Friday, March 30, 2012

Rarebit Fiends

Try as they might, the Dream Lord and his gnomish Sandmen can’t keep all nightmares quarantined in Slumberland. And perhaps they don’t always try; there are always rumors of rogue Sandmen taking bribes to smuggle oneiric nasties. In any case, some nightmares do escape and return to the Material Plane. Bugbears are a common example, but there are lesser (and lesser known) nightmare forms collectively called “rarebit fiends,” as they seemed to have emerged from the sort of strange dreams that seem to follow an evening's indulgence in a too-rich meal. Here are a few examples:

Hebephrenic Stag: Sometimes it’s known as simply “The Gump,” a name of unknown derivation. The mounted stag’s head appears on a wall and begins to laugh madly and incessantly at anything the homeowner does. It will appear as a normal taxidermied specimen when anyone else is present to see it, but its raucous noise can be heard by others--and is almost invariably attributed to the home owner. It can be appeased and moved to silence by placing an opened can of dog food made from horse meat beneath it on the night of the new moon.

Voluptua Lilies: Lascivious plants that seek to seduce the receiver (generally a woman) into heedless pleasure. Those failing a saving throw are enthralled (as per spell) by the delicate caress of the flowers. Victims have, on rare occasions, been so enraptured that they allowed themselves to die of dehydration rather than give up the lilies' embrace.

Moonface: Scholars disagree on whether this fiend actually inhabits the moon (or its image) or merely the mind of the victim perceiving it. In any case, a mostly grinning, perhaps inebriated-appearing face appears on the moon (or it’s image.or in the perceiver’s mind). In a vague but definitely foreign accent the moon rambles on almost incoherently, yet the victim will be convinced the monologue is a mocking commentary on his or her actions. Men have been driven to desperate acts including suicide and murder under the moonface’s unforgiving glare.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Hello, Nurse!": Healing in the City

The adventurer's life in the City is made a little less convenient by the absence of readily available clerical healing.  True faith healing is rare (though claims of it are a bit more common), and priests that bother to learn thaumaturgy don't usually spend a lot of time on the simple healing arts.  Medical technology is, of course, more advanced than in your standard Medieval setting, but accessing it sometimes brings questions adventurer-types would rather avoid.

The corner drug store offers a solution. On its shelves, various alchemical tonics and medications can be found that offer restored energy and faster healing. Many of these function similarly to standard cure light or (less commonly) medium wounds potions found in other worlds, but with an important difference: They offer the equivalent healing of 8 hours of restorative sleep plus enhanced energy in the form of temporary hit points. These dissipate within 12 hours.

Further consumption can extend this time period, but at diminishing returns. Consuming another dosage within a 24 hour period confers only temporary hit points--and these last 6 hours.  Further doses do nothing--most of the time.  Sometimes they shock the system and act as a poison causing light wounds.

Though Union laws require drugs to be pure, no human or animal testing is required prior to marketing. Sometimes alchemical medications have unintended consequences, and there are rare and tragic instances where they are outright toxic.  It's probably best to consume them only as directed by a physician.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Full Circle (Part 3)

Let's re-enter the lost world with another installment of my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"Full Circle"
Warlord Annual #3 (1984)
Written by Cary Burkett; Penciled by Dan Jurgens; Inked by Mike DeCarlo.

Synopsis: Morgan is determined to use one of the saucer ships to go after Shakira over the objections of Reno, who warns of the damaged ship’s instability. Krystovar (perhaps noting he hasn’t had anything to do in several issues) is willing to take the risk with Morgan.

The two fly up toward the red moon which looks familiar to Morgan but he can’t remember where he might have seen it (perhaps too many blows to the head in previous issues?). Only when skysleds are flying at them shooting energy blasts does Morgan remember the Alces Shirasi and the Red Moon. Our heroes manage to land in the moon’s hangar. They fight their way through a group of aliens and hole up in a laboratory.

There they find the misshapen survivors of the Alces Shirasi experiments. Morgan recalls his brief stint as a Bull Man, leading Krystovar to realize that these aliens must have been the source of the Atlantean beast maker technology.

One of experimental subjects (one of the few who can talk) gets their attention and begs them to free him. The subject tells them where Shakira is most likely being held—and just in time, as the aliens manage to break into the lab. The subject quickly frees others of his kind. They lay into the aliens as our heroes escape.

