Friday, June 29, 2012

If You've Ever Wondered...

I'm kind of tired of packing and unpacking--having just got home from Cincinnati.  I have not the energy to whip up an original blog entry for you folks, today.  However, I've updated the Weird Adventures Index with some posts you might have missed.

First off, peruse the "Highlights from the Dungeoneering Medicine Conference." Then check out some "Wonders from the Planes." Finally, flip through the City's photo album with my very first picture post from 2010 "Images from the City"--or if that doesn't suit you, you can attend "The Wizard's Estate Sale."

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Night at the Capricorn

When visiting Losantiville in the Steel League, one might want to visit the bar at the opulent Capricorn Hotel. It’s two floors with a central bar and a pianist providing entertainment.

Of course, there are--oddities. Sometimes, magically sensitive individuals get a feeling they’re being watched.  This is particularly acute in the vicinity of the ram’s head relief on the wall between the staircases, behind the piano.  This might bring to mind rumors of cults going back to frontier times. The black goat they served (according to some stories) was either a pagan god of fertility, a capo of the Hell Syndicate--or both.

Other stories suggest the goat wasn't a deity--at least not at first.  Instead, the original black goat was a human sacrifice who insured the communities continued prosperity by receiving the weight of its sins.  Over time, the misplaced guilt of Losantiville became an entity unto itself, a grim spectre of retribution.

If one’s alone, it’s best not to drink too much or linger near closing time. Old gods may weaken, but seldom die.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Skartaris Revealed

Still out of town, so the meat of Warlord Annual #4 must wait another week.  However, I thought I'd put up the map of Skartaris that appeared in that issue.  Long time followers of this blog will protest that I've posted this map before (and I have) but for the first time I'm posting the key and discussion that appeared along with it in that issue:

Monday, June 25, 2012

From Where?

Real life has intruded on my blogging.  My current location is the home of Superfriends' Hall of Justice--or at least its real world stand-in.  Any guesses as to where that might be? (no internet searching now!)

Anyway, From the Sorcerer's Skull will return to its regular programming as soon as possible.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Tourist in Other Worlds

While I’m increasingly ambivalent about Google+ overall, I’m completely positive on gaming via Hangouts.  Not only have I been playing my Weird Adventures game there, I’ve gotten a chance to play with some other bloggers in their games.

Twice now, Horvendile Early, gambler and pistoleer, has ventured forth into the wilds of Erik’s Wampus Country. Orwendill, fighter and artist (of tasteful nudes) has had one outing with that dubious coterie, the Nefarious Nine, in Chris Kutalik’s Hill Cantons.  Tonight, an as yet unnamed Chaos-tainted soldier from a grim future is going to kill things as a part of a Warband courtesy of Mike Davison.

I’m also playing in Scott’s (he of the Huge Ruined Pile) strict textualist AD&D game, though that’s play by post via G+.

The gaming itself is great, after so much writing about gaming, but what I may like even more is getting to put a face and voice to all those posts I’ve read.  I suppose that sort of connecting with folks in a shared hobby is exactly the sort of stuff social media is suppose to for.  

That and pictures of cute animals with humorous captions.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Planet of the Elves

Here are some images from the future world where Man is only a dim memory...

Many young elves heed the call to adventure, despite the fact their simple and pleasure-loving society sees their actions as odd--perhaps even aberrant.  The elvish word for "hero" carries the connotation of "fool."

The shimmering sprites are sometimes found in old forests.  These beings claim to be visitors from metal cities which circle the earth like the moon. Right-thinking dwarves don't believe such foolish tales.

Though their numbers are few, ancient dragons know many secrets and will impart them--for a price.

Mutated cultists haunt subterranean ruins.  Not only are they dangerous, but their ideas are theologically suspect.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Who's Who

Before I embarked on Warlord Annual #4, I though I should recap the major characters of the series for any new readers.  So here we go. The cast of Warlord:

The Warlord's family:
The Warlord - Travis Morgan: Former pilot in the USAF, he now fights injustice in the hollow world of Skartaris.

