Friday, September 29, 2017

Dungeon Fantasy: A Local Gazetteer

I allowed myself to be convinced to run a GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game. My plan is to do it in a self-aware, classic Gygaxian dungeoncrawl sort of way. We'll see how that goes. Anyway, much of the setting is only vaguely defined (and much recycled from my pre-internet D&D campaigns), but I do know the focus is the Dungeons of Zyrd which are situated (naturally) beneath the half-ruined but still sanity-imperiling Castle of Zyrd. Zyrd in this case being a mad archmage and near-deity.

Base-camp for most delvers is the nigh-lawless boomtown, Gryfalcon. The town squats on the left bank of the River Fflish across from the old Imperial fortification of the same name. Located at the head of navigation, it provides a convenient place to deprive delvers of their haul and to bring new treasure seekers from elsewhere. 

Lake Murrn is north and west of Gryfalcon. Rustic Mudfoot halfings live in stilt-houses. Villages sometimes build out on the water. There are rumors of human sacrifice of outsiders to appease the giant, alligator snapping turtle, Old Ironjaws. There is quite possibly a crashed alien flier half-buried in silt beneath its waters.

Lichwode, north and somewhat west of Lake Murrn, is a small forest dotted with several burial mounds. The locals assume these barrows hold ancient Elvish treasure or even far older Coleopteran refuse, but they also assume them to be haunted. The man-shapes burnt permanently into the grass and the curiously life-like statues of some pockmarked stone with faces contorted in abject terror, found in the area may support this belief.

The Dharwood is floodplain bottomland forest along the Fflish, haven for humanoid tribes, escaped slaves, and outlaws.

Carsulth is a bustling Imperial port at mouth of the Fflish.  Its broadminded folk are friendly with smugglers and pirates, when proper recompense is offered for their lack of prejudice. Some, perhaps many, of its nobles practice diabolic heresy (a perversion of the already self-serving Rannite Cult of Ascension) at least in private.

Thund Tribes in the foothills of the northwest dwell barbarians who pride themselves on their warriors' flowing locks and feathered, barbaric finery.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Slayer of Eriban

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 Slayer of Eriban (1985) 
(Dutch: De Doder van Eriban) (part 1)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

When last we left our heroes, they were drifting on a giant seed-pod into space. As luck would have it, they see a ship heading in their direction. They try to get the attention of the crew, but the ship doesn't change course.

The ship passes them close enough to see the seemingly obivious, cloaked crew, but too far for them to get to. Nomad quickly formulates a daring plan. He makes a knife throw that cuts one of the ship's lines. As it swings out under tension, he jumps and grabs it. He climbs aboard the ship and gets a surprise:

All the crew are dead. Exploring the captain's cabin they find a curious sarcophagus. And inside:

Storm is puzzled as to why the sarcophagus is bigger than it's inhabitant, but the three leave the mystery to explore elsewhere. Storm and Nomad go into the hold and find only the earth that creates the ship's gravity.  Suddenly, they hear Ember calling to them.

The boy explains that he was not in a coffin but a regeneration-capsule calibrated to his aura. He also addresses the three as his servants, asserting Pandarve sent them to replace the ones he lost. He introduces himself as Renter Ka Rauw, professional assassin of the Eriban.

The three aren't willing to be servants. Renter demonstrates his abilities. He throws Nomad. He lays Storm out with a kick, and blocks Embers strike with a club.

Finally, he threatens to kill Nomad with a touch. Storm and Ember have no choice but to surrender. The boy assigns them duties while he meditates on a course. Ember is angry about being assigned to cook. Storm counsels his friends to calm down and bide their time.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Operation Unfathomable Comics

While Jason Sholtis and Jez Gordon are hard at work getting the larger parts of Jason's magnum opus finished, I'm lettering the comic written and illustrated by Jason, that will appear in the Operation Unfathomable Player's Guide stretch goal.  Here are a couple of pages:

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Arriving on Gathox

In the short time I've been a member of the Hydra Cooperative, there have been a few products we didn't get to publish that we would have loved to do. Gathox the Vertical Slum was one of those that got away. It landed with Mike Evans DIY Games, who Youwasted no time getting it out, so now everybody can see the wonderful and weird products of David Lewis Johnson's imagination.

