadly, adventures have even more reason to go there.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Get Aboard the HMS Apollyon

Over at the Dungeon of Signs Gus L has released the Player Manual Part 1 Combat and Exploration for his HMS Apollyon game. Gus has really put some thought into what procedures aid and abet a good dungeoncrawl, and this manual is full of his thought and experimentation. Lots to steal. Check it out.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


In the Sanguine Desert, the tribes revive the ancient war machines with blood sacrifices and whip themselves to frenzy with howling music and liquor made from the half-clotted ichor siphoned from the machines' lines. Sometimes an Iron Warlord rises, making a pact with a fierce machine, and leads the tribes to sack and pillage cities.

One can still traverse the Wastes, but the old astral road becomes ever more Unreal. A fleet matagot is the swiftest and surest way to go, but agree on the price beforehand, for matagot's are always ravenous at the end of a long journey.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Legend of Yggdrasil

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

Storm: The Legend of Yggdrasil (1981)
(Dutch: De Legende van Yggdrasil)
Art by Don Lawrence & Script by Kelvin Gosnell

The Azurian War is overed and peace reigns. Storm and Ember are bored. Storm is an astronaut, not a leader, but as a figure in the revolution he's saddled with responsibilities. After showing off in an ancient airplane just earns him a lecture from a councilor, Storm decides to try for Jupiter's Great Red Spot and see if he can return to his own time.

Ember wants to go to, but Storm worries it's too dangerous and she would be out of place in the past, so he sneaks off to go without her. He steals a spacecraft only to find Ember has stowed away aboard!

The two fly into the red spot. The intense gravitational forces knock Ember out and threaten to do the same to Storm--and then destroy the ship. When he can't take any more, Storm activates the automated reverse trajectory to return them to earth.

The ship has been damaged and the chances of landing safely are slim, but they have no choice. Storm's piloting skill keeps them from burning out but the landing is far from an easy one. After the crash, everything is silent. Strange watchers look on from a distance:


Monday, August 22, 2016

Down In A Hole

On 5e Land of Azurth game continued yesterday with our heroes deciding to investigate the large and mysterious sinkhole in the nearby village of Huggson. After suitably gearing up for such an endeavor the group made their way to the town. They found the villagers building a fence around it as they reported the lose of a heard of goats and two drunken farmers to the 20 foot wide maw.

They waited until night to make the descent themselves as they wanted to see the strange oscillating colors of light that seem to project from an unseen source deep within the hole. The after tying their rope off to a stout tree and rigging a block and tackle, they went in. They found that some the sides sloped away and they were climbing in darkness with still no bottom in sight. Even stranger, they discovered that the deeper they went the slower things fell. Near the end of their rope it was almost as if an object was falling through water.

They went back to the surface got more rope and bought a chicken to experiment further. None of that experimentation led to much of anywhere, other than to prove a chicken could "fly" at least until it got tired in the weird gravity of the hole. Ultimately, three daredevil party members jumped. Not wanting to be left behind the holdouts Kairon and Shade eventually followed suite.

The group fell for a long time at a slow rate. Eventually, they passed through an opening into a new sky, passed the too bright but not warm orb of a sun orbited by crystalline lens of color, they cast the light into a new shade as they passed. They fell or floated toward onion-shaped crystalline structures arranged like a series of small towns.

When they landed with only a slight hurt for all they distance, they were accosted by people they initially thought were all wearing hats, but turned out to be humanoid mushrooms. They accused the party of assaulting them from the air. Apparently, some of their buildings had been damaged in the "rains of rock and meat" that had come before.

art by zelldweller

The Sovereign of the Matangoos (as they were called) convened his elders to decide what to do with the strangers. The options seem to be kill them and throw them in the Spawning Garden (where the hapless goats and farmers must have gone) or toss them in the Black Pit. The party searches for another option, first hitting up the stoner Matangoo wizards, Gweeg, for information, then deciding on a engineering regime change: it seems the current Sovereign had been purposely be delaying the transfer of power to the now fully grown new Sovereignm who was still sleeping in the Spawning Garden.

After killing a few guards, they made it to the Garden and awakened the new Sovereign, Her first act to was kill the old ruler and return his spores to the ground. Her second was to convene her council. The party's hopes were dashed when she too ordered them to the Black Pit.

