Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Wednesday Comics: Rann Mapped

Rann, as originally appearing in Showcase #17 (1958) is in the Alpha Centauri system. It's home to an advanced civilization reminiscent of advanced civilizations throughout planetary romance--which is to say advanced in some ways but without a lot of infrastructure to get in the way of adventuring. The person doing the adventuring in this case is Adam Strange, archaeologist from Earth who is brought to Rann by the Zeta Beam, ostensibly an attempt at communication (though Alan Moore suggests its creator had teleportation in mind all along).

Though Adam Strange had a good run in his early adventures and has been brought back for later series, all this traversing of Rannian geography has never been accompanied by a map. Jack C. Harris addressed that lack in The Amazing World of DC Comics #8 (1974):

Harris scoured Adam Strange's appearances to get all the details:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Azurthite Bestiary: Deodand, Leprous

Deodands are a horrible danger in the darkness of Subazurth, and the Leprous Deodand is perhaps the most feared of the lot. Not only do they favor humankind in preference to all other meals, but they spread a wasting disease to many who are lucky enough to escape their clutches. The no doubt terror-tinged recollections of their appearance agree on most points: They are giantish, like other deodands, but with an emaciated look. Their sore-marked and flaking skin hangs in loose folds as if they are wasting away within it. Their lips are receded back from their mouths lending them a permanent rictus. Their eyes are wide and vacant. The only sound they make is a desiccated wheeze or sigh, or a corpse-moan.

large monstrosity, neutral evil
AC 20 (natural armor)
Hit Points: 126 (12d10+60)
Speed: 30 ft.
STR 17(+3) DEX 18(+4) CON 20(+5) INT 12(+1) WIS 12(+1) CHA 17(+3)
Saving Throws  Dex +8 Con +9 Wis +5
Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons that aren't silvered
Damage Immunities poison
Senses Truesight 60 ft., passive Perception 11.

Magic Resistance. A leprous deodand has an advantage against spells and other magical effect.
Contagion. A creature that touches a leprous deodand or is touched or hit by it must make a DC 15 Constitution save or become infected. One day later the individual develops a flesh rotting which gives a vulnerability to all damage. At the end of each long rest, the infected must make a DC 15 Constitution save or the disease progresses. At the end of the next long rest the disease has spread so that they have a disadvantage to Charisma checks. At the end of the second long rest they can a disadvantage on Constitution checks. Three successful saves cause the disease's progression to halt and healing to begin. Three failures mean the effects become permanent.
Sunlight Weakness. In anything brighter candlelight, a deodand have a disadvantage to attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws. Bright sunlight causes them to melt like film in a projector, losing i hit dice worth of hit points a round.

Multiattack. A leprous deodand may make two claw attacks.
Rotting Claw. +8 to hit. 10 ft. reach, 1 target. Hit: 10 (1d6+7) plus 1d6 necrotic damage.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

In Doom's Wake

My girlfriend's gaming group is interested in giving 5th edition a whirl, so I agreed to run a game for them. I don't know if I'll be able to get it finished in time, but I've love to run an adventure idea I've had some some time (and used part of in my Weird Adventures campaign). It involves an unusual gang of pirates marauding coastal villages. The pirate's have a small fotilla, a bit like a miniature version of Armada in China Mieville's The Scar, but embedded in a drifting mass of seaweed and mist like in  William Hope Hodgson Sargasso Sea story.

At the center of floating mass is main pirate ship, the massive Doom's Wake:

It is home (or at least throne-room) for the monstrous witch-mother of the inbred pirate family--a crew like a combination of The Hills Have Eyes/Sawney Bean clan and Shadow Over Innsmouth.