You may know Dave as a talented visual artist whose work has graced a number of small press publications--including my very own Strange Stars. The same creativity so on display in his visual work informs Gathox, which I will thumbnail for you as a locale like something you might have seen in the halcyon days of Heavy Metal magazine. More specifically, Gathox is a world-shambling giant with a ramshackle, multiethnic (and multi-species) city built on top of and in him. Dave spends over a 130 pages outlining the locations, people, and races of Gathox, plus he provides variant rules he uses in his campaign. 

To give an idea of the tone, let's take the Gongwarped Fishmen, one of the races/cultures thumbnailed in the book. They are fascist-fishheaded beings, who live underground and practice secret and forbidden pseudoscience. Even worse are the species-supremacist, chicken people called Vulzari who reproduce by transforming others into more of their kind. See what I mean about Heavy Metal?

The supplement goes on to outline locations in the city and interesting NPCs. There are pretty short and punchy: more detailed than the original Wilderlands of High Fantasy, but with an economy of words not found in the a lot of modern, major publisher books.

Next comes the section on house rules, which is substantial. Variant classes are given that again convey the flavor of the setting like cosmic doctors (Nne of several types of magic-users, or more precisely "mentalists.") and mutants (Complete with random mutant tables!). A simple skill system is introduced in the form of "wheelhouses" and there are new rules for health and healing. Gathoxian equipment is discussed--and in many cases illustrated. Finally the subgame of "gangland play" is introduced that does similar things in a loose way to some of Blades in the Dark's gang rules but with a thoroughly old school implementation.

If any of this sounds interesting to you, you should pick this up, because I'm only scratching the surface here. The only fault I can find with it (and it's a small one) is that it could have used more of Dave's art! Yes, there is a lot of it here, but their were some spaces in the layout that practically begged for more.

Anyway, you can get it on rpgnow. So go get it already!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Dungeon Fantasizing

I was talking with some guys on G+ about running GURPS Dungeon Fantasy (as the boxsets just made in out to backers last week). I don't know if I will, but if I did I think these images would help set the mood:

“I don’t trust them though. Thrill-seekers. They court danger. And they’re quite unscrupulous graverobbers for the most part. Anything for gold and experience…"

Bill Willingham

Shuji Imai

They say the Overlord is mad...
Alex Nino

Built atop the ruins of an ancient Coleopteran civilization...
Stefan Poag
In the Dungeons of the Mad Archmage Zyrd...
Andrew MacLean

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Azurth Adventures Digest Review

Over at Enworld Chris Helton has a review of the Azurth Adventure Digest. Check it out if your still on the fence about purchasing it. You might want to hurry, though, I have less than 30 copies of the print copy left in this printing.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Some Science Fantasy Hexcrawl Influences

I spent the rpg-related portion of my weekend getting copies of the Azurth Adventures Digest ready for mailing (There are still copies available. Get yours today!). My work on the Ghostlight Fen thing got delayed, so it seems like a good time to talk about influences of the as yet nameless setting of which its a part.

Lord Valentine's Castle (Robert Silverberg): A distant planet settled by humans and other species long ago. Despite a science fictional underpinning, it operates much like fantasy with mostly primitive technology and things like the Lady of Sleeps that promotes moral behavior by sending dreams and a competing King of Dream that sends nightmares.

Planet of Adventure (Jack Vance): A Planetary Romance (or Planetary Picaresque) which stands above the myriad of planetary romances due to Vance's wit, interesting alien species/cultures, and quirky minor characters.

The Coldfire Trilogy (C.S. Friedman): A science fantasy that (like Silverberg's Majipoor) feels more like straight up fantasy. Friedman adds the innovation of a rationalization for the existence of "magic" (not unlike Jorune).

