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First Comics News - Mon, 09/03/2018 - 14:40

The staff of First Comics News wishes everyone a happy Labor Day…

Alex Wright, Bob Almond, Dærick Gröss Sr., Katie Salidas, Mat Kaufman, Miguel Ortiz, Tanya Tate, Tim Chizmar, Holly Golightly, Art Sippo, Chris Marshall, Colt Cabana, Jamie Coville, Chris Squires, Francis Sky, Grant Offenberger, Kevin Noel Olson, Martin Boruta, Phil Latter, Calvin Daniels, Giovanni Aria, Ric Croxton, Wayne Hall, Jez Ibelle, Matthew Szewczyk, Reinhardt Schäfer, Richard Vasseur and Rik Offenberger

Categories: Comic Book Blogs

Labor Day Reading

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 09/03/2018 - 11:31

An embarrassment of riches for my Labor Day rpg reading! Kobold Press' Creature Codex dropped as did Jack Shear's new setting Cinderheim.

More on these in days to come.

ARCHIE MEETS BATMAN ’66 #3 preview

First Comics News - Mon, 09/03/2018 - 04:21


The historic crossover mini-series rolls on! Gotham’s villains have infiltrated Pop’s Chocklit Shoppe to enact their plans of mind control! But when one of Pop’s best customers sees the action taking place, will he be able to let the others know, or will the joke be on him?

Script: Jeff Parker, Michael Moreci
Art: Dan Parent, J. Bone, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Jack Morelli
Cover: Michael Allred, Laura Allred
Variant Covers: Art Baltazar, Howard Chaykin, Veronica Fish, Franco Aureliani, David Mack
On Sale Date: 9/26
32-page, full color comic
$3.99 U.S.

Categories: Comic Book Blogs

K.I.S.S. the Splintered Realm Hello

The Splintered Realm - Sun, 09/02/2018 - 19:56
As I refine and refine, I keep going back and forth on a few issues. In the end, I think I am going to go with the simplest option for each problem, because the simplest is the easiest to remember, it takes up the least space, and at the end of the day you don't lose anything from the play experience by taking the simpler option that the more complex option would have given you...

FEATs. FEATs have grown a bit since the original SSR rules. In the supers game, the DT of a FEAT is relative to the power and level of the foe; Magneto's magnetic control is more difficult to resist than the Magnet Kid's (I just made him up, so (c) that immediately and wait for the royalty checks to roll in) magnetic control would be. By the same token, the breath weapon of a huge elder dragon is more difficult to resist than the breath weapon of a young wyrmling. Except it doesn't need to be. In several situations the FEAT is only allowing you to minimize the damage; you still get hit, and you still take damage, and this as scaled based on the level of the foe. Okay. Then there's this problem: if your FEAT modifiers scale with the foes, you basically always have the same chance of success; you never 'feel' like you are getting better, because the difficulty of the situation is also getting harder. In that case, why have FEATs at all? Why not have everything be a 50/50 chance? If I got to take +7 at level 1 to pick DT 20 locks, and now at level 6 I take a mighty +12 against DT 25 locks... I am no better off. The game is more complex, sure, but for no notable gain, and possibly for a loss. It's much easier to say that the DT for all Feats is 20, and then create a few basic modifiers; a good lock is always at -2 to the FEAT. This is how it is in the original SSR rules, and it's staying. I toyed with the Sentinels model, but it doesn't make as much sense here. This target 20 actually aligns better with the source material; your saving throw vs. Dragon breath is always the saving throw. It gets better as you get better, and is rarely dependent on the specifics of the dragon who is doing the breathing.

