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Weird Revisited: Celluloid Rocketship

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 03/21/2019 - 11:00
This post was originally from 2013. It doesn't related to any of my recent Solar System speculations, pulpy or otherwise, though of course it could. He bared repeating for Lester B. Portly's animated title...

By the mid-thirties, the major film studios were all exploiting the public’s interest in the exotic worlds of the solar system. Of all the one-reel travelogue series produced, perhaps none was more popular than The Rocketship of Movietone, debuted in 1931.

Several of the earliest films dealt with Venus. “Giants of the Jungle” focused on the exotic and dangerous Venusian saurians. In early 1932, “Lost Cities of Venus” used footage from the Markheim survey expedition's dangerous foray into one of the ruins of the ancients.

Of course, Mars figures prominently in the early subjects. The low canal markets and bazaars were featured. Another dealt with the desert tribes--though the tragic fate of the expedition that provided the footage was wisely kept from the movie-going public.

While the initial run of films dealt predominantly with the inner worlds and their satellites, one was made from footage shot by one of the earliest commercial missions to Ganymede. While the footage is limited (still photos had to be used at times) and of lower quality than what was coming from film crews on Mars or Venus, it did give the public their first view of the eerie necropolises of that cold and distant moon.

More than one spaceman of the fifties and sixties sited these early Rocketship of Movietone films as an important influence on their lives.

On Solo Play

The Splintered Realm - Wed, 03/20/2019 - 15:07
So this morning, I decided to start a solo game and take my character through the introductory adventure in the core rules. Here are a few basic takeaways before I get into the specifics of characters:

It's a fun little adventure. I like the little seeds of things that can get you going further without much effort.
The rules are nice and fast and loose. I really like this iteration. It's fluid. I was able to run the entire adventure in about 2 hours, and that is with rolling up two characters as well!
I created a few house rules on the fly... which prompted this morning's earlier posting about house rules.


I ended up making two characters for this adventure; a stoutling defender and a red gnome trickster. Basically, I wanted to play the stoutling, but I realized about halfway through that he was going to be tough to play solo for a long time; he has no ability to take on multiple foes at once, so any time there were more than 2 or 3 foes, he got wrecked pretty quickly. In addition, as he scales up, his abilities are going to be largely supportive and defensive. He's a GREAT guy to have on your team; he's not such a great guy to have AS your team.

The red gnome trickster is a much more capable solo character. He has multiple ways to get past obstacles (he can try a STR check if the burglary doesn't work to open a door); he has ways to do some crowd control (sleep), and he has some ways to quickly deal some automatic damage. He'll scale better for solo play; he can sneak by really tough foes and scout things out, get extra damage with his sneak attack... he has more options for how to manage a variety of situations. I found that I really needed that if I was going to pursue solo play.

FYI, here are the two character sheets: Sty has he was in progress, and Myth as he had finished the adventure (I spotted him about 30 xp to get to level 2; yeah, I know...)

TSR House Rules

The Splintered Realm - Wed, 03/20/2019 - 13:42
This post will be updated with house rules I am using for Tales of the Splintered Realm. Use or don't use as you see fit:

Gameplay Rules
  • Automatic damage effects (like the heat from a fire ant) are capped at 2 points per round; if four fire ants surround a character, that character does not suffer 4 hp damage per round.
  • In melee combat, no more than 3 creatures of the same size can engage you at once. No more than 2 creatures of any size larger, and no more than 4 creatures of any size smaller. A normal human could be attacked in melee by up to 4 rats, 3 gargoyles, or 2 ogres at once. This would limit sundering to only affecting those total targets as well. I found this was necessary to keep my solo stoutling defender alive; when he took on 7 rats, he was going to be killed quickly if not for the quick application of this rule :) This will also keep him alive later on, when he's taking on many undead at once.
  • For solo play, I am ruling that drinking a potion counts as a minor action, allowing one attack at -2 (because my character is going through healing potions like CRAZY to stay alive).
Purchasing Scrolls
The rules state that scrolls must be found on adventures. I rule that scrolls may be purchased in some places. A small country shrine may carry tier 1 scrolls, while the temple in a major city may stock scrolls of up to tier 3; you would have to journey to the Library at Asgoth's Summit to find a scroll of Tier 5.
Tier 1: 100 spTier 2: 250 spTier 3: 500 spTier 4: 1,000 spTier 5: 2,500 spTier 6: 5,000 sp
Purchasing Weapons or Armor
The rules have no mechanism for purchasing magical weapons and armor. Larger merchants may have gained some through barter. The standard prices are:
+1 weapons or armor are the base cost in gold +100 gp.  (A +1 medium weapon would cost around 115 gp, or 1150 sp; a suit of +1 plate mail armor would likely go for around 400 gp, or 4,000 sp). The more powerful an item, the less likely it is that a merchant will carry it.
+2 weapons or armor are the base cost in gold x10, +250 gp. (A +2 short bow would cost around 500 gp, or 5,000 sp; a suit of +2 chainmail armor would cost around 1,000 gp, or 10,000 sp). Very few merchants would stock such items.
Purchasing Potions
Larger alchemical shops are going to stock some basic potions. Most potions sell for around 100 sp, but more potent elixirs may sell for upwards of 500 sp.

