Friday, December 30, 2016

On Rune, in the Strange Stars

Final (hopefully) edits continue on Strange Stars OSR and the commission of a few additional pieces of art to fill some layout gaps. Above is a chapter header by ever-amazing Jason Sholtis showing an encounter with a Runic dragon. Here's the Stars Without Number style description of Rune from the upcoming book:

SSGSB p. 15
Tags  Out of Contact, Rigid Society
Enemies  Necromancer Mauldazard, Rampaging dragon
Friends  Young dragon Thussumbraan, Benevolent sorceress Jaronel
Compl.  Feudal warfare, Dragon attack
Things  Dragon’s treasure horde, Downed spacecraft from a “civilized world”
Places  Wizard’s tower, Dragon’s cave

Also, remember the 12 Days of Hydra sale is still ongoing. This would be a good time to pick up the Strange Stars Setting Book on the cheap before the release of the OSR Rulebook.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Colonial Adventures

A latter day Emirikol?

Over the holiday I've been reading The Dark Side of the Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason, and it got me thinking (though not for the first time) about a game set in a slightly alternate history/fantasy version of Colonial America as the Revolutionary War approaches. Such a setting offers plenty of wilderness to be tamed in performance of the Gygaxian ritual, but also political intrigues, mystic cults, and a clash cultures.

Though something like Warhammer Fantasy would work for this, it strikes me that the Adventures in Middle-Earth implementation of D&D 5e would also fit the bill. The de-emphasis of magic better fits a hidden magic or mildly fantastic historical setting. The idea of replacing races with cultures works well. Its Scholar class could probably be a good template for how to implement a Rosicrucian Hermetic Magi, Cabbalist, or Alchemist. The Wanderer could form the basis of a magic-free Frontier Ranger. There would still be some bases to be covered: Some sort of depowered Warlock would be useful for hidden New England witches and a less magically Bard raconteur/agitator (though maybe better handled as a thief?).

Of course this territory has been somewhat mined by game systems to some degree before (Colonial Gothic and Northern Crown, I'm aware of), so there are other places to steal ideas.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Creeping Death

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Creeping Death (1982) (part 3)
(Dutch: De Sluimerende Dood)
Art & script by Don Lawrence

Traveling through the jungle on the way to the place of the Manatecs, Storm comes to a gorge beneath an ancient dam. He makes a crude glider to fly across. It works more or less, but an attack by a giant condor brings him down into the reservoir--and into the hands of the Manatecs. They throw him in a cell with Yukan's son Huatl.

Meanwhile, Yukan's other son is still pining for Ember, despite his father forbidding him to marry her. Yukan has another bride in mind for his son, though Kai isn't interested. That night, Kai sneaks into his father's room to steal the amulet with the cure for Ember, but Yukan awakens and soon Kai is clapped in irons, Yukan plans to keep Kai that way until after the wedding.

Before the wedding, the "gods" rise and another challenge is issued against Yukan. He easily bests the first challenger, but then Kai chooses to challenge his father. Angry with his son, Yukan agrees. Kai is unable to stand against him, but before Yukan can deliver the killing blow he is distracted by Kai's wife to be begging for her groom's life. That distraction is enough for Kai to stab his father and kill him! Now he is the ruler and has the amulet--and Ember.

Back in the Manatec city, Storm has (incredibly) discovered a disassembled ancient laser pistol in a compartment behind a loose tile. He rebuilds it, but needs a piece of metal to make it active. Luckily, the guard that delivers their food as a silver amulet and Storm is able to scam it off him.

With the gun, Storm and Huatl are able to break out, though the gun doesn't have too many shots before it burns out. The escape into the forest, but they are pursued using reptillian creatures called mordillos:

They're treed by the creatures then the guards use a ram-horned mount called a battarax to knock them out of the tree. Storm manages to fight his way free again, but when Huatl is taken, he surrenders rather than leave him behind.