The Prime Mondeign stories (Rob Chilson): These are in the dying earth subgenre, perhaps a bit more science fictional than Vance's stories (something a bit like a more rationalized and less computer gamey Numenera). These stories haven't been collected, but you can read one of them, "The Wortling," here.

The Spire by Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokely: A Medievalish society of various aliens and mutants on a planet long ago settled by humans.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Settings of (A)D&D

Jack Shear wrote a post last week where he espoused a number of "heresies" regarding D&D. One of these was that he didn't like the World of Greyhawk or Faerun. This got me to thinking about what I feel about D&D's various setting and their pros and cons as I see it. I don't claim to be an expert in any of these settings, so if you think I don't get them because of a lack of knowledge you are certainly free to go on thinking so. I'm just calling it like I see it.

Pros: At its best, it really sort of feels like D&D and it seems organic. It's worldbuilding may not go into the annals of literary fantasy best practices, but it has a certain charm in accordance with the charm of old D&D itself.
Cons: Maybe the downside of that organicness is a lack of focus that makes it hard to get a handle on. The World of Greyhawk box set really doesn;'t give me any hint about how I should approach the material and the Gord novels (yeah, I read a couple) are all over the place. We get a gritty sort of Lankhmar thing in the beginning, then we wind up whooshing through the sky on Chariots of Sustarre.
Verdict: Not a huge fan overall, but I have more of a positive feeling than does Jack.

Forgotten Realms
Pros: They're big and a bit more coherent, literary worldbuildery. The Dragon articles about "The Realms" back in the day really captured my interest.
Cons: Their literary worldbuilding models seem to be the hordes of bland trilogies that choke the shelves to this day. It's not just vanilla, it's kind of corporate bland. "The Realms" seem to have been lost in the translation to official product.
Verdict: Less interesting that Greyhawk, though there are aspects to recommend, I guess.

Mystara/Know World
Pros: Well-presented, with distinct cultures that are easy to get a handle on. It's got the Hollow World, too. I find Immortals over gods (in BECMI) a sort of interesting thing, if not as well-explored as it could be. Also: a whole lot of Stephen Fabian.
Cons: The cultures' real-world antecedents are pretty blatant, but that doesn't bother me as much as it does other people. Gritty it is not, particularly, or dark.
Verdict: It's kind of vanilla, but it's vanilla done well. I'm more into it than the two previous worlds.

Pros: There are some interesting twists to the vanillaness here; it is somewhat successful at evoking the epic fantasy subgenre.
Cons: A setting made for one story never seems as good for stuff outside of that story. It still presents pretty standard D&D like the settings above.
Verdict: A good setting for bad novels isn't a particularly good setting for my game. It is more maligned than it probably should be for the railroadness of its modules, but they are pretty railroady and are emblematic of the missteps of an era.

Ravenloft/Dark Sun/Planescape/Spelljammer
Pros: They all have interesting high concepts and are genuinely trying to do something different.
Cons: The high concepts are not always executed well or flavorfully. Corporate blandification seems to get in the way, as does bloat to ensure more supplements are made.
Verdict: I admire them all, but their specialized nature means they're sort of niche, and some of the niches I think I could do better doing my own thing. Planescape gets extra points for Tony DiTerlizzi.

Pros: Pulp vs. fantasy is an idea I obviously like.
Cons: Despite all its talk of a different approach it seems to come out more like trad fantasy than any of the 2nd edition settings above.
Verdict: Maybe because it parallels my interest but does it in a utterly different way, I am predisposed not to like it, but it does generate more negative feeling from me than is probably warranted.

My favorite TSR published settings? Lankhmar, Empire of the Petal Throne, and (moving away from D&D) the Hyborian Age of Conan.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Azurth Adventures Digest is Here!

