Monday, December 31, 2018

Weird Revisited: Hyades Plains Drifter

This 2015 post is a bit recent for revisit, but playing with Hero Forge over the weekend and designing Tex Hex from Bravestarr brought it back to mind...

Take McKinney's Carcosa, remove whatever homology to Masters of the Universe is there, replacing it instead with echoes of Bravestarr. For the more literary minded: take out some of the Lovecraft and replace it with elements of King's Dark Tower series. Now you've got a weird western on an alien world.

A Bone Man, probably
Drop those sorcerous rituals that upset some people and replace them with drugs. Now you've got an acid weird western on an alien world. That ought to be enough for any game, but you're a jaded bunch with a decadent palate so don't let the alien thing keep you from borrowing from Forteana related to the America West: tombs of giants, tiny mummies, underground lizard (or snake) men. Thunderbirds. Season to taste with Shaver mystery.

Saddle up, cowboy. Lost Carcosa awaits.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Playing with Heroforge

Heroforge, a custom 3D printed miniature design site is pretty cool. My wife and I were playing with it over the holidays, and while there are some frustrating lacks, it already has an impressive array of design elements. Here are a couple of the characters in my Land of Azurth campaign:

Kully the Bard:

And Kairon the Demonlander (i.e. Tiefling) Sorcerer:

 Its inclusion of Western/Victorian elements not only helped Azurth designs, but also my old Wampus Country character, Horvendile Early:

And there's sci-fi stuff. Here are the three characters from the cover of Strange Stars:

Friday, December 28, 2018

More Monster Manual Taxonomy: The Demihumans!

This is a follow-up to this post. D&D suggests that tribe Hominini is much like Canini and has species, even genera, close enough genetically to reproduce. Here's what we've got:

In genus Homo:
Elves H. formosus
Drow H. formosus tenebrarum
Halflings H. pygmeus
Orcs H. ferox

In genus Genomus:
Dwarves G. barbatus
Gnomes G. artificis
Deep Gnomes G. profundi

It is likely that there is a genus Gigantanthropus which includes ogres (proposed G. atrox) and goliaths (proposed G. montanus) and perhaps other near giants. Research is ongoing.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

In the Cellar of the Silver Dragon

As I previously mentioned, I ran a short D&D 5e game for my inlaws on Christmas Eve. I ultimately elected to run "A Most Potent Brew," which I picked up on the DMs Guild. I thought it would be short and relatively uncomplicated, and it wound up being a good choice, having samples of exploration and puzzles as well as combat.

The setup involved a brewery (which I remained the Silver Dragon) where workman had inadvertently opened a whole into the buried lower levels of a forgotten wizard's tower. The monsters were mostly vermin: giant rats and giant centipedes. There was one unique monster, though, a giant spider with a fiery bit and web.

The party consisted of a fighter, a cleric, and a warlock, all first level. My wife (as usual) was the cleric. She let her parents take lead, but helped them with the rules and encouraged them when they dithered too long. Ironically, her character was the only one that came close to dying, having been heavily damaged by the fire spider, though some difficulty with a puzzled-based trap was a close call for the fighter.

A good time was had by all. The adventure had little novelty, but it was just about perfect for introducing rpg-naive player's to the mechanics and conventions of D&D in short session. A couple of observations, perhaps of interest: the oft-repeated old school saw of longer and more detailed character creation leading to player's not being sufficiently willing to let their character's die is, at best, only part of the picture. My inlaws were not involved with character creation at all beyond choosing their class, and they were very cautious and death-averse. Both being avid gamers, I suspect they equated death with loss and didn't want to lose. Secondly, so much of D&D mechanics are sort of legacy (ability scores as opposed to just their modifiers, for instance) and could probably be streamlined to make it easier for new player's to understand.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Hey, Kids! Comics Sales

Christmas is over and the time of buying stuff you didn't get as gifts has begun. Comixology is running a number of sales on digital comics. Here's the big list of sales, including big sales from Marvel and DC. Most of these last until January 3rd.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

More D&D With the In-laws

Headed to the in-laws for a couple of days and a bit of D&D may be in the cards. Having a newborn meant no family gaming last holiday season, but New Years 2017 my wife and I introduced her parents to D&D with a bit of Lost Mines of Phandelver--and a total party kill. We'll see what this second session brings.

