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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

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.

Wednesday Comics: Seven Soldiers

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 08/15/2018 - 11:00

The "metaseries" Seven Soldiers by Grant Morrison and various artists in getting the omnibus treatment later this month. You might want to go ahead and pre-order that. If you haven't read it, I think you will enjoy it. Morrison sort of re-imagines several DC characters (a preponderance of Kirby characters, but not all) and makes them a team that never actually teams up (once you read it that will make sense). The art by the likes of J.H. Williams III, Ryan Sook, and Frazier Irving (and that's not all) is really good.

If the omnibus format doesn't grab you, you can still get it as two hardcovers or paperbacks.

The Giant and the Rock

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 08/13/2018 - 11:00
Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued last night, with the crew of the yellow submarine (which included the PCs) still trying to find their way to the Land of Under-Sea. Captain Cog has been stymied from getting their bearing by a tempest that drove them deep. When it lifted, they rose to the surface and found discovered a floating rock outcropping, like a asteroid in the atmosphere overhead. Even stranger, they were hailed from it by an imprisoned giant:

Calibrax (the giant) alleges that his flying island, Yufo, was stolen, and he was unjustly imprisoned here by a wizard named Phosphoro. Calibrax wishes to enlist the party's help in freeing him from the wizard's chains. When the party seems reluctant, he suggests they take the secret passage on the underside of the island to the wizard's sanctum and discover his villainy for themselves. That, the party agrees to do.

Using Kairon's broom of flying, they fly up and open the hatch. They discover a passageway where they are weightless and a brass whistle floating inside. The bard Kully manages to find the right note to have them whisked into a strange, spherical structure, divided up into rooms. They explore the rooms and discovered several magic items before trying to open a door with a jewel encrusted design.

Waylon the frogling touches the design and finds himself in a maze, being hunted by a bronze minotaur. He must touch the gem stones found across the maze in the right order to escape. With the help of his friends, he manages to do that. The puzzle solved and the door opens to a banquet hall.

Strange music beguiles half the party and a blue-skinned woman shows up to taunt and threaten them. She is the wizards servant, Ariella. Before she can decided what to do with them, she is summoned away. Next they are greeted by the wizard's daughter, Randa. She reveals her father was ruler of a distant world, but his throne was usurped. They have been traveling "by circuitous, subconscious routes," never approaches their home by the direct path, so as not to be detected. They have been returning for "eons." Randa says Calibrax's crime was aggressively seeking her hand.

She offers to take the party to her quarters where they can rest away from Ariella's tricks, and they agree.

Indiana Jones Judge's Survival Pack

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 08/12/2018 - 14:00

When I did my retro-review of the TSR Indiana Jones role-playing game, I mentioned the much cited fact that it doesn't have character generation rules, but noted that it did in its first supplement. It's worth taking a look at that supplement, because it has some other interesting stuff there.

The Indiana Jones Judge's Survival Pack (IJAC1) is a slim supplement (16 pages), but all contains a "supplemental" Judge's Screen with repeated information on old and new weapons, and stats for common animals and vehicles. Then there's the making of a cardboard device to allow to show the results a various sorts of checks, which seems more trouble to put together than it's probably worth.

Anyway, the first topic tackled in the main book is character generation, and it runs only one page. You roll ability score on percentile die, improve them with 30 points to spread around (but nothing can be increased above 70, though you obviously can roll over 70). Then, you determine your broad background (Education, Soldiering, and Real World), then select skills. Interestingly, the Education and Real World skills are on a chart with no dice rolls next to it, suggesting you choose them, while Soldiering does have dice rolls. Since the directions are identical, I assume this was an oversight.

The next section would be of particular interest to old school procedure-lovers: Random Ruins. It has tables that determine basic history, some architectural features, items of interest, creatures or hazards encountered, and tables of "dungeonmorphs" for room and hallway configurations. It's compact but flavorful, and might be useful for GMs in other genres, at least for some random inspiration building.

Next, the chase rules from the main book are expanded. The chase rules are a set of procedures often cited as one of the interesting thing about the game. This adds new location flowcharts (including rooftop chase for foot chases), and adds some flow stunt rules for really aggressive driving or things like trapeze swings and vaulting for foot chases.

The last couple of pages were probably interesting or somewhat useful in the pre-internet days, but all now just filler. There's chart of ancient scripts including cunieform, hieroglyphics, and runes, then a page of small maps of real life ruins/site maps.

