Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Storm: City of the Damned

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

Storm: City of the Damned (1982) (part 5)
(Dutch: Stad der Verdoemden)
Art by Don Lawrence & Script by Kelvin Gosnell

Storm and Ember take the winged horse to the ancient, ceremonial gate at the bottom of the city, which they believe will lead them to Gor's lair. They're right, and the green-skinned psychic watches them on a viewscreen--and waits.

Storm and Ember descend into the depths of the caverns beneath the city, thinking they'll find Gor at the lowest level. The walls to a passage way grow arms out of them and try to stop them:

Next they fight bat-creatures and pass precariously over flows of lava until they reach Gor's sanctum:

They easily disarmed Pulg, the dwarfish head of Gor's personal guard, but Gor himself proves tougher. He disarms Ember easily them brags about the extent of his power. Storm suggests there's one thing he can't do: travel through time.

Gor admits that is true, but counters he'll soon have control over the computer in the city. Not all time machines are big and unwieldy. Storm throws the time machine belt at Gor, a belt with only enough power for a one way trip! Gor is gone to the end of time.

Back in the city, the war is over. Gor's troops have stopped fighting. Both groups can work together to rebuild.

Storm still has his one request to make of the central computer, Terminal One. Storm argues that computers should serve humans, not control:

Storm and Ember leave the people of their city to chart there own future without the computer.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Hubris Arrives

I was going to title this post "The Hubris of Mike Evans," but that would be a title for a negative review--and this ain't one of those. On the heels of the successful Kickstarter, I mentioned some cool highlights from my read-through of the early backers copy, but I figured with it available to everyone, I figured it was a good time to do another walkthrough.

Mike subtitles his work "a world of visceral adventure" and everything in here works to support that tone. It is, after all, a world made from the "fetid corpse of a dead god." Mike uses the Dungeon Crawl Classics ruleset which (to my mind) is sort of blacklight poster/70s comic sword & sorcery. It's a good fit, but Mike twists it into a "90s comic by Danzig with art by Simon Bisley" sort of direction. Mike's world-building is aided and abetted in this regard by the art work which includes stuff by Jeremy Duncan and Doug Kovacs, among several other worthies. This group knows how to draw weird shit and monsters.

So the tone is consistent, but what do we actually get? There are nine new classes and races; things like a Blood Witch (a bit like Last Airbender's blood benders but way more EVIL!) and the Murder Machine (Warforged but with the Metal turned to 11). There are new magic items and new spells, all table-ready and (in case of the spells) detailed in full DCC style.

A big section is the "Territories of Hubris" chapter. This is the sort of thing that bogs down a lot of setting books, but Hubris focuses on the interesting bits, so little wordage is wasted and it is surprisingly usable with little prep.

There is a grab-bag of tools and generators, some of the them sort of random (you know what I mean), but great utilities with some flavorful results. This section shows the influence of products like Vornheim.

Finally, there is not one but two short adventures, one of which is a zero level funnel. This is really useful in making the setting come to life because it shows how the writer does it. It's the sort of thing a lot of single-author setting books would do well to emulate.

If any of that sounds cool to you, you should really check Hubris out. On sale now!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Baroque Space Troika! Style

Reading over Daniel Sell's rules for Troika! Basic, and I am utterly charmed. I wrote up some backgrounds for Baroque Space using the ruleset. It's a great way to get really setting-appropriately flavored characters easy:

You are a squat, muscular savage, belligerent and possibly anthropophagous, with a face on your torso.

War club
Filed teeth (damage as knife)
Fetish or Talisman

6 Language (their own savage tongue)
2 Awareness
3 Club Fighting
2 Strength
1 Tracking
2 Wrestling

You are a buccaneer of that rebel society of the asteroids, who find fraternity among thieves adhering to a simple code: No member may  rob or cheat another, loot must be apportioned by established rules, and no captain may command without being elected by the crew.

Mechanical eye, hidden mostly behind a patch, but capable of scuttling ambulation on unfolding limbs. It can record what it seems for 15 minutes and relay it upon reinsertion.
breathing-dress (counts as modest armor)

2 Astrology
3 Climbing
2 Pilot
2 Sword Fighting
2 Pistol Fighting

You are an inveterate gambler, late of the Jovial gaming houses.

Deck of Marked Cards
Dueling Pistol of overly elaborate design 
Jovian Dice (d6, in various kaleidoscopic Neoplatonic solids)
Non-Euclidean Laputan Habiliments

2 Awareness
2 Etiquette
1 Evaluate
1 Sleight of Hand
2 Pistol Fighting
3 Secret Signs - Tells

You have been recently rescued from the silvery Lunar wastes where you were long marooned.