The question is: What should I run this year? I need an adventure either 5e or easily adaptable (pretty much on the fly) that is navigable by new players and delivers some good stuff in just one setting.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Christmas Specials

A few years ago, I managed to do three "Christmas Specials" in my two Weird Adventures campaigns (though I only did 2 write-ups): "Twas the Fight Before Yule," and it's sequel, and "Another Weird Yule." In 2016, there was a holiday related cameo in my Land of Azurth game.

I still haven't gotten around to doing the reskin of Slumbering Ursine Dunes involving the Weird Adventures version of the Tunguska Event, the mysterious Siberian cauldrons, a captive Father Yule, and talking bears, but I still think it would be great.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Monster Manual Taxonomy

A comment by Gus L of the now-dormant Dungeon of Sighs (though he recently started a new blog, I don't have the link at hand), led me to think about scientific classification of D&D monsters. Not useful for much perhaps, but a fun line of thought. I decided on the rules I would follow on the thought experiment and made several G plus posts along these lines, and got some good suggestions, some of which I incoporated in what follows.

Bulette (Geocacharias sp.)
Bulettes are part of family of cingulate mammalsVelocifodiens.

True Giants
Gigans is a genus of hominins with several extant species: 
G. horridus (hill giants), G. troglodytes (stone giants), G. gelidus (frost giants), G. igneus (fire giants), G. nubicolus (cloud giants), G. tempestatis (storm giants). Tentative identifications not completely accepted: fog giants (G. nebulosus) and mountain giants (G. rancens)

Cobalus is the genus of the goblinoids. They may be a separate subtribe (Cobalina) of hominins. Known species include:
C. cobalus  (goblins), C. bellatorius  (hobgoblins), C. terribilis (bugbears), C. prodigiosus (nilbogs), and C. armatus (norkers)* 

*[Thanks to Paul V for this one.]

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Wednesday Comics: 80s Moon Knight

Moon Knight is often derided as an ersatz Batman and had sort of an inauspicious beginning as a gimmick villain for Werewolf by Night. The latter point on serves to show how good characters in comics are often only arrived at over time. The former criticism misses the point that Batman himself had antecedents, and comic book are full of completely valid variations on a theme.  Is it interesting, though, that Moon Knight's co-creator and the scribe on his seminal first series, Doug Moench, left the character to write both Batman books for the next three years.

Though the earlier appearances aren't bad, the character only really comes into his own in backup stories in the Hulk! Magazine. (These and other early stories are collected in the first volume of the Epic Collection.) That's where Moench teams up with Bill Sienkiewicz, who gives Moon Knight a silhouette and ghostly presence not unlike Neal Adams' Batman. Moench's stories are less superhero that pulp, with villains lurid for the printed page, but not really for 4 color comic. They are at once mundane and strange for that mundanity. This is the blueprint for the 1980 ongoing series.

Moon Knight finally gets an origin with an ambiguous hint of the supernatural, a set of cover identities, and a group of operatives. These last two schticks come courtesy of the Shadow, only Moon Knight's identities are suggested to be virtual alternate personalities--phases of the moon, perhaps--an idea only barely ever hinted at in the stories.

Most of the issues portray Moon Knight as a premier, perhaps even only, hero of a New York City still recovering from the seventies. Political machines, xenophobic terrorists, educated winos, and disgruntled vets stalk its streets. The rest of the Marvel Universe seems pretty far away, despite an occasional cameo or team-up.

Sienkiewicz's art begins as a bit like a rougher Adams, then looks a bit like Frank Miller (when like Miller, he is inked by Janson), before becoming more expressionistic and stylized. It isn't quite the Sienkiewicz of New Mutants until the very end, but he's on that trajectory. The art also conveys a bit of noir edge in later issues that might make one think of Sin City, but in a comic spinner rack sort of way.

While my favorite story (maybe because I read it as a kid), is the two-parter where terrorists dose Chicago's water supply with hallucinogens in #8-9, the storytelling gets more ambitious in the direct sale only later issues like the meditation on violence in #26 ("Hit It") that sort of reminds me of _The Spirit_ in its artifice.

Not all of the '80-84 series has been collected yet in color (though up to issue #23 has), but the third volume of the Epic Collection, Final Rest, is on it's way the 30th of this month.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Rocket [ICONS]


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

Determination: 1
Stamina: 9

Specialties: Athletics

Queen of Speed
Legacy Heroine
"Let's Go!"