The aliens plan to use their machines on Shakira, hoping to make her a brood mare for the continuation of their race.

Morgan and Krystovar bust in and demand Shakira be freed. Morgan punctuates his demand with a bullet through the head of one of the aliens. Unfortunately, the crafty aliens throw up a force-field and trap our heroes. The leader gloats about turning them into amebas, but then:

It’s revenge of the failed experiments! They start massacring the aliens and free Morgan and Krystovar to go after Daamon, who took off with Shakira thrown over his shoulder during the fracas. The enraged rejects manage to start a chain reaction in the moon’s reactor core.

To be concluded

Things to Notice:
  • Morgan's got a bad memory--or maybe just a plot convenient one.
  • Reactor cores are (strangely) one of the most under-protected things on spheroid spacecraft.
Where It Comes From:
The Red Moon-God is revealed to our protagonists to be the alien race the Alces Shirasi, last seen in issue #18--though astute readers knew this last issue.  This issue plugs what previously appeared to be a plot hole: "How did the Atlanteans get the same beastmaker device the aliens had?"

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dungeon Games

Like a whole lot of other people in America, I caught The Hunger Games this weekend. I’ve never read the book--I actually kind of avoided it as a young adult, Running Man/Battle Royale ripoff. Apparently, I was a little hasty in my judgement, because I enjoyed the movie quite a bit.

One of the author’s stated inspirations was the myth of Theseus. Young heroes, mazes, and monsters suggest a way that a sort of Hunger Games set-up could be adapted to a typical fantasy rpg set-up.

Sure X-Crawl does some of this, but it's set the in modern day, and seems to view its dungeoncrawlers as celebrity athletes, borrowing inspiration from Running Man to a degree. Things might go a bit differently when (Like The Hunger Games), one plays up more of a American Idol-esque reality show contest aspect. And of course, there’s the sacrifice-chosen-by-lottery part.

Say some great empire (possibly magical or even magitech) demands a tribute of youths from its conquered territories. These teens are given a bit of training then sent into the labyrinth--or dungeon. Other than perhaps multiple monsters, that's pretty much the Theseus set-up, but an empire with D&D-ish magic at its disposal can get a lot closer to the media saturated world of The Hunger Games. Maybe the empire keeps it’s citizens happy bread and circuses style with remote-viewed observation of the dungeon doings.

The set-up would raise some interesting questions. Did the decadent empire build the dungeons for this purpose (and magically create the monsters therein) or are they just exploiting them? Is there a way the young dungeon-crawlers can turn their new abilities and the skills they’ve gained to their advantage?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Scientia Potestas Est

[This relates to my previous "Apocalypse Under Ground" posts, so take a look.]

Wizardry is a curse on all mankind.

This is what the common folk say, and sages acknowledge the rise of arcane knowledge went hand in hand with the emergence of the underground--perhaps more than once in history. Wizards are aware of how they are viewed (and feared) and are unconcerned. When you’ve held the words that encapsulate the true forms of reality in your mind--when you’ve experienced true gnosis--you’re above petty concerns.

Practitioners of the arcane art have always existed. Mostly they’re solitary, exploring their art removed from the intrusion of the mundane world. The opening of the underground changed that. It's entrances glowed like an arcane beacon. Those who might have lived their whole lives without ever knowing they had the talent were transformed by what they encountered, reborn into a new world--if they survived their first delve.

The old wizards came out of seclusion to tutor these fledging sorcerers--and to use them them to grow their own power with secrets wrested from below. In time, the adventuring wizards came to surpass their masters, sometimes frighteningly so. These new grandmasters took apprentices of their own, for much the same reasons--though as wizards grow older and more steeped in the arcane, their thoughts and desires sometimes grow more alien, and their whims more capricious.

One question above all concerns the grandmasters, though they seldom speak of it, even in their rare conclaves of peers: Does the arcane have a life of it’s own? Does the symbolary that is Man’s closest approximation of the true description of the universe have its own agenda? If so, does it favor Man--or the Monsters?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Snake, Giant Constrictor

Science has validated this scene from Milius's ConanTitanoboa cerrejonensis is the largest snake every discovered at up to 50 feet long, 3 feet in diameter at the thickest part of its body, and weighing in at 2500 pounds.  The giant constrictor in the 2nd Edition Monster Manual would be puny in comparison at a mere 30 feet in length--though that would be about the size of Gigantophis, the second largest snake ever discovered