Elsewhere, Kai uses the antidote to cure Ember. As soon as she is awake, he demands she marry him. Her answer is predictable:

Kai's response is equally typical of villains like himself:


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

12 Days of Hydra

Have you been speculating about the goodness of Strange Stars? Wondering if Weird Adventures is worth a look? Or maybe you've been ruminating on getting Ruins & Ronin or fretting a Fever-Dreaming Marlinko purchase? Fret no more! The 12 Days of Hydra Sale is here to help ease those hard decisions!

All digital titles are 40% and print 40% until January 5.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Adventures Left Undone

I managed to do three "Christmas Specials" in my two Weird Adventures campaigns: "Twas the Fight Before Yule," and it's sequel, and "Another Weird Yule." This year, there was a holiday related cameo in my Land of Azurth game.

I still have gotten around to doing the reskin of Slumbering Ursine Dunes involving the Weird Adventures version of the Tunguska Event, the mysterious Siberian cauldrons, a captive Father Yule, and talking bears. Maybe one day!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

More Covers That Weren't

Here are some counterfactual covers I did a while back for some AD&D classics:

A Players Handbook using the art of Gideon Brugman.

A Dungeon Masters Guide with a Jesse Santos cover.

and a well-used Monster Manual with a Sanjulian cover.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Creeping Death

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Creeping Death (1982) (part 2)
(Dutch: De Sluimerende Dood)
Art & script by Don Lawrence

Storm is brought before the warrior's leader, Yucan. Yucan boasts he is the only one who knows the antidote for Ember, but he won't divulge it, even after Storm roughs him up a bit. He wants to make Storm a trade. Yucan's son Huatl has been taken captive by the Manatecs that live in a city beyond a vast wall. If Storm will recue him, Yucan will give him the antidote. Storm agrees.

Suddenly, there is a call that the gods are coming. The populous runs in the square and kneel before great steel doors. The door rises and:

The ancient, automated missiles rise to point in the direction to launch at enemies long dead. A horn sounds. Yucan explains that when the gods come, it is time for a ritual challenge for rulership. If no challenger appears, a prisoner is sacrificed. Yucan makes short work of the sacrifice:

The missiles retract and the spectacle is over. Storm goes to tend Ember. Yucan tells him she will die in 10 days and introduces his son, Kai. He outlines the obstacles to reaching the Manatecs to Storm, but he only has eyes for Ember.

After Storm leaves, Yucan visits his father and asks to be allowed to marry Ember when Storm fails, and dies. Yucan refuses to allow it, citing tradition against marrying outsiders. Besides, Yucan points out, she will die without the antidote he keeps in his amulet--and no one will get that while he is alive. Kai agrees: While his father is alive.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Escape from the Den of the Dragonettes

Last time in our Land of Azurth 5e campaign, the group was stranded on a weird mesa after having been attacked by wooden gargoyle puppets. After noticing the gargoyle corpses were still held a bit off the ground by the strings, the party thought they might use those to climb down, but the strings were too thin. However, they serendipitously discover that the gargoyle wings still have some lift to them; enough that they are able to ride gargoyle corpses to the ground like gliders.

Using the stage deocration-like trees and bushes they cut down as camoflage, the party tried to make their way around another mesa, skirting the wooden gargoyle town and getting to the mountain on the opposite side they believe might hold a way out. When they're spotted, they just make a break for it, and it's a spell-slinging, bow-firing chase to mountain. Luckily, there is a cave entrance.

Once inside (where the gargoyle's can't go because of their strings), our heroes follow the twisting trail up inside the mountain until they reach a larger cave. There's a whispering in the darkness, and the party is greeted by:

The Dragomen: Humans dressed in bad dragon costumes who serve someone called "the Dragonettes" and believe by sacrifice they will be reborn as those creatures and after many cycles, dragons. The Dragonettes live in the next cave over and come for a sacrifice every week.

Not wanting to linger long among these idiots, the party moves on to the next cave. There they are stopped by diminutive reptilian creatures with spears:

These are the Dragonettes. They can barely disguise their snickering at how they've gulled the Dragomen, whom (it is fairly obvious) they are using as a food source. They refuse to let the party pass, but Kully puts them to sleep. Investigating the adjacent caves uncovers a great hall (which the party avoids), a garbage pit filled with human bones, and a kitchen. There Erekose kills a fleeing Dragonette, so the party begins to move with more urgency.

