Friday, April 18, 2014

Plugs, Shameless and Otherwise

Christopher Helton, tabletop gaming writer for the entertainment site Bleeding Cool debuted his first post on self-published rpgs yesterday, shining it's spotlight on Jason Sholtis's Dungeon Dozen, Jack Shear's Planet Motherf*cker, and my very own Weird Adventures. It was great to be asked to participate. The primary result seems to be more traffic to the Weird Adventures Companion post.  All I can say guys is: It is coming, but I have no ETA. I'm planning to get it out the door after Strange Stars.

In other self-publishing news, Anthony Hunter (cartographer for Weird Adventures) has launched Sleeping Griffin Productions. He's putting out layered pdf maps various sorts for personal or small press use. Check them out.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Graustarkian Karameikos

The Grand Duchy of Karameikos is a small nation in the Balkans on the Adriatic Sea. It has a long history going back to ancient times when the Romans built a fort and founded a trading outpost at Specularum--now Karameikos's capital, Spekla. Since those days, Karameikos has been in the hands of a succession of empires: the Byzantine, the Serbian, the Ottoman, and briefly, the Austro-Hungarian.

The current ruler of Karameikos is Stefan III. He has retained the title of "Grand Duke" despite his nation's liberation from Austria-Hungary. Grand Duke Stefan and most of the nobility trace their families back to Byzantium, but rule over an ethnically mixed populace of Albanians and Serbs, as well as Greeks. The predominant religion is the Orthodox Church of Karameikos, though there are also Muslims and a small number of Roman Catholics.

Believed to be the only photo of the leader of the Black Eagle
One of the greatest threats to modern Karameikos is the terrorist group known as the Black Eagle. The group is vaguely related to Albanian nationalism, but its direct aims seem to be criminality and destabilization of the current government. It's leader is named either Ludwig or Henrich. As his name would suggest, he is said to be of Austrian descent. His primary advisor and bomb-maker is believed to be a former monk named Bargle.

The Mad Monk Bargle, while briefly in custody
This post relates to my previous Ruritanian ruminations--and of course to D&D's Known World.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday Comics: The Meeting

Here's the next installment of  Jim Starlin's Metamorphosis Odyssey. The earlier posts in the series can be found here.

"The Meeting (Metamorphosis Odyssey Chapter VI)"
Epic Illustrated #3 (Fall 1980) Story & Art by James Starlin

Synopsis: A shot from somewhere takes out two of the Zygotean thugs surrounding him, but Aknaton doesn't have time to think about that. He uses his power against his attackers, but he's not a warrior.

Luckily, a guy shows up who is:

The man exhibits super-strength and Aknaton realizes this must be Vanth. But then where is the sword?

Two of the mercenaries catch up with Aknaton. Vanth again comes to the rescue, but Zygotean reinforcements arrive and surround them both. Vanth drops his gun then raises his hands. He looks as if he might surrender. But suddenly he has a sword in it:

Vanth absorbs the blasts from the Zygotean weapons with the sword, then uses its power to destroy them. Aknaton is impressed. The sword was more powerful than even he expected in Vanth's hands. Even more powerful than he planned:

He asks where Vanth had it hidden. Vanth responds that he didn't hide it. It's a part of him, he can bring out when he needs it. Vanth is about to turn the blade on its creator who he still thinks may be in league with the Zygoteans.

Aknaton assures him he is not. He tells them he has a plan to destroy them, but he needs the help of a warrior to do it. Alone, the the Zygoteans would when, but together they can show the "zyg devils the true face of death."

Things to Notice:
  • When he's not destroying planets, Aknaton isn't all that tough.
  • "My forte is mass destruction," Aknaton says.
"Vanth" is the name of a female chthonic figure in Estruscan mythology, who has been associated with the Furies in the past. It's unclear if there is any connection to Starlin's character, but it would be tempting to connect this Vanth to deities of vengeance.

Vanth is very different from the others Aknaton has recruited. Not only is he tough enough to save Aknaton more than once, but he's irreverent and slangy in his speech. In other words, Vanth is a rather standard American hero. It remains to be seen how he will change the dynamic of Aknaton's rather plaint group.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Old School Art That Isn't

Perusing old comic book fanzines, I found some art of the appropriate vintage and a close enough fit for the style that it made me wish Gary and crew had contacted so young or wannabe comics pros for some D&D art. Check these out:

Don Newton, 1976.

Robert Kline, 1969.

Skip Olson, 1971.

Dave Cockrum, 1972.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ruritanian Rogues

Watching Grand Budapest Hotel yesterday with its farcical criminal doings in a fictional Mitteleuropean country between the two wars got me thinking that such a setting was rife with gaming potential. I suppose "farcical criminal doings" and gaming is a no-brainer, but I mean more the "fictional modern European country in difficult times."

