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The Tower & the Shadow

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 04/06/2020 - 11:00
Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued last night with the party pressing on toward the shadowy ruined tower (and forgetting their captive in the process). They made their way to the wall surrounding the tower's courtyard. It was made of an alien stone black as vantablack. As the party was peering over it to get a glimpse of structures on the other side, a monstrous black wolf whose breath was icy cold.

They found fire effective in combating the beast, but it seemed to be able to pass through other dimensions to move from place to place. It appeared behind the party and blasted them with its frigid, slaughterhouse-stinking breath. Most of the party went down under the assault; only Shade, Dagmar, and Erekose withstood it. Waylon had chanced to jump over to the other side of the wall, and so was unharmed. Dagmar did a mass healing, and the party dispatched the beast with fire based spells.

They moved into the courtyard and where drawn to a sinister looking stone shed. Waylon saw a treasure chest inside and was undeterred by the corpse of another of the wolf-things in front of it. He manages to pick the lock and get the platinum coins and opals inside, but then is trapped in the shed by a descending wall of shadow. He fills his life being drained away. He can't get through the door! He blasts it with an energy rifle and the shadow seems to weaken but doesn't give.

Dagmar uses a Sacred Flame against it, and again it weakens, but doesn't give. The rest of the part decides the evidence of radiant attacks damaging it isn't quite sufficient, and tries a series of other attack forms, as Waylon's life ebbs away. Eventually, they all switch to radiant attacks and the door is open and Waylon is freed.

The party moved on to the ruined tower and found several of the gloom elves waiting more them. They have a couple of captive members of the deer-centaur tribes folk caged with them, and then there's a door of purest shadow that writhes like a flame.  A Gloom elf huntress steps forward to parley. She suggests the party and the elves call a truce and go their own ways without further blood shed.

Shade demands the captives be returned. The elves are reluctant to do so; the captives "life energy" feeds the shadow and strengthens the connection to the Anti-Sun. The wish to extend the dark country of Noxia into this region. Shade holds firm and the Huntress agrees to consult their master. She walks to the door of shadow and calls out in a language the party doesn't understand.

The shadow of a man comes forth. It seems somehow familiar to them, but none of the party can place it. The shadow consults with the Huntress who bends her knee to it. She reports her Master agrees to their terms, but also wishes to speak with them. The party is wary, but agrees.

The shadow man writes upon a piece of the black stone of the ruined tower with his finger. The result are letters, black but now reflective and so visible. It reads: "You don't even know who your enemy is."

The shadow man leaves through the doorway.

The elves free the captives. The party also attempts to extract another promise that they won't disturb the villagers again. The elves reluctantly agree.

The party returns to the village for a rest with the grateful centaur-folk.


The Splintered Realm - Sun, 04/05/2020 - 16:19
I working through my solo play for Tales of the Splintered Realm, I found the need to develop rules for chants. These are something that I've wanted to layer in for some time, but I think I finally have a system in place that makes sense. I also realized that these were perfect for Potato Bugs in the Army Ants game; these are subtle magical effects that don't have the wow factor of arcane magic, but which can provide exceptional team support. This allows for a number of new classes as well, because this can be an add-on to warriors (the skald), thieves (the bard) and even fighter/clerics (the paladin).

Chants are musical effects that you emit, and that you stack as you become more powerful. While at level 1 your chant only does one thing, by level 6 it is doing several things simultaneously. You must have at least 2 lesser chants before you may take a greater chant; you must have the lesser version of a chant before you may take the greater version. You must be able to move and make noise to use a chant; you cannot sneak while chanting, and when your chant ends, all benefits from it end as well. You can start and end chants as a free action.
Sample Chants
  • Lesser Chant of Regeneration. Each ally within 30’ recovers 1 hit point every other round.
  • Greater Chant of Regeneration. Each ally within within 30’ recovers 1 hit point per round.
  • Lesser Chant of Armor. Each ally within 30’ takes +1 to AC.
  • Greater Chant of Armor. Each ally within 30’ takes +2 to AC.
  • Lesser Chant of Striking. Each ally within 30’ takes +1 to attack rolls.
  • Greater Chant of Striking. Each ally within 30’ takes +2 to attack rolls.
  • Lesser Chant of Acuity. Each ally within 30’ receives +1 to Feats
  • Greater Chant of Acuity. Each ally within 30’ receives +2 to Feats. 

Eternian History Revealed

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 04/05/2020 - 14:00

Eternian historians tend to agree that aspects of the Masters of the Universe myth and literary cycle are rooted in fact, though the historicity of any given aspect of the corpus is likely to be a matter of debate. There several recognized strata of textual sources forming the cycle, each paralleling a series of popular entertainments on Earth. Earth scholars have been slow to treat the Masters of the Universe mythology as an area of serious study, in part due to the bowdlerized form of its transmission, but also to the fanciful, even frivolous translations, done to serve the needs of a toyline.

The name of central figure of the mythos, for example, is risibly rendered as "He-Man." While this is not a wholly inaccurate, literal translation of his title[1] in the earliest texts (which could be read as something like "Supreme Man" or "Male Exemplar"), it seems to have been understood as something more like "Powerful Hero" or "Mighty Person" at the time those texts were written. Such carelessness is rife in widely available translations.