The Judge's Survival Pack would have been an essential aid for a referee actually running Indiana Jones. Gamers playing other games still might find its random ruins or chase rules usual, the the latter would also require the basic game.

Impish Misadventures

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 08/10/2018 - 11:00

I've had this idea for a game for a while, but haven't done anything with it yet, but I thought writing it down would insure I don't forget it.

The high concept would be: "C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters meets GURPS Goblins." It would be an infernal Horatio Alger story (or parody thereof) where young imps try to get ahead in Hell's hierarchy by misadventure, toadying, and blind luck. They would be abused and give out abuse and probably come to comedically horrible ends--only to be respawned in the larvae pools and start their Sisyphean climb to archdevil-hood once again.

The rules would need to be simple, but (like GURPS Goblins) flavorful, and I imagine gameplay as something like (GURPS Goblins) with a bit of Paranoia and D&D with a pinch of Planescape.

Armchair Planet Who's Who Update

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 08/09/2018 - 11:00
Art by Agus Calcagno
There's been a bit of a lull in the posting on the Armchair Planet Who's Who superhero supplement, but work proceeds. Here are a couple of new pieces of art to prove it! Since designer's notes seem to be the new hip thing (at least according to G+ discussion), I wanted to say a bit about my approach to the writing of it, beyond the game stats side of things.

Like Strange Stars, the Who's Who is meant to suggest a world rather than completely describe it. Unlike Strange Stars, it does it almost entirely through characters, and specifically the presentation of character like the DC Who's Who or similar to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. This means there might be more detail on a given character (maybe) than you need at the table, but you can always flip the page and go straight to the game stats. Or, you can read the text and get hints of the superhero universe the characters inhabit, and perhaps a sort of meta view of the different "ages" f the fictional comic book company that published them. (We won't dwell on the hypothetical Armchair Planet Comics. The only textual appearance of it will be in the "first appearances" of characters, which can be easily ignored if you find such conceits too precious.)

So you might read about the Abhumans making their home in an abandoned city of the ancient Hyperboreans or learn that Thunderhawk once teamed up with those motorcycle-riding, crimefighting ladies, the Avenging Angels, but you won't find entries for either Avenging Angels or Hyperboreans, or for the teen-humor-comic-refugee band, The Tomorrows, that Futura shares a house with. Context will hopefully be enough to get your creative juices flowing and you don't need me over-specifying homages to various fictional entities you're already aware of. If your version is substantially different than the one I came up with, well that's just fine.

Also, the characters themselves, while all fitting a late Bronze Age DC mold have hints of the eras they were likely "born" in built into them. Some have origins that clearly saw their earliest versions in the Golden Age (like Champion), while others (like Damselfly) show telltale signs of (multiple) later eras. My goal was less a consistent comics universe than a naturalistic one, though like any good handbook of the mid-80s, I've smoothed over the incongruities to make it look coherent. Which is to say, I wrote it like incongruities were being smoothed over.

As I write this, it all sounds a bit metatextual, but I don't think the finished product will require that level of engagement. Also, I feel like superhero role-playing is a genre that has always had a bit of metatextuality to it. If comics history easter eggs and homages can be put to use in springboarding the creation, well maybe, if used with restraint, they might serve a purpose.

Art by Chris Malgrain

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Living Planet (part 4)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 08/08/2018 - 11:00
My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Living Planet (1986) (part 4)
(Dutch: De Levende Planeet)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Thanks to his rescue of the daughter of the crew member, the captain agrees to let him try his plan to kill the fire worm, despite the fact he's an escaped debtor. However, Ember is held hostage and put in peril to unsure he's not playing tricks:

Storm climbs on board one of the flyers with one of the pilots and arms himself with a harpoon.  When he sends a harpoon down the creatures throat, it explodes internally, where the worm has no armor:

Their flying mount is hit by pieces of the flying worm and is going down.

The current makes the animals body rigid, and they are able to walk down its wing to rescue before it is consumed by the lava. They are greeted as heroes. Ember is set free. They are debtors no more.

Storm, as the worm's killer is offered the honor of drinking one of it's eyes. Storm demures.

The Captain now has to figure out what to do with Storm and the other freed debtors. Before they can complete the conversation, both Ember and Storm began to choke and ultimately collapse!



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