Friday, October 30, 2020

Armageddon Alternatves

Anne from DIY & Dragons reminded me earlier this week of some of the cool stuff from the Buck Rogers comic strip: namely things like the Org gangs and the anti-gravity belts they aware they allow them to make leaps like characters in wuxia films (or the Matrix movies). For the most part, these things are present in the novella that inspired the comic strip: Armageddon 2419 AD by Philip Francis Nowlan. It tells the story of Buck Anthony Rogers who is put in suspended animation by some weird mine gas and awakens in a 25th Century where a Mongol Empire ("the Han") emerged from the Gobi to conquer Europe and North America. Driven from the ruined cities, the Americans formed "gangs" (Orgs in the later comic) to fight a protracted insurgency. 

Yellow Peril racism is an unfortunate relic of the past, but I think it's pretty easy to get rid of that and keep the fun stuff. We can sub out the conquerors. Here are a few options.

Martians: Wells' War of Worlds takes place in the early 20th Century (probably 1907) so it's a bit early to fit the Armageddon 2419 AD timeline, but there have been other invasions like Killraven. Maybe John Christopher's Masters aren't Martians, but they have tripods just like them.

Apes: Maybe Moreau-tech touches off a Planet of the Apes scenario early? Or perhaps the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic is followed by a plague that kills off dogs and cats, leading to apes between adopted as pets, then bred as servants, etc. That's always assuming the apes don't come from Mars.

Robots/Artificial Beings/Cyborgs: Capek's R.U.R. takes place around the year 2000, but discovers the android creating process occurs earlier, so it could work. Of course, cyborgs from a Tenth Planet are always an option, too.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Star Trek Endeavour: The Clarity of Crystal (Part 2)

Episode 2 (part 2):
Player Characters: 
The Crew of the USS Endeavour, NCC-1895, Constitution Class Starship (refit):
Andrea as Lt. Ona Greer, Chief Engineer Officer and Lt. Taryn Loy, Geologist
Bob as Capt. Robert Locke
Gina as Cmdr. Isabella Hale, Helm Chief
Eric As Lt.Cmdr. Tavek, Science Officer
Tug as Dr. Azala Vex, Trill Chief Medical Officer

Synposis: The mystery of the Erebus III research station and its alien crystals becomes clear after Tavek attempts a dangerous mind meld with a mentally unbalanced Vulcan.

Commentary: This is the continuation of the STA adaptation of an adventure I wrote for a Star Trek Starships & Spacemen game back in 2013. 

It ended with a firefight at in the Crystal Colonnade, one the PCs were at a disadvantage at due to a lack of weapons and the absence of their security chief.

We (both the players and myself) probably still are taking advantage of the STA combat options. There is probably a bit too much "stand and deliver" D&D style play, which leads to essentially a battle of attrition.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Weird Revisited: Tome of Draculas!

An orphaned Secret Santicore request in 2013 was for “better draculas.” This cryptic request I interpret in as referring to D&D’s propensity of turning unique creatures from mythology or fiction into a class of creatures. This blogpost was the result.

A dracula then is pretty much like the standard D&D vampire--except that they have a whole “urbane foreign noble fallen on hard times” thing going for them.  For a standard dracula, simply use your vampire stats of choice: give him (it’s going to be a him, most of the time) a foreign accent, a stylish cape, and a dilapidated castle.

With that in mind, here are some dracula variants:

Aquatic draculas haunt sunken funeral ships or castles submerged by some natural or manmade upheaval. Draculas are restrained by running water, but relatively still lakes, inlets or lagoons provide a place where they may be active at least some of the time. Aquatic draculas are unable to summon rats, bats, or wolves, but crabs, sentient seaweed, piranhas, and unsavory otters are an option.

Merely vampiric animals (besides bats) are impossible, but the power of a dracula’s curse is such that even beasts must succumb. Dracula dogs are the most common variety, but even cows have been known. Dracula animals have HD 7 and all the usual vampiric powers and weaknesses, plus whatever innate abilities they possessed in life. Magical animals may not be dracula-ized. (An alternate version of the hellcow appears here.)

Some draculas ache for a love lost and often mistake some woman or another for this long dead inamorata. The charm ability of the lovelorn dracula often convinces the woman in question that she is indeed a reincarnation. Lovelorn draculas are mechanically identical to the standard version, but they are often hunkier and have flowing locks and a penchant for going shirtless. They seldom bother with summoning vermin, though they probably can.