Magical Bonuses. This is always one of the big bugaboos. How do you balance magical benefits? I don't like the complex array of stacking; this item gives a benefit, unless it is with this item, then you take the better of the two; but in some cases, you get to take a third bonus, but only if the first bonus is not from a ring.
I am thinking of a simple hard cap on magical bonuses. You are limited to a magical bonus to any ability, attribute, or quality of + your level. At level 2, your magical bonus to AC can be no better than +2 altogether. This could be from a ring that grants AC +1 and a shield that grants +1 AC, or from a spell that grants +2 AC. Doesn't matter. You cap at your level. This means that a level 6 character could conceivably run around with magical +6 to attack, damage, attributes, Feats... okay. These are endgame characters. I'm cool with that. So, a level 1 character can pick up a sword that gives +3 to attack and damage, but he cannot use the full power of the sword yet; he just isn't powerful enough to wield it, so he gets +1 to hit and damage. I actually like this a lot, because a character could start with an heirloom weapon or suit of armor and not know its full benefit until a few levels are achieved and it stops getting better...

Magic. I have WAY simplified the magic system. I like it. As a caster, you can cast one spell of each spell tier you have per turn. If you are a level 3 primary caster (like a magic user), you get a tier 1, 2, and 3 spell each turn. You want to throw fireball every turn? Fine. You only get one, so I hope it counts. This at least requires some level of diversity. In fact, this better aligns with the movies that I often try to emulate; a wizard never just stands there delivering the same spell over and over. The wizard draws different spells from his repertoire, throwing an assortment of different magic at his foes. Mechanically, the game will support this approach. And, this solves the problem of a level 2 magic user have a grand total of 2 spells per DAY. Ugh.

The draft is coming along nicely. I should have it out in the next few days.

Weird Revisited: INFERNO-LAND!

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 09/02/2018 - 14:00
This post first appeared in 2012 and was written for a Bakshian post-apocalyptic setting. it could be used in any number of post-apoc settings, though...

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.


First Comics News - Sun, 09/02/2018 - 13:48

Screen sensation Lee Majors (‘’Ash vs. Evil Dead’’, ‘’The Six Million Dollar Man’’) stars alongside award-winning actress Isabella Blake-Thomas (“Once Upon a Time”) in director Shawn Welling’s inspiring wilderness adventure Jean.

Albert is a seasoned renegade with a heart of gold. With his memory beginning to fail and his wife wheelchair-bound, his young granddaughter, Jean, has her hands more than full taking care of the couple. When Albert journeys into the desert, Jean must learn and grow over the course of her epic quest into the wilderness with her faithful canine. “Agnosia” is a miraculous adventure into the strength of the human spirit, and the power of love, courage, and faith.

From Gregory P.Wolk and Ruben Estremera’s Giant Meteor Films, Jean now available on digital from Indie Rights.


Director: Shawn Welling

Starring: Isabella Blake-Thomas – Jean also as Patricia
Lee Majors – Stone of Life (voice only)
Michael Pickering – Albert
Preslee Bishop – Faith
Ari Atken – George
Ranger – Ranger
Additional Cast:
Leticia Peres
Dalia Elliott
David Namminga
Derek Russo
Brigham McNeely
Justin LeBrun
Martin Copping
Michelle Simmons
Travis Simmons
Shawn Welling


Producers: Gregory Wolk, Shawn Welling

Writer: Gregory Wolk

Run Time: 73 min
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Comments: There is some beautiful scenery as this movie starts. Jean and her dog Ranger are looking for her Grandpa.  He wonders off at times. Jean is a cute young teen girl who seems at home in the outdoors.
Grandpa is pretty old so his mind does not work as good as it once did. So Jean with Ranger is out alone tracking her Grandpa. Why did she not tell any adult before going after him? Jean does show courage on her journey.
There is not a lot of talking in this movie. The scenery though is breathtaking. Jean does encounter many trials along her way.
Then we skip back in time. Jean is the caregiver for her grandparents. She lives a mostly happy life. Grandpa is something else. He is amazing even as his mind is going.
Isabella Blake-Thomas gives a stunning performance. It is subtle yet powerful. She will touch your heart.
Jean has a service dog why? What happened to Jean’s parents?
Now back in the present. Ranger’s plight will definitely bring a tear to your eye. Not just for him but for Jean as well.
Jean’s life you do get to share and you will even become a part of while watching this film.
This movie is presented so beautifully. It is a touching film about a young girl’s life that will have you caring so much for her.

