Friday, June 30, 2017

Weird Revisited: Strange Things at the Automat

I recent review of Weird Adventures reminded me of this post from July of 2010. The name of the establishment is, of course, a reference to characters in the works of James Branch Cabell and Robert W. Chambers, two writers whose work certainly influenced conception of Weird Adventures.

A phantom automat stalks the streets of the City. Horvendile & Hawberk’s may appear any where, but is less likely to be found on a busy thoroughfare or crowded street. It seems to thrive in the shadows. It's never found in the same place twice, and less than half of people who have been there have visited it more than once--and urban legend holds that to encounter it more than seven times is a bad omen, and harbingers death.

Horvendile & Hawberk’s, or sometimes “Double H’s” (used somewhat superstitiously), looks new, though its decor and signage looks a decade or more out of date. Decorative glass fixtures around the upper walls are etched with astrological symbols. The staff is always crisply dressed and pleasant, but doesn’t engage in conversation. In addition to the automat staples like coffee, pie, sandwiches, and macaroni and cheese, the coin-operated, hinged glass slots at double H’s sometimes hold (seemingly random) unusual items:

1. A Subway and Elevated Rail-Lines map of the City, with unknown stations identified.

2. The egg of an Oriental Griffin, worth a fortune--had it not been cooked sunny side up. Eating it leads to heightened sight for 48 hours.

3. A girasol ring, worth $200 to a common fence, but an evaluation by an expert reveals it to mark the bearer by tradition as the heir to a micronation in Eastern Ealderde.

4. A risque postcard of a Poitêmienne prostitute, imbued with the power of the eikone Doll, so that the owner has the power of charm over members of the opposite sex as long as they carry it on their person.

5. A used napkin with the address of a warehouse where a Staarkish Imperial military manhunter golem has been stored. It’s battered, but only needs a power source to return to operation.

6. Four-and-a-half pages of illuminated text in a magical script from a grimoire on which someone has over-written a series of bawdy limericks. Contains 1-4 spells, but must be recopied to separate the formulae from the limericks.

7. A post-bill asking after a lost dog named “Jakey.” The crude drawing of the dog is so indistinct as to be unhelpful, but it's strangely unsettling to the viewer. Any one who touches it will have vague nightmares and unrestful sleep that night.

8. A ornately engraved antique sixgun. It's intelligent (Int 17) and will attempt to dominate any bearer to force him or her to seek out its original owner who’s taxidermied corpse is currently on display in a roadside curio and oddity museum in the Dustlands. When used, it confers a +2 to hit.

9. A slice of preternaturally tasty pecan pie, that the consumer will talk about from time to time with some nostalgia for 1d20 years after.

10. A pocket note-pad with a glossary of hobogoblin cant and signs, which, if utilized improves reaction when encountering the tramp humanoids, and provides other helpful information for to “gentlemen of the road.”

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Let Alex Toth Illustrate Your Monster Manual

I've posted some Alex Toth animation model sheets before for their inspirational value. Here are more in that same vein:

This one could be a salamander:

Dogheaded? Junior dragons? How about insectoid kobolds?

If you ignore the heights given, these guys could be frost giants:

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wednesday Comics: The Wretch

Strange things happen in Glass City: a rain of babies falls, a grinning cut-out of a sun on a little girl's wall demands she give it a body, the spectre of a wailing woman kills children with her tears. The Eisner nominated comic The Wretch by Phil Hester and others resembles a superhero comic in some superficial ways, but it's actually something more akin to the New Weird literary genre in comics form.

The titular Wretch is a ink-black shape in bandages and occasionally hoses (he resembles a bit, a messier version of Spider-Man's black costume). He patrols the small midwestern city of Glass City where a lot of weird things happen. The Wretch never speaks. We're not given a clear indication of his powers, nor anything regarding his motivation of origins. The focus is more on Glass City's denizens and the odd things happening to them. The Wretch just tends to show up in the nick of time to fight something. The stories are all short and not very deep but they are a nice mix of absurdity and horror.