Because the size of anything becomes more relatable when compared to a city bus, here you go:

There's also this life sized model in Grand Central Station (there's a SyFy original in that), captured in mid-swallow:

Titanoboa slithered through the Paleocene, around 58-60 million years ago, but records from that period are spotty at best.  There were probably a few around in ancient Atlantis or Lemuria, or some other forgotten continent.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Brain-Eating Beatniks

Is how the wizard "Amazing" Kreskin described their foes in the graveyard of Barrow Island.  In last night's Weird Adventures game (in Lorefinder), Boris, Kreskin, and Don Diabolico were ambushed by ghoul hooligans out for dangerous kicks.  The punks got danger in a lethal dose: The fact that that were teenagers didn't spare them from the guns of our hardboiled adventurers.  Only one of the three attackers escaped with his life.

The trouble with ghouls didn't stop there.  The casket of John Vandemaur (what the guys had been hired to get) had already been removed from the family crypt.  A little investigation led them to another crypt with the sounds of jazz and poetry recitation coming from within.  Stealthy scouting by Diabolico revealed a number group of young ghouls who not only had the casket they were looking for, but were in the company of the missing debutante, Sue Ann Wylde.

Kreskin's pulled a little hypnotism on them allowed the casket and the girl to be extracted with a shot being fired.  The poetical rebel that led the band of miscreants didn't go down so easy, though.  He had a head full of aklo and was plugged into the dread outsider gods of the anarchists.  He pulled a switchblade made of swirling darkness.  Fortunately for our gang (and unfortunately for the kid) he wasn't impervious to bullets.

Retreiving the casket led to more surprises.  Inside wasn't the body of John Vandemaur, but instead the quite living (and angry), Indrid Bliss.  Bliss was bond and magically gagged by somebody.  He was evasive about how this happened, and who did it, but he seemed to blame John Vandemaur--who he said was still very much alive.

Bliss wasn't much inclined for conversation.  He tried to escape once by a dimenson door, only to be nabbed by Boris.  The group hoped that Heward Kane might be able to illuminate the situation more, but they were denied the opportunity to introduce him to Bliss by the intervention of a gargoyle who spirited Bliss away.

Checking in with Kane they find (unsurprisingly) that's he's at a loss to explain any of this--but he does tell them Viviane Vandemaur (the supposed widow) wants to meet with them.

To be continued.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Full Circle (Part 2)

Let's re-enter the lost world with another installment of my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"Full Circle"
Warlord Annual #3 (1984)
Written by Cary Burkett; Penciled by Dan Jurgens; Inked by Mike DeCarlo.

Synopsis: After a short ride into a canyon, the hunting party (see Part 1) encounters...The Dragon-Lizard!

Daamon explains that the greatest honor goes to the hunter who rides closest to the beast—and he offers Morgan a shot at it. As Morgan urges his mount closer, an arrow flies into its flank. The creature goes down, taking Morgan with it. Worse yet, they’ve attracted the dragon-lizard’s attention.

Shakira rides in to help him, though Morgan warns her against getting too close. After she lands a spear in the monster’s neck, it turns on her.

Morgan jumps on to its back and:

The monster falls dead. Daamon rides up and expresses his relief that neither of them was seriously hurt. Morgan doesn’t buy it—nor the “accident” that caused his mount to fall.

When they get back to the palace, one of Daamon’s lackeys tells him he has an urgent message from the herald of the Red-Moon God. Morgan has Shakira change it cat form to do a little spying as Daamon heads off in a hurry.

Daamon enters a private chamber with a computer and screen. An image of one of the Alaces Shirasi aliens appears. The alien wants to know about the ships that recently landed near the city. Daamon stalls, apparently not wanting to turn the ships over to the aliens. He’s save when the alien detects Shakira’s presence in the room.

Daamon blasts the cat with magic. His power not only traps her but transforms her back into human form. The alien wants her for experimentation. Daamon tries to protest, but the alien reminds him that he owes the Red-Moon for the technology they provided.

Meanwhile, Morgan and the others are working on the timeships. Reno’s figured out a way to use the timeships they have to draw the others out of null-time.

Morgan begins to wander what Shakira’s up to. On his return to the palace, he looks up just in time to see Daamon flying toward the Red Moon on a skysled--with an unconscious Shakira in tow. Morgan grabs one of Daamon’s lackeys and demands to know about the Red Moon. The man tells him that’s where the god dwells—and where Lord Daamon takes the sacrifices. Morgan’s response:

“I’ll see him in hell first!”