Tara: Mate of Travis Morgan, queen of the city of Shamballah.

Tinder (Joshua): The son of Morgan and Tara. Believed by his parents to be dead due to the machinations of the demon-priest Deimos, Joshua is known to them now as the former street urchin and sneak-thief, Tinder.

Jennifer Morgan: Skartaris's sorceress supreme. She's Morgan's daughter by his first (now deceased) wife. She followed her father to Skartaris but found her own destiny.

His companions:

Shakira: Women who turns into a cat or cat who turns into a woman? She keeps her secrets

Machiste: Former king of Kiro and Morgan's companion from his gladiator days.

Mariah Romanov: Machiste's lover. A Russian archeologist and fencing champion who came with Morgan back to Skartaris after he briefly returned to the surface world.

Ashir: King of Kaambuka. Self-styled second greatest thief in Skartaris.

Krystovar: A healer and seeker of ancient knowledge. He spent his life fighting the New Atlanteans for taking his brother.

Scarhart: Taciturn warrior and last of his tribe from a parallel world.

His enemies:

Deimos: The former priest of Thera, Deimos had mastered both magic and ancient Atleantean technology. After many return battles, he appears to have finally been killed.

Saaba: A witch with the ability to turn into a raven. She bears a grudge against Morgan and is now working with the New Atlanteans.

Lord Sabretooth: Beast-man and leader of the New Atlantean forces in Skartaris. He has sworn personal revenge against Morgan.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Methods of Magic: Dreadstar

I’ve been thinking about how magic is portrayed in works in various media and how there might be some tidbits that could enliven rpg magic.  I’ve delved in the broad strokes of different portrayals of magic before, but now I think I’ll look at some specific cases.  First up, Dreadstar.

Dreadstar is Jim Starlin’s comic book space opera about a group of super-powered rebels fighting the galactic theocracy, the Instrumentality. It’s got aliens, robots, psionic powers--and magic. Like in Empire of the Petal Throne (and the real world for much of history), magic in Dreadstar seems the province of people in special clerical orders which study and communicate with the gods of the Instrumentality and related supernatural forces. One of these groups (or perhaps the sole group) is named as the Order of Vieltoor. There are renegade or “infidel” sorcerers, but the only two we see in the series are unsual (one is the offspring of a human woman and a demon).

In the origin of Dreadstar’s sorcerous protagonist, Syzygy Darklock, we see him summoning a demon in usual ritual magic fashion. In the process, we are told that planes of reality exist, which are less adventuring places than metaphysical ones, and are depicted in a vaguely Ditko-ish manner.  We are told the gods store their power on “the eleventh level of reality.”

At the end of that story, Syzygy is said to have gained power perhaps equal to one of the Instrumentaility’s gods, which (if not hyperbole) is interesting given that he appears superhuman but can be knocked out by things that would kill a normal human.

While spells are spoken of (and named) in Dreadstar, they mostly seem to fall into the “magic as energy manipulation” territory. Spells appear to be patterns of energy that adepts can recognize, not formula. Perhaps there are mental algorithms associated with spells. We only see hand gestures, never incantations (except with rituals).

The most commonly utilized spell is the mystic bolt. This seems to come in degrees of strength from just injuring/damaging to disintegration. Flight and levitation appear nearly effortless--at least to the super-powerful Syzygy. Circular magical shields (which can shatter when hit with sufficient force) are frequently used--at one point a guy projects small versions of these from his eye! Cubic or spherical area shields seem to require more effort. Sufficiently powerful adepts are able to feel magical power in others like jedi sensing the force. Syzgy at least is able to quick open portals to places where tentacled things dwell.

There are limits to magical power. Expending too much can strain the sorcerer physically and cause him to lose consciousness. Things that significantly disrupt concentration (“hypersonic” beam directed into the skull) prevent the use of spells.

Overall, magic in Dreadstar shows its comic book origins. It bears a greater resemblance to sorcery in Doctor Strange than in literary fantasy. It's probably most easily modeled in a rpg system that accommodates superhero powers.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Game is (Almost) Afoot!