It turns out the Black Pit isn't so bad, just a cave in the side of the mountain that forms the curious wall of this weird world. They passed through it, leaving the Matangoos behind and enter an idyllic looking valley. Idyllic, except for the crashed pulp rocketship at its center...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bronze Age-Four Color Fantasy Adventure Seeds

A follow up on Friday's post. These aren't actual stories from comics, but pastiches of the sort of thing that does show up.

1. A madman seeks a golden disk to bring life to colossal automaton, an ancient weapon of war, that lies half-buried in a remote desert.

2. A city under seige! Legend holds a magic gem will restore to life the mummy of the cities demigod founder. His body lies in a crypt in deep within the city's catacombs.

3. The jungle-choked ruins of an ancient city surround a vast, walled garden, an earthly paradise, inhabited by beautiful, golden-skinned youths. The brutish beast-folk that dwell in the ruins will let no stranger enter the garden, nor any of the garden's inhabitants leave.

4. An arboreal village of elfs is harassed by pale, giant bat riding goblins from a cave  high on a nearby mountainside, who raid the village for victims for their cook-pots.

5. A PC has a rare trait that fits a prophecy--a prophecy predicting the downfall of a tyrannical ruler, who means to ensure it does not come to pass.

6. A lake of lurid, swirling mists where time becomes strange. At it's center is an island with a castle where an immortal witch queen dwells with her eternally youthful handmaidens. No one comes to the witch's castle without being summoned.

7. A playing piece from the game of the gods falls to earth, perhaps accidentally or at the whim of a capricious godling. This touches off a race to acquire the piece with the rat-men minions of one sorceror contesting with the shadow demons of a cambion child--and the PCs caught in the middle.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Elements of Bronze Age Four-Color Fantasy

By Bronze Age, I mean the Bronze Age of Comics, which largely conicides with the 1970s. Any readers of this blog will know that's an era I have some affection for--particularly its fantasy comics. These comics (particularly when original to the comics medium and not adaptation) present a flavor of fantasy distinct from other fantasy genres or media.

I feel like this sort of fantasy would make for a good game, and I don't think that's really been done. Warriors & Warlocks supposedly set up to do this, but that supplement really winds up adapting a wider range of fantasy to the Mutant & Mastermind system. I've been trying to think of the elements/tropes of this sort of thing:

1. Very much a “Points of Light” thing with large stretches of wilderness and clusters of civilization.

2. Cities tend to look more fantastic ancient world/Arabian Knights/Cecil de Mile spectacle than grotty Medieval

3. Above ground ruins and natural obstacles as more common adventure locales than underground “dungeons”

4. Fantastic terrain is more common (because it makes more good visuals)

5. Magic-users generally fall into 1 of three categories: 1) almost god-like patrons (who maybe secretly be of Type 2); 2) villains; 3)bumbling,  sometimes comedic helpers, makers of anachronistic references

6. Magic tends to be visual and flashy.

7. Elves and dwarves (or Elfs and Dwarfs, more likely) are more Disney and Keebler than Tolkien. They are less powerful than humans and perhaps comedy relief.

8. Beings that stand between humans and gods (like Tolkien elves) are either extremely rare, degenerate, or both.

9. Monsters tend to be unique or very uncommon (even if of a recognized “type”). There are seldom nonhuman territories. More fairytale naturalism than Gygaxian naturalism.

10. Magic items are rare and tend to be unique.

11. Frequent faux-Lovecraftian references, but virtually no cosmicism.

12. Sometimes, there's a Moorcockian as filtered through Starlin sense of cosmic struggle.

13. Armor is as a signifier of profession/role (soldier) or intention (the hero goes to war) rather than actual protection.

This is not an exhaustive list, I'm sure, and it bears some overlap with pulp fantasy/sword & sorcery and fantasy/sword & sandal films that influenced it, and rpg fantasy that arose around the same time, but I think it has elements on emphasis distinct from those forms.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Orbiting the Planet of the Apes


Player Characters:
Jeff Call as Brock Irving, "We need that liquor!"
Justin Davis as Conrad "Rip" Ripper, "Two-Fisted Psychiatrist"
Billy Longino as Olsen Potter Graves, "Psychological Profiles for Everyone"
Lester B. Portly as Eddy Woodward, "The Pilot Stays with the Ship"
Jason Sholtis as Francis LaCava, "Madre di Dio!"

