Sunday, September 30, 2018

One Weird Encounter After Another

This is a page from Mercer Meyer's Little Monster's You-Can-Make-It Book from 1978. I figure it would make a decent one of those "drop die tables" all the kids were going on about a few years ago. Or you could just roll 2 4-sided die for X and Y coordinates.

You are on your own for statting most of these beings, But Mayer's books do reveal that the Yalapappas eats paper (including, I'm sure, pages from spell books and scrolls) and the trollusk is a collector of stamps. I always thought it would make a good halfling reskin, but he is a bit goblinish in appearance.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Cactoid [5e Race]

I figure a desert world under a blood-red sun should have a cactoid race. This is based on the Cactacae from the Mieville's Bas-Lag novels as presented in Dragon #352.

Cactoid Traits
Ability Score Increase. A Cactoid's Strength score increases by 2, and your Constitution score increases by 1.
Alignment. Cactoid tend to be lawful and neutral.
Size. Cactoid are medium.
Speed. Base walking speed is 30 feet.
Powerful Build. Cactoids count as one size larger when determining carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
Plant Hardiness. Cactoids have advantage on saving throws against poison and resistance against poison damage
Tough Hide. Cactoids have a natural +1 bonus to their Armor Class.
Spines. The spines covering a cactoid's body allow them to do an 1d4 points piercing damage while grappling.
Languages. Cactoids speak Common and their own language.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Futura [ICONS]

Art by Agus Calcagno

Prowess: 8
Coordination: 7
Strength: 7
Intellect: 6
Awareness: 6
Willpower: 7

Determination: 1
Stamina: 14

Specialties: Linguistics, Martial Arts, Medicine, Science

The Hope of Humanity's Future
In A Time Not Her Own
Raised by Robots

Aging, Damage. and Disease Resistance: 6
Flight: 7
Super-Speed: 3

In a possibly alternate future, a war among superhumans devastated the Earth and destroyed most of civilization. So massive were the energies unleashed, the Earth itself was damaged to the core and threatened to break apart.

Some time after the war, perhaps as long as a millennium, intelligent robots lived in a massive, enclosed city known as Eden-One. They had been the caretakers of the last humans they knew to exist, and now sought to preserve human history and knowledge. One of these robots, a bio-specialist named Maia-1A457, engineered a human embryo with superhuman attributes from stored genetic material. The infant was gestated in an artificial womb. Maia-1A457 named the girl Futura, because she hoped the child would provide a future for humanity.

Futura was raised by the robots, not knowing she wasn't one of them until late in her childhood. In adolescence, she ventured outside Eden-One with the reluctant acquiescence of her robot caretakers and encountered post-human beings and aliens, making some friends among them. Most of her time, however, was spent in training and education so that one day she could make a trip to the past and prevent her catastrophic future from ever occurring.

When she reached young adulthood, she asked for her final examinations and proved to Maia-1A457 and the others she was ready for her mission. Using an ancient time machine, she journeyed back to 20th Century San Francisco. Soon after her arrival, she rescued four young people from a mutant monster that had inadvertently been transported to the past with her. The four (Dean Hunt, Zelda Dunkel, “Crunch” Samson, and Cynthia Vandaveer) offered her a room in the house they were living in, and inspired by her story, changed the name of their band to The Tomorrows.

Futura assumed the identity of Eve Hope, and got a job at a record store to better observe the culture and way of life of the humans of the era. In her true identity, she became famous as she battled threats to peace and freedom, always staying vigilant for signs of the coming future she hopes to prevent.

See Futura's FASERIP stats here.

Art by Anna Liisa Jones

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Living Planet (part 6)

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 Living Planet (1986) (part 5)
(Dutch: De Levende Planeet)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

It turns out Alice has not arrived from Wonderland, but is instead a projection of Mother Pandarve, an avatar of the living planet itself. She shows Storm that she could appear as a devil--or as Marilyn Monroe. In surprising show of jealousy, Ember nixes that idea.