The first issue of the Azurth Adventures Digest is now on sale! Twenty-eight full color pages at 5.5 in. x 7.75 in. with art by Jeff Call and Jason Sholtis. There are random tables for the generation of quirky Motley pirates, a survey of interesting and enigmatic islands, and a mini-adventure on the Candy Isle. Plus, there are NPCs and a couple of monsters, all straight from my Land of Azurth 5e campaign.

Get the pdf here or go here for the print edition. (The link is also in the sidebar.)

For those of you interested in Mortzengersturm print editions: Once the first printing of the digest is sold and shipped, I'll again by selling Mortzengersturm. You can email me to get on the "waiting list."

Thursday, September 14, 2017

French Talislanta Art

While the English language Talislanta books are (currently) out of print (but official available for free here) the French translation of the game is still going strong, and apparently has some pretty cool art. Check these out:

The Ur



Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wednesday Comics: The Hanging Tower

The Hanging Tower is a short graphic novel (graphic novella?) by Sam Bosma. It's the story of "an old knight in search of a lost girl in a run-down fantasy world" according to the copy, but I might instead describe it as an aging adventurer facing her past (and some of her former comrades) in a world where magic is beginning to fade. The plot and the stories execution bear no small resemblance to the Western genre, an effect accentuate by the fantasyland's material culture, that's like the medieval world being quickly replaced by the turn of the (20th) century and a landscape reminiscent of the American Southwest. There's a bit of loss, a bit of regret, and a laconic over-the-hill badass with some good lines.

Oh yeah, and Sam Bosma's art:

Monday, September 11, 2017

Wizardly Imp-erfections

Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night with the mysterious absence of Kairon the Demonlander Sorcerer but otherwise the usual crew. Their investigation of the rampaging iron woodsmen had led them to the mill, where they discovered an invisible imp. It got away before they could capture it.

Our heroes still had no idea what was going on, but they knew Gargam the misanthropic wizard had told them the Snarts were captives of the woodsmen, and that was not the case. They made their way back to his dilapidated house, giving the remaining woodsmen wide birth. Waylon the Thief spied on Gargam through the window and saw him writing in a great tome. They knocked on his door and told him about the absence of Snarts and the imp. 

Gargam was his usual charming self. He professed no knowledge of the imp, but didn't seem particularly surprised that his assertion about the Snarts proved false. He quickly shuts the door in the party's face, but they decide to put him under surveillance and camp out nearby. When nothing has happened by morning, Waylon and Shade move in to pull a breaking and entering. They are surprised by Gargam's cat, Orias.

Art by JarrodOwen
The cat creates an illusion of itself, then jumps at them, growing in size to over two feet long. Erekose runs in to help, and the three make short work of the fast moving animal. Gargam shows up to acid splash them before they can deliver the coup de grace.

With Gargam's feline familar as a hostage, they demand answers. The wizard reluctantly admits to botching a devil summoning spell he got in correspondence with the Warlock of Lost Lake (now deceased). Gargam hoped to summon a fiend to destroy the mill (he loathes the townspeople) and have the blame put on the Snarts (who he hates). Instead, he got a mischevious imp that promptly ran away and monkeyed with the iron woodsmen, making them cease obeying commands.

The group forces Gargam to perform the ritual and summon the imp again. The imp admits to his had behavior, which he finds very amusing. He begs for his freedom and promises to leave the area. Shade is having none of it. This despoiler of the forest is facing his end. The party fries the imp with scorching rays, sending him back to the Nether Realms.

Next they track down the remains woodsmen and destroy those four, though as always they are tenacious opponents. Shade has a change to use the figurine of a bear she acquired back in the gelatinous dome.

After a brief talk with the townspeople, our heroes once again head out for Rivertown.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Fae Mist O'er Hangs the Ghostlight Fen

The Ghostlight Fen presents a feature common to this world, but a greater danger in this place, the substance the current human inhabitants often call "magic" but their ancient progenitors called "fae." In the parlance of the original human colonists fae is a system, perhaps even a network, that spans the entire planet and can manipulate matter and energy in accordance with the will of the user. The indigenous species are born knowing how to manipulate this system in various ways, but other can learn to control it. Control is the keyword, and the system is psychoactive and will respond to unconscious mind as easily as the conscious.