Magic Roller Skates (Super Speed Device): 9
Extras: Air Control: 6, Fast Attack, Defending, Surface Speed

Kelli Cross was a college student, but she preferred to spend her time with her roller derby team. When she discovered her grandfather Walt had been the costumed crime-fighter, Rocket, during World War II, using a set of magical roller-skates that he supposedly come from genie—well, it all sounded pretty hard to believe, but skating and fighting crime just seemed like the thing to do!

Kelli began fighting crime in Southern California as the new Rocket and later became a member of the Super-Sentinels.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Moon Goons (for 5e and Old School Simulacra)

Moon Goons get their name from their heads or masks, large, round, and faintly luminous like the Moon, and their vile behavior. The Moon Goons avoid the real moon, only striking when it is new. Their spindly, bone-white limbs are animated with odd gestures and faintly aglow despite the lack of moonlight. They are forever mumbling and conversing, but their lips never move and their speech is unintelligible.

They arrive in balloons--or what look like balloons--but their gondolas are slung from metal spheres with the appearance of lead. The spheres are hollow, and no one knows from where they derive their buoyancy nor what propels them forward. Perhaps the Moon Goons know, but they don't say. Each gondola carries 2-3 moon goons. They arrive in groups of 2-4 balloons.

They prey on small, isolated villages or farms. The items that interest them are often not particularly valuable at all--at least not in the strict monetary sense. Sentimental value seems the be the primary quality evident in the things they steal.

Moon goons try to put the humans they rob to sleep with the silvery metallic rods they carry. The slumber the rods produce sleep that is plagued by weird nightmares. Humans that prove resistant to their rods or harm one of the moon goons raiders, may find themselves on sharp end of their scalpel-like knives.

Old School Stats:

#Enc: 1-3 x 4  AC: 3 HD: 4 Attacks: 1 (sleep on failed saving throw, or 1d6).

5e stats:

medium aberration, neutral evil
AC 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points: 22 (4d8+4)
Speed: 30 ft.
STR 11(+0) DEX 13(+1) CON 12(+1) INT 13(+1) WIS 12(+1) CHA10(+0)
Skills: Stealth +6
Senses Darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11.
Languages Understands any language but don't speak any of them

Magic Resistance. A Moon Goon has an advantage against spells and other magical effect.

Rod. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, one target in a 30 foot range. Hit: On a failed DC 12 Constitution save, the target falls to sleep.
Scalpel-like Knife. Melee Weapon Attack. +4 to hit, 5 ft. reach, one target, Hit: 1d8.

Friday, December 14, 2018

It Ain't Over

A professional trip followed by a family medical emergency left it quiet hereabouts for a little bit. Expect a return to the regular posting schedule soon.

To tide you over, here's a piece of art for the Armchair Planet Who's Who by Anna Liisa Jones: Zota, the evil extradimensional wizard, responsible for the creation of the Aberration:

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Toad Temple Slaughter Continues

Our Land of Azurth 5e campaign continued last night, with the party and their compatriot, Calico Jack the Cat Man, locked in the Toad Temple and in command of the room, after killing a whole lot of cultists, but with an alarm sounded and voice announcing the presence of intruders. Their attempts to find an escape route or at least a place to hide, are stymied by the appearance of a a very angry radiant gun-armed warrior and her displacer beast pet.

The party tries to run at first and leaves their figurine of wondrous power, the ruby bear, fighting the displacer beast. The bear, unfortunately, is killed, and the warrior waits in ambush in a storeroom. She's tough, but she isn't tough enough to take the full onslaught of the party, particularly after her already-wounded pet is dispatched. At this point, though, the party is low on healing, and have exhausted most of their spells. In the assets column, however, they have gained two energy weapons and three temple access rings.

Waylon the Frogling discovers a secret door, just as they hear more voices in the nave outside. The part descends into the levels beneath the temple. Most rooms here are vacant--the owners appear to be out looking for the party, giving our heroes time to loot the cultists' rooms. They avoid a few soldiers on cleanup duty in the mess hall, but then run into a couple of monks and their acolytes in a study hall.