Nonplayer Characters:
James Gregory as Dr. Jacob Krigstein

Synopsis: Five astronauts taking part in a suspended animation experiment on a space station awaken a thousand years after they were schedule to revive and find civilization apparently destroyed by a nuclear war. With no way to return to Earth, they make a desperate trip to nearby station, The Broderick Astro-Mall, long ago quarantined in an effort to find another way home. They discover a working commercial shuttle, but also semi-gelatinous plague zombies!

System-wise we used a combination of Mutant Future and skills from Stars Without Number, which worked pretty well for a low-effort kludge, though a single zombie fight turned into a a bit of a comical slog thanks to low damage weapons and low level.

Jacob Krigstein is likely the same Doctor Krigstein that shows up in the Marvel Planet of the Apes comic and in the novel Conspiracy on the Planet of the Apes. By the 1980s, he has been promoted to the head of ANSA.

Krigstein mentions the tragic fate of Dylan Hunt, lost in a cave in the laboratories in Carlsbad Caverns. These events are depicted in the Genesis II pilot film. The experiment our PCs were taking part in was a continuation of Hunt's work.

Broderick Astro-Mall was built by aerospace entrepreneur Harry Broderick. His rise from scrapyard owner to ersatz space program director is depicted in Salvage pilot film and the series that followed, Salvage 1. The Astro-Mall was a more "realistic" (i.e. no artificial gravity or matter transporters) take on the station appearing in the Gamma World classic adventure "Albuquerque Spaceport." The zombie-creating plague in our version is caused by a botched attempt to find a cure for the alien malady that wiped out all domestic dogs and cats in 1983 (see Conquest of the Planet of the Apes).

The shuttle the PCs found allowing them to safely head for Earth (their own spaceplane had damaged heat-shielding) is of the same model as Spindrift, the suborbital commercial vehicle seen in Land of the Giants.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Future Quest #3 Annotations

My on-going look at Don Lawrence's Storm will take a break so that we can revisit Future Quest, one of DC's re-imagining of classic Hana-Barbera characters. This will contain spoilers.

"Birdman in: The Deadly Distance" and "Vortex Tales: The Herculoids in Mine-Crash"
Future Quest #3 (2016), Written by Jeff Parker; Art by Steve Rude/Aaron Lopresti and Karl Kesel

Vortex Tales. The stories in this issue are a departure from the storyline in the first two. They showcase past exploits of characters.

Mt. Avia. We see Birdman in his secret hideout with his pet eagle, Avenger. We learn he was an academic before he was endowed with power in the temple of Ra (a process he doesn't understand) and became a secret agent.

"I wonder if Mentok has surfaced again?" Mentok was a villain with mind control powers who appeared in a 1967 episode aptly titled "Mentok the Mind-Taker."

"Her name is Deva Sumadi." We are seeing the events just before the start of the first issue. Birdman leaves Avenger behind and sets off to meet his contact.

Xenomass. The amorphous creature called Omnikron appears again, though Birdman

Amzot. The homeworld of the Herculoids, at least until the 1981 Space Stars series.

Quasar, The name of the Herculoids homeworld in the Space Stars episodes. Here it is used as the name of a sister planet, the former home of Zandor and Tara.

Organite. A living mineral. It makes up much of Igoo's rocky hide and it's used to make the synthetic brains of the robot overlords of Quasar. The Herculoids are the gardens of the largest deposits on Amzots.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Land of Azurth Rumors

I've got a Land of Azurth 5e game coming up next weekend. Here's another round of rumors/adventure hooks I'll give to the players:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

70s Primetime Sci-Fi TV Crossover Timeline

The Planet of the Apes game I'm starting up, isn't just borrowing from that mythos, but stealing liberally from other science fiction shows as well. In talking this over with my friend Jim Shelley of The Flashback Universe Blog, he hit on doing sort of trading cards of major timeline events. Here's my timeline and what Jim did with it. I'm not using everything in the game, but it was a fun

An additional note: This is a TV timeline. A lot of dates in Planet of the Apes are given in the movies, so it doesn't so up in this version. The Logan's Run tv show and film offer different starting dates, but the show is being used here (though in my game, should the City of Domes ever show up, I'm using the movie date).

Creation of cyborgs (like the Six Million Dollar Man) may also rank among the late 20th Century's achievements.

Suspended animation was used in spaceflight in the 80s, so either a less developed version was already in use (as suggested by the POTA films) or data from Hunt's project  did lead to a breakthrough despite the loss of the team leader.