Categories: Comic Book Blogs

Three Tombs

The Splintered Realm - Fri, 08/31/2018 - 19:28
I am pretty sure I've posted... several times... about how I do my best thinking while mowing the lawn. Anyhow, today was lawn day, which means it was also brainstorming day. After I came in, I drew this map which is going to be the introductory adventure for Tales of the Splintered Realm, the new game (an update to SSR with a few flourishes from Sentinels of Echo City, and a few new things as well) that is a system I totally love right now. It's an entire game in 16 pages, and it's pretty much everything that Saga can do, only simpler, cleaner, and even more direct. TSR takes a step away from its B/X roots and a bit more towards an original design, but which is still compatible with OSR stuff. It should be out in a few days... to whet your appetite, here is a map of the Three Tombs, a little bit of the Caves of Chaos, but also a campaign starter for a story I'll be weaving through later modules (at least, that's the plan...)

Weird Revisited: Star Warriors: The Azuran System

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 08/31/2018 - 11:00
This post is from 2015, but I really like the map, so I felt like it was worth revisiting...

This is a "work in progress map of the Azuran System, location of the Star Warriors setting I've done a couple of posts about. Some of these worlds have been mentioned in other posts, but here are the thumbnail descriptions of the others:

Yvern: Humans share this tropical world with sauroid giants! They have learned how to domestic these creatures as beasts of burdens and engines of feudal warfare. Some Yvernians are able to telepathically communicate with their beasts.

Vrume: The desert hardpan and canyons of Vrume wouldn’t attract many visitors if it weren’t for the races—the most famous of these being the annual Draco Canyon Rally.

Zephyrado: Isolated by its “cactus patch” of killer satellites, Zephyrado is home to hard-bitten ranchers and homesteader colonists—and the desperados that prey on them!
Geludon: A windswept, frozen world, Geludon is home to mysterious “ice castles” built by a long vanished civilization and the shaggy, antennaed, anthropoid Meego.

Robomachia: A world at war! An all-female civilization is under constant assault from robots that carry captives away to hidden, underground bases--never to be seen again.
Darrklon: Covered by jagged peaks and volcanic badlands shrouded in perpetual twilight, Darrklon is a forbidding place, made even more so by its history as the powerbase of the Demons of the Dark. Few of the Demons remain, though their fane to Anti-Source of the Abyss still stands, and through it, they direct the Dark Star Knights and other cultists.

Computronia: A gigantic computer that managed the bureaucracy of the Old Alliance and served as its headquarters. It is now under the control of the Authority, and its vast computational powers are used to surveil the system.
Elysia: Elysia was once a near paradise. Technology and nature were held in balance, and its gleaming cities are as beautiful as its unspoiled wilderness. Elysia’s highest mountain was site of the training center of the Star Knights. Now, the Star Knights have been outlawed and the people of Elysia live in a police state imposed by the Authority.
Authority Prime: This hollowed out asteroid holds not only the central headquarters of Authority High Command, but its training academy and interrogation and detention center, as well. 

Unfathomable: An Interview with Jason Sholtis

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 08/30/2018 - 11:00

Over email, I had on a conversation with Jason Sholtis on OU. Here are the best parts:

What's the secret origin of Operation Unfathomable?

In brief, I got swept up in the early throes of the Old School revival, decided to see if I could write game materials and submitted a piece to Matt Finch's zine Knockspell ("The Font of Glee" from issue 3). I was shocked and amazed that it was accepted, which only emboldened me, despite not having written much of anything outside of comic book scripts for years and years. I set out to write a follow up for Knockspell and came upon what I thought was a decent hook, sending novice adventurers into a "high level" dungeon partially depopulated by a previous expedition. My aim was to pack it full of what I considered to be new and unusual characters, encounters, and situations, and to express in a concise way my own approach to the Old School RPG experience. I wanted to demonstrate these personal idiosyncrasies via the traditional dungeon form, in much the same way as the anti-corporate punk rock scene (with its zines and other home made media) that I enjoyed participating in as a younger person.

