Thursday, January 18, 2018

Operation Unfathomable Players Guide

One of the stretch goals in the Operation Unfathomable kickstarter was the Players Guide. Like all the other, Operation Unfathomable material it's nearing completion. It's one I've been involved with in some small ways, and I got a look at the rough layout of yesterday.

The guide will include:

  • A compilation of the Operation Unfathomable one page comic strips that were created as promotional material
  • New Races: Underworld Otter and Wooly Neanderthal
  • New Classes: Citizen Lich and Underworld Ranger
  • New Spells & Equipment

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Slayer of Eriban (part 6)

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Slayer of Eriban (1985) 
(Dutch: De Doder van Eriban) (part 6)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Storm and Nomad race toward the royal box with the guardsmen on their heels. They effectively take the ruler hostage to get his attention. They are surprised to find young Tilio there--and even more surprised and he reveals himself to actually be Renter!

Storm tells Renter they've got him beat. One false move and they'll kill the ruler, depriving the young assassin of the ability to complete his graduation assignment. Renter, however, reveals a surprise:

Ember has been drugged and put into the Barsaman game!

Storm snatched two shields from the guards and improbably uses them as improvised "snowshoes" to cross the molten floor of the arena. He gets there just in time to catch Ember. His shoes begin to sink quicker with more weight, so Nomad is forced to relinquish the captive royal to help Storm out.

Renter takes over threatening the ruler to keep the guards at bay. One of teh guests in the bos has a surprise of his own. He removes his mask, revealing himself to be Renter's teacher. He delivers another revelation:

The royal family realizes this is the son stolen from them. Renter is in utter disbelief, but ultimately he can't bring himself to kill his father. His teacher reports Renter has failed his graduation exercise. As a horrified Renter is embraced by his mother, the teacher leaves. Storm, Nomad, and Ember make their escape, aided by both the turmoil in the royal box and the turmoil in the stadium caused by the escaped prisoners. The Barsaman games are suspended indefinitely.

They make it back to the ship. To their surprise, Renter is there waiting. He tells them he sent Tilio away with some money. Renter trained all his young life to be an assassin. He doesn't know what to do with himself now. He asks our heroes to place him in the regeneration capsule and set him adrift, where he can dream, maybe to the end of time.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Weird Revisited: Take the Subway to the Wizard's Sanctum

This post first appeared in January of 2012. It's still true today... 

You may have heard this one: A homeless newsboy in a nameless city follows a mysterious stranger into a subway station. 

The stranger leads the boy aboard "a strange subway car, with headlights gleaming like a dragon's eyes," and decorated inside and out with weird, perhaps mystic, symbols.  The car "hurtles through the pitch-black tunnel at tremedous speed."  Their destination:

And beyond, a cavernous hall decorated with grotesque statues of the iconic failings of man.  At the end of the hall, a hierophant sits immobile on a throne, a square block of granite hanging precariously over his head by a slowly unraveling thread.

The wizard is, of course, Shazam and the Boy is Billy Batson.  Billy is about to be given the power of six mythological figures. At that point this story becomes a superhero origin, but at all times it's a fantasy story, too.  Grant Morrison (in Supergods) sums it up like this:

"the train carries Billy into a deep, dark tunnel that leads from this world to an elevated magical plane where words are superspells that change the nature of reality."

My point is bringing up Whiz Comics #2, is that I think fantasy in an urban setting ought to have a bit more of this and a bit fewer succubus streetwalkers, werewolf bikers, or angels in white Armani suits.  Not that there's anything wrong with those things--but they've gotten commonplace.  Perfunctory.

There's no reason why fantasy in a modernish setting can't be infused with weird or wonder.  We've got plenty of examples: Popeye's pet jeep, the Goon's antagonists, or in a less whimiscal vein, VanderMeer's city of Ambergris suffering under occupation by fungoid invaders. I can't be the only one that wants fantasy in the modern world to be something other than 90's World of Darkness retreads.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What If?