Threats with energy guns don't dissuade these fanatics, but they sure help put them down quickly. With their teacher's dead, the acolytes surrender--though they are just as fanatical and don't seem trustworthy. Still, when they let slip the existence of a route to a loading dock outside the temple, the party forces them to reveal its location.


Sunday, December 2, 2018

Devil-Man [ICONS]


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

Determination: 3
Stamina: 10

Specialties: Athletics Expert, Investigation, Martial Arts Expert, Occult Expert, Stealth

The Curwen Curse
Hellfire Harrier of Evil-Doers
Wealthy Dilettante, Kurt Ward

Gadgets: Binding. Dazzle, Life Support 4
Devil-Darts (Stunning Device) 6
Devil-Line (Swinging Device): 3

Alter Ego: Kurt Ward
Occupation: Philanthropist; amateur occultist and antiquarian
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: Charles and Mary Ward (parents, deceased), Dane Ward (brother, possibly deceased), Libby Knight (neice), Roderick Curwen (ancestor)
Group Affiliation: Super-Sentinels
Base of Operations: Arkham
Height: 6’1” Weight: 210 lbs.
Eyes: Blue Hair: Red

Kurt Ward was born to an old and wealthy family, but one long considered cursed by the people of Arkham. They saw the death of Kurt’s parents in a strange automobile accident (and the presumed death of his older brother under mysterious circumstances) as the most recent evidence of this supernatural misfortune. Legend blamed the curse on the Wards’ ancestor, infamous occultist Roderick Curwen, who made a Faustian deal with the Devil but reneged on his part of the bargain.

Kurt spent years investigating Curwen and the supposed curse. One night, he discovered a secret cave beneath the family estate. There he found a journal that proved the old stories about his ancestor were true, at least in part. Roderick Curwen had indeed made a pact with a member of an extradimensional race he took to be the Biblical Devil for scientific knowledge. Curwen had used this knowledge to fight injustice as Doctor Diabolus, striving to find a way to escape his bargain.

Kurt decided to follow in his ancestor’s footsteps, using the equipment and knowledge Curwen had left behind. Drinking an “invitalizing draught,” he soon found his capacity for strength, agility, and endurance greatly increased. Fashioning a dramatic disguise from an old costume once worn by his father to party, he became a weird avenger of the night, a frightening foe of evil—and Devil-Man was born!

At first, Devil-Man was pursued by the Arkham Police, but eventually the Crimson Crusader came to terms with Police Chief Steve Harrison. Devil-Man became an official consultant to Harrison on his department’s weirdest cases.

Several years later, Ward took in young Jim Chase, whose occult detective parents had been murdered by a cult. Ward sensed in Jim the drive and raw skill to become his successor, but the eager young man wanted to be his partner. In a devil costume of his own, Jim became the first Imp.

Ward eventually discovered that Roderick Curwen’s contract with the Devils did indeed forfeit the soul of anyone who took up his mantle. Ward has not wavered from his fight against evil, but has began to seek a way out of his ancestor’s bargain.

Jim eventually ended his partnership with Devil-Man and took a new crimefighting identity as Hellion. Ward has recently acquired a new partner, his niece, Libby Knight, who has become the second Imp. Devil-Man and Imp continue to work with the Super-Sentinels.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Weird Revisited: Variations on a 4-D War

This post originally appeared in November of 2013 after the theatrical premiere of the Dr. Who episode, "Day of the Doctor."

I enjoyed "Day of the Doctor," but the last battle of the Time War seemed a little--prosaic--for a protracted conflict between two ultra-powerful, reality-spanning powers. It got me to thinking about the gaming potential of a Time War, or as Alan Moore had it Doctor Who Weekly: A 4-D War. I've got two ideas.

Version One: 
"'Nowhere' was run by an old sasquatch named Lukashev. Found as a baby at 25,000 feet, he was captured and trained. His youth was spent as part of a super-naut space program along with a chupacabra and a dinosaur from the future."
- Brandon Graham, King City
This version goes full Kirby and quite possibly layers on the gonzo. The Time War is strange and fought by strange combatants with stranger weapons. Lords of Creation probably has some inspiration for this version.(It might even provide a system if you could figure out how to play it! I kid, LoC fans.)

The combatants might be as starkly good and evil as Silver Age super-beings, or they might be painted in shades of gray with the protagonists (the PCs) cheerfully unconcerned with their superiors' ultimate goals--or even possibly their identities.