With two Weird Adventures games about to kick off (one face-to-face with WaRP, and the other with Lorefinder on Google+), there are few rumors and events in the City that might be of interest to one or the other groups of players:

Cyrus Westerly died 10 years ago, but in accordance with his wishes, his estate has yet to be settled. Westerly’s lawyer and executor, Rothger Croston, has summoned the five potential heirs to the remote and decaying Westerly Mansion on the Eldritch, north of the City. It’s rumored the will has some eccentric provisions.

Barton Blanchefleur, Hell Syndicate “made man” and notorious germophobe, has got a new moll that fits his usual all-white wardrobe: a young dame with white hair.

Millionaire thaumaturgist, Charles Ranulf Urst, passed away a couple of months ago, and no one has yet to enter his mansion--everybody’s too afraid of magical traps. Interestingly, his lawyers (Shreck and Wail) have recently been seen in the City taking private meetings with adventurer types.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Terror Birds

Giant birds show up pretty frequently in fantasy art. The phorusrhacos and diatryma represent the group in game products, and are joined by fictional giant fightless birds. Check out this size comparison chart, though.  There's a whole untapped range of them:

Check out the size of the beak on Kelenken there.  It's the largest beak on any known bird.  An adventurer killing beak.

Now, all of those guys are sort of the usual suspect flightless carnivores. There's also the extinct Kairuku penguin which stood over 4 feet tall. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

700 posts and a hobgoblin

Some elves and dwarves fail to learn the lesson of the doom of Man and seek knowledge and power at any cost. Hobgoblins are the twisted remnant of elvish or dwarvish mages who were corrupted by their contact with the Outer Dark, bartering their souls either all at once or piecemeal, until they were transformed into something more--and less--than what they had been.

AC: 2 or better
HD: 5+
Attacks: claw (1d6)
Special: spells (as Magic-User of level equal to hit dice); chilling laugh (causes paralysis with fear in beings 4HD or below on failed saving throw)

Hobgoblins have lairs in creepy locales, dark plots and sinister henchmen (villainous elves or dwarves, cyborg monstrosities, demons, or umber hulks are possibilities). All hobgoblins are mad to one degree or another (feel free to roll on a Palladium rpg insanity table or the like). Sometimes their madness dilutes their evil purpose, but it also increases their unpredictability.

If brought to zero hit points, hobgoblins will often explode--messily.  They will reform by the next new moon unless their soul is found and destroyed.  Their souls are always kept hidden but generally close by.  They have the appearance of insects or other crawling things molded from congealed shadow--inky black, confection-sticky,and unpleasant in texture. These souls can be destroyed by fire or magic, but possessing one affords a means to leverage a hobgoblin to do the possessors bidding.

And that's 700 posts, folks.Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Dragon Doom

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...

"Dragon Doom"
Warlord #95 (July 1985)
Written by Cary Burkett; Art by Adam Kubert.

Synopsis: At the end of last issue, Morgan and Shakira were caught between a cliff overlooking a waterfall and a band of Vashek assassins! An assassin jumps from above and accidentally knocks them all over the edge.  They plunge into the deep water below.  Only Morgan and Shakira come up.

As soon as they’re back on dry land, Morgan is off after Hawk.  The pirate drugged them and took off with the Princess Hooranami and her slave—and also stole Morgan’s helmet.  The two come across a dead tyrannosaur, which puzzles Morgan because he wonders what could have killed it.  There are cloven-hoofed tracks around it of unknown origin.  They don’t have too long to consider this mystery as a hungry pack of hyenadons show up, making a hasty exit wise.

Far away in the Shamballan camp, Ashir is looking for Tinder, whom he suspects of stealing his lockpick. When Jennifer tells him that the Evil One’s gem has been stolen from the locked chest, they’re both certain that Tinder is possessed by that ancient evil.