When the Google Plus thing began to percolate, I wanted to see if I could manage to run a game using Hangouts and ran the Knockspell version of OU. We had fun, despite appalling PC casualties, and decided to continue on. Driven by the need for additional adventuring material, I began to expand the scope of OU, adding tons of new weirdos, locations, and horrors.

Did the campaigns/settings you run before bear any resemblance to the OU world, or was this sort of new territory?

I ran a campaign in the early-to-mid-nineties that had some similarities, primarily the Underdark-like subterranean wilderness. Once the PCs entered this wilderness, there they remained until the campaign fizzled. Important Old School cred note: I missed all of 2E D&D, and had no inkling of the Underdark as a thing.

So I know you saw Patrick Stuart's review of OU, where he took issue with its tone. "Cheese," I think is the word he used. What are your thoughts on tone in OU and D&D in general?

I guess I should start by saying that I think there are no limitations on tone in D&D; it's all about group preference. The game can accommodate the full range of tonal elements from the utmost Tolkienian seriousness, high drama with actual emotions resonating around the table, to low comedy and can sometimes vacillate wildly in the same campaign.

Whether any of those kinds of modes are desirable is entirely up to the players. Let the record show I make no value judgements in this department.

There is a popular notion that gaming materials should be as serious (and, possibly, scary) as a counterbalance to the comical behavior of players at the table. While I concede that this idea has some merit, I am wired in the way that I am wired.

Personally I find it nearly impossible to run a game of Dungeons & Dragons that doesn't skew into the ridiculous and I have embraced this approach. If I can present a game that has absurd elements that still engages players, I call it a victory.

For anybody who's taken a look at my Dungeon Dozen blog (Volume One still available!),  this should come as no surprise.

I do find the whole milieu of D&D gaming to be ludicrous in a very fun way:
"I swing!"   "I just go ahead and pull the lever!" "I check the giant skull for traps!" "Why yes, I speak High Beetle-ese!"My attempt at writing an adventure module with a humorous (yet lethal!) tone was both natural and with purpose. For me, where a lot of adventures I have read in the past fall down is when they boil down to dull details and lists of stats. I figured if I can present things in a way that was amusing and engaging enough to be read through without pain, the reader would have a solid basis for running the thing. Zzarchov Kowalski wrote a piece for his blog that is fairly in line with what I hoped to accomplish. I didn't care so much if OU was innovative in its presentation, just that it was entertaining and memorable. The degree to which I have succeeded or failed in this is (of course) for others to judge

As regards "cheese," you know, cheese is pretty delicious but I guess it's used as a pejorative in this sense. Cheese, kitsch, camp: all of these could sort of apply to Unfathomable but they're all kind of vague terms that could be used to describe a lot of D&D play at the table. I will certainly own up to some of my influences being composed at least partially of cheese. Is cheese in the eye of the beholder? Is cheese played with a straight face more or less objectionable than cheese presented with a wink and a nod?

I do mention Star Trek the Original Series a couple times  in the manuscript (I think there are two such references amounting to a small handful of words) which manages to be both cheesy and awesome simultaneously, which was my ambition with OU.

Unfathomable is a fairly accurate representation of my play style, which I'm advocating by publishing the thing, but I certainly don't reject other tones or styles out of hand and have enjoyed playing in a variety of games that run the tonal gamut.

Are there things you like or look for in setting related materials that you buy? Are there things you enjoy when other authors put them in a setting that you would probably never do in a setting you create? 

I should answer first by saying that I am not much of a consumer of setting materials in general, as I have always been a bit obsessive about making original settings for the games I run, but I do enjoy checking out other people's work in this area. I avoid using materials that I haven't concocted myself because I'm an egomaniac, ahem, I mean because making that stuff is an aspect of the hobby I value and enjoy.