"Alice" wants to show Storm something, so she leads him and Ember away, much to the chagrin of her "unfaithful servant" the Theocrat. She takes them to an elevator to travel to her core, and she reveals what she wants from them:

It seems that Pandarve's prime intellect has been busy for a long time with a mathematical problem, and the Theocrat has used the oppurtunity to cease power for himself. He hasn't released the Egg of Pandarve from her subconscious with should grow into her progency, satellite worlds. It that's not done, her mind will splinter. Due to the unusual energy around him, only Storm can do the job:

Of course, there are nightmare monsters down there, too. "Alice" gives Storm a weapon:

Storm and Ember land in open land under a red sky, near a forest--not exactly what one would expect at the center of a planet. But then, there are the nightmare creatures Pandarve mentioned..


Monday, September 24, 2018

Weird Revisited: Different Dark Suns

I thought this classic post from 2014 would be a good compliment to yesterdays....

Dark Sun is an evocative setting as is, but there's nothing wrong with a little variety. Maybe there are two great tastes that taste great together? Try these:

Art by Kevin O'Neill
Dark Sun, Red Sands
Killraven (and the War of the Worlds tv shows, and perhaps The Tripods series of novels by John Christopher) posits a world where the Martians from Wells's novel return and succeed in their conquest. The Masters would no doubt turn their vast, cool, and unsympathetic intellects toward areoforming Earth in the image of their homeworld. Desertification and cooling, accomplished by casting dust into the sky (making the sun appear darker and redder).  Over time, the Masters became decadent and lost the ability to produce much of their technology. They amused themselves with bloodsports and petty intrigues. The mutants and monsters they had bred for various purposes escaped into the wilds. Earth becomes almost Mars, and almost Mars becomes Athas, or something pretty close.

Art by Frank Frazetta
Dark Red Sun
Two ideologies fought a centuries long war, unleashing weapons they destroyed their world's environment, mutated its creatures, and cast both civilizations back to a more primitive state.Perhaps these competing tribes were called the Kohms and Yangs, but certainly the victors in their struggle flew a red flag (as ERB had it, in the original version of the book that became The Moon Maid). In any case, their former differences don't matter as much anymore in a harsh world where human and inhuman is a bigger distinction. Sometimes, though, the desert tribes still give the ancient war cry: "Wolverines!" though none remember what it might mean.

Art by Ken Kelly
Dark Western Sun
This riff is to BraveStarr what McKinney's Carcosa might be to Masters of the Universe. When galactic civilization tore itself apart in civil war, many frontier worlds, left on their on, backslide into primitivism. The strange, psionic races of Darksun left their reservations and remote hiding places and turned human habitation into settlements isolated by wilderness, where the only law comes from the barrel of a gun.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Darker Sun


My idea for what to do with Dark Sun is more fully formed that my Ravenloft riff. Mainly, I would play up certain things that are already there:

Post-Apocalyptic Dying Earth. At some point in the future, the sun will sputter and fail, and the world will die. Civilization may not even survive until then. As in the Zothique, stories cities continue to die or be abandoned. However, the decadence and lassitude of the dying Earth genre is not as much in evidence as the grim struggle and sporadic madness of the post-apocalyptic story: the aesthetic and weird tribes of Mad Max, the savagery and cannibalism of the comic The Goddamned, and the horrifying monsters beyond the walls of Attack on Titan or zombie films.

Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri
Body Horror. Weird, disfiguring plagues; parasitic monsters; icky organic technology; body-warping magic/psi powers (Sorcerer Kings should be more Guild Navigator from Lynch's Dune) and drugs.

Weird Stone Age. No/few metal weapons; lots of tattoos and body paint; primitive tribesfolk. Clothing somewhere between Barsoom and 10,000 B.C. A light Masters of the Universe flourish, perhaps. Hok the Mighty as an HBO series.

Psychedelic Metal. Did I say no metal? I meant not much metallurgy, but there should be plenty of barbarian badassery. Also, though, there should mind-warping weirdness like strange monsters, drugs, and powers. It should be like Heavy Metal of the 70s-80s,encompassing the hypertrophic anatomies of Bisley and the trippiness of Druillet.