The actual date is August 19, 1980.

The Great Conflict is the name given this war in Genesis II/Planet Earth. These shows make it clear that the war occurred in the 20th Century, though it most have been after a subshuttle station we see in the Planet Earth pilot was built in 1992. The Planet of the Apes tv show suggests a later date, no never specifies, but this date fits with the POTA film series. The Logan's Run series sets the apocalyptic war in the 22nd Century, which is why I chose to go with the earlier film dates in my game setup.

This is also true of the 2nd Roddenbery pilot to deal with this material, Planet Earth. There Dylan Hunt is played by John Saxon.

No evolved apes are seen at the time of PAX (or even Logan's Run), true, but it could be the apes were confined to the area that once was California then. Neither of these shows necessarily covered a wide territory.

Astronauts Burke and Virdon arrive in a North America (or at least Western North America) controlled by apes in a well-established civilization in 3085, so the culture must have spread before that.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Hexcrawl on the Planet of the Apes: The Set Up

art by Declan Shalvey
I'm getting ready to start my Planet of the Apes hexcrawl so I prepared a document outlining the mission that brings the PC astronauts to the ape-ruled future. Following the ideas in my initial pitch, there are easter eggs linking to other 70s sci-fi shows:

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Future Quest #2 Annotations

My on-going look at Don Lawrence's Storm will take a break so that we can revisit Future Quest, one of DC's re-imagining of classic Hana-Barbera characters. This will contain spoilers.

"Part Two: Visitors from Beyond"
Future Quest #2 (2016), Written by Jeff Parker; Art by Eric "Doc" Shaner, Ron Randall & Jonathan Case

The main cover. Features the nonhuman characters of several Hana-Barbera series: Bandit from Jonny Quest, Blip from Space Ghost, and Zok, Igoo, Gloop and Gleep from The Herculoids.

"Now a spaceship?" Space Ghost materializes in the Everglades and appears ready to blast Jonny and Hadj with his power bands. He seems to be in conflict with someone named Omnikron, then he disappears. The kids next discover a crashed spacecraft, Space Ghost's Phantom Cruiser. Inside, is an injured, unconscious Jan and an irate Blip.

"A lot of tough guys that point guns at kids." A bunch of goons--agents of FEAR from Birdman attack. They also have a spider eye-bot like the one employed by Dr. Zin in the eighth episode of Jonny Quest ("The Robot Spy"). The boys are rescued by the timely arrival of Race Bannon and Birdman.

"Don't you dare point guns at my family!" Dr. Quest and Deva Sumadi arrive in a two-man flying craft of the type we've seen previously employed by Dr. Zin's henchmen in "The Fraudulent Volcano." The badguys manage to get away, though, airlifting out the Phantom Cruiser. They also discovered an unconscious Jace, still under Inviso power.

Jezebel Jade. She appears to be working with Dr. Zin. Jade appeared in two episodes of the original Jonny Quest series. She appears to have a history with Race Bannon, has Dr. Zin hints here again.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Blood & Treasure

John M. Stater of the Land of Nod blog has released the second edition of his retroclone adjacent (meaning it isn't actually a retroclone, but uses the OGL to approximate something resembling older D&D) rpg Blood & Treasure. Unlike genuine retroclones, B&T isn't about emulating an out of print game. It aims to wed the simpler rules and playstyle of historic editions with some of the options and flavor more familiar from modern games. It's a delicate balance to pull off, but John's efforts achieve this better than just about anybody.

John adds some interesting new stuff; he outlines the differences between this and the previous edition here. One of my favorite new details is thieves getting to assemble a crew for jobs at 6th level--though they may not be trustworthy. I also likes the simple variations he provides at the end of the description for every class so you can be a Jester instead of a Bard or a Ninja instead of a Monk.

The art in this edition is great, too. I mean, check out that cover! The interior is good, too, and in an array of styles in true old school fashion.

It's available now on drivethrurpg/rpgnow.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Hexcrawl on the Planet of the Apes

Here's a rundown (in pictures) of a game of exploration in the Planet of the Apes setting...

In 1980, a team of astronauts are put into cryogenic suspension on a satellite as part of study of longterm suspended animation in the face of classified information obtained from the "ape-o-naut" visitors from the the future in 1973.

The astronauts awaken over a millennia later, to a post-nuclear war world ruled by apes!