Back on the island, Hawk is walking along, bantering with the haughty princess, when Morgan’s helmet is lifted off his head. He looks up to find Morgan pointing a sword right at his eye. Morgan figures it’s high time the two had that duel to see who’s the better swordsman, but…

The odds aren’t in our heroes’ favor, though. The Vasheks are too numerous. Unfortunately, the princess and her old slave are too slow and would get caught if they tried to run for it.  There are no good options.

A horn sounds. The cavalry arrives—literally.

The Vasheks are tough, but in the end they’re outmatched. As soon as the battles over, the princess tells the knights that Morgan and crew kidnapped her from the palace. Luckily, Odanak backs up the true story. Khord, leader of the knights, decides to take them all to Lord Kaldustan, Hooranami’s father.

Kaldustan knows his daughter well.  He proclaims Morgan and the others honored guests and offers them great rewards. He offers Hawk and Morgan both a pair of tricorns. When Hawk refuses (he wants money), he gives both pairs to Morgan, and lets Hawk take some diamonds from the treasure room.

Morgan tells Kaldustan of the war he’s fighting. The island lord is willing to help, but the sea monster traps them on the island. Morgan offers to kill it in exchange for the help of Kaldustan and his knights.

But how to kill it? It has scales too tough for any blade. Morgan’s got a plan.  He builds a giant crossbow that can be mounted on a ship and constructs a giant bolt with a diamond point to shoot from it.

The promise of more riches gets him Hawks help, and the two sail out to slay the monster. All doesn’t go as planned when it comes up behind them and smashes the crossbow with its tail.

Morgan will have to improvise. He snatches up the diamond-headed spear…

Kaldustan gives them more diamonds in gratitude and pledges his support of Morgan’s cause.

Morgan makes the exchange with Hawk for the former slaves.  As the pirate captain sails away, Shakira notices he’s stolen of the chest of diamonds Kaldustan gave Morgan.

Things to Notice:
  • Everyone one but Hooronami and Odanak seem stereotypic comic book golden-skinned Asians. Why are those two different?
  • The island is pretty large to be unknown to mainland Skartarians.  It certainly has quite a bit of megafauna on it.
Where It Comes From:
The tricorns have goat-like cloven hooves and goatees like the classical image of the unicorn.

The cultural of the island is clearly intended to reflect cultures of East Asia. It's the first time we've seen this in the Warlord saga. The names (with a few exceptions) don't tend to go along with the Chinese/Japanese mashup of the material culture.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Slime Emotional Spectrum

If power rings can come full spectrum, so can slimes.  Let's run the list:

Red: The color of blood, these slimes are drawn to violence or displays of anger. They show up just after battles to absorb victor and victim alike. As they dissolve prey, their color deepens.
Orange: In some ways, these slimes (which have the look and consistency of pulped oranges) are the most sinister. Drawn to cheerful moods, they wait to take adventurers leaving dungeons after successful delves. Chemicals in their substance cause uncontrollable laughter in those they attack.
Yellow: Timid in their movements, these slimes feed off cowardice and fear. Fleeing adventures or monsters will draw their attention.
Green: Greed and avarice bring this species oozing out of the darkness. They tend to lie in wait around treasure troves.
Blue: Sadness and depression are the lures for these. They tend to try to trap creatures in a room for which there is no escape. They move in slowly, seeming to savior the despair as it builds.
Indigo: More rarefied in their appetites than others (if a slime can be said to be rarifed) these slime seek to absorb magic-users and others seeking transcedence through knowledge. Magic tomes and ancient inscriptions draw them. They may wait quiescent for years for a victim in the right mindset.
Violet: These slime do something positive on their own perverse way.  As they flow over victims they bring calm and soothe negative emotions.  This is no doubt a solace to the person so consumed.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

WaRPed D&D

Getting ready for this afternoon's Weird Adventures game using the WaRP system (the OGL rules set derived from Over the Edge, just in case you haven't heard) got me to thinking about how WaRP and D&D could be hybridized, at least partially. Why would anyone want to? Well, because they're there.  More seriously, because I wonder if D&D with a more freeform style character creation system would still work pretty much like D&D?