Version Two:
"Just remember this: All agents defect, and all resisters sell out."
- Naked Lunch (1991)
Maybe there's no need to be that cynical, but this version is Philip K. Dick by way of John le Carre. The time war is more of a cold war with brief flashes of violence. The weapons are still strange; they just get used less often. Individual agents might be a bit like 007 for a bit, but ultimately they may discover they've become Number 6 and all of spacetime is the Village.

The Agency is shadowy--and may in fact be the same as the Enemy, just at a different point on their timeline. All of this can be grim or even horrific, but it can also be played for satire (think G vs. E, and the relative amorality of Good and Evil in its cosmos).

Version Three:
Or, you could dial both of them back a bit and crash the two together. This is probably the Grant Morrison version (The Invisibles and The Filth would be good inspirations, here). Time agents are eclectic and flamboyant, but not usually Yeti's from alternate timelines. The weapons and battles are psychedelic, but the stakes can be grim, and the moral fog never dissipates--even in higher order dimensions.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Armchair Planet Marvel File

Since I've shifted to posting mostly ICONS stats now (since that's what I'll be using in the actually book), it seemed a good time to collate the FASERIP stats I did for the Armchair Planet characters.

Earth's Greatest Heroes:
Big Man
Cosmic Knight

and Bring on the Bad Guys:
Black Void
Professor Fright

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Mike Barr's Dark Knight Detective

Mike W. Barr's work with Batman has not always been particularly respected. His Son of the Demon was excised from continuity and disavowed for decades, until Grant Morrison introduced Damien. Batman: Year Two, His follow-up to Miller's revision of Batman's origin, is reviled on the internet for being terrible, mainly because Batman uses a gun in it (despite the fact that's exactly what he did in some of his early appearances), but the story is the nucleus of the best Batman movie to date Mask of the Phantasm.

But in 1986, before Year Two, Barr and Alan Davis produced a series of stories in Detective Comics that swam against the tide of the grim and gritty Batman that eventually drowned most other portrayals. These were stories where villains really stuck their respective schticks in planning their crimes, fights might happen in the vicinity of giant appliances, death-traps galore, and Batman called Robin "chum." These stories (and one anomalous Legends tie-in preceding them) are collected in Batman: The Dark Knight Detective volume 1.

Despite some homages to the Batman TV show, this is not Batman '66. Instead it's a slightly lighter (mostly) side of the Bronze Age Batman, that just happened to come post-Crisis. They also have gorgeous Alan Davis art.

Monday, November 26, 2018


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

Determination: 3
Stamina: 9

Specialties: Athletics, Investigation

Devil-Man's Sidekick
Wisecracking Teen Heroine
Daughter of Demoniac

Trident/Staff Device: Strike, Blast 4
Swinging Device: 3

Alter Ego: Elizabeth "Libby" Knight
Occupation: Student
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: Dane Ward (father, possibly deceased), Kurt Ward (paternal uncle)
Group Affiliation: Partner of Devil-Man
Base of Operations: Arkham
First Appearance: DEVIL-MAN #362
Height: 5'4"  Weight: 105 lbs.
Eyes: Blue  Hair: Reddish blonde

Orphaned Libby Knight discovered a serious of startling family secrets. Not only was her biological father the super-villain cult leader, Demoniac, but her uncle and guardian was the superhero Devil-Man! Libby joined her uncle in crime-fighting, replacing Jim Chase as Devil-Man's partner, the incredible Imp!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Professor Fright [ICONS]

Art by Dean Kotz
Prowess: 3
Coordination: 4
Strength: 3
Intellect: 5
Awareness: 5
Willpower: 5

Stamina: 8

Specialties: Science

"My genius will be recognized!"
Hammy TV Horror Host
Sadistic Streak

Fear Broadcast (Emotion Control Device, victims must be able to hear and/or see the broadcast): 7
Mind Control Device (Broadcast, hypnosis--can only make victims do actions that would arise from fear, must be seen and/or heard): 6

Alter Ego: Zachary Graves
Occupation: Former television personality and psychology professor
Marital Status: Divorced
Known Relatives: None
Group Affiliation: Masters of Menace
Base of Operations: Arkham
First Appearance: FRIGHTFUL TALES #1
Height: 6'0"  Weight: 174 lbs.
Eyes: Gray  Hair: Black