That's the basic I think the location itself will provide some interest challenges, plus the pirates and various seaweed-lurking monsters.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Azurth Creature Catalog (so far)

Here (with a new illustration of the hirsute deodand by Matthew Adams) is an index of all the Azurthite bestiary posts I've done so far:

Aarakocra & Azer  Peacock-folk of a distant island and fiery dwarfs fallen from the sun
Behir & Beholder Faux-intellectual murders and an insane alien ruler
Bugbear The nightmare in the closet or under the bed.
Death Dwarf beings of anti-life.
Deodand: Gleimous and Hirsute if it's dark, you are likely to get eaten by one.
Hobgoblin when a goblin warlock goes to far, this is what they become.
Manhound "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
Moon Goon will be coming soon in their lead balloons, and everyone will know fear.
Super-Wizard possess magic of a forgotten age
Tigerpillar part-tiger, part-inchworm, all hunger.

The new races for Azurth can be found here.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Strange Glamour of Virid

"Virid, the Western Country of Azurth, is the place where magic of the faerie is the strongest. There are a few mundane places there. Or perhaps it is truer to say the fantastic is the mundane in Virid. It's Queen Desira is called an Enchantress by those of other countries, either for her beauty, her sorcery, or perhaps both. Certainly, she has ensnared the hearts of her people, though they speak of her compassion and fairness, and the brave deeds she performed in her youth."

-  A History of the Land of Azurth

High Concept: A patchwork fantasyland ruled by a faerie-descended Enchantress, brave and beautiful, who with her companions sought adventure and love in her youth.
Conspectus: an inland sea of mists with a castle beneath its roiling color; creatures of myth and legend abound: mermaids, centaurs, unicorns; many of the rulers were once friends and companions on adventures--but also rivals for the affections of Queen Desira.
Media Inspirations: Wonder Woman comics in the Golden Age and her imitators; She-Ra: Princess of Power and her rival Golden Girl; the various incarnations of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, some magical girl anime and manga projected into the future when the magical girls are adults.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wednesday Comics: Weirdworld

"Where Lost Things Go"
Weirdworld #1 (August 2015), Written by Jason Aaron; Art by Michael Del Mondo

Synopsis: Arkon, Lord of Warlords, has been fighting is way across the land he has dubbed "Weirdworld," one of the sections of Battleworld, looking for his lost home of Polemachus. Finding himself on a floating island, after defeating a group of squidsharks, he is about to give in to despair and step off the edge, when a group of ogres trying futilely to wrangle a flying dragon comes in view.

Arkon grabs hold to one of the ropes on the dragon and holds on as it dives to attack the ogre's friends in a tank below. The dragon with a little help from Arkon makes short work of the ogres. Arkon manages to climb onto the dragon's back. The two fly along for a while, but then the dragon swallows a piece of over-sized bait, shot up on a line from a body of water below. The two are dragged into the depths, where Arkon encounters:

Apes in diving suits.

Meanwhile, the surviving gun ogres report back to their mistress. They tell her that the man they fought called himself Arkon spoke of a place called Polemachus.

The name (and fantasy elements) are the only things this series seems to have in common with the Doug Moench/Mike Ploog created series in the '70s. (I've discussed that one before.) This one seems to be a hodge-podge of Marvel weird pulp fantasy elements--and things re-imagined as weird pulp fantasy, not unlike the DC Elseworld JLA: Riddle of the Beast did with a more high fantasy approach.

Arkon and Polemachus first appeared in Avengers vol. 1 #75 (1970). Arkon was the leader of a war-like extradimensional realm that was always coming into conflict with superheroes of earth for one reason or another. He and his macho warriors eventually went to war with Thundra and her gynocratic regime in Femizonia--before Arkon and Thundra fall in love.

Morgan Le Fay also has a long Marvel history. She first appeared in the Atlas era in Black Knight Comics #1 (1955). Her first official Marvel Universe appearance was Spider-Woman vol. 1 #2 (1978). 

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Weird Monsters of Krypton

Yesterday, I posted the map of Krypton and suggested it as a setting for a weird fantasy game. What would be a weird fantasy game without weird monsters? Don't worry. Krypton has got that covered too. Here's a brief list:

Drang: A giant, purple serpentine creature with a single horn.
Fish-Snake: poisonous snake-things living in the Fire Falls.
Flame Dragon: A bat-winged, dragon-like creature that breathes fire.
Ice Bird: Polar-dwelling birds with razor-sharp talons.