These draculas are hideous and vaguely rodent-like in appearance. They lack the suave demeanor other draculas affect: they are either testy and animalistic, or creep- pathetic and lonely. They have a special affinity for vermin and can summon twice the usual number of rats. They also tend to bring plagues where they go and can cause disease. When exposed to sunlight they fade away rather than turn to dust.

This dracula violates the "mostly male" rule. These draculas are mostly female and their foreignness comes from being from another world or plane where blood flows like water. They have none of the shapeshifting or animal summoning powers of usual draculas, but make up for it with HD 9.

After a dracula dies, they turn to a reddish powder. This dust can be collected and made into a beverage when mixed with wine and human blood. When this potion is consumed, the imbiber must save vs. polymorph or painfully transform into a duplicate of the dracula whose dust was used.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Dark of Space

With Mothership, an official Alien rpg, and probably some others I'm forgetting, the 70s "grubby future" sci-fi horror genre is quite well represented in gaming.

But sci-fi horror wasn't invented in the 70s. Alien borrowed a lot from the films like It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Planet of the Vampires, where gleaming spaceship hulls, shiny floors, and smart uniforms were the rule, but horrors still lurked in the darkness. When you think about it, Forbidden Planet is kind of horrorific if we ignore Anne Francis--and Robby the Robot.

The antecedents of this sort of "rocket horror" are to be found in prose science fiction. A.E. van Vogt short stories "Black Destroyer" and "Discord in Scarlet" were similar enough to Alien that 20th Century Fox settled a lawsuit. Reaching even further back, CL Moore's Northwest Smith short-stories from the '30s had a strong horror element.

It's time to get blood splatter on all that chrome! No one can hear square-jawed spacemen scream in hard vacuum, either.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West Continues

Since last I mentioned it here, there have been two more posts in our Wild Wild West series rewatch over at the Flashback Universe Blog.

See James West battle a house cat!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Star Trek Ranger: Patterns of Vengeance (finale)

Player Characters:
The Crew of the USS Ranger, Federation scout ship:
Aaron as Lt.(jg.) Cayson Randolph
Andrea as Capt. Ada Greer
Dennis, as Lt. Osvaldo Marquez, Medical Officer
Paul as Cmdr. D.K. Mohan, Chief Helmsman

Supporting Cast:
Ensign Elana Duffy, Security Officer
Lt. Theras ch'Reith, Security Chief
Chief Petty Officer Grex, Transporter Chief

Synposis: Captain Greer, still stranded on the Brackett, must defend herself against Lt. T'Sar who is possessed by the Unity, a group mind created in a transporter research accident. The Unity want Janet Hester, the researcher they hold responsible for their creation. On the ice moon of Mycena, Marquez, Duffy, and Theras, go looking Janet Hester and discovered her remains in a crashed shuttlecraft, buried in the snow. 

When shown Hester's body, the Unity dematerialize into subspace with it, freeing the possessed crewmen.

Commentary: This adventure was based on Marvel's Star Trek (1980 series) #8 written by Martin Pasko with art by Dave Cockrum.  

There's a good rundown on the issue here.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Weird Revisited: Bugbear Nightmare

In dark places where nightmares thicken and curdle, bugbears are born. They're gangling things with burning coal eyes that stare out of snarled fur, black and featureless as the night sky between the stars. They haunt abodes of fear and shadow: abandoned houses, ancient ruins, sunless forests; they even squeeze into the recesses of children's closets and the forgotten world glimpsed in the gaps between floorboards. Any dark corner is a door to a bugbear. They crawl out with great sacks clutched in their spider-fingered hands. Snickering, murmuring, they snatch up children and small folk in their sacks and kill those who try and stop them. They drag the children back to their damp, subterranean otherworld, and what happens there is best not discussed.

Besides (one presumes) their kidnapped victims, bugbears subsist on such inedible provender as glass shards, potash, and the heads of rabid bats. They consider certain venomous toads an utter delicacy.

Azurthite bugbears are statted like regular 5e bugbears with the following differences:

Skills Stealth +6

Special Abilities:
Plastic. Bugbears can squeeze through spaces as small as 1 inch.
Shadow Stealth. While in dim light or darkness, a bugbear can hide as a bonus action.
Sunlight Weakness. In bright sunight, bugbears have a disadvantage to attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Universal Monster Ravenloft

Over at at Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque, Jack points out that it would be trivially easy to have Strahd meet Dracula given the underlying conceits of Ravenloft. I wonder why we need Strahd at all? Why not replace the Darklords with the Universal Studios classic monsters? We might call this version Karloft because... well, why not?