And I saw somebody do it with Tunnels & Trolls, which gave me the initial idea.

Anyway, characters in WaRP are defined by three traits and a flaw.One of these traits is a central trait (i.e.more central to the character concept), and the other two are side traits. These are freeform and player-defined with GM input. These traits are all related to dice pools, where their rating is the number of dice used.

You could adapt this to D&D by having the central trait be character class (or race/class, if you like). You could do these strictly D&D , so player's just choose from a list, or freeform (within reason) defining new classes would be relatively easy, so long as their abilities could be analogized to old classes. Now, instead of dice pools, for D&D you would just use bonuses.  Maybe the central trait isn't associated with a bonus, or maybe it gives a +1 to abilities related to your class (to hit for fighter, spell slot for magic-users, rolling for some thief-y thing for thieves--whatever).

The side traits could handle special character defining abilities, but could also take the place of ability scores. Ability scoreless D&D has been discussed before since they don't do much in OD&D besides (at best) provide a bonus for a limited number of specific situations. You could define these two side traits as one for "physical" and one for "psychic/social." So a player could be "strong" or "quick" for the former and "learned" or "natural leader" for the latter with an associated bonus (+1, +2, or whatever depending on the edition of D&D your working with). Of course, they could stay completely open too. Any ability coming into play where one didn't have a bonus from a trait would just be the equivalent of an average, bonusless "10."

Flaws would work like the side trait except in reverse: "clumsy"or "frail," for instance.  Or, it could be a freeform trait.

Random generation of characters is part of what a lot of people enjoy about D&D, but you could do that here, too.  Just make a chart of side traits with appropriate bonuses, and flaws with appropriate penalties, and have the players' role.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cool Maps, Weird World

I've talked about Marvel's fantasy series Weirdworld before. If you missed it, go read that post.  I'll wait.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a couple of maps that appeared in the saga:

This one's the same thing, but with some locales noted:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ferris Wheel, Longship, and A Dinosaur Graveyard

You might have seen Berlin's derelict Spreepark in the film Hanna or in photos on the internet. In any case, it seems like it would make a great setting for an adventure.  Post-apocalyptic gaming comes immediately to mind, but it wouldn't take much imagining to turn it into some wizard's bizarre garden in a fantasy game.

To make that easier, here's a map:

Here's the Dragon-prowed longship:

And the swan boats:

How do these things fit together? You decide.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Warlord Wednesday: Assassin's Prey

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...

"Assassin's Prey"
Warlord #94 (June 1985)
Written by Cary Burkett; Art by Mike Chen.

Synopsis: Morgan has barely returned to the camp, when he’s leaving again to go meet the pirate, Captain Hawk. Shakira decides to tag along.

When the two reach the camp at the mount of the Ramphos River they find an ambush by Vashek assassin’s waiting:

Morgan’s gun and Shakira’s transformation give them the element of surprise, and they’re able to make a break for it. The assassin’s catch don't let them get far, though. The Vashek are deadly warriors, but they’ve pissed off the Warlord and he goes all berserker on them. Cutting his way to Shakira, he throws her over his shoulder and scrambles up a tree—then starts doing his Tarzan imitation carrying an unconscious woman! The Vashek assassins can’t keep up, or are too stunned to.

Morgan’s luck runs out when a branch breaks in his hand. He falls to the forest floor and is knocked unconscious.

Back in the camp, Tara is lonely and sad over the loss of the armlet Morgan gave her. She’s looking for someone to talk to and sees Graemore, but she knows she needs to stay away from her former lover.

Meanwhile, Ashir continues to “watch out” for Tinder by teaching him lockpicking skills. After the lesson, Ashir puts the pick he was letting Tinder use back in its hiding place under his belt.