The second volume of Slave Labor Graphics collections subtitled "Devil's Lullaby" actually collects an earlier limited series (from Caliber Comics, 1996) than the one collected in the first volume. I think the chronological reading order of the SLG collections would be to start with the third and work backwards.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Random Motley Pirate Captains & their Ships

Art by William Stout

Here's an excerpt from the Azurth Adventure Digest: A series of random tables related to Motley Pirate captains and their ships.

1 Black Hart
2 Black Mark
3 White Lily
4 White Lyle
5 Red Herron
6 Yellow Rose
7 Green Horne
8 Golden Boyd
9 Blue Yonder
10 Silver Bullitt
11 Gray Harriet
12 Purple Patch

Known For:
1 challenging captives to a game of checkers
2 an exotic pet
3 tendency to break into song
4 gold prosthetic nose
5 fine swordsmanship
6 prodigious appetite
7 half-merperson ancestry
8 mismatched eye color
9 numerous tattoos
10 sartorial excess
11 seasickness
12 Obsession with a specific sea creature

1 Scarwhal
2 Nigh Invulnerable
3 Blatant Beast
4 Typhoonigator
5 Luminous Nose
6 Hardluck Hooligan
7 Runcible Goose
8 Grand Panjandrum
9 Black Barnacle
10 Bandersnatch
11 Dubious Venture
12 Terrible Dogfish

Exotic Booty
1 A velvet bag of invisible, yet glowing star-gems.
2 Crates of ancient automata parts and junk machinery from Sang
3 The captured Frogling ambassador of Undersea and his attache
4 Casks of fine Viridian chrysochlorous wine
5 A nereid in a tank, actually a favored niece of the Sea King
6 Mirror boxes of bootleg moonlight
7 A small flask containing a condensed squall
8 Somewhat water-damaged back issues of the periodical Wizardry
9 Three cursed swords with a hatred for each other
10 A barrel of exotic fruit that act as a potions of healing if eaten
11 A corked and sealed bottle with a letter of introduction to King Volturnus, the East Wind
12 Crystalline unicorn figurines in various colors

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dungeon Boomtown

The suggestion of boomtowns (linked not because you don't know what a boomtown is, but because of the list of historical boomtowns) near dungeons is something mentioned in D&D, but seldom is the concept developed in any interesting way. Chris "Hill Cantons" Kutalik has suggested before that the description of Maust on the border of the Dirdir-infested but also sequin-filled Carabas in Vance's The Dirdir is great for evoking this very thing, and he's right:

By noon Maust appeared in the distance: a jumble of tall narrow buildings with high gables and crooked roof-lines, built of dark timber and age-blackened tile...Running boys came out to meet the motor-wagon. They shouted slogans and held up signs and banners: "Sequin-takers attention! Kobo Hux will sell one of his excellent sequin-detectors." "Formulate your plans at the Inn of Purple Lights." "Weapons, puffpads, maps, digging implements from Sag the Mercantilist are eminently useful." "Do not grope at random; the Seer Garzu divines the location of large purple nodes." "Flee the Dirdir with all possible agility; use supple boots provided by Awalko." "Your last thoughts will be pleasant if, before death, you first consume the euphoric tablets formulated by Laus the Thaumaturge." "Enjoy a jolly respite, before entering the Zone, at the Platform of Merriment."
...They entered a narrow street running between tall, age darkened structures, the beer-colored sunlight barely penetrating to the street. Certain of the houses sold gear and implements conceivably useful to the sequin-taker: grading kits, camouflage, spoor eliminators, tongs, forks, bars, monoculars, maps, guides, talismans and prayer powders...
After a meal of stewed hackrod and mealcake, the three repaired to the library, at the back of the second floor. The side wall displayed a great map of the Zone; shelves held pamphlets, portfolios, compilations. The consultant, a small sad-eyed man, sat to the side and responded to questions in a confidential whisper. The three passed the afternoon studying the physiography of the Zone, the tracks of successful and unsuccessful ventures, the statistical distribution of Dirdir kills.
No quite as on the nose, but with plenty to inspire the town adventures that would take place between dungeon delves is Deadwood (2004). Here's a choice quote adventurers would do well to keep in mind: “Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh.”