To be continued.

Things to Notice:
  • We finally get the origin of the swan-ships.  S.W.A.N. is "Strategic Warfare Alternative, Non-nuclear"
  • The Alces Shirasi are revealed--surprising no one.
Where It Comes From:
Though again we get a hunt with a nonaccidental accident like in issue #40.  The Red Moon-God is revealed to be the alien race the Alces Shirasi, last seen in issue #18.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Curse of the Wolf

Besides the usual sorts of lycanthropes, the City sometimes sees a rarer sort created by an elixir from the Outer Planes. Known as the Potion of Werewolfism, the magical elixir is thought to be brought to the Prime Material Plane by agents unknown from the Land of Beasts. It appears as a shockingly effervescent liquid of shifting color within a somewhat oversized test tube stoppered with a cork.

Imbibing the liquid has the immediate effect of transforming the drinker into an anthropomorphic wolf resembling the inhabitants of the Land of Beasts. Despite the startling change, people encountering the person for the first time in werewolf form will not react as if anything is unusual: such is the extraplanar magic of the potion.  This initial transformation lasts 1d100 minutes, but there is a 50% chance that the potion has given the imbiber the hiccups and each hiccup will bring a shift between forms. After the initial transformation, the imbiber will return to normal, but the wolf form will re-emerge ever night at sundown.

Persons suffering from this werewolfism aren't ravening beast like common lycanthropes but are compulsive carousers and cads. No attractive member of the opposite sex is safe from their crude come-ons. While in werewolf form a individual can be hurt, but quickly shrugs off any damage sustained (regenerating like trolls). They do not have any particular susceptibility to silver.

Victims of this “werewolf curse” often make themselves destitute with their spending and unwelcome in any night-spot in town with their skirt-chasing as they fulfill their wolfish appetites.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wandering Through the Graveyard

Barrow Island now serves as the City's potter's field, but it has been the site of burials going back even to pre-colonial times.  It's located close to Empire Island in the Wyrd River.  Despite it's proximity, there are no bridges with the island as their destination.

The Mortuary Division of the City Department of Hospitals ships an average of around 200 corpses to the island weekly (as well as amputated limbs) from it's offices at Blackmoore Hospital.  The simple and unadorned pine boxes are laid three deep with a marker inscribed with a code by the barrow men.

The public is allowed limited visitation to the island. A ferry leaves from a terminal at the end of 14th Street.  Ferries leave from the terminal at ten in the morning and two in the afternoon.  The return trips from the Barrow Island docks leave at noon and four.  Non-official visitors at other times require special permission.

Here's a rough map of the island (scale: 1 in.=600 ft.):

The dark paths are paved or cobbled roads.  The lighter ones are trails or less well-kept routes.  The building at the junction of the paths is the mortuary headquarters.  Here photos and descriptions are kept on the unidentified bodies in the potter's fields, as well as older burial records of the other cemeteries (if they exist).  The buildings behind it are storage and some staff quarters, and the power plant (a former crematorium).

There are other buildings on the island: the decaying remnants of the former settlement and the shanties of barrow men.

In the south of the island, the dashed line represents the path of the Wychwire Bridge.  One support column of the bridge stands on the island and houses an elevator down from the bridge that can only be accessed with a key.

At night, when the barrow men cluster around their campfires and tell their macabre tales, the island becomes a more dangerous place.  Various forms of undead have been known lurk amid its crypts and mausoleums.  Ghouls (not undead--but cannibalistic) occasionally make in-rounds onto the isle before the Barrow Men can drive them off.  If the tales of the barrow men are to be believed, stranger less well-known horrors are sometimes encountered--but of course, the barrow men don't let truth get in the way of a good story. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

We've All Become God's Madmen

Art by Patrick Jones
[This view of clerics follows from my post "Apocalypse Underground"]

The clerics aren't priests. Before the underground was discovered, Man had priests--and gods whose intercession they sought. Their prayers had been in vain. The old gods had abandoned Man to the monsters.

Then the clerics came. Their gods were unyielding of personifications of law. They marked their chosen with fits, visions, and miracles of faith. Their precepts were few: Destroy chaos and evil, protect the innocent.