I've admired settings like Tekumel and Glorantha for years (and have been fortunate enough through the miracle of Google Plus to finally play in games of each captained by James Maliszewski and Barry Blatt respectively), but I would never set out to write something like those huge Glorantha tomes (which look awesome). For me I would rather drop hints and small bits of setting information though the presentation of an adventure or a series of adventures and leave tons of wiggle room for GMs to interpret the setting for themselves. For D&Dish settings, monster listings, character classes, spells, and especially art convey a sense of setting without becoming encyclopedia entries. To get in my union-mandated Hydra plugs, your Strange Stars is a great example of a setting presented without lengthy screeds that also allows the artwork to convey a great deal of information. Chris Kutalik's Slumbering Ursine Dunes series presents all kinds of setting information baked into the adventure material.

And with our Hydra Cooperative sponsors plugged, that's a wrap. Thanks Jason!

A Sufficiently Advanced Network is Indistinguishable from A Plane

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 08/27/2018 - 11:00

In fallen, far future age, the achievements of humanity's (or post-humanity's) Height are often viewed through a lens of superstition or occultism. The "Outer Planes" of the wizardly scholars are the ancient networks of the branching human clade and perhaps alien species they joined with, fanning out from Primal Sol to systems to worlds with planets to disassemble and forge into computronium and stars to enshroud for power. The minds of these digital beings (gods, in a since, as much then as now) became so vast, that they could never again travel. Computronium was too precious to waste on ships, and the bandwidth of the wormhole network was low.

So they sat through age--and ages longer than real-time and their hypersophont clock speeds. Many most became eccentric even neurotic. A few went completely mad. These are the gods of the future age.

Concordant Opposition is the nonsense name for the router connecting the far flung networks of post-humanity. Some travelers might dawdle there for millennia in the hub city called Sigil, The City of Doors. Some have accidentally stayed so long the civilizations that birthed them fell into dust.

Primitives sometimes discover the router through awakening ancient technology left from more lucent eras. These innocents abroad are easily gulled into unencrypted travel between networks putting their data at risk for theft. The grifters and thieves that prowl Sigil and squat just beyond the exits from the wormhole conduits know that the only meaningful thing they have to trade to many of the gods of the other planes are sapient minds. The only way they can avoid the clutches of the gods themselves are to serve up naive bumpkins in their place.

The Mind who runs Sigil doesn't care, so long as protocols that maintain trade are not disturbed. Those they get him her way are either destroyed out right or strip of privileges and thrown in a dilemma prison. The Lady of Pain, she is called, and not without reason.

A Dozen Encounters in A Spaceman's Bar

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 08/26/2018 - 14:00
The original d10 only version of this post appeared in 2011. Here it is again, revised and expanded...

It was a motley crowd, Earthmen and Martians, and Venusian swampmen and strange, nameless denizens of unnamed planets...”- CL Moore, “Shambleau”This could be used with any pulpy space game:
01 A shifty-eyed human trader eager to unload a large, glowing jar containing squirming creatures he claims are solar salamanders.

02 Two spacers in aged flight suits.  They're of human stock but congenitally scarred from in utero exposure to poorly shielded drives and strange cosmic radiations.

03 Four pygmy-like “mushroom men," fungoid sophonts from the caverns of Ganymede. They are deep in their reproductive cycle and close proximity gives a 10% chance per minute of exposure inhaling their spores.

04 A reptoid outlaw with bloodshot eyes from chronic hssoska abuse and an itchy trigger-claw.

05 A balding man with thick glasses and a nervous look sits in the shadows. If observed for at least a minute he will be seen to flicker like a bad transmission on a viewscreen.

07 A human child with pigtails and sad eyes surrounded by a faint nimbus of swirling, colorful lights.

08 A cyborg gladiator (his machine parts occasionally leaking oil) on the run from one of the L4 arenas regales two groupies with his exploits.

09 A scruffy prophet and his 1d4 wide-eyed and oddly-dressed teen acolytes, dealing in "spiritual enhancers."

10 Blonde and statuesque Venusian women, neuro-goads on their belts, looking for a suitable male.

11 A hard-faced man with steel-gray hair and a military baring watches the diverse patrons with a cold gaze. His aging uniform might be recognized as that of the humans-only Knights of Solar Purity revolutionary group, crushed in the Phobos Uprising.