The movie Tombstone (1993) that civilizing forces are drawn to areas of great wealth as well as treasure seekers. They are a strange mixture of raw and upscale. From the opening narration: "Tombstone becomes queen of the boom towns where the latest Paris fashions are sold from the backs of wagons." And from Sheriff Behan:
"Have you seen how everyone dresses? Awful tony for a mining camp. No, sir, the die is cast. We are growing. Be as big as San Francisco in a few years and just as sophisticated."
Of course, a gunfight in the streets is ironic punctuation to his comment.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Azurth Adventure Digest

I've been working on a shorter publication, to tide people interested in more Azurth stuff over until the release of Cloud Castle of Azurth (which is still some distance in the future). The above is my mockup banner for the Azurth Adventure Digest (no cover illustration has been completed, as yet). This short publication will on the Boundless Sea, west of the Land of Azurth and collate what has been on the blog regarding the Motley Isles, have some random generators related to Motley Pirates, and give stats for a few sea-going folk who have showed up in my game. There will a short (longer than a one pager dungeon, but smaller than a published adventure) write up of the sandbox adventuring locale the Candy Isle.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

D&D Style

Which is more you?
As anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time (there's got to be someone!) knows, I don't not have one style, tone, flavor, what have you of D&D that I want to do all the time. The Land of Azurth is a bit whimsical and perhaps silly. The earliest setting I blogged up was perhaps reasonable standard if more rigorously rationalized "serious wordbuilding" D&D fare. If touched on more survival horror sort of setting riffs, and hope to one day finish a horror-tinged, pirate adventure (In Doom's Wake). This is to say nothing of the highly variant settings like Weird Adventures.

In other words, I like my D&D sort of like I my TV and music: eclectic. The at the table experience with me probably doesn't vary quite as much as my writing about them might suggest (getting a group of people around a table pretending to be elves with funny voices tends to engender some degree of humor), but they are not identical.

My time in rpg related social media has suggested that a lot people have a style/tone or at least a narrow range of style or tone they tend to like in their game. People are probably more tolerant for one shots than longterm campaigns of course, and probably have broader tastes in what they play in than what they run.

I confess I envy this a bit. I feel like avoid the siren's call of a new setting is hard enough, but add in a new or long ignored style or tone and it gets even harder! I feel like I could stick with a campaign longer if I knew what my favorite flavor was.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Seven of Aromater

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Seven of Aromater (1984) 
(Dutch: De Zeven van Aromater) (part 1)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Storm, Ember, and Nomad are floating down a river on a raft they made from the remains of the balloon they escaped in last adventure. The travel through a swamp, then into a delta, as they approach the sea they passes the wharves and docks of a city. Hungry, they make their way to the docks.

It turns out the city's name is Aromater. A merchant overhears them discussing their need for money and sends one of his warriors over to make an offer:

He wants to buy Ember. They reject his offer, and Ember slaps him. When the warrior begins to pull his sword, Storm slugs him.

The warrior demands a fight, and Storm decides to oblige him, if only to keep Ember from doing so. Storm breaks his sword against the warriors armor. The warrior holds his sword to Storm's throat and taunts him:

He suggests if Storm needs a sword, he should just pull the Seventh Sword from the stone block that holds it.

Elsewhere in the city, two men watch what is occurring in a crystal ball. They decide that Storm may be a suitable seventh. As Storm struggles with the Storm, the two men work the lever that releases the sword from the molecular lock that holds it.

The crowd that has gathered proclaims Storm as the Seventh. They carry him on their shoulders to the temple. Nomad and Ember follow after them, uncomprehending.