Antique Musket
Fantastical yet rustic clothing
Journal and writing implement
Semi-transparent body owing to long subsistence on Lunar fruit

3 Awareness 
2 Language - Selenite telepathy
1 Musket Fighting
2 Run
2 Tracking

What is there in life for you now that you have been compelled to flee the shining court of His Heliocephaliac Majesty, Helios XXIII, Emperor of Mercury? The other worlds are so cold! Still you persevere. 

Mercurian Court Fashion: powdered whig, cache-sexe, corset, jabot or a doublet, pantaloons, stockings, and heels --and a mantled cloak.
Mercurian shaded lens on a stick OR goggles
Light-blocking ointment
Muff Pistol

3 Etiquette
2 Gambling
3 Language - Mercurian
1 Knife Fighting
2 Pistol Fighting

You are a Mechanical android. Glimpses of variegated lights blinking through the crack in your brazen skull tell the tale: You are malfunctioning and masterless, certainly, but also possibly possessed of radical political views.

2 in a weapon or improvised weapon of choice
3 in a skill related to your primary function (Etiquette, Mathmology, Evaluate, Craft Skill, etc.)
2 in a Language of choice
1 Strength
1 Run

Repair kit
Weapon or improvised weapon of choice

Mechanicals do not heal like natural folk, but must spend an evening in repair. For each hour of rest with access to repair tools regain 3 Stamina.
You always have the equivalent of light armor.

You are a veteran of many voyages and an essential member of any astronef crew. It is often no mean feat to wring something edible from the bounty of the spontaneous generation vats, and occasionally, you succeed.

Bottle of rotgut
Vials of salt and various exotic spices
Venerian Jabbering Monkey 

1 Awareness
2 Cooking
1 Strength
2 Axe (Cleaver) Fighting
2 Pistol Fighting
2 Fist Fighting

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Cosmic Tales

Storm will resume next week, after the holiday. Today, I want to point you (again) to a webcomic done by Mike "Aos" Gibbons: Cosmic Tales. It's got a Bronze Age charm that you will dig if you dig Bronze Age comics, and if you don't you haven't been paying attention to my comics posts over the years. Check it out.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Weird Life Cycle of Elves

What humans mistake as different tribes or clades of elves are actually different stages in their millennia long, perhap endless, lives.

Wood elves are elven adolescents. They rebel against their parents and go to live in bands of others of their age. They throw racuous parties in the woods and experiment with intoxicants. They are capricious, emotional, and cliqueish. Their tribes run the gamut between Woodstock and Lord of the Flies.

High elves are elven adults. They interact most with other species and are responsible for the maintenance of elven civilization. It is in this age cohort that the immortality of elves begans to take its toll, however. Elven brains are not structurally that different from humans. They do not have the capacity to hold countless centuries of memories. Their initial compensatory mechanism is monomania. Elves develop a strong interest that narrows the array of factual information they must recall and provides constant reinforcement for the things they find important. Some become swordsmasters, some master artists or craftsmen, some archmages.

For some elves this is enough, and they grow more skilled, more focused, and stranger, until they become almost demigods in their chosen vocation. These are the Gray.

Others, though, are not able to maintain such focus. Something akin to dementia sets in. They become forgetful, and paranoid. As they begin to lose their past--lose themselves--they find only intense or traumatic memories linger long. These are the dark elves.

Dark because of the darkness that consumes their minds; dark for the deeds they commit to hold on to self and not slip into mindless reverie. They go to live in the dungeons of their kind to pursue intense pleasures and horrors or simply howl or cackle in the darkness. These elders are feared by other elves. They avoid them and will not speak of them to nonelves.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Dictionary of Azurth Updated

It has been about six months since my last update to the Dictionary Azurth, so it was due. You'll find new entries for the Book of Doors, the Etheric Realm, Queen Hyacinthia, Paper Town, the Super-Wizards, and the Uncanny Valley. Probably something else I forgot, too,

Friday, November 18, 2016

On the Western

What follows are some observations on media in the Western genre (mostly film and tv, but comics and even novels are probably not exempt) brought on by a discussion of Westworld. These may be relevant to Old West gaming--if you want to evoke the feel of media rather than historic simulation.

Westerns are Fantasies, not in the sense of genre fantasy, but as in taking place in a fictionalized milieu. This is obscured by historical fictions in Western garb, numerous Westerns loosely based on real events (My Darling Clementine and Doc are both about the OK Corral but just about all they have in common are the names of some historical personages), and the fact that even the most ahistorical Westerns use elements of real history like locations or Native American groups.

