Friday, February 23, 2018

Exploration, Hold the Violence

It's a common reframe that old school games are less about killing that later D&D. This idea is supported by an experience system that favors treasure acquisition over killing. Still, the idea of killing something and taking its stuff, or the description of characters as "murderhobos" seems pretty ingrained.

A fair amount of fantasy fiction suggests a different approach. The characters in the short stories that make up Vance's Dying Earth are not adverse to employing violence, but it isn't their first resort, nor are an of them warriors by trade.The number of kills attributable to the protagonists in these stories is pretty low. A number of Clark Ashton Smith stories are similar, as is Lovecraft's Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, just to name a few.

I wonder if the sort of adventure found in these stories would be adventurous enough for players accustom to heavy monster slaying? I think it would be interesting to really focus on the exploration and social encounters (and a bit of treasure). It would challenge both players and DMs in a sort of different way. The XP system as currently constituted doesn't necessarily support this (5e has a variant that might, but it's fairly loose), but I think it's worth thinking about.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Hounds of Marduk

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 Hounds of Marduk (1985) 
(Dutch: De Honden van Marduk) (part 2)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

With their way blocked in front and behind, Storm and his companions go to the side--through a bathhouse. Their pursuers plunge in after them, running into the already irate bathers. On the other side of the house, Nomad knocks done one of the wooden support pillars, purposely collapsing the front of the building.

It only buys our heroes a few minutes to make their escape through a sewer grate. Their pursuers note the grate has been disturbed saying the Anomaly has fled downwards into "the gullet." This means certain death!

Meanwhile, in the sewers. Ember is puzzled by the lack of rats. When the walls take on a flesh, pink appearance, Nomad realizes where they must be:


He explains to his friends that some coastal towns connect their sewer systems into the maws of giant, unmoving worms who feed on the cities' effluvia. They have entered such a gullet, if they don't go back, they will be digested in acid. It's already too late. The walls have pinched off behind them.

On the surface, the pursuers realize they can't go into the gullet after the Anomaly. Instead, there leader has the idea to find the sewer-doctor. This veternarian is responsible for the gullet's health. When asked, he reveals they sometimes flush indigestible things from the worm with water from a large sluice. The leader demands orders his men to open the sluice as wide as possible, over the doctor's protests that it might kill the gullet.

Within the gullet, Storm and friends trill cutting their way out to no avail. The water pressure sends gratings flying all over the city, then:


The worm's spasms and the blast of water send our heroes shooting out into the ocean. They barely escape drowning and luckily and picked up by a fisherman.


TO BE CONTINUED

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Unfathomable


Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night with the party undertaking a journey to Subazurth and the uncharted region of chaotic, wild magic called "The Unfathomable." This was an adaptation of Jason Sholtis's Operation Unfathomable with a modification of backstory as presented yesterday.

The party journeyed via boat on an underground river from Rivertown in Yanth Country to Troglopolis in Subazurth. From there, they were guided to the entrance to the Unfathomable, separated the Troglopolitan region by a chasm spanned by a tongue bridge from the devil-visaged entrance. The took the admission for stealth and monster-avoidance to heart. They were also, pretty lucky with random encounter rolls.

The crossed the seemingly never-ending googlopede. Everyone but Waylon the Frogling demured from trying the fungal offerings of the mushroom folk, and he got a gray growth that made him decidely less charismatic until it healed. They met a strange, depressed cyclops, who they tried to counsel. Then, Kully the Bard and Shade the Ranger fought three brain-bats, but made quick work of them.


They found a strange floating vessel and soon discovered it belonged to Major Mungo Ursus, a werebear in Her Majesty's Special Bureau. He explained he was here in this alternate future or past to stop Doctor Hugo Zunbar Gorgomza, the self-styled Robot-Master, who planned to utilize the Null-Rod to create a magic-free future where his robots could rule. Ursus planned to destroy the rod so Gorgomza couldn't get his hands on it.

Not entirely trusting of what Princess Viola would do with the Null-Rod, the party agreed to let Ursus destroy it--if he would give them his gamma ray pistol. Ursus agreed, and the he joined the party in going toward the west where his instrument readings had said the rod might be.They found a cave with a minature ice-city, and tiny beings who were worshiping the Null-Rod.


The party stole it. The Major destroyed it with his pistol, then handed the pistol over to the party. He admitted he had permanently set the power setting low so they wouldn't destroy civilization. The party agreed this was probably wise. Then, the werebear left in his saucer, and the party returned to the surface, mission accomplished.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Operation Subazurth


My 5e Land of Azurth campaign will continue this afternoon and I'm playing on running the Knockspell version of "Operation Unfathomable"(with a few things borrowed from the Hydra version--now on sale!). This will require a few modifications to fit the campaign and will likely have a few more because, why not?