Indeed, theorists in ancient times speculated that the fae was a created rather than natural phenomena and the demons from the unconscious of its creators destroyed them, leaving only their creations (the ieldri and others) behind.

Fae permeates and surrounds the world, but in some places it collects and goes awry. Some of those bad places were caused by overstressing the system, as the ieldri sorcerers did in their desperate war against the ylthlaxu. Others may be places where it has just broken down with time. The Ghostlight Fen seems to be one of the former type.

This dysfunction manifests itself several ways, but most particularly: peculiars and visitants. Peculiars are small, discrete areas of reality distotions generated using these tables. Visitants are more pseudo-encounters of weirdness using these tables. The chance of coming across these in a given hex in the Fen per day is as follows:

Green Fen Hex: Peculiar - 20%, Visitant 5%
Pink Fen Hex: Peculiar - 60%, Visitant 30%

Spellcasters and Fae: All arcane spellcasters (not just sorcerers) are subject to something akin to a wild magic surge. After casting a 1st level or higher spell, a roll of a 1 on d20 requires a d100 roll on the table in the 5e PHB. In green hexes, this roll is only required for the first spell cast by an individual caster per hex. In the pink hexes it is required for the first spell of each spell level cast by an individual caster. Clerical casting is only affected in pink hexes and in the manner of green hexes for arcane casters.

Inspirations: The concept of the fae was inspired by C.S. Friedman's Coldfire Trilogy, but also borrows from the some of the rationalizations of magic in Hite's Trail of Cthulhu: Rough Magicks, details of  Forbidden Planet (1958), and Roadside Picnic.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Reskinned Monsters of Ghost Light Fen

Here are some monsters that will likely appear in upcoming posts on the Ghostlight Fen hexmap. Some of those, I'll probably give "official" stats at some point, but they can pretty easily be approximate (or replaced) with some existing monsters.

by Wayne Barlowe
Sometimes they run on four legs, sometimes on two. They are gaunt things, like greyhounds the size of men, if greyhounds had rubbery, scabrous hides, and beaked faces full of nightmare teeth. They are very hard to kill, and they will eat anything. They live like animals, but they have speech and are cunning and cruel. [Treat as a troll.]

Four-haired, fur-covered savages. Their faces are noseless and their skin hangs somewhat loose, which might have the effect of making them appear a bit comical--to someone unacquainted with their propensity to violence and rumored anthropophagy. The variety found in the Ghostlight Fen have indigo colored pelts. [Treat as orcs, with chiefs like bugbears.]

Otherworldly creatures with disturbingly human faces and pantherine bodies. They are not to be trusted. [Treat as a Rakhasa, though on the lower end for hit point.]

by Tom Kidd
Arboreal, lemurine creatures whose sneak-thievery is nuisance but whose mockery and incessant whispering has uncanny effects on the minds of humans. [Treat as a monkey or similar small animal, but that have an ability like the 5e spell vicious mockery and a troupe may cause an effect similar to dissonant whispers.]

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Hexcrawling Ghostlight Fen - Settlements

These relate to the hexmap presented here.

0503 Draum (pop. 80); no real leader but Godo Shrune is a likely spokesman): Actually an abandoned manor built by a successful treasure-hunter, Draum is haunted by squatters who spend their days in deep reverie brought on by use of the muhrdzu fungus that grows nearby (0505). The mushrooms are eaten directly, made into a snuff and then snorted, or for an even more potent effect, smoked. Some rooms in the manor house and in derelict outbuildings hold bodies with clusters of muhrdzu mushrooms sprouting from them. These are the remains of those who wasted away thinking their bodily thirst could be quenched by dream refreshments or starved disdaining the tastelessness of mundane foods compared with the viands of fancy. The living Draumites trade the muhrdzu for food and other necessities.