Zachary Graves was fascinated with fear from a young age. He pursued a career in psychology  was a specialty in research into fright. Though concern about the direction his studies were taking drove him from academia, he found work as a horror movie host on a local television station, creating the character "Professor Fright." There he perfected his broadcast device for causing frightening hallucinations in the viewer, but was he fired when an intern was injured tampering with the device. Graves attempted to sell this invention to a defense contractor, but reputation as a television personality led them to dismiss him as an eccentric. Angered at the world he perceived as failing to reward his genius, Graves used his device to get revenge on those who wronged him as Professor Fright!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Domesticated Animals of Zarthoon

While remnants of advanced technology exist on Zarthoon, a world in Centaurus, it exists side by side with the primitive. Many domesticated animals are relied upon by its people. Here are some of the common ones:

Vastidars are beaked, elephantine creatures, of which several varieties exist. This is a dwarf vastidar native to the sprawling Forest of Dhar on the continent of Thurvan. In addition to being smaller, it has a milder temperament than larger species, but you'd better keep a supply of hard-shelled jumbar fruit at hand.

Zurch are flightless saddle-birds. The males are often favored as mounts due to their bright plummage, but the mightiest warriors go for the plainer, but larger and deadlier females. Zurchs prefer a diet of grubs and the like but are indiscriminate eaters.

The hoon is the most loyal of beasts. They some are pampered pets, prized for the variety of patterns in their sleek fur, but most are working animals, defending their masters and guarding their homes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Cosmic Tales!

I'm proud to announce friend of FtSS Michael "Aos" Gibbons has released his long-anticipated space-faring superhero comic Cosmic Tales Quarterly, available in a limited print run.

It's 48 pages of story and 3 pin-ups in glorious black and white with a cover colored by yours truly. Head over to Michael's blog, The Metal Earth, to secure your copy while supplies last!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Champion [ICONS]

art by Chris Malgrain
Prowess: 6
Coordination: 5
Strength: 9
Intellect: 4
Awareness: 5
Willpower: 6

Determination: 1
Stamina: 16

Specialties: Journalism

Earth’s Mightiest Man
Powers Granted by Otherworld Magic
Big Boy Scout

Damage Resistance 3
Otherworld Shield Belt Buckle (Device):

  • Flight 7
  • Damage Resistance 6
  • Life Support 4 
  • Super-Senses 4 (Extended Hearing, Enhanced Taste, Enhanced Smell, Extended Vision)
  • Super-Speed 6
Notes: Deprived of his magic shield belt buckle, the powers it confers disappear in 2 pages (Damage Resistance drops to 3). His Strength drops a point a page until it reaches 6.

Alter Ego: Thomas Trent
Occupation: Reporter/Radio Personality
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: Ethan and Sarah Trent (aunt and uncle, deceased)
Group Affiliation: Super-Sentinels
Base of Operations: Empire City
First Appearance: CHAMPION COMICS #1
Height: 6'2"  Weight: 220 lbs.
Eyes: Blue  Hair: Blond

While hiking in the woods near his home with his dog Galahad, young Tom Trent fell into the opening to a cave. Unable to climb back up the way he came, Tom discovered light coming from a narrow passage. He passed through it and came into another cave where strange monsters seemed to menace a gnomic figure, apparently asleep on a stone slab. Believing the little man to be in danger, Tom bravely ran through the circle of creatures, evading their talons and jaws. When he reached the stone slab, the monsters dissolved away.

The little man awakened and explained that the monsters were the embodiments of fears, and through courage, Tom had conquered them. The little man was Zyrd, an ancient wizard (later revealed to be one of many from the extradimensional realm of Otherworld) tasked with identifying and empowering champions against the forces of evil. Zyrd declared Tom worthy of being such a champion. In ages past, Zyrd had bestowed swords upon his champions, but he declared the age of the sword passed, so instead he gave Tom a shield, which he magically shrank down to the size of a belt buckle. This shield would be a source of magical strength and power for the boy.

When Tom placed his hands on the shield and mentally called upon its power, he found himself dressed in a strange uniform. Zyrd bid him go forth and use the powers for good. Tom did so, earning the name the Boy Champion, then later simply the Champion, as he grew up.