But beyond the disregard for strict historical accuracy (a World War II machine gun in the Civil War setting of Fist Full of Dollars or The Wild Bunch's fuzzy placement during the Mexican Civil War) common to films, we have the almost ritual performance of emerging statehood in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence the mystery play of  civilization arriving with the railroad in Once Upon A Time in the West, or the alt-history Tombstone of Forty Guns.All these films have in common a heavy use of the tropes and elements of "the Old West" without any specific historical references.

Scenery is More than Location. John Ford put the striking vistas of Monument Valley in a number of films and in doing so placed it all over the West--maybe even actually in Utah at some point! When Sergio Leone gets to make a Western in the U.S. he shoots there, too. I can't think of a single grim slaughter or dramatic shootout in a film in the shadow of say West Mitten Butte. That isn't the portion of the Matter of the West that is performed in that sort of place. Men tend to die in narrow canyons or scrub desert plains in California or maybe Spain. The enactment of the mythology does not respect distance or realistic topography. A perfect encapsulation of this is Once Upon A Time in the West (it's title suggesting its mythic narrative): The town of Sweetwater and the rail station are in Spain, but Monument Valley lies between the two. Frank and his gang hole up somewhere in the vicinity of Mesa Verde. The generic West must contain all this disparate real estate in days ride or so.

One gaming thought related to the above: Would a Western work devoid of much of those real world references (no matter how thin)? Could you set a Western in some Ruritania-esque fictional state or territory? Probably going to completely fictional stand-in for North America would go to far (without magic to signify genre fantasy), but maybe not.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Storm: City of the Damned

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

Storm: City of the Damned (1982) (part 4)
(Dutch: Stad der Verdoemden)
Art by Don Lawrence & Script by Kelvin Gosnell

Ember and the other captives beginning the dangerous climb up the outside of the city, They're attacked by one of Gor's lieutenants: a knight on a winged horse. Ember manages the knock the sword from his hand and jump on the horse behind him. She starts to pull of the mask, There is a flash of light and the knight says they will meet again. Then, the empty suit of armor falls apart. Ember now has a steed.

She breaks into the city just in time, because Anor is about to execute the still mind-controlled Storm. Ember snatches up a sword and Anor creates a kind of energy blade. She slices through Ember's sword and has her at her mercy. Ember makes a desperate lunge and knocks Anor to the ground--and she falls on her own sword.

As she dies, Storm is freed from her control. Anor taunts the hero as she dies: Gor's troops now have an imprint of Storm's killer instinct. They will be unstoppable.

As she speaks, Gor's army is indeed advancing through the city. The citizens and the compiter are panicked. Storm tells the computer he can save the city, but only if the the computer agrees to do one thing for him once the enemy is defeated. The computer is worried about what this request might be, but it accepts the condition.

Storm asks for a sword and a time belt. Ember asks Storm where it is they are going. He replies: "Right to the Devil's lair."


Monday, November 14, 2016

The Land of the Wooden Gargoyles

Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night with the party entering the conical mountain at the edge of the Vale of Vo. A sign warned them that this way led to the Land of the Gargoyles and urged caution, but they began climbing the mountain's great internal stairway anyway.

After a days travel (and a rest) they came to a platform and a balcony overlooking a burning, oilly sea. The balcony was the nesting site of giant vultures of a very disagreeable type:

Trying to sneak past the nest, the party was forced to kill one vulture before they could continue on their way. Next, they were greeted by an affable disembodied head with long hair and a beard. Not conmpletely disembodied, it turned out. The man's body was just stuck (mostly) inside a portable hole. The man gave his name as "7739" (but after finding where he carved it in the ground, the party suspected in was actually "Gell"). He claimed to be an magical inventor from the Land of Azurth. He had made his living putting holes in fancy cheeses and the like, until a mathematical error in the construction of a hole led to catastrophe. He fell into this underworld and became hopelessly stuck in a tangle of holes. He didn't seem much bothered by this. He had devoted his time to the creation of "Huzzahs" for political rallies and flutters for flags and the like. The party was certain he was a lunatic, but Waylon nevertheless purchased a box of three huzzahs for the price of a piece of string.

Continuing their journey, the group came to the end of the stairway and a strange mesa. It looked like a sawdust strewn stage set: the flowers and trees were wooden cutouts, so seemed to be the clouds overhead. The marionette gargoyles that came flying towards them on creaking, hinged wings were more fully formed--and belligerent. After a pitch battle, the party dispatched eleven of them.

