Thursday, August 31, 2017

Zone Commandos!

THE SETUP: In 1985, a deep space probe returns to Earth after being thought lost in a spacetime anomaly. It returns to Earth, dropping otherworldly debris in its wake. Across the globe, zones on anomalous phenomena and monstrous creatures are created!

Twenty years later, only special UN troops stand between humanity and the destruction of civilization as we know it!

It’s Roadside Picnic meets 50s monster and sci-fi movies/kaiju and 60-70s action figures like G.I. Adventure Team and Big Jim.

THE HEROES are mostly buzz cut military men like the MARS Patrol but with code names and personalities more like 80s G.I. Joe. Their ranks many be augmented by beings that appeared from an anomaly (Kirby-esque amazons, aliens) or people enhanced by barely understood and dangerous technology acquired from them (Atomic Man, THUNDER Agent sorts)

THE DANGERS are strange environments, monsters of all sorts of 50s and 60s sorts, from Zanti misfits to human mutates to giant mutant dinosaurs.

This is a refinement/re-imaging of my Rifts 1970 campaign idea, just a little more militarized and more informed by the early 60s.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Storm Indexed

I'll pause here in my review of Storm to index the albums in the sequence called "The Chronicles of the Deep World." Now's the time to catch up, if you missed them.

1. The Deep World 1, 2, 3
2. The Last Fighter 1, 2, 3
3. The People of the Desert 1, 2, 3
4. The Green Hell 1, 2, 3, 4
5. The Battle for Earth 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
6. The Secret of the Nitron Rays 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
7. The Legend of Yggdrasil 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
8. City of the Damned 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
9. The Creeping Death 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Monday, August 28, 2017

Maps of Four-Color Fantasy Lands

When secondary world fantasy made the jump from literature to comics in the wake of Tolkein and Howard it brought the tradition of the world-map along with it.  This was the 1960s, and comics books hadn't quite gotten the memo that fantasy was completely serious, as this first map shows:

"I feel like a character from Howard or Tolkein. Pretty soon, though, I'm gonna wake up and find this is a spaced-out dream. And I'm gonna swear off reading sword-and-sorcery sagas!"
-- Jim Rook, Showcase # 82 (1969).
Myrra is the fantasyland that rock musician Jim Rook, and his girlfriend Janet Jones, get transported to in Nightmaster, starting in Showcase #82 (May 1969).  Rook is revealed to be the descendant of Nacht, an ancient warrior of Myrra, and the only one who can wield his ancestor's Sword of Night, and save the world from the evil Warlocks.  Nightmaster was the of writer Denny O'Neil and artist Berni Wrightson.  As some of the place names on the map might suggest (Duchy of Psychos, for instance) there was a bit of a late sixties camp element to Nightmaster's adventures, but not as much as some of the names might suggest.  Nightmaster ran through just three issues of Showcase.

This next map is a bit more traditonal. It's notable how set the tropes had become by 1975:

"...On a nameless world in a forgotten time..." is a pretty typical beginning for these sorts of things, and that pretty much sums up Wulf the Barbarian (pretty typical).  The series was from Atlas/Seaboard Comics (helmed by Stan Lee's brother Larry Lieber) and ran for four issues in 1975.  Wulf is the son of royalty, orphaned when trolls in the service of an evil sorcerer, killed his parents.  Wulf spends the next decade training as a warrior to reclaim his kingdom.  As one might imagine, the road to reclaiming that throne is potholed with a number of fantastic obstacles.  Wulf was written and drawn by Larry Hama, and inked by Klaus Janson for his first two outings, with multiple creators pitching in on the last two.  This map is from Wulf the Barbarian #3.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Descriptions for Hypothetical Hexes

In a clearing at a crossroads A Llanowauk warrior, bloody-eyed from overuse of stimulants harvested from Ancient caches, stands atop an overturned, giant, green stone head of a scowling god or demon. He loudly proclaims his strength and puissance at arms and calls for challengers. Despite well-worn state of his other possessions, his sword has an uncanny gleam.

On shores of the Lake of Vermilion Mists nearly naked female divers are inspecting their haul of rare ultramarine scintilla. Here and there their bodies bear what appear to be wave-like, mauve tattoos, darkened to the color of fresh bruises in the lake’s lurid, roiling glow, but are actually scars from the lash of urulu tentacles. The divers become tolerant to the hallucinogenic effects over time but not the pain, so they try to snatch the scintilla when the urulu are lost in courtship combat dances.