Simon Bisley

Friday, September 21, 2018

Castle Ravenloft

I've been thinking of maybe doing a series of posts on re-imagings of old TSR settings. First up is this admittedly not fully formed idea about Ravenloft.

I think it might be cool to make Ravenloft a little more Gormenghast: the castle is bigger and more dilapidated (visual reference: the castle in The Fearless Vampire Killers) and becomes more central to shrunken Barovia, which is maybe no more than a valley. The castle and environs would be a bit like Dark Shadow's Collinsport. There would be a lot of weird doings in just the house and area. Strahd would be perhaps a bit toned down in villainy, more like early, non-protagonized Barnabas Collins. Strahd should probably have some bickering, eccentric, and likely inbred human family inhabiting the castle as well.

The outside world would exist, but necessarily be vaguely defined. Barovia would be a hard to get to place, somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. The strange doors of Castle Ravenloft would open onto other Domains of Dread, though.

The play of the Gothic horror, I feel like it would work better with a funnel type situation, where characters of humble backgrounds either work at the castle and discover it's horrors or are visitors to Barovia.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Weird Revisited: Random Zonal Aberrations

This 2015 post was a follow-up to my recently ressurrected post about Zonal Anomalies.

Aberrations (not to be confused with the D&D monster type) are a type of hazard encountered in zones. The resemble mobile anomalies in some ways, but they exhibit wider patterns of behavior, resembling (at least in limited observation) living things. They are abiologic, however; their tissues (if they have them at all) appear undifferentiated to close inspection, or they may have simulacra of organs that are clear nonfunctional. They do not appear to eat, grow, or reproduce, though they sometimes mimic behaviors associated with these activities. They can not be destroyed or driven off by "wounding" them (in most cases, it's unclear if they can be wounded) but must be completely destroyed.

Aberrations have a substance (similar to the manifestations of anomalies), a behavior pattern, and effects/abilities. A lot of D&D monsters would make good inspiration for aberrations. So are some paranormal or folkloric entities but keep in mind in their game usage they are more like obstacles or traps than monsters to be fought. Slimes and oozes are good models. You could destroy them, but it's generally more fruitful to just avoid them.

Unlike most anomalies, aberrations can spot/notice things approaching them as well as being noticed themselves--though the sensory modality by which they do this isn't clear. They are not usually as tied to as specific an area as anomalies, but most will have a specific territory, in the way an animal might.

1  Apparition
2  Construct
3  Crystalline/Mineral
4  Flesh
5  Fluid
6  Gas
7  Growth
8  Light
9  Ooze/Slime/Gelatinous
10 Shadow

1  Ambusher. Lies in wait, sometimes in a dormant or indolent state, until approached.
2  Builder. Involved in some sort of construction project like a nest or nonrepresentational sculpture.
3  Chaser. After detecting target, follows targets at a high rate of speed.
4  Collector. Forages for particular objects or objects with particular characteristics.
5  Follower. Loosely joins with the target, following at a respectful distance without overt hostility.
6  Guard. Only active in a certain area. Patrols and menaces those who enter.
7  Harbinger. Appearance precedes some other event.
8  Lurker. Follows targets, but furtively, as if shy.
9  Mimic. Seems to repeat the actions or behaviors of a target.
10 Ritualist. Performs certain fairly complicated but perhaps mundane actions over and over.
11 Swarm. Smaller entities surround targets.
12 Snooper. Curious, possibly annoyingly and intrusively so, but not threatening.
13 Stalker. After detecting target, hunts it over distances.
14 Watcher. Stays in plan view, but at some remove as if only there to observe. No direct interaction.