Zyrd would continue to act as an advisor to Tom, but the irascible and absent-minded wizard perhaps caused trouble as much as he helped. Later, Galahad also gained powers, including heightened intelligence, through a magical shield on his collar, but eventually retired to mind Zyrd full-time.

Tom moved to Empire City and became an investigative reporter and radio host, seeking to root out public corruption and champion the common man. He often worked with investigative reporters Grace Gale and Billy Dolan—and the Champion often rescued them from danger.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Wings Between Worlds

Because space-faring sailing ships are so 80s, let's have genuine aircraft flying between worlds, perhaps open cockpit, certainly of the bat-winged, Frazetta variety. Space will have to have air, of course. Let's say the system is enclosed in a big Dyson Sphere--a crystal sphere, if you like. With a sphere full of air, the temperature of the worlds at the various orbits will be of less concern, though where the warmth and the light comes from will have to wait.

The technology of the primary society might be what we would call Dieselpunk, except it isn't particularly punk or Diesel, but it's that between the Wars era sort of art deco stuff filtered through science fiction. Automobiles out of Flash Gordon and that sort of thing. And, of course magic.

Might as well port in a little bit of Planescape and have the worlds be more a more pulp planet version of the Gygaxian planes. The full compliment of D&D races would be necessary for a Star Wars Cantina vibe. Flash Gordon will help there, too.  The worlds might move in very eccentric orbits. Travel between them might mostly be by sight rather than map.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Stan Lee

As everyone has likely heard Stan Lee passed away this week. The exact contributions of the pioneering creators of Marvel Comics will likely never be known, but Lee and Kirby: 'Stuf Said! from TwoMorrows will give you those two contentious creators' own words on the topic over the years.

A better thing, I think, is to just enjoy the fruits of Lee's collaborations with artist-creators. To that end, you should probably start with Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol 1, and see where that takes you.

Lee's other embittered collaborator was Steve Ditko. There work "together" can be found in Spider-Man Omnibus Vol 1. All due respect to Ditko, but I'm kind of partial to the Lee/Romita partnership era of Spider-Man Omnibus Vol 2.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Throwdown at the Toad Temple

Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued, with our heroes still trying to figure out a way to free the Land of Under-Sea from the evil of the Temple of the Toad. After a night's rest to heal their wounds, they decide to infiltrate the temple during sunrise services. They are joined by the cat man Calico Jack. Smooth-talking there way past the guards ("as long as you sit in the back") the PCs saw the service, ending in the sacrifice of hapless froglings into the maw of the toad idol.

They noted the tapestries and friezes seem to denote some sort of apocalypse, that allow frog or toad people were spared, apparently under the protective hand of some sort of banjo-playing, messianic frog figure. They figure if push comes to shove, Waylon can inpersonate this "Frog Jesus."

While the cultist were distracted with their ritual, they pick the lock and enter one of the adjacent rooms. They find equipment they don't understand...

...including what appears to be a weapon, but when someone seems to be coming toward the door, they have to hurry into another room. Seeing signs of their entry evident, the cultist raise an alarm that is announced through the temple by a disembodied, feminine voice.

The party tries to make a break for it, but the doors are closed. They attack the guards and cult elite present in a pitch battle. The guards go down quickly, though there are a lot of them. The higher level cult members are armed with weapons that shoot searing beams of light. They nearly kill the Sorcerer, Kairon, with these weapons.

The high priest is particularly hard to kill, even with the party's concentrated attacks. He offers to parlay for their lives, but the party doesn't believe him. Erekose strides up and brings the fight to him. The High Priest emerges from cover to accept the challenge. He deals Erekose two devastating blows with his great sword, but now he's in the open and the party finishes him off.

Their victory is short lived, because more guards arrived. Shade releases the jade bear she acquired long ago, and Dagmar throws down her serpent staff, which becomes a giant python. The party and their animal allies kill the guards. For the moment, the temple nave is theirs...

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Well-Met in Umberwell

I reject the notion that there is one right way to do a setting book. Those making the argument in favor of a more terse or utilitarian style often point to the bloat found in setting books by the major publishers. While I won't deny there is often a verbiage problem with those books, I'd also suggest that they are an easy target for the people making these sorts of arguments, i.e. members of a community to some degree defined by its opposition or at least contrast to major publishers' ways. While I'm sure not everyone is a fan for a number of reasons, I've never seen anyone cite The Tekumel Sourcebook volumes or Glorantha books as examples of overwriting.

There are two thoughts I have about setting books that (I think) better get to the truth of the situation. The most obvious one first: People like or want different things. Some people want to be transported, others just want prompts or aids. The second thought is that settings should be written in such a way as to make the setting more interesting, realized, and playable. Any verbiage not to this end is excess, but also any brevity that undermines those elements counts as a deficit.

All that preamble to cite an example of something that does it right, the third of such supplements to hit the mark, as I see it, by Jack Shear: Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name. Umberwell is one of a handful of 19th Century-ish fantasy settings in terms of technology, though the vibe is a bit Elizabethan underworld, a bit Dickensian nightmare, and a whole lot New Weird. It is also, as are all of Jack's settings, eminently integrated in a D&D environment, embracing the whole Star Wars cantina array of races and classes. it does this all in 134 pages.

The city has a European feel. Its island arrangement recalls Venice, and its character recalls London (or versions of London like New Crobuzon). It might be a bit Weimar Berlin in its decadence. There are bits of New Crobuzon evident, certainly, a bit of Sharn perhaps, and I perhaps flatter myself that I see some glimmers of the City in a couple of places, but it is its own thing.

It succeeds where Eberron, to my mind, fails. Eberron's vague, 21st Century Americanness skims across the top but does not penetrate the weird and Medievalist elements. Eberron is to genuine pulp sensibility what a guy sporting a fedora in an Instagram pic is to Sam Spade. Umberwell feels authentic (for lack of a better word), but never in a way that sacrifices it's fundamental D&Dness.

It is not complete, in the sense that it does not try to give you the totality of a world, nor does it attempt to. If any given Forgotten Realms splat is like a history or geography book, and Weird Adventures a travel guide, Umberwell is like a travel essay or TV show. It is painted in impressionistic strokes and focuses its efforts on the things that directly confront its visitors (i.e. the players and DM), only filling in other details as needed to color and accentuate those.

And yes, I'm thanked in the book, so my review is assuredly unbiased, but if anything I've written sounds interesting to you, so should check it out, then tell me I'm wrong.

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Saragossa Manuscript Redux

Yesterday, Amazon delivered the blu-ray version of the 1965 Polish film The Saragossa Manuscript directed by Wojciech Has. The film has been praised by the likes of David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, and Neil Gaiman. Jerry Garcia supposedly helped supply funds to get a full cut of the film restored. I have yet to check out the blu-ray transfer, but the film I know from the DVD version. It has impressive black and white imagery, and an unusual use of music--sometimes its a usual (if quirky) sixties film score, but often it has touches of primitive electronica experimentalism reminscient of some sci-fi scores of the era.

I first went looking for the film in 2010 because of its source material, the novel The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Count Jan Potocki (1761-1815). The book bears some resemblance to works like the Arabian Nights or the Decameron. It's a fantasy (at least in part) describing the experiences and stories related to a young Walloon officer in the Sierra Morenas of Spain in 1739. It includes gypsies, cabbalists, Sapphic sister Moorish princesses, and hints at secret history. The stories are nested like Matryoshka dolls, with narrators of some stories showing up as characters in others. Neil Gaiman, a fan of the work, has called it "a labyrinth inside of a maze." It combines elements of the gothic and picaresque with eroticism and humor.

The book itself has an interesting history. It's so convoluted in fact that Potocki's authorship was at times doubted. The novel was written in French, and over an extended period in several stages. The first few "days" were published in 1805 in French. Later, the entire manuscript was translated and published in Polish, but then the original complete manuscript was lost, and had to be "back translated" into French for a complete French version. Wikipedia suggests that scholars now think their were two versions: an unfinished one from 1804, published in 1885, and a rewritten, tonal different complete 1810 version. Only the first of these versions has appeared in English, though both are available in French.

Potocki himself is an interesting and character. He was served as a military officer, and was also for a time of novice of the Knights of Malta. He traveled and wrote scholarly studies on linguistics and ethnography. In 1790, he was among the first to fly in a hot air balloon. He also committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Allegedly, this was done with a silver bullet he fashioned himself and had had blessed by a chaplain!

Anyway the novel is well worth your time as is Has's film.