A gigantic fallen tree serves as a bridge over a deep ravine, but an arachnoid free manshonyagger makes its lair on the tree's underside and on occasion will catch and devour passersby. It cannot but heed its Ancient deep programming, so a human or humankin may command it, but only with the proper codes. The bottom of the gorge bears the possessions and bones of those who have passed before and not recalled them.

A domed inselberg rising from the forest is reputed to be haunted. Daily at solar noon, two identical angelic combatants, milk-white with prismatic-feathered wings, and large, bird-like eyes, grapple in the air above. Neither is ever able to overcome the other, and though their blows land with such force that onlookers claim they can feel shockwaves from them, there is never any sound. When the hour passes, they shrink and fade like shadows before the moving sun.

These are from this world.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Mountaintop Chalet of the Frost Giant Czar

ANTIGENCON, GenCon's online evil twin, is going on right now on G+ and as a part of that Jeff Call ran Mountaintop Chalet of the Frost Giant Czar. Jason Sholtis, Michael Gibbons, Chris P. and I played secret agents of the Lawful Church (the Radio Church of Pelor) sent in the rescue a missing bishop.

It was all very James Bond (in the 1967 Casino Royale sense). We pretended to be a wealthy foreigner (Sheik El-Ruptor) and his entourage to gain entrance then proceeded to find our contact and the bishop. We alas did not discover the Czar's evil scheme, but we did set the chalet on fire with dynamite and escape via a ski-lift handcranked by one of our team with a Girdle of Giant Strength and a Haste spell caste on him.

The Czar escaped to no doubt menace parties in the future!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Off to the Printer: Azurth Adventures Digest

The first Azurth Adventures Digest is going off to the printer today. It's full color, 28 pages, featuring art by Jeff Call and Jason Sholtis. There's a ten page mini-adventure local: The Candy Isle, random tables for generating colorful Motley Pirates and some flavorful tidbits on other islands, suitable for inspiring adventures.

Art by Jason Sholtis

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Moving Fortress & Subterra

Moving Fortress by writer Ricardo Barreiro and artist Enrique Alcatena first appeared in the comics anthology Skorpio in Argentina. In 1988, it was translated into English with the help of Chuck Dixon. It tells the story of Bask De Avregaut who is making his way across the desert in an aerostat when he comes upon, and is captured by a warlord commanding the titular moving fortress. The Warlord is out to defeat a rival and reclaim his bride. De Avregaut is initially made to feed the fortresses boiler, but after proving his skill with gunnery in battle, he comes to play a more pivotal role in what follows.

Subterra is the sequel, picking up with Bask following the events of Moving Fortress. This time he crashes in uncharted mountains and is taken prisoner by a weird and decadent subterranean civilization.

Both volumes are weird fantasy brought to life by Alcatena's artwork. With designs, a little bit Gothic, a little bit Lovecraft, and a little bit Asian, his pencils are an integral part of bringing the weirdness.

Monday, August 21, 2017


Bruce Gordon was wanted to watch a solar eclipse in Africa, but the locale sorcerer Mophir tended like his intrusion and cut him with a mystic black diamond. When the eclipse occurred, Gordon was replaced with Eclipso, a shaded faced Hyde to his Jekyll. This all went down in House of Secrets #61 (1963). Eclipso has stayed around as a DC Comics villain ever since, despite the fact you'd think the rarity of eclipses would limit his power.

This would make an interesting lycanthropy-like curse in D&D, as well. Under dim lighting (say twilight, maybe, or a facsimile thereof) an infected demihuman becomes its evil/chaotic counterpart: elves become drow, dwarves duergar, halflings black hobbits, etc. with associate abilities. Humans would become orcs, maybe? I don't know.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Hydra House Ads

The Azurth Adventures Digest (and hopefully more products to follow where appropriate) will have some house ads in the style of those you might see in comics books of the Bronze and Silver Age. Here are the preliminary versions of some of those that will be in the digest:

Artwork here by Jeff Call and Luka Rejec.

Art you may recognize from Weird Adventures by Adam Moore, newly colorized.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Weird Revisited: The Stalker

This post is originally from late August 2011. I don't think this monster made it into Weird Adventures or into one of my games, but conceptually it's one of my favorite Fiend Folio re-imaginings.

If you should find yourself in the City on a lonely railway platform in the wee hours or taking a night train across the dark countryside, you may happen to get the sensation you’re being watched. That may mean you have reason to be afraid.

Travelers in similar situations have looked to see the vague shape of what might be a fellow traveler clinging to the shadows of the platform, or have seen a gaunt figure receding in the distance as the train passes, its eyes glowing like signal lights.