Effects: Use the table for Zonal Anomalies--or borrow from a monster.

chasing shadow: Too thick and deep black to be natural, the chasing shadow is nevertheless able to lurk unseen in normal darkness. It slides out of hiding when a living thing draws near, and if not stopped, attaches itself to them at their feet like a normal shadow--though does not also flow out in the same direction as the natural one. It slowly begins to crawl up the victims body and if not stopped, will cover a person complete in darkness in 20-30 hours. Over the next 30-45 minutes it will contort and collapse their body until only the flat shadow remains. What happens to the victim is unknown. If caught early, the shadow can be removed but only if the victim is surrounded by bright light and a small laser (like a laser pointer, for example) is used carefully "cut" away from the chasing shadow.

grim: Something like the featureless, white quadrupedal shape, surrounded by blotchy redness, like the silhouette of a large dog outlined in red spray paint. Grims simply appear on high ground, never approaching, and retreating if they are approached. They usual appear after someone has been seriously wounded, and Zone hunters fear them as a harbinger of death.

memory flashes: Groups of will-o'-the-wisp-like flashes of light with colorful after-images. They move quickly to swarm around a person, typically for no more than a minute. After the flashes pass, a person so caught will have one or more new memories of things that happened to someone else instead of them. They will also likely notice at some point that one or more of their own memories are missing--always small, discrete things, but perhaps important (like a telephone number of the location of something).

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Atomahawk

Atomahawk by Donny Cates (script) and Ian Bederman (art) was first serialized in Heavy Metal, but has been collected by Image into a volume numbered "0" for some reason. Atomahawk is a very metal story, in fact it is more metal than story. This panel is representative:

I kind of goes on like that. I lot of threats with the evocation of Masters of the Universe or Kirby Cosmicism as interpreted in an Iron Maiden concept album. It tells the story (or part of the story) of a warrior of flesh and blood (perhaps a Neanderthal, but the story is set "millions of years ago") resurrected in a robotic body by a futuristic god. Now known as Cyberzerker, he wields the intelligent axe known as Atomahawk, powered by crystals left over from the war of the gods.

Cyberzerker goes through the story slicing away and robots and people who get in his way in an over-the-top way until the ride ends, with teh story unfinished. Hopefully, there will a a 1 to follow the 0.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Atomic Age Operation: UNFATHOMABLE!

At the close of World War II, captured German scientists revealed to both the Americans and the Soviets the existence of an unfathomable Underworld on hinted at in legend and folklore. Perhaps driven mad by experimentation with Underworld technology, the Soviet scientist Yerkhov, with the consent of his superiors, takes an artifact known as the Nul Rod and leads an expedition of crack Soviet troops into the depths. The exact fate of the expedition is unknown, but one of Yerkhov’s assistants emerged from a cave in the Nevada desert. His mind broken by his experiences, he gave revealed little reliable intelligence, but did have in his possession a rough map of the expedition’s journey.

Denying the Soviet’s the Nul Rod and establishing an American presence in the Underworld is now our strategic priority. We believe a smaller mission, attracting less attention from the hostile locals, might be able to succeed where Yerkhov failed.

So, I think it would be pretty easy to drop Jason Sholtis's Operation Unfathomable into a 50s sci-fi/monster movie sort of setting. It already has a lot of the right elements. I could see a TV show (by Irving Allen, naturally), something like a cross between Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Combat!.

Art by Jason Sholtis

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Girlgantua [ICONS]

Art by Chris Malgrain

Prowess: 5
Coordination: 6
Strength: 6
Intellect: 3
Awareness: 4
Willpower: 4

Determination: 4
Stamina: 10

Specialties: Athletics

Spoiled and Rich
"It's not fair!"
Inner Monster Unleashed

Growth: 8
Tail (Fast Attack 5)

A plane crash left college student Nicole Summers, her mother, and her mother's personal trainer/boyfriend on Isla de los Monstruos where an ancient Muvian device causes teratogenesis of earthly lifeforms. Blasted with its energies, Nicole is transformed into the rampaging lizard-woman, Girlgantua!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday Comics: American Flagg!

In a quick sketch, Howard Chaykin's American Flagg! might seem like some people's version of utopia: the Federal government is nonexistent, the coastal elites (indeed, the coasts) are gone, gun ownership (and use!) is unfettered. Of course, there's also a plan to sell whole states to the Brazilians by the U.S.'s corporate managers, prostitution is legal, surveillance is common, morning after contraceptive use is ubiquitous, and the lucky upper classes get to live in shopping malls instead of post-urban and rural wastes. Chaykin's 2031 seems to be his projection of where the unbridled capitalism and emerging media omnipresence of the Reagan era and the foreign policy of the American Century in general was taking us.