Ruritanian (or Graustarkian, if you prefer) Romance is a genre mostly of swashbuckling adventure set in a fictitious country in Central or Eastern Europe (including the Balkan region). The genre takes it's name from Ruritania, the setting of Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), one of the most popular examples of it. (The less common name derives from titular setting of James Barr McCutheon's 1901 novel; Some people reserve "Graustarkian" for a Balkan setting only.) These tales are (mostly, though there are fuzzy borders) differentiated from ones set in your Averoignes, Poictesmes, and Lyonesses by being set in "modern" times (to when they were written--meaning 1880s-1930s, roughly), being in Central or Eastern European locales rather than Western, and being mostly adventure tales rather than fantasy.

Still, Ruritanian Romance is part of the DNA of science fiction and fantasy and by extension D&D and a lot of fantasy gaming. Burroughs's Barsoom tales are mostly Ruritanian Romances transplanted to Mars (and Burroughs wrote a couple of pure Ruritanians: The Mad King and The Rider). More than one fantasy or science fiction novel is a reworking of The Prisoner of Zenda. Dr. Doom's Latveria is totally a Ruritania.

I think what would make a Ruritanian type setting more interesting in gaming is to ditch most of the romance of nobles and hidden monarchs and veer toward the picaresque. Political turmoil and nonsensical locale customs would complicate the lives of the usual "murderhobo." There's also influence of the Ruritanian Romance on the "fantasy of manners" subgenre, which could reasonable be said to include many of Jack Vance's works. The loquacious thugs of Tarantino and Ritchie would seem to good models for adventuring types concerned with underworld manners rather than high society.

Here's what I would envision: A Central European microstate (with a few equally fictitious neighbors) somewhere between 1895-1930, where Vancian rogues burglarize Gormenghastian ruins, while avoiding Kafka-esque bueaucracy, ostentatiously uniformed gendarmerie, and fanatic revolutionaries.

For some fantasy in a Ruritanian sort of setting, check out the The Enquiries of Doctor Eszterhazy by Avram Davidson, the Johannes Cabal stories and novels by Jonathan L. Howard, and the post-Cold War version in China Mieville's The City and the City.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Alien Inspirations

The Star Wars cantina scene has a lot of interesting looks for alien species, but doesn't present a lot of different alien psychology. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, depending on what sort of science fiction setting you want to run, but there are some good inspirations for more varied, detailed aliens.

GURPS Uplift details David Brin's Uplift Universe in game terms and also presents a detailed random alien generation method. Also in the realm of GURPS books, GURPS Traveller: Alien Races 1-4 have some good stuff in them.

Contacting Aliens: An Illustrated Guide to the Uplift Universe actually details more species than the GURPS book, but doesn't give any game stats, obviously.

Chanur's Venture by C.J. Cherryh is worth picking up at a use bookstore for it's appendix on the species of the Compact alone. All of her aliens are detailed and well-realized.

Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials is an overview of interesting aliens form a lot of science fiction with nice pictures.

Those are just a few, but one's I've found useful and inspirational.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wings in the Vacuum

by David Lewis Johnson
The voidgliders are a clade once found in several systems in the Vokun Empire, but now confined to one. They are a people adapted to living much of their life in the vacuum of space.

Appearance & Biology: Voidgliders are sleek, elongated humanoids, like the melding of an ocean-adapted person with one raised in zero-g. Their black, solar radiation absorbing skin resembles the hide of a cetacean, and it has markings that glow and reflect ultraviolet light. From their backs they can unfurl giant, black dragonfly wings veined with silver--actually symbiotic "living" solar panels. From these wings, they are able to generate plasma sails, allowing them the locomotion through space that gives them their name.

Sunlight, food, and water are all that voidgliders need for extended stays in space. Radiation exposure is the only hazard that drives them to periodically take haven in cave homes they build in asteroids or dwarf planets. Their nostrils and  throat have membranes which can seal them off. Their eyes likewise have a nictitating membrane for protection.

Their chemical, acoustic, and tactile senses are human-equivalent. They have slightly better visual acuity and can see a wide area of the spectrum from microwaves to ultraviolet. They have specialized apparatus for communication with radio and UV lasers. Radio is used for general communication, particularly with non-voidgliders. They also sing via radio, songs like ancient spirituals, in sounds like a mixture of overtone singing and paleo-electronic music. 

Place in the Empire: The voidgliders were initially primitives of little use to the Empire. While they thrived in zero-g, they were indifferent workers for the most part; they flew off as soon as they got the chance and did not deal well with confinement. When it was determined they had an ability to find hyperspace nodes they became much more useful.

The vokun continue to let the voidgliders live in their clan groups, but they have confined all they could find to a reservation within the asteroid belt of one system. They take volunteers to serve as scouts for their star navy.

Stats: Voidgliders have a minimum Constitution of 9, but otherwise have abilities in the human range. They also naturally have the equivalent of vacc skin and are able to fly in zero-g and outside a strong magnetic field at 120' per round.