The rail stalker appears to select his prey at random, but once he has done so he always lets the hapless traveler glimpse him at least once. The next time the victim sees the creature’s pale, naked, and emaciated form may be when he strikes.

The creature (it is unclear if there is more than one) attacks by opening his mouth absurdly wide in a caricature of a scream and emitting a sound or vibration. Things directly in its path may be damage as if thousands of years of erosion took place in a single moment, concentrated in a narrow area. Those nearby but not directly in the path describe a sudden wave of fear and a mind numbing hum. The stalker prefers to kill by embracing his victim and deilvering a kiss—a kiss that sends his deadly vibration through the victim’s body, turning bone to powder and liquifying organs.

Some thaumaturgists believe the sound made by the rail stalker is a sound from the end of the material universe, the wail of of inevitable armageddon that the rail stalker somehow carries in his withered frame. And aches to share with others.

[The rail stalker is, of course, a modern/near-modern horror riff on Fiend Folio’s Dune Stalker and resembles that creature in game particulars.  'Cause a naked, clawed dude trying to kiss you in a subway station is scarier than one in a desert, maybe.]

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Something Rises from the Prismatic Hole

Layout continues on the Azurth Adventures Digest. It's looking like it's going to shape up to 28 pages.

Anyway, here's another excerpt. The stats of the frogacuda from the Prismatic Hole:

Wednesday, August 16, 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 6)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Fearing the worst, Ember is elated when she hears Storm call her name. Storm remembers nothing of what happened. After Ember explains, Storm hypothesizes that perhaps the fact they are not of Pandarve somehow made her power affect them differently.

Now that they've changed back to human, the noxious atmosphere begins to take its toll. They move as quickly as possible through the yellow fog. Choking, they stumble back to the stairs where they left Nomad and the Eternal Prince. When they relate the story to the two of them, the Prince can't accept he can't have the brain coral. He runs into the poison fog.

The other three leave to find a way off the Tear.

They find the frog-things gathered outside!

They can't go back the way they came and they can't go back into the temple. Luckily, Storm spots a crack in the cliff face. They stumble onto an ice slipway and go sliding down with the creatures falling after them.

They finally land in a place where the gravity is less, perhaps near the equator. With the creatures on their heels, they run toward a forest that looks like its made of giant dandelions. They notice the winds are blowing the massive florets a way and see a possible way out.

Climbing a tree with the creatures behind them, they grab hold to one of the seedlings. The wind carries them out into the atmosphere around Pandarve--and in the path of a ship.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Fiendish Implications

Yesterday, our Land of Azurth 5e campaign continued last night with the usual uuspects: Kully the Bard, Shade the Ranger, Dagmar the Cleric, Kairon the Sorcerer, Waylon the Thief, and Erekose the Fighter.

Still in the village of Lumberton, the party sets out for the Pine Sawmill to get to the bottom of the rampaging automatons. They figure during the day time that the mill will be mostly deserted as the Iron Woodsmen would be out lumberjacking. They taking the river to the mill is the safest route (considering what happened last time they were on the trail through the forest). They hope they will find the Snarts the wizard Gargam tells them are being imprisoned there and end this mess.

They go into the mill stealthly, with Waylon the Frogling taking point. Waylon spies one Woodsman at work on the second level. Before he consult with the others he also encounters a little blue man (a Snart he presumes) who pulls a megaphone from somewhere and alerts the Woodsman to his presence before running away.

The rest of the party runs to help, but the Woodsman has reinforcements as well, and the battle is joined. Thanks to some strategic spell work from the magic-users, Kully and Kairon, the most serious damage from the Woodsmen comes from the explosions when they are killed. Ultimately, they kill defeat the six in the mill, though Erekose takes heavy damage.

In the battle, Waylon shoots the Snart that caused this mess and he briefly plays dead, but reveals he wasn't injured at all. Dagmar talks to it before it leaves, and it reveals that the Snarts aren't responsible for the Woodsmen going berserk and nor are they being held captive. He hints someone with horns is responsible before he disappears.

A search of the workshop on the highest floor of the mill reveals tracks from some sort of small creature that isn't a Snart. On a hunch, Dagmar turns fiends--and an angry little devil becomes visible with a flurry of curses!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Azurth Adventures Digest Update & A Sample Page

The Azurth Adventures Digest volume one is in layout now. Barring any unforseen snags, it will be out the middle of next month. Contents include: a brief overview of the piratical Motley Isles and random and random tables for generating quirky pirates and pirate captains, details on three NPCs and a monster, thumbnails of some exotic places in the Boundless Sea and a random table of weird encounters, and finally, a short writeup of  Candy Isle adventuring locale.