There seemed to be no way off the mesa but flying, and a wooden, gargoyle city seemed to lie between them and the next mountain. The party made camp in what they hoped was a secluded spot to heal their wounds and formulate a plan of action.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Classy Cover I Forgot

In doing covers for Hydra Projects in the Penguin Classics style, I forgot to do any of my own projects. Here are two possibilites for a Weird Adventures cover:

Art by AAmezcua

Art by Adam Moore

Friday, November 11, 2016

Hydra Gets Classy

Working on a mockup for the cover to the upcoming What Ho, Frog Demons!, I got the idea of doing Hydra covers in the style of one of the Penguin Classics design. Here's what I came up with:

art by David Lewis Johnson

Art by Jeremy Duncan
Art by Luka Rejec

And an upcoming project:

Art by Jason Sholtis

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Operation Unfathomable: The Last Hours & DCC Conversion

Just hours to go for the Operation Unfathomable Kickstarter and we just unlocked the DCC Conversion by Paul Wolfe!

If you've been waiting until the last minute, this is it!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Prez

No Storm today as I was watching the U.S. Presidential Election return last nights, but I do want to recommend a couple of presidential collections:

Prez is the title of two DC Comics about teenage presidents. The first debuted in his own short-lived title written by Joe Simon and drawn by Jerry Grandenetti in 1973. The series is predicated on the notion of a Constitutional amendment lowering the age for eligibility for office (which may have been inspired by the 1968 film Wild in the Streets). The upshot is a teenager gets elected, and who better than a earnest and idealistic kid from Middle America whose mother even named him “Prez” ‘cause she thought he’d be President one day? 

Finally, because you (or somebody) demanded it, The Prez has been collected. This collection includes the four issues of The Prez's run, an unpublished story from Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2, and a continuity-twisting tale from Supergirl #10. Neil Gaiman brought Prez out of comics limbo in Sandman #54 in 1993. This led a sort of follow-up in Vertigo Vision: Prez. Miller and Morrison also used the Prez in Dark Knight Strikes Again #2 and the Multiversity Guidebook. All of these deuterocanonical texts are included, as well.

In 2015, an all-new, all-different Prez is introduced. This is Beth Ross, an Oregon teen who's elected via Twitter in 2036. The series by writer Mark Russell and artist Ben Caldwell. It only lasted 12 issues, but it was fun while it lasted, providing a modern update to the concept.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Final Countdown

The Operation Unfathomable Kickstarter has a little over two days to go, but Hydra isn't taking our collective foot off the gas. This weekend, we had 3 new stretch goals to sweeten the deal:

$16,000: Jason's original smash blog compilation The Dungeon Dozen
$19,000: Operation Unfathomable Players Guide a mini-comic
$18,000: Dungeon Dozen II Sneak Preview

If you haven't backed, now's the time.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Sometimes Dubious Bounty of the Vats

In the Age of Space Exploration, nourishment for space voyages is provided by application of scientific principles. As the natural process of putrefaction on the Earth and the other worlds leads to the spontaneous generation of vermin, the alchemist may utilize this same process to create more pleasing and usual forms of life in the generation vats of a vessel.

The vital energies of the sun are capture and channeled to the vats where they inseminate the matrix of ship wastes and alchemical mucilage--often informally called slime. By calibration of temperature, matrix composition, and other factures, any natural animal may be grown. Food generation must be started weeks before it is needed, else only the lowliest sorts of creatures may be generated. Some researchers have experimented with various means to speed up the process, but this increases the rate of errors, discussed below. A similar process can be used to grow Homonculi for menial tasks, though only the largest of ships would carry enough matrix to do so, or to feed the extra mouths created afterward. The Turk do not create Homonculi at all, citing some pious objection, but exclusively employ automata.

Improperly prepared mucilage or exposure to some stray cosmic influence or energy, sometime creates dangerous, ill-formed masses or cancers: slimes, puddings, and oozes, are they variously named based on the identifiable properties. For example, the Black, Gray, or Leaden Pudding shows Saturnine influence and character.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Doctor Strange

First a warning: There maybe be some mild spoilers for the latest installment in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" in what follows.

I have to admit, that as excited I was that there was going to be a Doctor Strange movie when it was first announced, I have not had much enthusiasm passed on the teasers and early trailers. Some of the that might have been me just tiring of Marvel's house style, but for whatever reason, I was underwhelmed.

The actual film wound up being better than I had expected. The design aesthetic of Marvel's films when it comes to the really fantastic non-superhero elements (Asgard in particular, but also some parts of Guardians of the Galaxy) has always left me cold. Also, the relentless desire to de-mystify or over-rationalize all the magical elements of the Marvel Universe works passably with some things (like the Darkhold on Agents of SHIELD) but hollowed out the grandeur of Kirby's sci-fi Norse mythology from Thor.