Metal Eater: An animal that looks something like a giant, prehistoric tapir and eats metal.
Pryllgu: A large, reptillian sea creature that attacks ships.
Rondor: A ponderous ungulate-type creature with a single horn with curative properties.

Telepathic Hound: They can locate people at a distance via mind-reading.
Thought-beast: Rhinocerous-sized, ceratopsian creatures whose frill acts like a video screen that projects there thoughts and intentions to the world.
Yagrum: A large, vaguely cat-like carnivore.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Weird Krypton

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Krypton.

Superman's home planet is pretty weird. Weird enough that it makes a good substitute for Carcosa in McKinney's supplement. You can keep the polychromatic humanity (that might explain the Krytonian flag). Then, check out the maps of Krypton for places to visit:

The highlights there ought to be pretty obvious, but let me fill in a couple of salient points of adventure and/or danger:

Jewel Mountains: Formed by the accumulated carcasses of prehistoric, giant crystal birds.
Gold Volcano: It should be mentioned that gold is so common on Krypton as to not be particularly valuable.
Fire Falls: A fall of a fiery fluid from the planets core, inhabited by mutant fish-snakes whose bite is poisonous.
Scarlet Jungle: An expanse of forest in red and purple, including huge maroon mushroom-like growth. It home to at least some disease-causing spores. Then,  of course, there's the herd migratory, vaguely humanoid-shaped plants.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Azurthite Bestiary: The Face of the Deodand

In previous posts, I've mentioned the three species of deadly deodands in Subazurth beneath the Land of Azurth proper. Now, you, the reading public, can see what these horrible creatures look like from the safety and comfort of your own home. I commissioned artist Matthew Adams to render the deodands from the descriptions of first hand accounts. Here is the startling and slimy Gleimous Deodand for your education and wonder:

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Marlinko Fever

Colorful, eccentric cities are a fantasy staple: Lankhmar, Viriconium, and New Crobuzon, are characters as distinct (or intriguingly ambiguous) as any humans in their respective stories, perhaps more so. While gaming has given us a lot of place names to hang our on imaginings on or perhaps tools to use to apply to creating these sorts of places, it has given us very few of actually places. (Modesty forbids me from mentioning the City of Weird Adventures. Wait. No it didn't.) Whatever size you think that pantheon is, you can now add Marlinko to it.

I'm listed in the credits of Chris Kutalik's Fever-Dreaming Marlinko in recognition of my haphazard punctuation hectoring of the product in its various stages, and I am a partner in the secretive Hydra Collective, so I'm biased--but also well-positioned to tell you what's good in this thing that was only meant to be a stretch goal for another product's Kickstarter and has now grown to comparable length and scope.

First off, Marlinko has the Slavic spice (They exist. Look it up!) flavoring the stew of Vance and Leiber and Chris's own fine sense of the absurd that informs the Hill Cantons setting in general. This isn't just Appendix N with a twist, though. Each of the contradas (quarters/neighborhoods) are detailed briefly enough so as not to wear out their welcome, but in-depth enough to make them seem like distinct places. Each has its own traditions, history, and possibly even deities, described in a manner I would call Glorantha for the old school oriented, meaning enough detail to show that genuine care was put into it, but enough humor to show no one is taking it too seriously--and always with an eye toward gameability.

Then, there are NPCs and locations. Rogues and scoundrels, all (or at least mostly)--some of whom seem like they have more story than what you are given. That's another important point, here: Marlinko is lived in. It didn't spring fully formed from Chris's brow, but rather it's been used and abused by the Nefarious Nine, the PCs of the ongoing Hill Cantons Google+ Experience.