All of this is enlivened by art by Jeff Call and Jason Sholtis. Anyway, here's a sample page with art by both of them:

Friday, August 11, 2017

Weird Revisited: Lies Your Mummy Told You

This post first appeared on August 13, 2010. It was written for Weird Adventures, but I think it could be useful in any setting...
Far to the west of the City, within the great Stoney Mountains, there are remote places where ancient ruins dot the hardpan, high-desert landscape. Unusual artifacts sometimes come from these ruins, and few are more unusual than the so-called dwarf  mummies.

Dwarf (sometimes pygmy) mummies look just as their name suggests: they are wizened figures little more than a foot tall, in their usual seated pose. Despite having none of the usual signs of life, the mummies are endowed with the magical semblance of life at least, and though they don’t move (usually) they are aware, and interact with their environment.

The susurration of the mummies can be heard by all, if conditions are quiet enough, but only the one “owner” of the mummy will be able to understand their dessicated whispering, which will sound as if spoken directly into their ear, even if they are as much as ten feet away.

The mummies' utterances will fall (either randomly or at the GM’s whim) into the following categories:

01-02: Pained, non sequitur reminiscences, possibly related to their long ago lives. These are related to times far too remote for modern hearers to relate to them in any useful way.
03-04: Cryptic foretellings of the future (anywhere from 1 week to 10 years hence) which will relate to the “owner.”
05-06: An exact and surprising statement about some predicament currently vexing the “owner.” The mummy will not elaborate.
07-08: A cryptic statement which seems to be about some predicament vexing the “owner,” but is in fact just nonsense.
09-10: Veiled Suggestions that someone the “owner” is close to is in fact conspiring against them. This may or may not be true, but the mummy will have details that make it seem so. Details will only be delivered in a way that makes the mummy seem reluctant to talk about the issue.

The longer a person owns a mummy, the more uncritical they will become about its statements. After a week or more in their possession, the owner will react to the mummy as if it has a Charisma of 18. After a month, a failed save will mean the owner acts as if charmed by the mummy in regard to believing everything it says, and treating it as if it is a trusted confidant.

No one knows who the dwarf mummies are, nor their purposes.  Any answers the mummies give in this regard will certainly be lies.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Games I Play

Despite relatively frequent reports of Gplus's demise, it turns out it still is a pretty good place to here about some Google Hangouts games. Real life stuff and my Hydra efforts don't allow me to play in as many as I might like, but I manage to squeeze them in every now and then.

I am a semi-regular in Jack Shear's Krevborna game. This is sort of 18th-early 19th Century horror fantasy in 5e. Jack expertise in Gothic literature really helps give this sort of era a distinct flavor. My character is (currently) the highest level surviving character in the campaign. He's Tobias Rune, "Scientific Diabolist" (i.e. Warlock). He's looks a bit like a young Terence Stamp here:

Recently, I'v played a couple of sessions of Paul Vermeren's Gridshock playtest. Gridshock began as a re-imaging of the Rifts setting, but very much became its own thing early in concept and has is attached to a system reminiscent of TSR's Marvel Superheroes. It wears its 80s-ness on its sleeve in many ways, (but it's hardly a pastiche of anything) having elements of superheroes, G.I. Joe, and anime about it. My character is a cactus-man alien named "Scorchin'" Ray Alpha.

Art by JP Cokes

I also continue to play in Jason Sholtis's biweekly Bewilderlands with a very funny crew. My character there is the Wampus Country refugee, Horvendile Early.

All of these games are a lot of fun. I look forward to revisiting them in the future.

Wednesday, August 9, 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 5)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

While Ember struggles in the grip of the tentacles, a battle rages with the Seven fighting the seven followers of the brother of the Eternal Prince who watches the battle in amusement. With the power of the brain coral of Pandarve his to command he controls the battle.

Meanwhile, Ember has been lifted off the ground by the tentacles and held tight. Even her now-superhuman strength cannot free her. Then, she remembers the energy she absorbed from the lightning. She releases it:

The Prince commands the Seven to weaken through the power of the brain coral, and his servants gain the upper hand, some rendering the Seven helpless, He commands his servants to finish them. But then:

Ember stands in the doorway. She tells the Prince she has realized that that the Seven and his servants are evenly matched and are the colors of the rainbow. But she and the Prince were affected by the Blood of Pandarve differently. She became white and the Prince black. Her body begins to glow: "Where there is light, darkness disappears!' she says.