They uncover a shrine where a winged Dragonette priest and his acolytes are raising a sacrificial platform (pilled with human parts and a Dragonette corpse) up into an aperture in the ceiling to the "Mother Dragon."

Several party members want to kill the priests and take the platform to the aperture, but Shade convinces them to parlay. When the priest hears they want to willing take the platform up, he's more than happy to let them go meet the Mother. He's sure such a sacrifice will prime him for dragon evolution for sure!

The party ascends into darkness. Those with dark vision see a cave littered with bones and overfilled with a very old, sleeping dragon. Stealthy investigation reveals a manhole-size opening in the ceiling that goes up through rock to reveal the night sky. There are no other exits.

With few options, the party sends the frogling Waylon climbing up to investigate. He finds himself on a cold and wind-swept mountain peak. Then, he hears the sound of bells! He lights his lantern and to his wondering eyes appears a flying sleigh pulled by deer!


Father Yule knows him by name, and acquiesces to Waylon's request for rope. His friends quickly scramble up out of the dragon's den, and since Father Yule is on his way to the Land of Azurth, he gives them a ride.

He deposits the party in Rivertown, with a gift each.

This entire series of adventures was liberally adapted from Frank L. Baum's Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz.

Friday, December 16, 2016

I Didn't see the new Stars Wars but I did see new Strange Stars

Yesterday, Lester B. Portly sent me the rough layout for Strange Stars OSR. There is still proofing and some other edits to be done, but I wanted to show off some sample pages:

This is a page from the beginning of the chapter on Worlds, containing 22 planets/habitats described in the Stars Without Number style and random generators for orbital habitats.

This is a page from the chapter on clades. There are 20 clades in all and general guidelines for adding additional clades in the various sophont categories.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Games I've Played Recently

After something of a hiatus with gaming as a player, I 've been in two ongoing campaigns of late that I've really enjoyed. There are a lot of differences between them in terms of ruleset and campaign style, but a lot of similarities in terms of what I think are good GM practices, too.

Art by Guy Davis

Jack Shear's Krevborna is on a break now for the holidays but will hopefully return in the new year. Not surprisingly, it's sort of a Gothic setting (Ravenloft, but better realized, perhaps). We use 5e, and there was as much a focus on mystery and investigation of conspiracies as there was traditional exploration and monster-slaying.

Art by Jason Sholtis

Jason Sholtis's Bewilderlands, run in Swords & Wizardry, is perhaps a more "traditional" wilderness hexcrawl--if your definition of traditional isn't so much mainstream stuff, but the sort of weirdness produced by the OSR DIY crowd. There are mysterious things in the Bewilderlands, too, but the effect is more "what will we stumble into this time?" than planfully considering our next move. (This likely is as due to our approach as players, but Jason's semi-gonzo world seems to invite improvisation.)

The mechanics, other than be flavors of D&D, produce slightly different play styles in an of themselves, on top of the differing focuses. Character motivations and backstories are more important in Jack's game, while humor and farce (not absent from either) comes more to the for in Jason's. Still, I think their are a lot of similarities. Both Jack and Jason are experienced gamemasters with a strong sense of their own style and a handle on the world's they are presenting. Both of them present an intricate backdrop with factions, locales, and other bits of depth, but they sit back and let the player's choose what they want to approach.

Of course, the enjoyment I get out of these two games doesn't come solely from the GMs. Both of them have a good, involved group of players (which seems to be the exception rather than the rule when drawing from the player/gm/creators of the G+ community). The give and take between the two is probably as important as anything else.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Creeping Death

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Creeping Death (1982)
(Dutch: The Dormant Death )
Art & script by Don Lawrence

Storm and Ember are racing along over water on hover-bike type things. They've been exploring the world since they left Antarctica. Suddenly, a sort of giant slug creature rises from the water, knocking Ember from her vehicle. Storm swoops down to help her, but the creature smashes into him.