The monsters are (in the view of the clerics) chaos and evil manifest. The clerics wage a savage holy war against the denizens of the underground and are willing to martyr themselves in the service of their gods.

The clerics sometimes use titles of the old priestly hierarchy, but all clerical groups are cults founded around a charismatic leader who is considered strong in the faith due to the spiritual power he or she wields.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Down These Mean (Virtual) Streets

The inaugural session of my Google+ Weird Adventures game got off to a shaky start last night, plagued by several technical difficultes: we had sound issues, got kicked out of the hangouts, and had one would be player appear briefly and indistinctly like the monster reveal in a found footage horror film, before winking out never to return.

Still, I'm optimistic Lorefinder (the Pathfiner/GUMSHOE mashup) is going to work well for our purposes, and there was enthusiasm from the players despite the difficulties.

So far, the facts in the case are as follows:

A (self-styled) gentleman thief, a dapper wizard, and a bruiser of an urban ranger took a simple job for celebrity detective Heward Kane:

Kane was working for Viviane Vandemaur, a greiving widow, who was trying to take custody of the body of her dear departed husband, John.  John Vandemaur's Old Money family had never like his wife from the wrong side of the Eldritch River and had had him interred in the family crypt on Barrow Island against her wishes.  Viviane wanted her husband's remains moved a place of her choosing and had managed to get a judge to allow it.  Of course, that was only if the deed could be done before the Vandemaur family got word and put pressure on the legal system to change its mind.

So why hire three adventure-types?  Well, it seems there's been a bit of unrest out on Barrow Island.  Some sort of ghoul incursion.  The possibility of trouble.

Complicating matters even further, there's a debutante gone wild run off with a ghoul bad-boy.  What are the chances this wayward young lady is on the island, too?

I'd say pretty good--and the chance that it will mean more trouble for our heroes is also pretty good.

And what about that gargoyle the party caught sight off?  Was it shadowing them?  And why?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Full Circle

Let's re-enter the lost world with another installment of my issue by issue examination of DC Comic's Warlord, the earlier installments of which can be found here...

"Full Circle"
Warlord Annual #3 (1984)
Written by Cary Burkett; Penciled by Dan Jurgens; Inked by Mike DeCarlo.

Synopsis: When last we left our heroes, they had stopped a nuclear war and averted an apocalyptic future, only to get shunted outside of time. Hurtling out of control in the null-time limbo, two of their ships collide. Bouncing off each other, the two ships ricochet back into the timestream—at a point far from where they left it.

Morgan, Krystovar, Shakira, Reno, and the soldier Cole emerge relatively unscathed from their respective crashes only to be set upon by flying feathered reptiles. As our heroes do battle, they’re being watched by someone who looks familiar:

The Deimos lookalike sends his minions to get our heroes. They arrive on orange triceratops and call off the bird-things with whistles. The dinosaur riders tell our heroes: “Lord Daamon and the Red-Moon Gods invite you to the safety of the City of Challa-Bel-Nalla, jewel of Atlantis.”

Morgan and the gang go along. The Atlanteans use some sort levitation device given to them by the Red-Moon gods to bring the ships along, too. Reno figures these "gods" and their technology might be just what they need to free the rest of the ships from null-time.

When they reach the Atlantean city, Morgan sees the Deimos lookalike standing on a balcony and goes beserk. Sword-drawn, he leaps onto the balcony and is about to kill the man:

Shakira’s nose knows. The guy doesn’t smell like Deimos. It turns out he’s the aforementioned Lord Daamon, but he is descended from the Deimosian Dynasty. Morgan (somewhat hastily) assumes he must be an ancestor of Deimos.

Daamon sends our heroes off to refresh themselves. Hi wife Jezreen asks him why he didn’t kill Morgan for the affront. Daamon wants the ships (he intuits that they mean power) and he needs Morgan and the gang alive to understand them. Still, Morgan’s mistake intrigues him. He decides to consult the nether-spirits to find out what’s going on.

Later, in his ritual chamber, Daamon calls upon the nether-spirits. They tell him Morgan and his friends are from the far future—and that Morgan is an enemy of his and theis. They reveal how Morgan killed the last of the Deimosian line. They bid Daamon kill him.

At dinner, Reno tells Morgan they're stuck here. They dare not use the time ships again without repairs. Morgan thinks there may be something these “gods” they keep hearing about can do. Their conversation is interrupted when Jezreen arrives to give Daamon’s regrets and deliver his invitation to a hunt for the great dragon-lizard tomorrow. Morgan and Shakira accept.