The presentation of Marlinko puts it above some old school city books too (I know. Heresy!) Jeremy Duncan's and Jason Sholtis's work is put to perfect use with subjects ideal for their styles. Luka Rejec's maps make me feel like I need to throw money at him to get him to draw maps for some project of mine. I mean, look at this:

Then there are a lot of fun generators: news, tiger-wrestling, carousing. I'm not so big on those things, but they're fun to read. Some of them were polished or designed by Robert Parker, who is a man who I sometimes think believes the gaming is in the subgaming, so the love is there.

Anyway, Fever-Dreaming Marlinko is available where all fine Hydra products are sold.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wednesday Comics: Books on Comics

Lately, I've picked up a couple of books about comics. They're pretty different in tone and content, but both are well-worth checking out.

David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America is concerned with the "Comic Book Panic" of the late 40s-50s, while giving the era context by briefly covering comics' beginnings and the players involved. In fact, Hadju's coverage of this topic is as good as any book on comics history I've read. To it's main concern: If you only know Wertham and Seduction of the Innocent, you don't know even half of the story. While the traditional narrative of comic book fans of artists standing against oppressive moral scolds, their is also more than a little hubris in the tale of publishers and creators pursuing the freedom and the money, heedless of the looming darkness on the horizon.

The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris covers some less than stellar moments in comics history from a creative standpoint. The characters are grouped by era, Golden Age through Modern Age. They range from unoriginal (The Fab Four) to really strange (the Eye), with a whole lot of poorly executeds in-between. More than a few of the characters (like ROM) I don't find regrettable at all, while several are perfectly serviceable, except for costumes that have aged poorly. Still, whether you agree with Morris's assessment of these characters or not, his coverage is interesting.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Manticore Named Mortzengersturm

Last night saw another session in our 5e Land of Azurth game. The players: the sorcerer Kairon (Eric), the dwarf cleric Dagmar (Andrea), the elven ranger Shae (Gina), the bard Cully (Jim), the fighter Erkose (Bob), and Waylon the frox thief (Tug).

Interested in the strange device they found last adventure, the gang ultimately decided to take an illusionary image of it to the Clockwork Princess Viola to help them identify it. There's only so much she can tell without seeing the real thing, but she's able to tell them its a laterna magica of some sort. Finding no other option for discovering its nature, curiosity overcomes caution, and they take the item back to her. Using her devices she determines it is a projector to another plane. It was made using ancient, "wild magic" from the item before the creation of Azurth. It needs a "film" (an image on a piece of glass) to project, and it is currently damaged. Its lens has a small fracture.

There is a way to fix the lens: more wild magic. This that can get from the jewel in possession of the manticore lord of Geegaw Mountain, Mortzengersturm. Mortzengersturm is a wizard exiled by the Princess for his dabblings in wild magic that created many a combined monstrosity like owlbears, ant-lions, and hippogriffs. He dwells now on the Prismatic Peak of Geegaw where his experiments continue. The Princess suggests even the light from his crystal will be enough and loans them a magic hand mirror to capture it.

There's the matter of transport. The Princess also agrees to lend them a swan boat, like these, They find them in a grotto in one of the castle's sublevels. They have to fight a slimy covered creature to get them:

Them they sail the boat down the channel out of the grotto, down a waterfall, then into the sky. After half a days travel (through rain), they stop for a rest, and in the setting sun they can see the rainbow light refracted through the crystalline mountain that is their destination.

Arriving on the flat top of the moutain (like an angled, triangular prism set on one end), they pass through a garden with beds of sunflowers, each with a giant human eye at their center, and arrive at an angular castle guarded by hipogriffs. Through the jewels on the hipogriffs' barding, they are able to converse with Mortzengersturm, who bids them enter.

In a grand audience chamber, a goblin with a trump announces the entrance of a manticore with a monocle and a cigarette holder. Mortzengersturm!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Mystery Terrarium

I don't mean the sort that might be investigated by Scooby-Doo and the gang, but rather a variant of the mystery sandbox, maybe one where player's don't even know it's a mystery sandbox to begin with. Or (to state in a more player-centric way), a setting where the level of mystery can be dialed up or down as desired.