When Ember surfaces, she sees Storm unconscious in the roots of a tree near the water's edge. Their bikes were destroyed. When Storm comes to, they decide to climb a tree to survey their surroundings. All around them is an immense jungle, but they also see what may be buildings at the horizon. With no place else to go, they head off in that direction.

It's tough going. They have to climb treacherous rocks and cut through dense vegetation. Then:

Hit by the dart, Ember first swoons, then wakes up in a violent rage. Storm manages to avoid her attacks then restrain her until she passes out. Storm carries her on then makes camp for the night. The next day, she is still out. Storm moves on, hoping somehow to find an antidote for the poison.

He makes it to the buildings, but they appear long deserted. Then:

The men reveal they've been following him all day, and they are the ones that shot Ember with the dart. The plan to take Storm to their leader. He isn't having it:

Once he beats them all, he tells them that now he's ready to be taken to their leader. And they do.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Pointcrawl the Green Hell

This map is is by Harold Wilkins and found in his book Secret Cities in Old South America. All it needs is some of these locations written up and it's ready to go:

A lot of cool stuff going on there. Some highlights:
  • Unknown Mountains of Gold and Mystery - They had me at "gold."
  • Unexplored Dangerous Territory - Obviously, explored enough to know its dangerous.
  • Atlantean Hy-Brazilian Dead City - If Dead City weren’t adventure fodder enough, Atlantean ought to sweeten the mix, to say nothing of Hy-Brazilian.
  • Strange “Cold” Light in Tower - Again the Hy-Brazilian Atlanteans are invoked for probably the most intriguing place on the map. And why is cold in quotation marks--so-called cold, perhaps? The mind boggles...

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Random Images from Baroque Space

Art by Mel Birnkrant
A winged Devil from the Tartarean dark beyond Saturn.

Art by Bailey Henderson

Leviathan rises from the thick clouds of Jupiter.

A fop seen in a Jovian gaming house.

Pirates of the Belt in debauchery.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Bandits on the Planet of the Apes


Player Characters:
Jeff Call as Brock Irving
Lester B. Portly as Eddy Woodward
Jason Sholtis as Francis La Cava

Nonplayer Characters:
Ted Cassidy as Eezaya
Alfonso Arau as Lope
Bonobo Banditos

Synopsis: After repelling the Kreeg attack, the astronauts push the human tribes to get better organized. When theyy set out on their own raid against the mutant's hideout, they have to contend with an unexpected foe.

Commentary: This adventure featured the first appearance of a hereto unknown intelligent ape species: bonobos. The group captures a wounded bandito, Lope, and gently interrogate him. They get further confirmation that ape society is not homogeneous.

The astronauts also picked up a ground of Tehi warriors as henchmen associates. These guys look like the "White Feather Warriors" (the human ones) from 2nd Edition Gamma World module "The Cleansing War of Garik Blackhand":

The name "Wardude" is an homage to a hireling in Chris Kutalik's Hill Cantons campaign.

The group also found out that the warwheel apparently came from a Kreeg installation in White Sands, though their main base is somewhere farther to the West, and are also "deadly gunmen" in that direction.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Holiday Gift Guide 2016

Give the gift of comics this year. Here are my admittedly idiosyncratic suggestions. You could do worse!

Tiger Lung: Step back to the Paleolithic this collection of shorts by Simon (Prophet and others) Roy for the exploits of the titular shaman. I reviewed Tiger Lung more fully here. Want still more shamanic action? Check out Terry LaBan's Muktuk Wolfsbreath, Hard-boiled Shaman.

Valerian & Laureline: The Empire of the Thousand Planets: With the upcoming movie from Luc Besson, now is a great time to check out the long-running Franco-Belgian comic by Jean-Claude Mezieres and Pierre Christin. The title of the film makes it seem like this volume was a strong inspiration.

Head Lopper: Badass, bearded warrior with a flair for decapitation takes a job to kill a wicked sorcerer. He's accompanied on his quest by an unconventional companion: still-animated (and talkative) severed head of a witch he decapitated in the past!