Selling Items

Use the prices above to sell items to vendors; you get 50% of the value in any item you sell back (including mundane items you purchase; when you upgrade your studded leather armor to chainmail, you get 10 sp credit from the studded leather towards the new price)

Wednesday Comics: Classic Star Wars: Devilworlds #1-2

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 03/20/2019 - 12:30
If you ever wondered what an Alan Moore Star Wars story would be like, this two issue limited series from Dark Horse (and released in digital format by the current licenseholders, Marvel) will be enlightening. Devilworlds reprints stories from various Marvel UK titles from 1982.  Besides Alan Moore, it features work by the likes of Steve Moore, Steve Parkhouse and Alan Davis.

The stories don't quite feel like Star Wars--or at least, don't feel like Star Wars of 2018 or even 1999. How they would have read in 1982, when there were only two films and a Christmas Special, who can say? Today, they feel much more like stories from 2000AD archives or Doctor Who Magazine, which isn't surprising given the writers did work for those titles.

Allow me a couple of spoilers to illustrate. In "Rust Never Sleeps" Artoo and Threepio end up on the Imperial junk planet of Ronyards, and encounter a droid cult that worships a scrap god. In "Tilotny Throws a Shape" (with art by John Stokes) Princess Leia and a group of pursuing Stormtroopers have a strange encounter with group of extradimensional or spirit beings (they would be a good portrayal of the Fair Folk in Exalted) who have vague grasp of the concepts of matter and time.

If this sounds like the sort of off-kilter Star Wars you can tolerate, then you'll be glad to know the issues are a mere 1.99 each on Comixology.

Days of Azurth Future Past

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 03/18/2019 - 00:52
art by Jason SholtisDeposited in the future by the whim of the wizard, Phosporo, the party in our 5e Land of Azurth game, found Rivertown in ruins and Castle Machina again mobile and stalking the land. What's more the Toad Temple--the Frog Temple in this time-- could be seen in the distance and was painted a brownish orange and had a decidedly friendly cast about it.

It was all very strange, but the party had a job to do. They went searching for the ruins of the Dove Inn to find their Armoire of Holding and the Book of Doors contained therein to get Phosphoro off their back. On their way there, they encountered a sleeping young man in strange clothes. He wasn't sure if Azurth was real, or even if he was real. There seemed to be some gaps in his memory. He knew he was a member of something called "the Golden Dawn" and that his name was "Roderick Drue." He remembered an old man had sent him here--or maybe it was the opium he had smoked. He recalled a place he had been, called the World Exposition.

The party didn't know what to make of any of this, but they allowed him to accompany them. They arrived at the ruin of the Dove Inn to find their armoire likely buried in rubble. (The presence of something was confirmed by detect magic.) Before they could begin searching, there were gibbering voices and something protoplasmic rose from the debris and coalesced into a spheroid in front of them.

Its eldritch gibbering paralyzed the group for some time. Its many mouths bit them, and its eyes blasted them with baleful magic. In the end, they drove it back with Dissonant Whispers and wore it down, until it collapsed into goo. Exhausted, but only mildly harmed (except Erekose who took the brunt of its assault), they began digging into the rubble.

More voices. These belonging to a group of little people who claimed to be from another world. They had taken up residence in the very spacious interior of the armoire. They agreed to turn over the book in exchange for getting to keep everything else. They also related that war had destroyed Rivertown. They suggested the party could find shelter with the benevolent religionists of the Frog Temple.

The party was nervous about doing so, but ultimately did. The rustic beast folk welcomed them warmly. Their frogling leader revealed that they venerate a frogling of the past--Waylon! They also revealed that the war had ultimately been a civil war between the Wizard of Azurth and the Clockwork Princess. They reported the forests were now the domain of a fierce elf called the Dread Queen of House Perilous. The party is sure that this is their own Shade.

Intrigued and troubled by all this, the part stays the night in the temple to consider what to do next!

Through A Superhero Lens

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 03/17/2019 - 14:30

One of the charming (to me) things about Silver Age/Bronze Age comics is that often series with settings and elements of other genres have a superhero veneer. Either the creators though that was what the audience wanted, or that's just the vernacular they were used to expressing themselves in. Define "superhero" elements, you ask? Well, things like code names, secret identities, costumes, costumed villains with themes or motifs, and of course, super-powers. Not all of these are present in every case, of course, and some of the elements were part of the pulp or adventure hero tradition prior to superheroes. By the 60s, though, superheroes were the most conspicuous purveyors of those tropes.

This doesn't just show up in comics. Hanna-Barbera's Mighty Mightor (1967) is just the Captain Marvel (or Shazam for you kids) of the Stone Age. The late 50s and 60s seems to have been the biggest era for this since we got Super-Chief, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Captain Comet during this era, as well as the cartoon characters Space Ghost and Mightor.

By the 70s and 80s, either writers were getting more sophisticated to their approach to other genres or they thought there audience wanted something different. Still, I would argue that some of the fantasy characters of the era (Warlord, Atlas, and Stalker, perhaps?) have traces of this, as do space operas like the Micronauts, and modern/military action like G.I. Joe. Certainly, Masters of the Universe is other-genre supers in spades.

This genre-bending seems to have been mostly ignored in superhero rpgs. There are a few Legion of Super-Hero-esque science fiction supplements, and there are short, sidebar discussions of other genres in places. Warriors & Warlocks for Mutants & Masterminds touches on this for fantasy. Given the number of superhero games and the popularity of other genres in rpgs like fantasy and science fiction or even Westerns, there have been very few.


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