12 3d6 Creatures(?) like fist-sized fur tumbleweeds that move with suprising speed and attach to glowing with some sort of electrostatic force burst from a storage bin, presumably accidentally lift in an alcove. Could they be examples of the fabled florofauna of Vesta?

Archetypes Redux

The Splintered Realm - Sun, 08/26/2018 - 00:08
I mentioned in the last post that I was going to look at archetypes as being less generic and more specific. My current thinking is that each archetype is set up with a unique progression of skills, talents, and abilities... and inspired by Sentinels of Echo City, I am thinking that player characters routinely bust out of the cap of 12 on attributes. The great wizard has superhuman intellect, the mighty barbarian has superhuman strength, and the stealthy elf archer has superhuman levels of agility and coordination. That fits the more medium/high fantasy tone I prefer.

The core rules are leaning towards a heavy LOTR influence (as is only right)... with that in mind, here is the working draft of the wood elf scout... by level six (the cap level for the game), this dude (or dudette) could be walking around with DEX 18 (+6 modifier), firing his/her bow 4 times per round, sprinting 70' per round, and taking a total modifier of +16 to Feats to notice stuff. Sounds like someone from that particular book/movie series whose name rhymes with LEGO Bus...

Wood Elf Scout Gear Light ArmorHeavy Weapons Level 1 +1 DEX; +1 to sense Feats; +1 missile weapon attack per round; +10’ to move Level 2 +2 to DEX; +2 to sense Feats; +20’ to move Level 3 +3 to DEX; +2 missile weapon attacks per round Level 4 +4 to DEX; +3 to sense Feats;+30 to move Level 5 +5 to DEX; +4 to sense Feats; +40’ to move Level 6 +6 to DEX; +3 missile weapon attacks per round

Saga of the Splintered Realm Feedback Wanted

The Splintered Realm - Sat, 08/25/2018 - 15:55
I have started some notes for a revision of Saga of the Splintered Realm. My notes thus far take a lot of what I've done with Sentinels and strip the game down even further. Right now, my working approach is to go with a totally modular approach to the game. Instead of a core rulebook with general classes and rules, the whole system would be predicated around the idea of there being no 'generic' anything. The monsters and creatures in the core module would be somewhat archetypal, but by no means generic.

I am thinking right now that I go with a larger size (8.5x11 pages) and each module is only 16 pages long. This allows people to play the core game with only a handful of pages of rules, and then use any module that they want. Each module would require only that module and the core module, and each module would be themed in some way. While the second and third modules would be monsters and GM guides respectively, the additional modules might be on elves, dwarves, the underworld, giants, elemental flame... pretty much anything. Each module might include 4 new playable classes, a few dozen monsters, a few dozen spells, a handful of magic items, and an adventure locale.

I am looking for something I can get wins in around my hectic life schedule, and I have the itch to work on fantasy stuff again.

I will post here as I work on design stuff, and I'd welcome your feedback on things that you didn't like from the SSR core rules.

The Tempus Fugitives

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 08/24/2018 - 12:29

The Armchair Planet Who's Who will contain some "minor" characters/teams who are presented with not more explanation than is what in their entry. This is part of the suggestion of a bigger universe rather than exhaustively detailing it all. The Tempus Fugitives are one of those...

They were branded "anomalies"--beings who were dangerous simply because they were outside their proper timestream: Gary Mitchum, taken from a 1950s Earth by a flying saucer crew from an erased future; Ssatheena the Dinosorceress from an Earth of evolved saurian swords and sorcery; Jack "Tex Mech" McCandless, a cyborg cowpoke from a high-tech Old West; Jehana Sun, warrior maiden of a future medieval Earth conquered by aliens; M'Gogg, a hulking Neo-anderthal from a post-nuclear war world. They promptly escaped from the "Big Hypercube" maximum security prison and now survive as temporal soliders of fortune.

Art by Agus Calcagno

Scavengers of the Latter Ages

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 08/23/2018 - 11:00
art by Shahab AlizadehHere are some further refinements/elaborations on the idea I presented in a previous post for a 5e (or any sort of D&D really) game that was actually far future science fiction replicating fantasy.