What got me thinking about this is Wayward Pines wherein what appears to be a place again to the Village (from The Prisoner, I mean), is actually slightly more like the Village from The Village and is in fact [SPOILER] apparently a model 21st century town in a post-apocalyptic future.  So we get a setting where people are living in an artificial society where the reality of the world is hidden to one degree or another. It could just as easily be a faux-Medieval society as opposed to a modern one.

This differs from your standard post-apocalyptic fantasy setting like Tekumel in a few of ways. One, the nature of those settings isn't a secret from the inhabitants. There are details that don't know and things they don't understand, but most of time people are at least partially aware they are in a fallen world. Nor, generally, are there forces actively trying to hide the nature of the world from them. Lastly, the world is artificial to an extent--it was setup to to provide a certain environment and to fool people. It would be as if the quirky societies in the biospheres in The Starlost had been purposely created rather than be accidents of cultural drift. If the world of Anomalous Subsurface Environment were a big, crazy social experiment. Or a human ant farm.

The players' can run around the ant farm, blissfully unaware of their captivity--or they can take on the bigger mystery and try to break out.

Friday, June 12, 2015

It Came From the Trapper Keeper

A blue one, in a plastic cargo crate along with the contents of the Gamma World 3rd Edition box set, Advanced Marvel Super-Heroes character cards, Descent Into the Depths, and The Isle of Dread. I was looking for the G.I. Joe game my friends and I wrote, but instead I would the partial Transformers rpg.

The credits says the writers were myself and my friend, Al. My brother gets a "design consultant" credit. Most of my gaming group are credited as "playtesters", but that must have been aspirational as it was never played, as far as I can recall.

It was partially inspired by Marvel Super-Heroes--it used an action table, though it also seems to have had some sort of "action points" (called "Firepower") possibly borrowed from FASA Star Trek, I haven't compared the charts to know for sure. The abilities were inspired by the Tech Specs on the back of toy packages.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Games from the Crypt

Having returned from Texas with a 20+ year-old game (Wizards) I hear isn't very good (and I am unlikely to play in any case) and two 30+ year-old supplements for a game (Powers & Perils) I have never played, am unlikely to, and I don't known where I might have stored the core rules for, I am forced to ponder what is it about old games, anyway?

I am something of a collector, true and as Batman's Batcave and Superman's Fortress of Solitude have long demonstrated, it's cool to have a good collection on display. Still, books, comic books, movies--all of those I generally get the intended use out of as well as the collecting aspect. The games not as much.

There's a bit of nostalgia, sure. I remember seeing these things on shelves sometimes or I saw them advertised in Dragon and the like. I think it's also a bit of my love or history and archaeology. These products are a window into the past. They even smell old, whether through the smell of old paper only or musty rooms where cigarettes were smoked (and probably the less pungent Mountain Dew and snack foods consumed). They're a tangible connection to a hobby that, while relatively young, is older than I am.

How about you guys? Do you like old games even if you don't play them?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Con Ends

I'm flying home today after a good time at NTrpgcon 2015. Had dinner with Justin of A Field Guide to Doomsday, and met the next generation of mutant chronicler. All the heads of Hydra (except Anothony) came together for some strategic planning about our upcoming endeavors. Chris Kutalik ran us through the Reavers of the Weird mini-game (made even more mini and cutthroat by a small selection of miniatures). I played a goatman bounty hunter named Valentine in a ASE-inspired, space station-crawl, Chris was a psyker cat named Miss Sassy, and my girlfriend, Andrea, played a bovinoid starship deck crew member with an Intelligence of 8. Hijinks ensued.

Saturday, the Hydra crew was together again as part of a indie rpg press panel put together by Richard LeBlanc (New Big Dragon Games Unlimited) and featuring a host of knowledgeable small press dudes.