The set up is this: Viola, the Clockwork Princess of Yanth Country, asks the party to help out Indigon XI, Prince of Troglopolis and curator of the Museum of Eldritch Wonders. It seems his ne'er-do-well adventurer of a third son, Hokus, has stolen a device called the Null Rod and he and a group of mercenaries went into a prohibited underground zone, their to wrest new territory for Troglopolis to settle. This area has been prohibited due to its exceeding high levels of chaotic wild magic.

Hokus and his party appear to have been killed, but the Troglopolitans want the Null Rod returned, and Princess Viola (believing they are too incompetent to hold on to it) wants it brought back to the surface.

The bones (and most of the meat) of Jason's adventure will remain intact, because why change it? But many of the monsters and encounters will get an Azurthian veneer--by which I mean a veneer borrowed from cartoon model sheets, Silver Age comic books, and Oz stories.

Should be fun!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Uncovering Krevborna


Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera is a system agnostic setting book released this week by Jack Shear of the Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque blog. The world detailed is the sort of place Jack deals with in much of his rpg writing: an early modern setting with more than a hint of the Gothic.

Full disclosure before I delve into the review proper: I am listed in the credits of the book as I have been a player in Jack's online game (Tobias Rune, Scientific Occultist!), and Jack has done some editing for me on my stuff in the past. We have been blogosphere friends since long before that. My view, then, is perhaps biased.

Krevborna is 109 pages plus an index. In that space it vibrantly evokes a certain type of setting, and gives you locales, NPCs, organizations, and conflicts with which to populate it. It is fashionable in many circles to say setting books should always be short or deliver things very lightly. This is an understandable reaction given the bloat that has afflicted many a "major" rpg company setting book. My opinion is this: A setting book should have exactly as much verbiage as it needs to achieve its goal (and that goal should in part include usability). This will inevitably mean that no setting book is for everybody. some people will want the exotic cultural detail of the Empire of the Petal throne or Glorantha, and some want a setting heavy on new mechanical tidbits, but otherwise interchangeable with any number of faux-Medieval worlds. Having written a couple of setting books myself, I can say that there are always people that think you gave just the right amount of detail and then those who want more. (There are probably also those who think I wrote too much, but they don't send me emails.)

I don't think I'm off base when I say that Jack isn't concerned with you being able to replicate his Krevborna in  minute detail; he wants you to be able to create your own Gothic-tinged, dark fantasy setting that may happen to also be named Krevborna. He is light on many details, focusing his time on directly addressing theme, tone, and atmosphere, and how you leverage these things in a fantasy game as a DM. Jack is very good at delivering these elements flavorfully but briefly.  Maybe it's his college educator background, but he's able to bullet-point and not be at all dry!

I don't mean to suggest there is no setting detail, because there are plenty of Krevborna-specific information and tools, and plenty of stuff to help players get into the mood, too: sample names by region, appropriate backgrounds, tables of dark secrets, and NPCs to be patrons, acquaintances, or antagonists. The great supernatural powers are briefly described, allowing DM's and players to flesh out the details as they will.

The last section of the book is a brief summary of Jack's approach or "house rules" for running Krevborna in 5e. This is light enough that no OGL is required, but meaty enough that those versed in the 5e rules will know what he is doing. The strength of the system agnostic approach is this can be easily ported to old school simulacra or DungeonWorld or whatever.

In summary, I think this is a great setting, but also a great demonstration of a way to present a setting, and is well worth the price of purchase.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Azurth Digest is back--for A Limited Time


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

 Go here for the print(+pdf) edition, while supplies last. If you only want the pdf, well, that's always available here.




Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Valentine's Day

Romance comics were a pretty big thing back in the day, and all the major publishers (including Marvel and DC) did them, but none of those have been collected, so far as I know--and they probably wouldn't appeal to the readers of my blog in any case. Here are a few comics with romance as an element that might.

Deadman: The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love puts DC's disembodied former aerialist in a gothic mystery with a hit of romance.

Scott Pilgrim In Toronto, slacker Scott Pilgrim tries to date a cool girl, but first he has to defeat league of her evil exs. You've seen the movie, now read the comic that inspired it.

Sex Criminals Suzanne and Jon bond over an unusual trait they both share--their orgasms stop time! They decide to use this unusual ability to rob banks...

Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Vol. 1 Wonder Woman lives Paradise Island to bring love and peace to Man's World with her beau Steve Trevor. She seems to get into a lot of predicaments involving bondage.