Humans are either subjugated by the apes or tribesmen living in the wilderness.

The relics of advanced technology remain, such as the ancient, underground subshuttle system.

Will the astronauts be able to change the future and save the human race--or maybe even find a way back to their own time?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Suicide (Squad) is Painless

I was never terribly excited for Suicide Squad. This isn't my preferred version of the team, and the trailers recalled Guardians of the Galaxy, which was not among my favorite of Marvel films. The negative reviews didn't change my perception. After seeing it last night, I feel like I misjudged Suicide Squad, and I think it is a better movie than rap its getting.

First off, it does resemble GotG in some ways, but uses those similarities to different ends. GotG's AM Gold soundtrack and stock characters were meant to pander and reassure. It wants desperately to convince you that this is like those these things you like and in doing so become on of those things. Whatever Warner Bros.' and Ayers' intentions, the film Suicide Squad seems indifferent to your like or dislike. It wants just to entertain. It uses (or overuses) musical cues like captions or narration to save itself time spent with building scenes or establishing drama. It's got other stuff it wants to do. The characters could all be described in a single comic caption box, but unlike GotG, to the extent that any have hearts of gold, it's only to accentuate the realpolitick evil of Amanda Waller (who out dicks Dick Cheney) and sometime sanctimonious soldier Rick Flagg.

Suicide Squad is perhaps the most comic book-y of comic book movies since the Batman 1966 film spinoff.  It's first 30 minutes plays like a Marvel after credits sequence with cameos and references to movies that haven't been made yet. "Of course a DC Universe exists; let's just start from here," it says, rather than wasting any time trying to prepare a timid audience or slowly build suspension disbelief. Metahumans. Superman's dead. Ancient witches. Batman. And on we go! Harley Quinzel was a Marilyn Monroe breathy-voiced psychiatrist who falls for the platinum-capped psychopath she calls "Mister J" is only as convincing as the images themselves burlesque backstory you know. Either you buy it or not, we ain't going to try to convince you.

In the end (again like GotG), it succumbs to defeating a narratively poorly sold and visually uninteresting and CGI swirly world menace, in a run of the mill superhero action sequence. Before that it's a live action 00s comic, and the extent to which you like it may be dependent on how you feel about that.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Secret of the Nitron Rays

Storm: The Secret of the Nitron Rays (1981) (part 4)
(Dutch: Het Geheim van de Nitronstralen)
Art by Don Lawrence & Script by Dick Matena

Storm and the Earth forces set a trap for the Azurian pirates by hiding in a slow moving cargo vessel they know the raiders won't be able to resist. The plan works, but neither Bitak or the traitor Benjamin are among them. Apparently, she took one of the spacecraft the pirates had captured and they took off.

Storm is convinced he's got to pursue Benjamin. He takes a dimension ship to go from Azurian colony to colony looking for them. He doesn't have much luck.

Benjamin and Bitak have reached a Azurian colony Benjamin was searching for: a place where they find an old enemy of Storm's, the Supervisor. When Benjamin tells him why they've come, he agrees to help them.

Back on Earth, Storm decides they had best finally solve the mystery of Bitak's powers. Eventually, Mordegai's notes guide a young scientist, Correll, to the answer: Azurians of a certain rare bloodtype will develop powers when exposed to nitron radiation. As luck would have it, 100 Azurians they tested have the bloodtype and are willing to be experimented on:

It works!

Out on the Azurian colony, Bitak has become displeased with Benjamin. After he slaps her, she blows up some of his work and runs away. Benjamin tells the Supervisor it doesn't matter: he now knows the secret of her power. The Supervisor embarks on his on plan to develop more telekinetics.

In a stolen ship, Bitak is picked up by an Earth patrol. She tells Storm and the others about the plans of Benjamin and the Supervisor. Storm summons the telekinetic Azurians they created.

They don't have the wait long. The Supervisor's force arrive. His telekinetic forces create fierce storms and waterspouts, but they are neautralized by the Earth telekinetics. Then, it's old fashion ship to ship fighting.

The Supervisor wants to retreat. Benjamin pulls a gun on him; he's not willing to give up so easy. Unfortunately for him, the Supervisor also had the rare bloodtype:

The Supervisor manages to escape, but most of his forces aren't so lucky.

Bitak and the other telekinetics decide to take the dimension ships and find their own world where they can live in peace. Storm and Ember bid them good bye.