The Mummy, Dracula, and Frankenstein (the Darklord would probably be Victor rather than his monster), would fit right in. The Invisible Man and the Phantom of the Opera ought to have their place too. The realm of the Creature from the Black Lagoon would be a bit of departure from the usual Gothic horror trappings, but I think it could be done.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Hair-Raising Horrors in the Land of Azurth

Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night, with Kully and Shade plunged beneath the shop of the Demon Barber of the Sapphire City. They encountered a number of ill-tempered purple creatures, before the chair Kully was trapped in was whisked to a lower level: a subterranean barbershop of horrors!

The rest of the party saw the events upstairs through the eyes of Waylon's familiar and rushes in. Just in time, too, because the Evil Tom's assistant, a redheaded little maniac with a straight-razor had knocked Shade out. Under the assault of the full party, he was soon dead, as was Evil Tom. 

Kully was rescued, but he was behaving in a more bombastic fashion, and the party was concerned. Shade became convinced the barber had done something to him.

The party explored the various rooms in the barber level, discovering magical pomades and hair-dyes--and eventually, stone stairs descending in darkness. Also, hair like vines hanging over it. Hair that sometimes attacked. Knoggin's Pomade helped tame it, and the party descended without further trouble.

They encountered more of the purple creatures, this time with one of their witchdoctors, The party overpowers then pretty quickly, though, and takes a captive to interrogate.

The creature tells them he is a Znarr and his people serve a a beauteous female of their species named Zarvoola. Zarvoola is holding some very hairy creature captive and orchestrating everything that has happened in a bid for conquest...


Friday, October 9, 2020

Weird Revisited: On Venus

This post appeared in 2016 and was itself an expansion of a post from a couple of years prior but with art...

Art by Luka Rejec

Wet where Mercury is desert and as fecund as that world is barren, Venus is covered by warm, shallow seas and dense, tropical forests. Its natives are women--or creatures in the semblance of women. They are seldom surpassed in all the Cosmos in beauty, if one can abide their inhumanly colorful skins and their hair the texture of flower petals. They go almost entirely naked, and chastity is not counted a virtue among them.

There is a ruler on Venus, recognized by Earthly and Mercurian powers, called the Doge, who is always from another world. This title may be held by a man or woman, but in either case, the floral and lovely native Venerians are the Doge's solicitous wives or concubines. The Doge's identity is always hidden behind an ornate mask of that durable Venerian fungal matter that resembles teak. The ruler scarcely wears any more clothing than the Venerian women, save for the notable exception of an impressive phallocrypt, decorated and enlaided with gold, for public ceremonies.

A Doge’s rule lasts only a Venerian day, as measured by the fixed stars, which is hundreds of Earth days. When the sun sets, the Doge is taken by the Venerians into the forest and is seen no more.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

We Have Always Lived in the Megadungeon

 I have on occasion riffed settings which were small or at least smaller than the typical D&Dish setting. This goes against the grain of published settings which tend to want to give you big, as in a world big, and perhaps classic play which starts circumscribed, but is about expanding the frontier.

There is one archetypal D&Dish experience that doesn't quite work this way and that's the megadungeon. Certainly exploring the megadungeon means opening up more area, but the scale is so much smaller generally than the hexcrawl. Distance is not a primary factor.

It strikes me that the dungeoncrawl could easily combined with the player's living space. Megadungeons under towns are pretty common, but then the town becomes a place of relative safety and refuge that may or may not enter into actual play as anything more than "base camp." What if the megadungeon space and the living space bled into each other? Like say the PCs lived in a place like Gormenghast or Xuchotl from "Red Nails," or the starship Warden, and the exploration was progressively moving into rooms, levels, sections or whatever that were unknown? (You could perhaps include small settings with actually dungeons/underground spaces in this. See MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblins.)

This could be combined quite easily with the mystery sandbox. Indeed, the incremental accumulation of vast wealth is probably a bad goal for a smaller setting of this sort. Not that money might not be a motivator, but the real big payoffs should only come at the end.

Obviously, this sort of setting would differ from the standard D&D approach even without the downplaying of vast wealth. Parties would likely be less eclectic. The length of the campaign is probably somewhat limited without a change in approach unless the structure they reside in is really weird, but I think it would make for interesting low level play.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Revisiting the Wild Wild West Season Two

Jim Shelley and I are continuing our selective re-watch of the Wild Wild West weekly on the Flashback Universe Blog. We're now starting the second florid, full-color season.