At dawn, the three mount their hadrosaurish steeds. While Daamon has decided he’s unable to strike at Morgan directly, he’s planned on an “accident” befalling Morgan on the hunt.

Things to Notice:
  • Atlantis here doesn't necessarily jive with the Atlantis seen elsewhere in the DC Universe (though admittedly, Warlord hasn't been explicitly placed in continuity at this point).
  • This isn't the first time a hunt as a pretext to murder someone has shown up as a plot device in Warlord.  Ashir's enemies went after him the same way.
  • Deimos's ancestor has the same fashion sense.
Where It Comes From:
Though not much has been revealed yet, this annual seems designed to tie up disparate plot threads.  It references old issues of Warlord more so than anything else  More on this as the review continues.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Games of Chance

The new HBO series Luck is about the world of horse-racing, from the owners and trainers to the jockeys and gamblers. While the show is interesting as a drama, I think I find it even more engrossing for its portrayal of the world of racetracks. It got me to thinking about gambling, whether at the races, with dice or whatever, within the world of a a role-playing game.

Gambling seems exactly the short of pleasure-seeking activity adventurers would engage in to blow off steam between brushes with danger. I’ve seen relatively few settings tackle unique or interesting games, though. The first chapter of the Pathfinder Adventure Path The Second Darkness, “Shadow in the Sky” featured a visit to a casino and opportunities for PCs to partake in several different games, but most of them seemed a bit silly to me.

While gambling appears in a lot of the source literature for fantasy role-playing games, most are only vaguely described as anything more than “dice” or “cards.” Off hand, I can’t think of any that are well detailed. There’s Dragon Poker in Asprin’s Little Myth Marker, but from what I can recall the details given are mostly for laughs a la fizzbin.

Anybody got any interesting forms of gambling making appearances in their settings?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cities of the Red Martian Night

Drop the swords (or maybe keep the swords) and add a little spy pot-boiler paranoia enhanced by heavy use of strange drugs and you can get a Barsoom as envisioned by William S. Burroughs rather than Edgar Rice. Brackett’s Low Canal cities become even seedier as they blur with the hallucinatory Tangier, Interzone.

There’s plenty of material in the ERB corpus that needs only a slight twist: think of the rykors and kaldanes, the synthetic men, the planet men, or the realist and etherealist factions of Lothar. Ras Thavas might get along well with Dr. Benway.

No reason not to borrow from Burroughs’s spiritual descendants too: the atavistic drug shanga, Ramas’ mind-transference, or vampiric Shambleau hustlers. Living turbans from the Vaults of Yoh-Vombis would be all the rage.

You get the idea. It doesn’t take much and Mars gets a lot a more alien.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

John Carter and a Princess of Mars

...Should have been the title of Disney's new film other than just John Carter.  I saw the film last night and recommend it.  It is good exactly in the way sci-fi spectacle adventure films generally are; in other words, its entertaining, but not something you're going to go see for sparkling dialog or deep characters.  If you've read the books, you'll like it.  If you haven't, but you enjoy the aforementioned sort of film, you probably will, too.

The film takes Burroughs's more rambling (if such a short novel can ramble) and episodic novel and weaves it into a more linear plot, which is largely to the good.  Likewise, the script-writers update of Dejah Thoris to an action and science heroine is well done.  She winds up definitely being the "smart one" in her relationship with Carter.  The Green Men (a term never used in the film; they only refer to themselves by their tribes, leading many reviewers to think they're race is called "Tharks") are pretty well-realized and surprisingly true to the books in terms of culture without the film be exposition-heavy (in this regard).

There are a lot of thinks I would have liked to see done different.  The opening prologue/introduction with convoluted layers of narrative, is the clunkiest part of the film.  It winds up having a flashback within a flashback/framing sequence.  They could have gotten all those elements in, but streamlined it.  Dialogue could always be a bit punchier in these sorts of things, and the mean of some terms could have been better conveyed to the uninitiated.  While the costume design or the design for the Green Men aren't exactly what I would have wanted, they turn out okay, and are really just different choices.  The design of the Martian cities, though, seems to be a bit of a misstep as it's rather plain and block, and exhibits no particular sense of wonder. Faithful woola hit the right notes, but the comedy doggishness of the character could have been dialed back from "11" to a "8-9."