Enter Reuben Flagg, hunky, Jewish former actor (he lost his job to a CGI version of himself), turned lawman for the Plex (perhaps derived from "government-industrial complex," but this is never made clear). Raised by parents with unconventional ideas, he's got a rosy view of America. One he is soon disabused of when he arrives in Chicago and sees the televised firefights between legal policlubs and the illegal rampage of gogangs. A rampage, it turns out, is being fueled by subliminal messages in the hit tv show, Bob Violence. Thanks to Flagg's Martian diet and metabolism, he can see the messages others are blind to.

What follows is a satirical, sometimes farcical, chronicle of Flagg and his eccentric cohorts as they try to save America (metaphorically and Chicago actually) from threats both internal and external, including fascist militias, agents of Communist Africa, and the Plex's own incompetence and greed. Flagg has a noble heart, but he's sometimes distracted by his libido and inflated sense of self. By sometimes I mean quite frequently, at least in the former case.

American Flagg! pioneered a number of the storytelling techniques put to use in Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns a few years later, and if it wasn't an influence on Max Headroom and Robocop, it at least beat them to the punch. Its biggest flaw is that after the first "big arc" (12 issues) Chaykin's attention seems to wane, or at least he appears to be feeling the pinch of the monthly grind. What follows isn't bad, but it doesn't quite build in the way it seemed it might. 

The original issues suffer from poor color reproduction of the era, but the Dynamite two volume collections have thankfully fixed all that.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Weird Revisited: Mall Security 2020

Rereading American Flagg! on a plan trip this weekend reminded me of this post from 2016...

Let's go back to the 80s when the Soviet Union was still a thing, indoor malls were at their height, and the dystopian near future wasn't usually full of zombies.  From that early 80s mindset, imagine the world of somewhere around 2020...

The environment isn't so good. In fact, there was probably a brief nuclear exchange some time in the past decades. And an economic crisis or two. Things aren't all that bad, though. Rampant consumerism still abounds, and this guy (or his clone) is still President:

Megacorporations helped America (the world actually) out of those crisis with a leveraged buyout--a sponsorship. The Soviet Union was bought out, too, only over there in USSRtm, they offer consumers a planned community with a "Golden Age of Communism" theme. In the good ol' USA, some rednecks, religious cults, and survivalist nuts stick to the environmentally-damaged rural areas (think Mad Max meets Winter's Bone), and some wealthy folks can afford walled enclaves meant to replicate idyllic suburban life of the 20th Century with protection by real police, but most people huddle around the decaying industrial city cores in neon-lit arcologies that combine shopping and living in one. Malls.

These Malls need protecting and that's where the PCs come in as deputized corporate security officers safe guarding the 21st Century American Dream!tm from all sorts of threats to peace and prosperity: trigger-happy poli-clubs, youth gangs, subversives, and consumer products run amuck. Think Shadowrun with less punk and less cyber. And presented as a Nagel painting.

So this is American Flagg! or Judge Dredd (with more of an MTV aesthetic), influenced by any number of 70s and 80s dystopian films like Rollerball or Robocop, mostly played with the black humor of the latter. Literary sources like Shockwave Rider and Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner or some later Cyberpunk works will also be informative.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Adventure Time and Campaign Construction

Adventure Time aired its last episode this week. Eight plus years on, the show was a different sort of thing in many ways than when it started. While its gradual evolution meant it lost some of the zaniness of its earliest days, the show gained a depth of world and storytelling in its place.

But anyway, this isn't a post particularly about Adventure Time. I bring it up to point out that very little (perhaps none) of the world-building and character development done over 10 seasons was planned from the outset. Like most TV dramas up until people started complaining about it in the wake of Lost and Alias, the writers made it up as they went along. (Quite likely this is still the standard for TV dramas outside of prestige dramas, and even there they may just hide it better.)

This may not make for the best novelistic storytelling, but there are good, practical, even one might say democratic, reasons for serial fiction presented in weekly installments and at the mercy of weekly ratings to operate this way--and (I'd argue) for the rpg campaign settings to do the same.