Morgan and Shakira wake up to find themselves surrounded by Hawk and a group of his pirates. Hawk starts to extort more money from the Warlord, but they’ve both got another enemy. The Vashek assassins attack. Outnumbered badly, Hawk, Morgan, and Shakira make a run for Hawk’s boat on the shore. They escape the assassins and have a moment for Hawk and Morgan to try star each other down again:

Then, an orange sea reptile attacks and overturns the boat. All the men are killed but Morgan and Shakira are able to swim to a nearby barge—where Hawk has already hauled himself aboard and has his sword point at the throat of an old man in a loincloth.

The barge belongs to a Princess Hooranami who gets all imperious and demanding with them until Shakira knocks her on her ass. The old man suggests they should sail back to the island of Kasamaga. Hooranami ran away against her father’s wishes. The people of the isle are forbidden from crossing to the mainland due to the danger of the monster.

Meanwhile, the Vashek assassin’s haven’t given up. They climb a cliff to use the Dakoth-Shurka Technique—which means building hang-gliders to fly over the head of the monster.

Back at Fire Mountain, Ashir goes looking for Jennifer and finds her staring at the Evil One’s gem looking all evil and possessed. She turns her him and she says: “I’ll fry you to a patch of stinking grease,” but then she manages to shake free. Despite what just happened, Jennifer is still mainly concerned that the gem will corrupt Tinder. He won’t be able to resist its narcotic like effect. Ashir again suggests she destroy it, and she says she will after a rest. As Ashir leaves, he notices his lockpick is missing from it's hiding place.

Back on the island, Shakira has left the others to hunt and falls asleep in the sun after her meal. Hawk gives Morgan some drugged soup and Morgan is out, too. They awaken to the Vashek assassins bearing down on them—and a precipice at their only route of escape!

Things to Notice:
  • It seems odd that our heroes aren't familiar with Kasamaga island when it's so close to an area they do seem familiar with.
  • Attention to detail is important: the very modern looking padlock on the box where Jennifer keeps the Evil One's gem has a bat on it.
Where It Comes From:
The orange (a common color for prehistoric monsters in Skartaris) sea creature looks sort of like a mosasaur.

Given the Japanese-evoking names of Kasamaga and Hooranami, the loincloth clad elder Odanak probably derives his name from Oda Nobunaga.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Beneath the wilds east of the domain of the dwarves, there is a series of caves and grottoes, lit crimson and cast in flickering shadow by ever-burning fires. This subterranean realm is know as Hell.

Hell’s most famous entrance (though there are rumored to be many) is located in a lonely ruin near the sea. It’s accessible through a door in the mouth of statue of a giant head. Near the head is a runic legend that resists translation: “D NTE’   NFEFNO-L N !” The head’s leering and horned visage is said to be in the likeness of Hell’s sardonic ruler. He names himself Mephisto (though he has other names) and appears as a Man of ancient times, save for the small horns on his brow and the ever present flicker of flame in his eyes.

Lord Mephisto is not confined to his domain. He tends to appear when people are at their most desperate to offer a bargain. And a contract. Souls are typically his price and stories say that he doesn’t wait until a person’s death to collect them. Unwise bargainers and those who blunder into Hell unaware find themselves in the clutches of Mephisto and his minions: snickering fiends with crimson skins, horns, and often, batwings. Smiling, they escort captives to one grotto or another and enthusiastically apply some torture or torment.

There have been a lucky few to escape Hell’s clutches. Their tales are difficult to comprehend, even considering the strange nature of the place. They speak of a room full of copies of Mephisto in repose upon slabs and glimpses of ancient devices of Man behind the torture tableaux.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Roll Credits and A Roundtable

With "Team Victory" having completed their first mystery in the City, I figured it was time to give credit to the players and nonplayer's alike:

A Weird Adventures Mystery



Pat Wetmore as "AMAZING" CRESKIN


and featuring:


Joseph Cotten as INDRID BLISS



Errol Flynn as HEWARD KANE

Cousin Eerie as TOOMBS

Tuesday Weld as Sue Ann Wilde 

Also, last night Erik came in from Wampus Country and Jason managed to shake off the Dust so we could sit down and discuss fantasy America and its use in gaming.  If the three of us talking like experts arouses your interest or your schadenfreude, check out the video at one of their sites linked above.