My recommendations from last year are still good too!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Alchemical Dwarves

The Dwarves of desert Country of Sang are not like the Dwarfs found elsewhere in the Land of Azurth or any other worlds. Most noticeable, they appear to be made of metal, one of the seven metals of antiquity, and they metals character informs that of the dwarf made from it. The dwarves of each metal are identical to each other, or very close to it.

Dwarves of Gold are the wise and just rulers.
Dwarves of Silver are the Priestesses, Keepers of Mysteries.
Dwarves of Mercury are the cunning mages and tricksters.
Dwarves of Copper are the healers and tenders of home and hearth.
Dwarves of Iron are the soldiers and warriors.
Dwarves of Tin are merchant, traders, and seneschals.
Dwarves of Lead are the labors and workers.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Return to the Planet of the Apes

After a few weeks hiatus for holiday stuff and other obligations, my Hexcrawling the Planet of the Apes will resume this week. For myself, the players, and any readers it might interest, I figured now would be a good time to collate links to what has come before:

Here was the initial player setup. When we started, they awoke from suspended animation to find the world they knew gone. After a trip to a plague ridden space station they made it to Earth (New Mexico). They encountered apes, human tribesmen, and (perhaps) a more technologically advanced enclave. That enclaved turned out not to be salvation, but a strange ghost of the past. The struck out across the desert to find the human tribes and wound up along the Rio Grande. They made a tentative alliance with the tribes and learned of their war with the more technologically advanced mutants--who staged a sneak attack. They managed to rout the mutants and defeat their fearsome Warwheel.

Here's the map of their travels to far:

Friday, December 2, 2016

Monster Manuals, No. Appearing: 2

I recently picked up both Volo's Guide to Monsters and the Tome of Beasts. Both I think are going to be useful monster books for my 5e game, but in different ways.

Volo's Guide is slimmer (just 223 pages). Its pure monster stat page count is even slimmer as it spends quite a view pages on other stuff. Part of that other stuff is new races, which is great, though I don't know how many of them I will use in my Land of Azurth game. Still, more examples to model DIY races is always good. The other part is Monster Lore--expanded info on previously published classic monsters, including lair maps and what not. I could see this being really useful and their are some good ideas here, but my current campaign uses some pretty variant interpretations of a lot of these monsters so it's of less utility for me.

The actually monsters include a lot of variants of existing creatures. Most of these don't excite me too much, The appendix of additional nonplayer characters will probably be the thing I use most in play.

The Tome of Beasts is beefier (426 pages), all of it traditional monster stats. Some of these feel like their not quite ready for primetime--but in someways that gives ToB a more daring feel compared to the "safer" Volo's Guide.  A bit like Fiend Folio vs. Monster Manual II, ToB also gives higher crit level monsters. I provides some much needed bosses compared to all the mooks and lackeys of the the official monster manuals. Though most of these monsters don't cry out to be immediately used in my campaign but their are a few (the Boreas and some of the Fey Lords and Ladies) I definitely want to play some adventures around.

While not indispensable, both of these bestiaries would be very useful for a 5e game. If you could only by one, I would say it depends on what you're looking to do. If you need more races or want to really flesh out certain "classic" D&D monsters (like the Mind Flayer, Beholders, or Giants), you probably want Volo's Guide. If you just need monsters and lots of them to stock your adventures, Tome of Beasts in probably though one you want.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

More Baroque Space Backgrounds

More backgrounds for Daniel Sell's Troika! system:

Your dead eyes have beheld things no man was meant to see. Adrift in the Tartarean reach beyond Saturn, you bore witness to the protean horrors of the Titans of Chaos, stared in cold wonder at legion ruined Gamorrahs of the rebellious Nephilim, and suffered at the peril of your immortal soul the sirens’ allure of alien Atlantean heathenry. You returned alive, but not unchanged.

Vials of soporific
A locked box 6 inches square, 8 deep, whose contents you frequently examine, but show no one
Brace of Pistols
strange tattoos

2 Astrology
1 Healing
2 Pilot
2 Pistol Fighting
2 Second Sight

You are a Vermin Disposal Expert, though they often diminish your work, naming you merely "rat-catcher." But who among them has seen what strange vermin arise from the putrefaction of wastes of scores of space crews mingling in the cesspits of an asteroid? Much less hunted and captured those foul things? You have.