And of course, there was some beer consumption and a good deal of far-ranging discussion along the way. If only the professional conventions I attend were as much fun.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


I'm in Texas for the  North Texas Rpg Con once again, this time for a summit of the Hydra Publishing Collective as well as the usual gaming an debachery. I met up with the usual suspects last night: Chris Kutalik, Robert Parker, and Justin Davis, and met Mike Davison for the first time. I'm looking forward to meeting Jason Sholtis.

Oh, and I picked this up yesterday:

Some of us are in an indie publishing panel on Saturday morning which they closed registration up prematurely, so if you're at the con and can rouse yourself at 0800, you should come by regardless.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wednesday Comics: Indie Apocalypses

Continuing my survey of post-apocalyptic comics (focused on those) in print. Previously, I reviewed Marvel's and DC's offerings, now it's time to look beyond the Big Two:

What's the Apocalypse? A nuclear war, starting in 2001, whose radiation creates psionic mutants called "demons."
Who are the heroes? Demian Hunter, half-human, half-demon demon hunter.
Where can you read it? Eerie Presents: Hunter

Mighty Samson
What's the Apocalypse? Nuclear war.
Who are the heroes? The titular Samson, a super-strong barbarian adventurer.
Where can you read it? starting with The Mighty Samson Archives volume 1
Just A Pilgrim
What's the Apocalypse? "The Burn," a solar coronal expansion.
Who are the heroes? Pilgrim--a religious fanatic and reformed (maybe) cannibal--and other survivors.
Where can you read it? Just A Pilgrim Complete.

What's the Apocalypse? Nuclear war.
Who are the heroes? Sabre, Melissa Siren, and other freedom fighters against a fascistic regime.
Where can you read it? Sabre 30th Anniversary Edition

What's the Apocalypse? Ecological damage and economic collapse after most nations have levied punitive sanctions against the U.S.
Who are the heroes? Emmanuel Santana aka Scout, an Apache ex-U.S. Army Ranger on a quest to destroy a supernatural evil
Where can you read it? start with Scout volume 1

Walking Dead
What's the Apocalypse? A zombie outbreak of unknown cause.
Who are the heroes? Rick Grimes and a a changing group of survivors, many of whom will die.
Where can you read it? start with Walking Dead Compendium One

What's the Apocalypse? "The Big Wet" that left "half the world covered by poisonous, rising oceans" and the remaining dry land is desiccated and broken.
Who are the heroes? Michael, a scavenger who finds a machine that talks in a forgotten language.
Where can you read it? start with Wasteland Book 1: Cities in Dust

Xenozoic Tales (aka Cadillacs and Dinosaurs)
What's the Apocalypse? Ecological upheaval, leading humans to abandon the surface for hundreds of years. They return to find dinosaurs.
Who are the heroes? Jack Tenrec and Hannah Dundee. They drive cadillacs and run away from dinosaurs. And other stuff.
Where can you read it? Xenozoic

Monday, June 1, 2015

The World of Tiger Lung

Tiger Lung series of stories by Simon Roy (Prophet), assisted at times by Jason Wordie, published in a collection by Dark Horse. The title character is a shaman in Eastern Europe in the late Paleolithic era, the mediator for people between the material world and the world of spirits--a world not that far away, but alien to most.

In its fundamentals it recalls Muktuk Wolfsbreath, Hard-boiled Shaman. The story "Song for the Dead" even follows the formula of the Wolfsbreath stories: a conflict with a spirit reveals a secret transgression in the human world. But where the Muktuk Wolfsbreath series wrings some humor from juxtapositioning the activities of a Siberian shaman with dialog in the style of hard-boiled fiction, Tiger Lung plays it straight

Roy is not trying to write a standard prehistoric comic in the Tor or Kong the Untamed vein (not that those aren't cool in their own right), but more resembles Shanower's Age of Bronze in his attempt to create a level of (pre-)historical verisimilitude. It's most definitely fantasy, though, with its realms of the dead, various spirits and even were-hyenas. The only fault in the collection is with only 3 stories, it's all too short.

Art by Simon Roy