0207 Gamory (pop. 325; Glatis Malva, Matriarch of the Malva clan): The old, inbred, and sometimes feuding families of Gamory abide through canny exploitation of the grove of black hroke trees planted by their ancestors (0208). The trees’ blood-red sap is valuable in the manufacture of healing salves and hemostatic poultices. Ironically, the Gamoryites are secret adherents to an outlawed cult of human-ieldra transformation, that of the Night Carapaced Mother, that practices human sacrifice by exsanguination in a secret place amid the trees.

0211 Wollusk (pop. 550): Wollusk was built amid the ruins of an ancient fortification from a more lucent age when humankind still possessed much of its ancient technology. A large portion of a wall of some sort of ceramic stands between the town and the Fen,though the ends of its crescent seem to have been melted by some great heat. The town has a larger inn and better facilities for travelers than might be expected for its size, as it serves as a base for treasure-hunters, but none would be reckoned more than middling quality.

Zeniba by Jason Sholtis
Two factions vie for control of the village. Zeniba “the Shrewd” (Fighter 4) styles herself “Mayor-Prefect,” but was originally hired as a bodyguard for the last person to officially hold that office. Her gang is known as the Medioxumate Devils and is based in the cylindrical keep of the ancient fort. She is opposed by the faction of Sodmos Thalur the Vintner. He owns the inn, the tavern, and the brothel serving the two. No wine is consistently available in Wollusk, but Thalur has a monopoly on the sale of muhrdzu snuff and muhrdzu tea, which he adds to whatever spirits are available (typically the local beetle milk mead). Thalur has more men at his disposal (perhaps 20-25) but Zeniba’s 10-12 soldiers are more skilled (treat as Bandits).

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Storm Indexed (part 2)

Here's the second part of my index of Storm albums in the sequence called "The Chronicles of Pandarve"so far. Now's the time to catch up, if you missed them.

1. The Pirates of Pandarve 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
2. The Labyrinth of Death 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
3. The Seven of Aromater 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Hexcrawling Ghostlight Fen [Intro]

Features hex graphics courtesy of JDJarvis
Ghostlight Fen had an ominous reputation long before the first human colonists arrived on this world. Something about its metaphysical properties made it the site of an ylthaxu beachhead. Their black metallic obelisks irrupted from astral space in great numbers. The ieldri had encountered the ylthlaxu elsewhere and were swifted in their response. The resulting clash ylthlaxu technology and ieldri magic warped the area beyond repair.

These ancient battles create opportunity for human treasure-seekers today. The only genuine road into the area leads into the town of Wollusk (0211). In truth, it's only a village and a fairly meagre one, but shabby businesses have sprung up to accommodate the treasure-seekers.

A Ylthlaxu by Jason Sholtis
These seekers are few in number, but dedicated. The black obelisks of the ylthaxu are a vexing but seductive conundrum. Those that have been opened have yielded strange, alien wonders, and also, it must be said, sudden death at times. The base of these is only about 5 feet on each side, but the interior is often larger than the exterior. Some have been long ago looted, others continue to resist intrusion. Still others have been opened before, resealed, and now somehow present something new on the inside.

Beyond the obelisks, the fen itself is dangerous. Only ever sparsely populated, it remains a wild and uncivilized place of hunting skarzgs. roaming gog tribes and the like. Then, their are areas where the ambient fae is so dense than reality itself is untrusthworthy.

Wollusk is the largest village on the outskirts of the Fen, but not the only one. Gamory (0207) with it's deformed folk and unsavory cult is just up the one road. Beyond that lies Draum (0503) with its drug-addled populace.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Hohmmkudhuk and Hwaopt

I presented these two races for 5e about a year ago, but since then I've colored the images by Jason Sholtis so I felt like I should highlight them again:

The smelly and scholarly hwaopt.

And the subterranean craftsmen, the hohmmkudhuk.