You can catch up on installments here.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Star Trek Ranger: Patterns of Vengeance (part 2)

Player Characters:
The Crew of the USS Ranger, Federation scout ship:
Andrea as Capt. Ada Greer
Billy as Lt. Cmdr. Sobek, Ship's Counselor
Dennis, as Lt. Osvaldo Marquez, Medical Officer
Paul as Cmdr. D.K. Mohan, Chief Helmsman

Supporting Cast:
Ensign Elana Duffy, Security Officer
Lt. Thera ch'Reith, Security Chief

Synposis: With Capt. Greer trapped on the USS Brackett with a being that calls itself "Unity" possessing some of her crew, Mohan takes Ranger to the icy planetoid of Mycena to try and determine what this has to do with the transporter experiments of Janet Hester. They discover the experiments in long range matter transmission may have lead to one or more of Hester's team being somehow trapped in dematerialized form.

Commentary: The Deneva Research Team which Hester and her ill-fated team were a part of are first mentioned in the Spaceflight Chronology

Within the Star Trek Universe, long distance transporter experimentation was attempted by Emory Erickson has depicted in the Enterprise episode "Daedelus," and has been depicted in use by other civilizations such as the Kalandans in "That Which Survives."

The away team encountered a monster that burrowed under the ice on Mycena that was inspired by the Delta Vega creature in Star Trek (2009).

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Adventuring in the Harveylands

I wrote a post about a year and a half ago about the Harveylands, the setting of the Harvey Comics universe as codified on the map above in the 80s.

While there are obviously elements of the comics that wouldn't fit a game of a D&Dish of even a somewhat unusual sort, I feel like you could jettison those and have something that wouldn't be that off-model. The only Tieflings of the "standard races" would appear, of course, providing for Hot Stuff and the Devils. There are several ghost races (for Casper types) floating around the internet, though. Witches like Wendy and rich kids like Richie would just be classes.

As presented, something like the Harveylands would be a fairly small setting, but big enough for a campaign, I think. Particularly, if the edges bled into more fantastic realms: the Hells, the Land of the Dead, etc.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Weird Revisted: Monster Apocalypses

The original version of this post appeared in October of 2013...

Zombie apocalypses have been done to death with films, books, and tv shows. Other classic monsters deserve their (proverbial) day in the sun, too:

Vampires: The most obvious non-zombie contender for virtually extinction of the human species. Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and it's various movie adaptations have already ventured into this territory (as has the film Stake Land and the TV show The Strain) --and the comics Planet of Vampires and Vampire Hunter D have already shown on vampire overrun post-apocalypses. Trading bloodsucking for flesh-eating is almost too obvious.

Piscoids: Cast them as Creatures from Black Lagoons, Manphibians, or walking catfish men, fishy humanoids are ready to climb from the depths and overwhelm the surface world. Perhaps a full-fledged takeover is the ultimate goal of the Deep Ones in Shadow Over Innsmouth? Global warming and rising sea levels would no doubt be part of their plan. A piscoid apocalypse might wind up looking more like Waterworld than Walking Dead.

Werewolves: Like vampires and zombies, werewolfism is passed by a bite, making them a reasonable stand-in. I don't know of any media werewolf apocalypses, but Dog Soldiers sort of does the "trapped in an isolated farm house" riff of Night of the Living Dead. Depending on exactly how the werewolves worked, things might be pretty tough for humanity: zombies are slow and dumb, while vampires have to sleep in the day time. Werewolves have neither of those limitations. Of course, their just humans in the day, trying to scourge for survival just like everybody else. Only at night would they join packs of killers to howl at the moon as they hunt through the ruins.

Frankenstein's Monsters: This seems like the biggest stretch given than Frankenstein had only one monster (or maybe two, depending on who you believe). Still, two monsters can overrun the world (unless they're giant, which still movies us out of zombie apocalypse analogous territory). Technology has advanced a lot since Frankenstein's day, though. Wein's and Wrightson's Un-Men in Swamp Thing (and Burroughs' Synthetic Men of Mars, for that matter) point the way: Mass production of monsters. In some ways, this would resemble an alien invasion apocalypse or robot apocalypse more than a zombie one--though perhaps the monsters "consume" humans by dragging them back to their secret factories to use as raw materials for more monsters?