I don't have to waste time extolling "a light touch" and  a"focus on evocative, potentially player-involving details" in regard world-building, because that's the received wisdom, right? I will add that keeping it simple to start with not only keeps from drowning players (or purchasers of your product) in detail, it also serves not to fence you in a way that might not serve your or your players' enjoyment in the long term. The revelation of the world through play should be an experience for both player and GM--even though the GM must necessarily stay a few steps ahead in that journey.

The players are both creative consultants and the audience. Their interest guides where the focus goes. Their speculations about the world and their actions within it generate ideas for further development. And like with Adventure Time, the developments shouldn't be limited to locales, items, or monsters. It ought to extend to relationships between NPCs and even history. These developments should be doled out (and maybe even only created) in small adventure-relevant or tantalizing details not immediate info-dumps.

For instance, Adventure Time gets a lot of mileage out of showing us occasional relics of a technological past, then dropping the phrase "Mushroom War." It ensures it has our interest before it shows any nuclear war backstory.

I'm not advocating some sort of shared narrative control (Though neither am I arguing against it. Whatever works for you.), rather I'm just suggesting using player interest and action to spur world-building efforts, not just in the sense of what dungeon you'll draw next, but in what that dungeon, its denizen and their history says about the world, seems a good way to go.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Living Planet (part 5)

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 Living Planet (1986) (part 5)
(Dutch: De Levende Planeet)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

When last we left our heroes, the seeds that the green dwarfs had given them to breath had apparently run out and they lost consciousness. They awaken on  the shores of the lava sea. The worm hunters apparently gave them restorative pills and set them and the rest of the form debtors ashore, but stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Several of the debtors blame Storm and Ember for their fate, but one at least is grateful for what they did. He thinks he can help with their quest...

Another sees a way to make some money off it.

Storm and Ember work as cattle drovers for a couple of weeks and get new mounts and clothes. The trail boss points them in the direction of the city of Mardukan and Marduk's Palace.

Meanwhile, one of their fellow former debtors is at that palace selling them out to Marduk.

He does get the reward he was hoping for, however:

Storm and Ember reach palace in the mountains and have before them a forbidding climb. Ember remembers a back entrance through the air circulation ducts that she saw when she was a prisoner. They have to brace themselves inside the pipe and climb until they reach the maintenance ladder.  The travel through maze-like passages until finally they see light coming from an opening. Unfortunately, they are expected:

Then, everyone gets a suprise:


Monday, September 3, 2018

Labor Day Reading

An embarrassment of riches for my Labor Day rpg reading! Kobold Press' Creature Codex dropped as did Jack Shear's new setting Cinderheim.

More on these in days to come.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Weird Revisited: INFERNO-LAND!

This post first appeared in 2012 and was written for a Bakshian post-apocalyptic setting. it could be used in any number of post-apoc settings, though...

Beneath the wilds east of the domain of the dwarves, there is a series of caves and grottoes, lit crimson and cast in flickering shadow by ever-burning fires. This subterranean realm is know as Hell.

Hell’s most famous entrance (though there are rumored to be many) is located in a lonely ruin near the sea. It’s accessible through a door in the mouth of statue of a giant head. Near the head is a runic legend that resists translation: “D NTE’   NFEFNO-L N !” The head’s leering and horned visage is said to be in the likeness of Hell’s sardonic ruler. He names himself Mephisto (though he has other names) and appears as a Man of ancient times, save for the small horns on his brow and the ever present flicker of flame in his eyes.

Lord Mephisto is not confined to his domain. He tends to appear when people are at their most desperate to offer a bargain. And a contract. Souls are typically his price and stories say that he doesn’t wait until a person’s death to collect them. Unwise bargainers and those who blunder into Hell unaware find themselves in the clutches of Mephisto and his minions: snickering fiends with crimson skins, horns, and often, batwings. Smiling, they escort captives to one grotto or another and enthusiastically apply some torture or torment.

There have been a lucky few to escape Hell’s clutches. Their tales are difficult to comprehend, even considering the strange nature of the place. They speak of a room full of copies of Mephisto in repose upon slabs and glimpses of ancient devices of Man behind the torture tableaux.