Still, some of my quibbles can reasonably be seen as those of a fan who would never be completely happy with any adaptation.  My main point is, if your on the fence because of the negative press, you shouldn't be.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Updates to the Index

In just updated the Weird Adventures Index page with links to some unusual places.  Vacation in devastated Lumiere (pre-War capital of Neustrie) with mutant pigs, mushroom scientists, and a weird glowing blob. 

Or maybe the Planes Beyond are more to your liking? In that case, check out the entry on the idyllic realm of Arcadia, and the therianthropic juke-joints in the Land of Beasts next door.  On the somber side, there's the Plane of Despair.  Shopping opportunities present themselves in Interzone--at least to buy drugs like bug powder and gray dust.

If you'd rather stay home, there are also a couple of posts on guns.

Check those out and more.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ants Marching

Some of the gray-suited and nondescript workers in the office buildings of the City aren’t as bland as they seem. Some of them, tireless behind typewriters or stacks of papers, aren’t just inhuman in their work ethic--but plain inhuman.

These insectoid ultraterrestrials in human disguise are called formians for their resemblance in appearance and social structure to terrestrial ants. Born from flaws of chaos amid the reality mechanisms of Machina, the formians live much like earthly ants on their home plane. Tunneling through the astral understructure, the foraging scouts of the formians found the Prime Material Plane and soon the nuptial flights followed.  Colonies were formed.

The ordered layout of modern buildings appealed to them. Their antennae attuned to the the frequencies of the eikone Management, the formians easily adapted to bureaucracy and regimentedness of office work. Their forms changed to accomodate to their new surroundings; only these with magical sight can perceive them as anything other than somewhat odd humans. Those in close proximity for extended periods, may notice a faint but distinct, vinegary smell.

The formians live in the etheric space coincident and between buildings. Generally, they are not threats to their human co-workers--except that their increasing numbers take more and more jobs, until whole offices are staffed by formians. One should be extremely careful in the basements or boiler rooms of such buildings. Formians will react violently if they feel improper deference is shown their queen, even inadvertently.

Art by Jason Godbout.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Cosplay?!

Here are the Best in Show Trophy winners at 1986's San Diego Comic Con Masquerade: the cast of Warlord!  From left to right we appear to have: Mariah, Shakira, Deimos, Tara, Morgan, Jennifer, Ashiya, Ashir, and Rostov.

More pictures of these costumes can be found here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Weird Adventures Review Grotesque

Jack, your host for Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque, takes a break from his excellent exploration of the Gothic and its use in fantasy gaming to review Weird Adventures.

Check it out.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Guns of the City

Here (for the players in my upcoming Weird Adventures game and anybody else who’s interested) are some common firearms from the City. The type references ("heavy revolver", etc.)  refer to Super Genius Games’ Anachronistic Adventurer: The Enforcer.  Prices are in Union dollars.

Fell Model 61: A semi-automatic pistol.  The official side arm of most of the Union militias and a common civilian weapon (heavy automatic pistol). Cost: $36.75.

Sturm & Linnorm Lawman Special: A six-cylinder revolver. The standard side arm of the City Police Department (heavy revolver). Cost: $32.

Mulciber Model 5876: Pump-action shotgun. One of several shotgun models in current use (light shotgun). Cost: $47.

Thornton Ordinance Auto-Carbine: A popular submachine gun associated with crime, particularly the gangsters of Lake City (submachine gun). $200.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Devastated City Crawl

The idea of “city as dungeon” in the sense of exploring a city is well-established. But what if a city looked more like the ruins or dungeons that fantasy adventurers are more commonly crawling through?

History (and sometimes current events) provide examples of good urban environments for this sort of thing.  Other examples can be found in fiction: Stalingrad in the film Enemy at the Gates or (from fantasy) Ambergris from Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch and Seattle from Cherie Priest's Boneshaker. The only question is how “dungeon-like” versus how “functional” the city is.

Here’s how it could work: The city would be torn apart by internal factions. One or more of these could be an invader, but this is also a chance to inject some political strife. The key is that, however it started, the fighting has largely degenerated into a stalemate. Different factions (or species) hold different areas, and raids occur, but not full-on warfare. Areas in between might be occupied by neutral opportunists. Some of these would likely be monsters that roamed, smelling blood in the air.