Storm is brought be for the Eternal Prince, who we saw watching the scene before. The Prince explains that Storm is the Seventh he is fated to return Aromater to glory. First, though, Storm must drink from the goblet with the Blood of Pandarve--or be punished by death by fire.

With no other choice, Storm drinks from the offered goblet.

Storm becomes the Seventh!


Monday, June 19, 2017

The Strange Lights and Noxious Odors of Murk

A Murkman, likely named Grundy

Murk is a marshy island of scrub and small stands of cypress, frequently shrouded in a malodorous, yellow-gray fog and inhabited by a dour people, aloof from the raucous society of Polychrome and the other inhabited Motley Isles. The people of the island may be one extended clan of pale and course-featured folk.

The Grundys (as they all seem to be named) are not of a piratical inclination, but instead harvest mussels and net fish that they trade with the Motley pirates for practical goods. They are also known for the product of  The disposition of the Grundys discourages visitors, though the ever-present miasma is likely more of a deterrent.

On some nights, variegated illuminations move through the fog, and its dullness is pierced by winking, dancing will-o’wisps. These lights are most prominent on nights of the new moon, when the sharp-eared also claim to hear strange music and other sounds of merriment emanating from the island.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

I Call Upon the Great Gazoo!

A lot of people don't like the Cleric class and its "my god gives me cool powers." Certainly, that sort of heavy divine involvement doesn't fit all settings, nor does the idea of granting the powers rather ran just performing miracles.

Another option would be the "personal genie" or guardian angel type character common to genre media. Jeannie and Shazzan are examples of this type, but I'm thinking more the smaller, invisible to most imp-type like the Great Gazoo, or in a less helpful mode, the impish would be side kicks of comic book heroes like Bat-Mite or Qwsp.

So when a cleric used a "spell" this would be this spirit/being doing stuff at their request. Why they would have such specific and limited interventions could be explained by them being "in training" or maybe just getting used to the Prime Material Plane.

(You might think this fits even better with the 5e Warlock and their Patrons, and I suppose it could, but their spells seem even less a fit than the clerics for this sort of setup.)

In media, this sort of thing is typically portrayed humorously, but it doesn't have to be. If you did portray it humorously, though, not having other characters be sure of whether the tutelary spirit actually exists or whether the PC is crazy might be amusing.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Why is Mortengersturm Upset?

After this week's mailing, there are only about 9 copies of Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak still available in print. If you were thinking about getting it, you may want to go ahead. There probably won't be another printing for while.

If you've been on the fence check out these reviews:
Gnone Stew
Zardoz the Magnificent
Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque
Dungeon of Signs

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Making Fantasy of History

"I am Zorro. I have come to return King Arthur to the throne."
- The Simpsons, "E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)"

This post is a callback to my post yesterday (or actually the previous post it linked to), so for a full appreciation,  you might want to catch up. So DC's Beowulf bore very little resemblance to the real world of the sixth century and not just in the fantastic elements. It cheerfully dispenses with any actual history (or legend, for that matter) with things like a contemporaneous-to-Beowulf Dracula harassing lost tribes of Israel. Ahistoricity of fiction is hardly anything new--it shows up everywhere from Arthurian legend to Hercules and the Masked Rider--but for some reason in rpgs anything really crazy gets safely placed in Hyborian world-esque fantasylands. In Mystara, you can have your Not early modern France in the same world with your Not Vikings, but you can't have the real thing together, it seems.

Why that is, I don't know. Maybe it's the historical wargame roots of the hobby or the pedantry that is not uncommon in the world of geekery. There's the off-repeated GM fear of being called out for inaccuracy in any sort of game where the players might have deep knowledge. But I think the advantage of a obviously gonzo, ahistorical game (or "stupid ahistorical game" ) is that it's so obviously wrong that questions of historical accuracy are sidestepped.