She drives the Prince back with her light, but then she falls in to the blood liquid, spent. When she rises:

She looks around for Storm and sees:


Monday, August 7, 2017

Now in Color

I've been working on coloring the pregen portraits from Mortzengersturm, mostly to practice for coloring things for the Azurth Adventures Digest, but also just the have them in color. Jeff Call (the original artist) has not seen or approved my coloring job on his images, so blame me!

Here's Minmaximus the Mighty:

And here's Astra, Princess of the Star Folk:

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Dungeons of High Camp

Art by Jim Holloway

Over the weekend I was reading Hero A Go-Go by Michael Eury. which chronicles superhero comics' response (and influence on) 1960s camp pop culture. It's a combination that didn't always work well; many of the works perhaps now seem more goofy kitsch, and some are really just unfunny parody or of superheroes. Still, when it works there is a certain charm to a lot of folks, as the revival comics Batman '66 and Wonder Woman '77 indicates.

I wonder why there hasn't been as much of concerted attempt at published camp works in Dungeons & Dragons? Certainly, farcical humor abounds at the gaming table, and a number of comedic adventures have been written (a lot illustrated by Jim Holloway), and there are humorous illustrations in the older AD&D books. But as far as I know their has never been a camp setting or camp-informed setting--unless maybe HackMaster counts? Maybe it's just too difficult a tone to sustain well throughout a written project?

The settings of some OSR-related folks seem to me to have elements of camp without going all-in: Jason Sholtis' Operation Unfathomable, Chris Kutalik's Hill Cantons, some of Jeff Reints stuff, and my own Mortzengersturm. Dungeon Crawl Classics with its "airbrushed wizard van" elements could be taken as camp, but I'm unsure whether that is the intention.

Art by Jim Holloway

Friday, August 4, 2017

Time Gone By

Despite Gygax's admonition about meaningful campaigns and strict time records, the games I've participated in don't show a lot of evidence that anybody is doing this beyond the tactical level. In some ways, I feel like this is a miss opportunity and I enjoy media with a "sweep of history" or strong chronological grounding. It isn't really an issue in drop-in adventuring, but it makes a campaign feel more real to me.

That said, I don't usually pay enough attention to it myself when I'm gamemastering. There are always other things to think about. Sometimes I do, though. In my Weird Adventures campaign, I was able to construct a timeline, not so much from clocking downtime activities but from time references within the adventures, and the length of time they took in-game. Holiday themed games are a help in this (two Yuletimes past in that game).

My current Land of Azurth game is a good bit looser, partial because I want to capture the "time runs different/timelessness" inherent in inspirations like the Oz books. While I typically narrate some passage of time to have occurred between the adventures (we only game once a month), I've also drops hints that time "runs strange in Azurth' so they might spend a longer or shorter subjective time on an adventure than what time has passed for folks back in town. This allows me to have a fairly static status quo at times--or to shake things up. For instance, the party return from one adventure to find an election cycle passed and a new Mayor elected--and a new group of heroes the toast of the town!

How about you? Kept really strict time records or done something interesting with the passage of time in your game?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Some Azurth Adventure Digest Art

The art for the Azurth Adventure Digest is rolling in.

Here's a a group of heroes versus the mummy of the Candy Temple by Jason Sholtis:

And here's the creature from the Prismatic Hole by Jeff Call:

Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Wednesday Comics: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents

Taking a break from Storm for a week, I want to consider the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, a 60s superhero comic conceived primarily by the great Wally Wood. The series only ran 20 issues in its initial run, but its characters and concepts were appealing enough they there have been several (brief) revivals over the decades.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents combines two popular things in the mid-1960s: spy-fi and Marvel-style superheroics. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. stands for The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves (I don't know what that means, either). It's essential SHIELD or UNCLE with more superhero agents. All of them are the product of technology: Dynamo with his thunderbelt, NoMan, the elderly scientist who can transfer his intellect into robotic bodies, and Menthor, a secret traitor with a helmet that gives him mental powers and a more heroic personality.

There enemies are a mostly forgettable cadre of aliens and freedom-threatening organizations: the Warlord, the Subterraneans, S.P.I.D.E.R. They serve their purpose for generating superhero action, particularly rendered in Wally Wood's style.

DC Comics did hardcover archives of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents material when they had the license. These aren't too hard to find, but do require a bit of looking. IDW now owns the license and has put out paperback collections called T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics.