Thursday, July 30, 2020

The World of Valerian and Laureline

I'm a sucker for "universe" books, particularly lavishly illustrated ones. Valerian: The Illustrated Treasury  by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières hits all the right notes. It's a guide to the world of the long-lived French comic series.  It's only flaw is that it's a bit thin. Check out these pages:

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Wild Wild West Wednesday Reviews

Again, I'll mention that my friend Jim and I have embarked on a review of the tv series Wild Wild West to be published on Jim's blog Flashback Universe. As of today, there are 3 posts in the serious under this tag.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Endeavour: The Savage Syndrome [Star Trek]

Episode 1:
Player Characters: 
The Crew of the USS Endeavour, NCC-1895, Constitution Class Starship (refit):
Andrea as Lt. Ona Greer, Ops Officer
Bob as Capt. Robert Locke
Gina as Cmdr. Isabella Hale, Helm Chief
Jason as Lt. Francisco Otomo, Chief Security Officer
Tug as Dr. Azala Vex, Trill Chief Medical Officer

Synposis: Returning in a shuttle craft, the senior officers of Endeavour respond to a distress call from research facility on an otherwise uninhabited world and find themselves attacked by evolutionary atavisms.

Commentary: My second session of Star Trek Adventures and my second group! This adventure is a modified version of the introductory adventure "The Rescue At Xerxes IV," with an episode name borrowed from a story synopsis submitted for the aborted Star Trek Phase II series with a similar conceit.

This series, in fact, will borrow a lot from Star Trek Phase II, included a similar upgrade of the Constitution class.

The dice weren't necessarily with the players tonight. A number of complications hurt them: Greer sprained an ankle, Dr. Vex lost her medical equipment, and Hale dropped a phaser. We'll see how those come into play in the second half.

The Endeavour crew had been returning from a conference at Starbase 134 on Rigel VI. The distress call was from L-373-IV an extrapolation of system nomenclature in that sector introduced in "The Doomsday Machine."

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Spelljammer Reimagined

I've been thinking a bit lately about how I might revise Spelljammer (not that I haven't done Spelljammerish riffs before) and so this serves as a bit of a companion to my Dark Sun and Ravenloft pieces. Here are my notes:

Greater Economy of Space. While it's certainly an aesthetic choice, how I would want to run a game of ships sailing between worlds isn't enhanced by a lot of crystal spheres. The detailed one's only seem to connect D&D IP and made up ones would tend to be like systems in Star Trek or Star Wars--generally only with one place of interest. I think a denser packed, smaller setting is better--though of course smaller is relative. We're still talking a system that encompasses numerous worlds. I'm think one very overstuffed primary system (cosmos or cosm), and perhaps a couple of other, more mysterious ones. There might be other cosms out there, but they aren't as closely linked.

No Spelljamming Helms. Space travel should be due to a specific technology, but I have something more like the alternate physics of Garfinkle's Celestial Matters, maybe. Some special material like Cavorite or lift wood will likely be necessary.

No Elves. Well, maybe there might be something somewhere named elves, but what I mean is, I think I would avoid standard D&D species/races in favor of more science fiction ones, maybe just reskinned from stuff in D&D. The Star Frontiers borrowings in Spelljammer might well show up.

More fantastic. There's just air in space, or at least the in-cosm space ships typically travel through, no need for all the rules about ships and air envelopes. Rock or earth generates gravity (maybe it's a property of elemental earth?), but ships themselves or other objects.

Psionic/Psychic Powers Over Spells. I'm not completely sure of this one, but I feel like framing magic more as psionics without out and out trad wizard rare and notable would enhance the sort of planetary romance feel.

Flash Gordon, Alex Raymond
Storm "The Pandarve Cycle," by Don Lawrence and others.
Celestial Matters. Richard Garfinkle
Iron Wolf and Cody Starbuck both by Howard Chaykin
Brass Sun: The Wheel of Worlds, Edington and Culbard.
The Rediscovery of Man stories by Cordwainer Smith
The Airtight Garage, Moebius
Treasure Planet (2002)

Friday, July 24, 2020

Weird Revisited: A Few of My Favorite Aliens

The original version of this post appeared in 2012...

Aliens species in most science fiction rpgs are of the of the human-body, animal-head variety or just human’s with odd skin color--which might be cool if they gave them so interesting personality.  There are some pretty interesting aliens in games.  Here are a few of my favorites:

From: Star Frontiers
All the species in basic Star Frontiers are pretty cool (Zebulon’s Guide has some clunkers, though) but the corporatist, insect-appearing (though not actually intervebrate) Vrusk are good ones.  They avoided the cliches of evil insectoids and (mostly) hive culture.

From: GURPS Aliens
At first blush these guys are a “warrior race” cliche (okay, not just at first blush), but two me there are a couple of interesting things about them.  One is that their societal structure is based around cadres and avoids the usual “Klingon Empire” thing.  Two, their noseless humanoid appearance reminds me of the Acroyear in the Micronauts comics, who are one of the coolest warrior races ever.

From: GURPS Traveller: Alien Races 2
Horse-like herbivorous sophonts on a holy crusade to cleanse the universe of meat-eaters. Not only due the K’Kree break with typical humanoid alien design, they turn “peaceful herd animal” expectations on their ear.

From: Star Control
These guys are from a series of computer games and are just green-skinned humanoids.  What’s interesting about them is they reference the classic little green men from flying saucers motif.  Their ships are inertialess too, making them unique among the sentient races--and mysterious. The fraal from Alternity's Star*Drive setting are a somewhat similar idea, perhaps better done, but without the cool saucers.

From: Traveller: 2300AD
2300AD had several well done species, but the biotech-using pentapods are my favorite. Interestingly, the pentapods themselves are biotechnology--constructs made by deep sea intelligences on their homeworld.  It’s a set-up that could be easily used for horror, but the pentapods are one of the closest allies of humans.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Inspirations for A Revised Spelljammer, Annotated

Sailing ships in space. Like Disney's Treasure Planet or the Pandarve cycle of Don Lawrence's Storm.

An Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon sartorial base...

Julio Ribera
...garnished with 70s bande dessinée artists' science fantasy eclecticism.

Don Lawrence

Weird worlds and numerous micro-worlds. The Little Prince's B 612 would fit right in.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Wednesday Comics: Prism Stalker

Image Comics has really been putting out some solid science fiction series. So many, in fact, that its hard to keep up with them all. I was clued in to Prism Stalker by Anne over at DIY&Dragons.

The ad copy compares it to the work of Octavia Butler (which I can see) and David Cronenberg (which is a bit iffier, so far). It tells the story of a young woman from a less technological advanced world, devastated by a plague whose people are refugees and indentured servants in wider galactic society. She impresses a visiting recruiter enough that she's taken for training in a special unit being taught to harness the reality-warping power of an alien world where the mysterious native species is "resisting" the civilizing forces of galactic hegemony.

The art is great and the story would make a good film, I think.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Star Trek: Ranger

Player Characters:
The Crew of the USS Ranger, Federation scout ship:
Aaron as Lt., j.g. Cayson Randolph, Operations Officer
Andrea as Capt. Ada Greer
Anne as Cmdr. Zephyr Westerly, Science Officer
Billy as Lt. Cmdt. Sobek, Ship's Counselor
Dennis as Lt. Osvaldo Marquez, Medical Officer
Paul as Cmdr. D.K. Mohan, Chief Helmsman

Synposis: The Ranger is sent to locate a missing ship, the Burnell, which had disappeared while investigating an alien signal within a dangerous nebula.

Commentary: We played our first session of Star Trek Adventures by stating a slightly modified person of the adventure "Signals" from the Quickstart rules, tailored for the Original Series era. We still have a ways to go before with have the system down. The basic mechanics are simple but their are a lot of points of interaction and a definite strategy to best use of the Momentum economy. Still, I think it's a good system with a the capacity to play very cinematically.

FASA's Star Trek game supplied some of the details to help convert this adventure from TNG era to TOS. The missing runabout of the text became a Pulsar class warp shuttle. A crashed Romulan warp shuttle was of the Praetor class.

The Ranger Class Scout ship used by the characters is likewise a FASA invention.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Wild Wild West Wednesday

My friend Jim and I have embarked on a review of the tv series Wild Wild West to be published on Jim's blog Flashback Universe. Head over there to check out the first installment.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Pruning the Weed of Evil

Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued last night. The party had found what they were pretty certain was the gem containing the soul of Slekht Zaad, but like the good adventurers they are, they decided to loot the rest of the Shrine of the Black Lotus to make sure they didn't leave anything valuable behind.

They fought a mummy and some carrion crawlers for their trouble, but gained some gems and gold--and a few magic items including the mysterious Boots of Elvis-Kind.

Returning to Dhoon, Eric Goodbeard, priest of Azulina, told them the gem would like need to be in the vicinity of Zaad to make him vulnerable. He suggested they parley and offer an exchange for the the cure to the curse infecting the local Duke and the fay-flowers of Shkizz. The party sent Zaad a message offering a meeting on the outskirts of town, but what they intended was an ambush.

Slekht Zaad, protected by his invulnerability, showed alone. He hadn't reckoned on Waylon and Erekose being present and invisible. Zaad kept his distance, but when he moved to pick up the gem from where Kully had left it, Waylon swooped in to pick it up. A fight broke out, with Zaad slinging some powerful spells and the party being unable to damage him, until Waylon got into melee range with the gem.

Suddenly, the gem's glow faded, and Erekose's next blow bit deep into Zaad's flesh. The party hit him hard. He was a powerful foe, but he was no match for all of them ganging up on him. Kairon delivered the coup de grace with firebolts.

Now, there was the matter of the trecherous Draco Battles and the lifting of the curses.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Weird Revisited: Ways & Sigils

The original version of this post appeared in 2015...

When humanity discovered there was a way to cheat relativity, we found, to our surprise, that it was a lot like magic. The paths that shortcut distance and connected many universes were built by ancients no species remembered--though everyone had stories. A popular one was that the precursor culture came from outside the ordered universes, from a manifold or bulk whose physical laws would have been more familiar to Jung or Frazer than Einstein or Hawking. We called it "hyperspace." It sounded more scientific than "the astral plane."

Computers, even the most advanced AI, were mostly confused by the Ways. They could tell you a lot about the apertures, but they couldn't decipher the symbols that needed to be inscribed on the hulls of craft in order to make the apertures open or to arrive safely at a desired destination. And so the casters arose; they were people with the mental aptitude to understand the ways and create the symbols needed to traverse them successfully. With a good caster, a vessel can get almost anywhere.

Sometimes, though, ships wind up someplace other than their intended destination or just disappear entirely. At times the casting is probably to blame; encoding multidimensional state vectors into a compressed, symbolic representation has always been more intuition than science, and the internal state of the caster has always been a variable. Sometimes there's just a glitch--an act of God, you might say. Who knows what might distract the hypersophont entities or idiot gods in the machinery of the multiverse that "read" the sigils and guide ships to their destinations?

So the lucky and lost just wind up making an extra stop or two before their final destination. The unlucky truly lost disappear entirely. But there are a few, the stories say, that turn after a long absence with strange stories. There's a city at the center of the multiverse, these haunted-eyed travelers will tell you. A city where castaway alien vessels from infinite universes wind up. A city so vast, so old, so integral, that it doesn't have a name, just a single location sigil-- the Sigil. That's what they call it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

To Boldly Go

Not for the first time since I started writing this blog over a decade ago, I am playing on running a Star Trek game. After some indecision, I've decided to use Star Trek Adventures. I was initially put off by some of the mechanics, but after watching some play videos and reading a good bit of the rules, I think it's a niffy system. Good enough to give a try, at least.

My idea is to run the game in the so-called "Lost era," specifically the time between the original series and the movies. If we follow the Okuda timeline, that would be around 2270. The characters will be the crew of a refitted Constitution class starship, the U.S.S. Endeavour (NCC-1895), sent on a five-year mission of exploration. The design of the ship will predate the ST:TMP refit, allowing me to use the abandoned design for Star Trek: Phase II, which is sort of the "missing link."

ST: Phase II, for those that don't know, was the proposed tv show they were working on before Paramount decided to use the script for the pilot to make a movie. It's aspects reflect a distinctly 70s Trek as the production art shows.

Anyway, it I'm looking forward to it. If you are interesting in reading more about it, Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens is the best place to do that.

Wednesday Comics: New Comics

I've been on a diet of back issues during the pandemic related stop/slowdown of new comics, but picked up my first new releases in over a month last week.

Jason Aaron's and R.M. Guéra's grim, Book of Genesis derived, fantasy but this time without Cain--at least in the first issue. Instead, it concerns religious cult that operate a home for young girls who they offer up as brides to "angels" as they come of age. A marriage that often ends in the wife's death and leads to the birth of monstrous offspring. Two of the girls plot to make their escape.

This was not what I expected in the second volume of the series, but it's just as engaging as the first.

I've mentioned this science fiction series set in a post-climate-change-apocalypse America before. It continues to an intriguing story in an interesting setting.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Weird Revisited: The Alien Underground

This post first appeared in 2013...

"In February of 1981, it became horrifyingly clear the ominous occurrences beneath Centralia were not the result of a coal seam fire. On the night of Valentine's Day, a 4 foot wide sinkhole in a backyard disgorged something more than toxic vapors. The next day, the reports of shocked survivors and the physical remains of creatures unknown to science attested to the stunning fact that humankind had experienced it's first verified encounter with extraterrestrials. Instead of coming down from the stars, they had risen from the subterranean depths.

It was the first, but it would not be the last. Very soon the words 'maze', 'breach", and 'irruption' would take on new, more specialized meanings."

- John Kiehl, The Abyss Gazes: A History of the Underground Invasion (1995)

"Despite appearances, the mazes are not located within the lithosphere. All evidence suggests they are engineered spacetime features similar in some respects to wormholes. They interface exclusively with subterranean environments, though these may be naturally occurring or man-made. Areas of interface--or breach--are associated with paranormal phenomena.

The interiors of the mazes are generally supportive of earth-like life. Indeed, they show evidence of longterm utilization and habitation by extraterrestrial organisms. Many are still inhabited by extraterrestrial biologic entities who perhaps (like humans) discovered the mazes through breaches on their worlds. Despite the obvious the intelligence of these entities, attempts at communication have been limited due to their hostility. Many appear to regard the mazes and the material culture of uncountable previous explorers and colonists found therein as their property alone.

The tensions around contact with these entities have only been exacerbated by the actions of looters and thrill-seekers illegally entering the mazes, despite the efforts of world governments..."

- UN Report on Extraterrestrial Subterranean Structures and their Inhabitants (1991)

"Q: By whom was the Dulce installation constructed?

A: There are natural caverns, first off. Big ones. Bigger than Carlsbad, even. These caverns have been connected to the mazes since prehistoric times. The Draco [reptilian humanoids] used the caverns and tunnels for thousands of years. The original caverns included ice caves, sulfur springs, and energy 'hotspots' that the ’aliens’ found perfect for their needs. Later, the U.S. government enlarged the area. According to several senior maintenance workers I talked with, part of it was blasted out by nuclear devices in the sixties. There are sections, like the shuttle tunnels, that were formed by an advanced tunneling machine powered by arcane technology that leaves the tunnel walls completely smooth. The walls in those tubes look like polished black glass.

Q: The 1960s? So you're certain the government's awareness of the mazes and aliens didn't just start in the 80s?

A: Absolutely. Every President since Grover Cleveland has had high level talks with aliens from the mazes. Certain secret societies and occult groups, of course, have also been aware of them for a long time."

Q: Was there ever any talk of delvers at Dulce?

A: Both the 'aliens' and the human agents were very aware of them. The government's official line is that the delvers are a nuisance. That was the attitude you got from the human agents working there. The 'aliens', on the other hand, saw the delvers as much more of an affront. What you see in the media is only part of it. There are paramilitary bands--sometimes funded and equipped by so-called 'rogue elements' of various governments. There's basically a covert war going on."

- Transcript from "A Dulce Insider Speaks Out"

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Weird Revisted: A Map from Ages Past

This post originally over 10 years ago. It was my first "popular" post...

This map was drawn by my cousin, Tim, who introduced me to gaming back in the earlier '80s.  Somehow, it came into my possession years--decades--ago. 