This sort of “dungeon” doesn’t have to have just one level. In a world were magic might have allowed tall buildings, there may be areas stratified by height. If some form of bombs, aerial shelling, or gas attacks have been employed, there might well be a network of tunnels underground, too.

This sort of scenario suggests one big difference from the usual dungeon-delving set-up. It might very well be that the PCs are living in the "dungeon" themselves rather than just visiting it. The safe retreat for healing becomes a lot less safer, and the struggle with the city’s other denizens becomes more of an existential concern. The “points of light” are a little dimmer--and the stakes are higher.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Apocalypse Under Ground

He could barely remember a life before the refugee camp. His family had fled there like the others when their village had been overrun. They were without his two sisters; they had been carried away to fill monsters’ cookpots, perhaps. While he spent his days begging for food to feed his family, the monsters took his father, too. Maimed and in constant pain, his father had died with the beak of some leech-thing in his arm—a drug sold to those without hope by agents of the mind-flayers.

If the cleric was to be believed, the monsters took his mother as well. Even then, boy that he was, he knew enough to be skeptical. The wasting sickness that claimed her seemed all too common in the conditions of the camp—gods know he’d seen it enough. The cleric, evangelizing among the refugees, had claimed it was a magical disease sent by the monsters. The clerics always blamed the monsters. Their gods were as hungry for monster blood as the monsters seemed for the blood of man.

The boy didn’t care about the truth. He found a makeshift club, beat some scavenged nails into it, and joined the new crusade. Down he went, with a few veterans but many more hollow-eyed youths, into the lair of the foes of man, into the underground. The boy had survived. He had watched most of the others die in horrible ways: cut down, rended, chewed, dissolved. He had survived.

That was years ago. He barely remembered how young he had been—how weak he had been. Wounds that would have been fatal before now healed within days. He was strong and fast. The underground changed you. The trick was not to change too much. Some scholars thought that many of the tribes of monsters had once been men, in ages past.

Those same sages said it had always been like this. When a civilization mastered enough magic to discover the undergrounds, the war started. Who built them, no one could say. All the beings fighting for them now were like babes crawling through a grand temple in search of a toy. They understood so little. They knew only that there was treasure to be had: the doors in the depths through which the most ancient monsters traveled, the magic they fought over, and the gold that drew the poor and the greedy.

And no one—not goblins, not trolls, not dragons or men—was inclined to share.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Treasures from the Underground

Adventurers delve into the underground environments of the City and the Strange New World looking for treasure. This comes in the form of relatively mundane riches and more exotic items imbued with magical power. The Ancients are generally believed to have been the builders of the underground structures, but the treasure within them comes from various sources.

Many of the mundane objects of archaeological interest found in the underground do represent the material culture of the Ancients. It’s unclear why the Ancients built the underground structures in the first place. Some are certainly tombs and are filled with the usual valuable burial goods: objects of art (many of precious metal), coins, and jewelry. Some personal weapons or armor bearing enchantments are found. The mummies themselves, embalmed by magical means, are sometimes sought by unscrupulous thaumaturgists. They can be used to “fuel” spells--though they are sometimes cursed to prevent such desecration. A few aren’t dead, but instead undead and rise to wreck vengeance on would-be defilers.

The Ancients apparently didn’t produce many magical devices--at least not that still have power (it’s long been known that thaumaturgical infusion has a half-life in nonliving things). Scrolls are the most common. Potions and ointments are almost never found; the Ancients appear to have had no real understanding of the alchemical sciences.

The Natives seemed to have mostly avoided the places of the Ancients, perhaps out of superstitious dread. Few of their artifacts, magical or otherwise, are found in the underground. There are exceptions, of course, and in the West there are structures they may have been built by Native cultures influenced by the Ancients.

Ealderdish explorers and tomb-robbers of earlier eras left their mark on the underground. Coins from historical periods and magical armor and weapons are found--often next to the moldering remains of their previous owners. Most magic armor or clothing found will be related to the Ealderdish. Some have lost their potency over time; others have been spoiled by exposure to raw magical elements (or whatever killed their previous owners) and are now “cursed” or malfunctioning.

Finally, there are anomalous items. These are either products of nonhuman species or otherwordly intelligences. Many underground structures are built around “soft spots” in the material plane, more susceptible to irruption. Indeed, one theory regarding the structures is that they are large scale mandalas or sigils for the purpose of concentrating and controlling extraplanar energy. These anomalous items are often the most dangerous--their purpose can often only be guessed at.