This is an idea I had this morning, so I haven't thought out all the angles of how to operationalize it best. Comic books have traditional had stories where things they didn't want to institute in the primary continuity occurred: DC called them imaginary stories; Marvel placed them in the pages of What If?

I've usually run superhero rpg campaigns just like most rpgs. The past is immutable and a bad outcome for the PCs is a bad outcome. What if one borrowed a from What If? You could give the PCs a "retcon" session, beginning perhaps at the point of one pivotal change in events. After the retcon session, the group could decide which continuity the campaign would continue in. The other wouldn't necessarily cease to exist, but could be the sort of visitors from alternate timelines to interact with the PCs later.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Weird Revisited: Real Dungeon Hazards: Snotties & Slime

This post first appeared just about 8 years ago. It's as pertinent to dungeon crawls as ever.

Ooozes and slimes aren’t just the the subject of Gygaxian dungeoneering fancy. Interestingly, it appears they have some basis in subterranean fact. Ready for an introduction to the world of snotties, red goo, and green slime?

"Snotties" look like small stalactites, but have the texture of mucus and drip battery acid. They’re actually colonies extremophile archaebacteria that thrive in intense levels of atmospheric hydrogen sulfide produced by volcanism. They’ve only been found in a few places including Cueva de Villa Luz, southern Mexico, and Sulphur Cave in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Other unusual things have been uncovered in Cueva de Villa Luz by the self-styled SLIME (Subsurface Life In Mineral Environments) team. “Red goo” is an acidic (pH 3.9-2.5) breakdown product of clay, which also makes a home for bacteria. “Green slime” which may be decaying algal elements.

Sulphur Cave also sports the red worms which live off sulfur--the only such higher organism ever discovered residing on land.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday Comics: FF

Between having a plumber doing repairs to 9pm and taking care of the baby, the next installment of Storm didn't get written. Next week!

Today, here's a quick recommendation. I picked up FF (2012 series) by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred after seeing a panel from it on a blog with an intriguing explanation of Pym particles. It's just 16 issues and probably best read in tandem with Fraction's contemporaneous run on Fantastic Four. (I didn't read it that way, but I've heard that play off each other.) It deals with Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa, and popstar Darla Deering agreeing to fill in for the usual FF at the Future Foundation, which is essentially a school for gifted youngsters (including familiar faces Alex Power, Artie, Leech and some new ones). They are only supposed to fill in for 4 minutes while the regular FF goes somewhere  off-world and does something, but plans, of course, go awry. The series has a fair amount of humor and a (mostly) light approach, but there is real danger and character stuff.

It's out in two trades.

Monday, January 8, 2018

It Was Never Pure

Art by Kyle MacArthur

D&D has always been a bit "gonzo." The internet era has pulled out all the stops for gonzo, so things are a bit more heightened, it's true, but if you believe Jeff Reints that "You play Conan, I play Gandalf. We team up to fight Dracula," is an apt description, then don't let the dry, wargamer prose and armchair Medievalism fool you, it's sorta gonzo.

Now, as a guy with a strong appreciation for pulp literature, I like my D&D (most of the time) heavily flavored with the likes of Howard, Smith, Leiber, and Vance. Of course, Saturday Morning cartoons, Bronze Age comics, and 80s barbarian films are in there, too, to one degree or another.

There are people only slightly younger than me for whom computer games and anime are a much bigger deal. There are even those unfortunates who could never get into Leiber or Vance, but read the hell out of some Drizzt novels. There are those for whom Harry Potter was their gateway drug and who think Tolkien is best appreciated as interpreted by Jackson at high frame rate.

My point is, whatever parts you use, D&D is always a Frankenstein bastard of lowbrow things that don't make sense together if you think about them too much. A lot of digital ink has been spilt analyzing the influence of Appendix N and the like, and that's fine, but D&D as written had Hammer horror vampire hunters, Vancian spellcasters, and kung fu film monks. It's a broad enough territory for a lot of structures to be comfortably built on it, and that's a good thing for its continued life.