Happily, Doctor Strange is not particularly de-mystified. (The Ancient One offers an explanation of magic similar to one of the options Kenneth Hite provided Rough Magicks.) In fact, they really play up the (unintended presumably) psychedelia of the Ditko-era stories, though they convert it to a more filmic approach. There are resonances with both 2001 and Afronosky's The Fountain.

How the magic is employed winds up being a bit like a combination of The Matrix, Inception, and previous superhero films. I like how they moved away from strictly super-powers, and you could see how they were reaching for Ditko and perhaps Starlin with some of it. The spells as mostly sputtering sparks drawn in the air didn't quite suit me, though I don't have a ready alternative in mind. It all worked passably.

The plot is a means to an end. The similarities to Inception and The Matrix at times made its mere adequacy more evident, but when you're a vehicle for elaboration of a shared universe, you don't have to shoulder so much weight yourself, I suppose. All the cast does a pretty good job with what they are given. Tilda Swinton, despite expressly being "Celtic," does the movements, stances, and cryptic comments of the "Asian Master" almost as much as Joel Grey in Remo Williams without the obivous yellowface, so I'm not sure not casting an non-Asian actor as the Ancient One really allowed us to avert all those stereotypes. Still, I liked her protrayal.

The Marvel fan in me exulted to see the Dread Dormammu (Though I was underwhelmed by his dread "we didn't think about this very much" CGI-ness. He was of the ilk of Parallax in the Green Lantern film or "The Absorbing Man" in Ang Lee's Hulk). Further fannishness: Instead of having Mikkelsen's baddie be named for a mook that worked for Baron Mordo in the comic, why not have him be Kaluu, the Ancient One's rival?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Christmas Comes Early

In line with the Christmas decorations already up in many a retail establishment, Action Lab has released the Christmas comic Northstars Vol 1: Welcome to Snowville on Comixology. it will be out in hardcopy later this month, I believe. This kids comic (something of an homage to those TV Christmas Specials and Harvey Comics of yore) is written by my friend, sometime collaborator, and fellow rpger, Jim Shelley and his daughter, Haigen. Art is supplied by the very talented Anna Liisa Jones who I would love to have do something for the Land of Azurth one day.

Here's one of the character designs:

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Storm: City of the Damned

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

Storm: City of the Damned (1982) (part 3)
(Dutch: Stad der Verdoemden)
Art by Don Lawrence & Script by Kelvin Gosnell

When last we left our heroes, the computer guiding the city makes a request of Storm: Strange energy barriers have appeared in places across the city without warning. People can cross into the areas behind them but not back out. Thousands of people have been lost in these sectors. The computer believes only someone like Storm--a fighter, a survivor--can sole this crisis.

Storm isn't interested. He doesn't like the computer's interference.

Ember urges him not to be so rash. He should take some time to think it over. She believes there is something strange happening here.

Storm finds it ironic that she is suggesting anyone be careful. He also thinks her curiosity can get them killed. He does agree to sleep on it, though.

Storm finds a strange woman in his room. She says her name is Anor. She is a product of those genetic experiments to develop psychic powers: A successful experiment.

Her powers are strong enough to overcome Storm. She reports back to her unseen master.

The next morning Ember finds Storm missing from his quarters. She finds him in Terminal One walking arm in arm with Anor. She informs Ember Storm has decided to stay permanently in the city. Ember is confused. She offers Storm his sword he had left behind. Storm says he doesn't need it anymore.

Bewildered and angry, Ember storms off and comes upon one of the energy barriers. Passing through, she finds herself in a place of darkness where brutish guys with Medieval weapons attack her. She drives them off, only to be attacked again by a towering dark knight whose sword drops bubbles or eggs with tiny reptiles inside:

She's rescued by people who live in the maintenance tunnels. They too passed through the barrier at one point to be stuck in this world of shadow. When a barrier goes up, the people are enslaved and forced to work demolishing building for scrap. Most of the metal is used to make weapons of war to outfit an army. The leader of this army is a man named Gor, a product of experiments that gave him to power to dominate men's minds. When the experimenters tried to destroy him, he teleported into the underworld beneath the city.

Those able to control others develop red eyes. Ember remembers the woman with Storm had read eyes. She must be controlling him!

Ember has to rescue him. If she can't go through the barrier, she'll go around. She throws a mace through a window and prepares to climb the outside of the city.