I think it's time to stop being held back by the shackles of chronology, ahistory awaits!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Beowulf

At NTrpgcon we got into a discussion of the craziness that is DC Comics' Beowulf. It seems like a good time to point you towards my overview of the series back in 2012.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Raiders of Estvyn's Tomb

Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued last night with the fifth and final session of our adaptation of X2: Castle Amber.  After a sojourn in France, the party found themselves in Estvyn's tomb.  The way to his crypt was blocked at every turn by a guardian monster of some sort. They sneaked past a sleeping azure dragon on a treasure pile in the antechamber. They suffered some burns from the claws of fire crabs in a flaming hallway. They got bowled over by a rock creature (galeb duhr) in the next connecting room.

At this point, they decided to take a long rest, before preceding. A manticore greeted them in the next room. Having a prior disliking for his kind, thanks to their experience with Mortzengersturm, they attacked with such ferocity he was dead before he got an attack! To be fair, Shade the Ranger did try to get him to back down without a fight.

Next, they were asked to chose between a room full of water and a room full of mud. After fishing with the Waylon the frogling as bait revealed at least a couple of eel hounds lurking, they went with the mud room, where they slugged (and slogged) it out with a mud golem. Dissonant whisipers ultimately hurt his feelings--to death.

The final room held a barbed devil. Here, Astra's stellar radiant blasts and the Mace of Disruption they had gotten previously really came in handy.

Finally at Estvyn's crypt, they burned the tapestry and broke the curse. The Elf mage thanked his cousin Shade for coming to his rescue. He removed the lunacy curse from Kully and Astra, and unpetrified Dagmar. Finally, the part got a magic item each for their trouble. They were deposited back in the Land of Azurth in front of a now ancient and crumbling House Perilous.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Adventuring During Wartime

I watched You Can't Win Them All (1970) this weekend. It's a heist/adventure film set in Anatolia in 1922 during the Greco-Turkish War (a part of the Turkish War for Independence). While its era and location would mark its genre as "adventure film," in its plot, desert vistas, and horse caravans, it most resembles late era Westerns set in Mexico like the Wild Bunch or The Professionals. In fact, its plot is essentially a reworking of Vera Cruz (1954), with Turkey in place of Mexico, the Sultan instead of Emperor Maximilian I, and Turkish Nationalists for Juaristas.

While these sorts of heist-like films are often heavily plotted affairs with double and triple crosses, the mercenaries/adventurers in a not-too-heavy war zone seems like it would be an ideal setting for a sandbox hexcrawl or pointcrawl sort of game. (This is sort of the less post-apocalyptic cousin to the devastated city hexcrawl.) The breakdown of the previous society by Civil War provides virtually all the elements that a true Frontier has, plus it has the added wrinkle of powerful factions. Emphasis would shift a bit, so that resource management in the wilderness would take a bit of a backseat to social interaction and low level political maneuvering.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Weird Revisited: The Slime Emotional Spectrum

This post appeared almost five years ago to the day. Multi-colored ring wearers were a new thing in comics at the time. Since the time it originally appeared, I've wondered what infrared and ultraviolet slimes might feed on, but I haven't yet come up with a satisfying answer.

If power rings can come full spectrum, so can slimes.  Let's run the list:

Red: The color of blood, these slimes are drawn to violence or displays of anger. They show up just after battles to absorb victor and victim alike. As they dissolve prey, their color deepens.
Orange: In some ways, these slimes (which have the look and consistency of pulped oranges) are the most sinister. Drawn to cheerful moods, they wait to take adventurers leaving dungeons after successful delves. Chemicals in their substance cause uncontrollable laughter in those they attack.
Yellow: Timid in their movements, these slimes feed off cowardice and fear. Fleeing adventures or monsters will draw their attention.
Green: Greed and avarice bring this species oozing out of the darkness. They tend to lie in wait around treasure troves.
Blue: Sadness and depression are the lures for these. They tend to try to trap creatures in a room for which there is no escape. They move in slowly, seeming to savior the despair as it builds.
Indigo: More rarefied in their appetites than others (if a slime can be said to be rarifed) these slime seek to absorb magic-users and others seeking transcedence through knowledge. Magic tomes and ancient inscriptions draw them. They may wait quiescent for years for a victim in the right mindset.
Violet: These slime do something positive on their own perverse way.  As they flow over victims they bring calm and soothe negative emotions.  This is no doubt a solace to the person so consumed.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Big Fin & the Prismatic Hole

West of the Land of Azurth in the Boundless Sea, lie the Motley Isles. Polychrome, the pirate haven, is the most famous of the chain, but not the only one that draws visitors.