One-eyed terrier, inured to space travel
d4 animal traps
d4 specimen collection jars, at least one contains a slime of some sort

2 Awareness
1 Blunderbuss Fighting
2 Club Fighting
2 Tracking
3 Trapping
3 Tunnel Fighting

Gangs of half-feral children like yourself prowl the lower levels of cities and congregate in crude suburban camps. Many are eventually snared and sent to houses of correction for aggressive humoral adjustment, but a few incorrigibles such as yourself manage to elude that fate.

A cheap Eidolon image of a beautiful woman you claim to be your mother to elicit sympathy

2 Climb
3 Sneak
2 Run
2 Sap Fighting
2 Knife Fighting

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wednesday Comics: Storm: City of the Damned

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: City of the Damned (1982) (part 5)
(Dutch: Stad der Verdoemden)
Art by Don Lawrence & Script by Kelvin Gosnell

Storm and Ember take the winged horse to the ancient, ceremonial gate at the bottom of the city, which they believe will lead them to Gor's lair. They're right, and the green-skinned psychic watches them on a viewscreen--and waits.

Storm and Ember descend into the depths of the caverns beneath the city, thinking they'll find Gor at the lowest level. The walls to a passage way grow arms out of them and try to stop them:

Next they fight bat-creatures and pass precariously over flows of lava until they reach Gor's sanctum:

They easily disarmed Pulg, the dwarfish head of Gor's personal guard, but Gor himself proves tougher. He disarms Ember easily them brags about the extent of his power. Storm suggests there's one thing he can't do: travel through time.

Gor admits that is true, but counters he'll soon have control over the computer in the city. Not all time machines are big and unwieldy. Storm throws the time machine belt at Gor, a belt with only enough power for a one way trip! Gor is gone to the end of time.

Back in the city, the war is over. Gor's troops have stopped fighting. Both groups can work together to rebuild.

Storm still has his one request to make of the central computer, Terminal One. Storm argues that computers should serve humans, not control:

Storm and Ember leave the people of their city to chart there own future without the computer.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Hubris Arrives

I was going to title this post "The Hubris of Mike Evans," but that would be a title for a negative review--and this ain't one of those. On the heels of the successful Kickstarter, I mentioned some cool highlights from my read-through of the early backers copy, but I figured with it available to everyone, I figured it was a good time to do another walkthrough.

Mike subtitles his work "a world of visceral adventure" and everything in here works to support that tone. It is, after all, a world made from the "fetid corpse of a dead god." Mike uses the Dungeon Crawl Classics ruleset which (to my mind) is sort of blacklight poster/70s comic sword & sorcery. It's a good fit, but Mike twists it into a "90s comic by Danzig with art by Simon Bisley" sort of direction. Mike's world-building is aided and abetted in this regard by the art work which includes stuff by Jeremy Duncan and Doug Kovacs, among several other worthies. This group knows how to draw weird shit and monsters.

So the tone is consistent, but what do we actually get? There are nine new classes and races; things like a Blood Witch (a bit like Last Airbender's blood benders but way more EVIL!) and the Murder Machine (Warforged but with the Metal turned to 11). There are new magic items and new spells, all table-ready and (in case of the spells) detailed in full DCC style.

A big section is the "Territories of Hubris" chapter. This is the sort of thing that bogs down a lot of setting books, but Hubris focuses on the interesting bits, so little wordage is wasted and it is surprisingly usable with little prep.

There is a grab-bag of tools and generators, some of the them sort of random (you know what I mean), but great utilities with some flavorful results. This section shows the influence of products like Vornheim.

Finally, there is not one but two short adventures, one of which is a zero level funnel. This is really useful in making the setting come to life because it shows how the writer does it. It's the sort of thing a lot of single-author setting books would do well to emulate.

If any of that sounds cool to you, you should really check Hubris out. On sale now!