  • The Distance Future: Millions of years certainly, though exactly how long is obscured by the mists of time and the humankin's fickle devotion to data storage formats. It is possible that biologic humanity even disappeared at one point but was resurrected by its nostalgic offspring. Scholars are aware that more than one civilization has come and gone and the Height was long ago.
  • A Neglected Garden: Earth was once an intensively managed paradise, maintained by nanotechnology and AI that were integrated into the natural world. Most of the animals were heavily modified by genetic engineering and technology, and some were of exozootic stock. Even humans were integrated into this network, and everyone born still carries the nanotechnological  system within them. Though technological spirits and godlings still live in nature, they no longer heed humans on any large scale, at least in part due to the fact that few humans can activate the necessary command codes.
  • Diverse Humankin: Through genetic engineering, different clades of human-descended biologics have developed. The reasons for the modifications from baseline seen in these "races" may not always be apparent. Perhaps some were just art projects for some creative god?
Art by Laura Zuccheri
  • The grist: Commoners speak of "magic users" in dim memory of the fact that everyone of Earth is a "user" in the computer science sense, but wizards know there is no such thing as magic, only grist, the layers of nanotechnology that envelope the world. Everyone uses it to a degree, but few have the aptitude to develop the skill to employ the grist to work wonders.
  • The ether: The underlying grid of spimes and metadata, which supports the nano and once integrated it with the internet, is known as the Etheric Plane or Ether. Wizards and other magic users are aware it plays an important part in their spells and also in the powers of gods and incorporeal intelligences, but they are like mice within a palace, ignorant of its total function and potential.
  • The Outer Planes: Civilization at the Height was not confined to the Primal Earth, but extended through the stars. Some of the posthumans that went to other stars disassembled planets to convert to computronium, then huddled close to stars for power. Their civilizations sometimes became very strange, perhaps even went mad. Many of their networks still connect to Primal Earth through ancient but robust relays. Humankin of Earth are often in grave danger when they venture into such places.
  • Treasures Underground: Earth's current society is built on the detritus of millennia. Current humankin seek to exploit it in rudimentary ways, and more advanced civilizations of earlier times sought to do so in more advanced ways. The tunnels they dug still exist, but so do the guardians they put in place and the dangers they encountered.

Wednesday Comics: Heroes of the Public Domain Reference Guide Issue #1

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 08/22/2018 - 11:00

I backed the Kickstarter for the Heroes of the Public Doman Reference Guide #1 and the physical copy delivered just yesterday, though I've had the pdf for some time. The new art in the book is by Chris Malgrain, the French artist that I'm working with on the Armchair Planet Who's Who Project. It was also a Kickstarter fulfilled through the comic-specializing print on demand publisher Ka-Blam, which is something I'm interested in doing too.

But anyway: the comic. It's 32 public domain characters spanning the alphabet from Amazing Man to Yankee Girl. Some of these characters have modern appearances (sometimes multiple, competing modern appearances) but the guide just sticks to their "classic" Golden Age histories.

The print quality is good as is the original art. The text is brief, but some of these characters didn't have a lot of appearances. If POD characters interest you, it's worth picking up when its widely available, presumably on IndyPlanet.

No relation to the Wakandan Black Panther

D&D Races Alien Reskinning

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 08/20/2018 - 11:00

I bought these Japanese alien figurines about four years ago. Looking at them yesterday, I though they might make good new skins for for D&D races.

Elves = Gray
There both fan favorites with all the mystique.

Gnomes = Hopskinville Goblin
Magical little pranksters.

Halflings = "Apache" Alien
Their both child-like and cutesy, I guess. Not so sure about this one. (I actually don't know what alien this is supposed the represent. It looks like a Neonate, but the name "Apache" is odd.)

Golaith = Voronezh Alien

Dwarf = Frog Alien
Let's break the Dwarf/Beard connection once and for all. I suppose the Roswell Alien as pictured would be an alternate.

Tiefling = "Triglia" Alien
He's demonic looking!


Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 08/19/2018 - 14:00

Daniel Sell's rules lite, 80s Advanced Fighting Fantasy inspired rpg, Troika!, is getting Kickstartered to a new addition with so very fine artists doing illustrations. It's very easy system, usable for most anything, and Daniel's default setting is flavorful, too.

Here are some Troika! backgrounds I did for it in my Baroque Space setting by way of example of its ease of use: part 1 and part 2.

Notes on a Hypothetical Far Future 5e

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 08/17/2018 - 11:00

As frequently happens when I have things I need to work on, new ideas try to woo me with their siren's song. I'm putting so notes here to try to exorcism the demon of distraction for the time being.

The idea is far future science fantasy, akin to some "Dying Earth" works, only the Earth may not be dying, necessarily. There would be no return of magic, but rather Clarkian sufficiently advanced technology was be perceived by the present, post-technological society as magical.

Here are some thoughts on the setting:

  • Influences would include: Viriconium by M. John Harrison (general vibe), Catch A Falling Star by John Brunner (future tech and decadence), Ventus by Karl Schroeder and "The Far End of History" by John C. Wright (AI entwined with nature to become "gods"), Rob Chilson's Prime Mondeign series (general vibe and hyper-technologically managed ecosystem where humans have forgotten how to use most things), The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi (technologically realized spirits).
  • Like in Numenera, technology would be pervasive and usable fully on by some. We'll bother a term from Tony Daniel's Metaplanetary and call this nano, and pico- (perhaps even femto-) tech "grist." 
  • Wizards are hackers, clerics are inheritors of ancient command codes liturgies, sorcerers are "cyborg" mutants, and warlocks make deals with wild and dangerous AI.
  • Magic items would most likely move in a Roadside Picnic direction.
  • Everyone is effectively living in an ancient landfill. Dungeons are the remnants of archaeological digs or salvage jobs into the strata of the refuse of previous civilizations.

Weird Revisited: Toward A Taxonomy of Magic

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 08/16/2018 - 11:00
The original verison of thie post appeared in September of 2011.

Discussion last week got me to thinking (tangentially) about different magic systems in media and how they might be categorizes. Maybe taking a closer look at these sorts of models might suggest variations for gaming systems? This analysis is in the formative stages, so bear with me here.

It seems to me that on one side we have ritual-based systems. Spells in these systems tend to be specific, discrete entities with distinct effects. Some sort of ritual (of varying levels of complexity) is involved in their production. Effects may be flashy and visual, but just as often there is no visible connection between caster and effect, other than the caster's ritual performance. Magical duels are games of "oneupmanship" with canny spell choice winning the day.  Various ritual magic systems in the real world are examples of this, as are many popular rpg systems. Card-based systems of various manga and anime (and the card games they support) would probably be a variant. Interestingly, this sort of system is otherwise not particularly common in media, though it is not new: Roger Corman's The Raven (1963) has a wizard duel of the ritual sort, though much less elaborate in terms of ritual than what would come later.

On the other end of the spectrum are energy-based systems. These portray magic as some force to be manipulated and wielded. Effects tend be very visible. There may be talk of spells or “cants” or “weaves,” but these tend to be portrayed more like maneuvers or techniques rather than strict formula. Magical duels are marked by a concern with the comparative "power levels" of the participant, not in the advantageousness or disadvantageousness of the spells they choose to employ.  Most comic book mages (outside of John Constantine) wield this kind of magic--and so does Green Lantern, for that matter. Many literary mages are off this type: The Aes Sedai in the Wheel of Time series, the Schoolmen in R. Scott Bakker’s Three Seas novels, and the Warren-tapping mages of Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series are all examples.

Of course, it’s a spectrum with many systems showing some elements of both. For example, Harry Potter magic has ritual, but the power level of individual mages is very important. Also, what characters say about there system is often not completely congruent with how they appear to work; Doctor Strange mentions a lot of spells and rituals, but the appearance of his magic tends to be energy manipulation.

Still, I haven’t been been able to think of one so far that does seem to fit. Obviously, there are other parameters to consider--external versus internal power source, for instances--but I think this divide is the most generalizable.


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