We never gamed in this dungeon.  I don't know if Tim did with another group.  I've thought about using it myself on several occasions, but I don't know if I ever did.  Since the various iterations of my campaign world relate to Tim's rather bare-bones world in a fashion similar to the relationship the Marvel Universe has to Timely Comics, Kazoth has been mentioned at times.  I've always conceived of him as one of those demon/monster/god-things, like Thog, or similar creatures, from Robert E. Howard's oeuvre

Looking closely at the map, I see several interesting things:

It amuses me that the innermost sanctum of Kazoth (where he has his own chamber) also houses his vestal virgns "and such" (whatever that might mean) and his sacrificial victims-to-be.  This says to me Kazoth is the kind of god-thing who would have a mini-fridge full of drinks in his den.  He just doesn't want to go far for stuff. 

Its interesting the walls of these chambers are rough-hewn (I assume that's what that means), suggesting it might be older than the rest of the complex.

 Most intriguing is the secret passage surrounding Kazoth's chamber.  I wonder what purpose that serves?  Perhaps its a doctrine of the faith that Kazoth's taking of sacrifices must be recorded in gory detail, so scribes watch unobtrusively to do just that.  Or maybe Kazoth gets cranky if his every need isn't responded to instantly, and its just for convenience?

Moving to the other side of the complex we find the mysterious Room of Illusions.  I assume all the "X's" are locations of various illusions.  Why would a temple complex need this?  I'm not sure. Maybe its for psychological torture to make a sacrificial victim juicer for old Kazoth.

Leaving the Room of Illusions, one encounters several traps (the dotted lined areas) which I suspect are probably trapdoors.  So many traps in one place perhaps argues against my explanation for the illusion room, but perhaps there just here because of those three treasure chests.

On the other hand, the naming of the Passage of No Return reinforces the notion that most who saw the Room of Illusions were on a one way trip.

I think the name of the last area I'll comment on may give away its inspiration.  The Room of Souls may have at least acquired its its title from the Well of Souls in Raiders of the Lost Ark--I would suspect specifically from Kenner's Well of Souls playset. 

I could see the statues there supporting a Raiders connection as well, though I'm sure these statues come to life at some inopportune time for the players.

At least that's how I'd do it.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Weird Revisited: Hohmmkudhuk

The original version of this post appeared in 2016...
Art by Jason Sholtis
Hohmmkudhuk* are dwarfish beings resembling bipedal anteaters whose dorsal surface is covered with over-lapping, plate-like scales similar to a pangolin's. They spend much of their life underground in great subterranean halls or warrens. They are clannish and eusocial. Each hall belongs to a Queen, though her holdings are managed by her mate or mates, the Drone-Princes, of which there may be as many as three.

Only the Queen and her consorts reproduce, the rest of the clan is made up of their siblings and children who are sterile. Children are raised communally and in the same way: they pass through a sort of apprenticeship, doing low-skilled tasks as soon as they are able, then advancing to the role of warrior, trader or artisan as they so aptitude and develop the appropriate skills.

If the Queen dies or decides it is time to create a daughter-clan, one of her female progeny becomes able to reproduce and becomes a new queen. This new Queen will have a mate from an unrelated clan. These unions are arranged to form alliances, but their is also a strong tradition of wandering male adventurers winning the heart of a young queen.

Hohmmkudhuk know the ways of the underground and the working of stone. Their magic is bent to this purpose. They personify the planet itself as a goddess.

Hohmmkudhuk Traits
Ability Score Increase. Constitution score is increased by 2 and Wisdom is increased by 1.
Alignment. Hohmmkudhuk tend toward lawfulness.
Size. Hohmmkudhuk are around 4 feet tall, but heavy for their height.
Speed. Base walking speed is 25 feet.
Darkvision. Accustom to life underground Hohmmkudhuk can see 60 feet within dim light as if it were bright light.
Natural Armor. Due to their scales, Hohmmkudhuk get a +1 bonus to Armor Class.
Resilence. Hohmmkudhuk have an advantage on saving throws against poison and resistance against poison damage.
Languages. Hohmmkudhuk can speak and read the Common language of humans. They also speak and read their on consonant-laden, rumbling tongue.

*pronounced ho-hmmm-ku-thuk, where u is as in put and th as in though.