Art by Bill Peet

Big Fin
is a long, narrow isle, but a short distance from Polychrome. The second largest island of the group, it is dominated by a fin-shaped limestone ridge with bands of color going from vermilion to pink to yellow. Few people live here permanently, owing to the difficult terrain, though some exiles from Polychrome squat on its shores. The rocks, however, provide nesting places for the iridescent red-headed gillygaloo, whose square eggs with large speckles are used in dice games and divination, and whose dodecahedral gizzard stones are sought as good-luck charms. The birds themselves are edible, but the superstitious egg-hunters will only do so in the direst of circumstances.

The Lurid Lair of the Froghemoth is a small, roundish cay and the most distant of the chain from the mainland. Its central lagoon is also known as the Prismatic Hole. It is a saltwater sinkhole with rainbow bands of color--indigo in the deep of its center. The legendary froghemoth has long been said to inhabit the depths of the Prismatic Hole, but the beast is seldom sighted. Still, most Motley Pirates avoid the area.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Wednesday Comics: The Chuckling Whatsit

Richard Sala's The Chuckling Whatsit is an oft-kilter, occasional absurdist noir mystery, like maybe something Tim Burton might do at his most serious or the Coen Brothers being a little Gothic. Of course. It's the story of an outsider artist, a doomed couple of escaped mental patients, a serial killer who may have started up again after more than a decade and is killing newspaper astrologers, mysterious assassins--and a hack reporter caught in the middle.

The dingus (to use Sam Spade's term for a particular MacGuffin) in this case is a missing manuscript, but the more iconic Maltese Falcon analog is the titular Chuckling Whatsit, a strange doll that laughs when shaken, and is either the creation of the deceased recluse Emile Jarnac--or something far older and more sinister, depending on which of the unreliable and eccentric informants you believe.

Sala deftly untangles what appears to be one incomprehensible knot of mystery into several throughlines that have only appeared to be the same thread by Chandler-esque serendity, then collapses them all for a climax that is satisfying, but still enigmatic. It's potrayed in Sala's cartoony but gloomy style, reminiscent of Edward Gorey or Charles Addams.

If you've never read any Sala, this is a good, meaty one to start with.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Mortzengersturm--Back from the Con and Back on Sale

Chris is unmoved by your attempts to haggle
We got back from the NTrpgcon last night. It was a good time as usual, playing some good games, putting some faces to some names of cool folks I know online, and getting to bang out with the Hydra partners and the usual suspects.

The Con ended on sort of a sucky note, though, as I left my swag bag at the hotel bar and it disappeared by morning. I lost my copy of Jason Sholtis's Eyebite, Gamesmen of Kasar, some Iron Crown supplement--and most unfortunately the remainder of the Mortzengersturm stock I had brought to the con. Luckily, I left some at home, but I now don't have as many to sell as I might have.

So, anyway, Mortzengersturm sales are open again, but supplies remain limited!

Friday, June 2, 2017

NTRPGCon and A Random Bit of Art

Commodore Cog art by Jeff Call, colors by me

NTrpgcon kicked off (for me anyway) yesterday. The Hydra Co-op booth is up and running, so if you're at the convention, come on by. The Hydra group plus some other guys played a game of Boot Hill last night, gamemastered by Chris Kutalik. It was my first time with Boot Hill and it was pretty fun, particularly with every body doing their best "Western accent."

Today, I've got Billy Longino's Halfling police procedural Southfarthing Confidential and tomorrow its my Mortzengersturm game.