The most widely known version of the mythology, forms what is essentially the "Matter of Eternos," particularly focusing on King Randor and his court. The term "Masters of the Universe" arises from this era and refers to the elite warriors, comparable to the Knights of the Round Table, whose exploits are primary focus of the various epics and romances. He-Man is central to these stories, as the secret, heroic identity of Randor's son Adam, who is otherwise portrayed as callow or even foppish. He-Man's inclusion is unhistorical, but the Randorian Renaissance is a matter of historical record, and some of this Masters of the Universe are likewise attested.

The historical He-Man is believed to belong to the oldest strata of tales. These stories are simpler and portray a more primitive world still suffering the effects of the Great Wars, far removed from the technological rediscovery and courtly sophistication of Randor's time. This He-Man is a folk hero, who leaves his tribe to began taming or reclaiming the wilderness. He contends with monsters and personifications of cultural competitors.

One of the key events in these early myths is He-Man's encounter with a green-skinned Sorceress who gifts him with ancient weapons and armor from a cache hidden in a cave. In some myths of this strata, she is referred to as a goddess. The confusion regarding her identity likely later editing of the stories to preserve the importance of the Sorceress of Grayskull or her cult.

The earliest depictions of the Sorceress/Goddess show her in a cobra headdress. Many scholars believe this to be an important and revealing historical detail, reflecting the continued influenced of the Serpent centered religion of the conquering Snake Men. In contrast, by Randor's time, the Sorceress is clad in feathers and associated with the Eternian falcon, the Snake Men and their cultural having been thoroughly demonized.


1. Initially the title was thought to have been the character's actual name, but it appears in other records of that era clearly not referring to the hero. Perhaps the Eternian chroniclers were unaware of his original name among his tribe. This lack of identification is consider significant by those who doubt a single He-Man existed historically, instead viewing him as at least a composite of several real individuals, if not completely mythological. Some have seen Wun-Dar of Tundaria as the original of the He-Man character, noting the similar stories told about them, but it seems more likely some of He-Man's exploits were attributed by the Tundarians to their local hero.

Two Interludes (Because Backstory)

The Splintered Realm - Sat, 04/04/2020 - 13:34
Interlude One

I returned to the bustle of Stalwart Keep. The Recondite Society had heard rumor of my investigations surrounding the Burial Mounds, sending one of their lackeys, a thin, cagey, fifty-something thief named Juniper, to try and get information from me. He used his dagger to pick his teeth. It was, frankly, quite unsanitary. [Makes CHA check]. I explained that I was simply looking for one item of relatively little monetary value, but I would (of course) cut the Society in on 25% of anything I found. This didn’t mean I was a member, but it meant that I could be considered at some point for membership, and they wouldn’t hunt me down and kill me immediately, so that was progress. I would have offered him 25% of my current take, but that amounted to a handful of rat teeth, so he took the IOU and went on his way. I was eating a bowl of pheasant stew at the time, so my poverty needed no further proof. I did ask if he knew anything of the missing Rod piece that I had been searching for, but he seemed confused at the question. Never mind.
[From the first mound, Mimsby had earned 17 XP but no cash. Meh.]
I decided to peruse some of the books at the bookshop, seeing if I could discern anything about the secret door, the construction of the mounds, or anything else. [Makes Lore check easily; I will learn 2 things]
I learned first about the presence of a secret door in the tomb I had just explored. I was simultaneously humbled and heartened. Smart Mimsby for doing research! Stupid Mimsby for missing it the first time.  
I also learn that the next mound was made for the spy to the High Seneschal. These mounds were built at the end of the Kindreds War (really a series of skirmishes and back-alley brawls, if we’re being honest) after Lord Vontu died unexpectedly with no heir (rumors abounded regarding him and livestock. I digress.). Four noble houses vied for his title. In that time, the High Seneschal declared marshal law and took over the army until one of the four families could emerge to replace Lord Vontu. Eventually, House Whitebridle claimed authority, the Seneschal stepped down, granted a burial mound for his entire family. Seeing as he had no family (and no livestock were harmed, I presume), that was out - but he did have eight loyal lieutenants who had served him well in the tense eighteen months he ruled over the region around Stalwart Keep. Each Lieutenant received an individual mound, and he hired a team of dwarfs of questionable heritage (Clan Thunderkiller? Really? Nobody actually believed that, I hope) to complete the work. I was able to find some of the original designs, although the maps were crude, not to scale, and covered in scrawlings that included an improvised game of find the blugger and recipe possibilities for a type of mead derived from rat droppings. Again, Thunderkiller seems an overstatement. However (fun fact), the Seneschal was in possession of a family heirloom, a Rod of 9 Parts, which he divided (nicely) among his and his lieutenant’s tombs. It may have been cursed, and dividing it in this way may have cursed each of the tombs, and the remains may actually be unrestful in afterlife, and I probably shouldn’t be looking for this item now that I think about it.
Eh. I’m sure I will figure out the curse thing eventually.
I was going to peruse some lore regarding curses, but then the owner of the bookshop started to get sarcastic in his tone, suggesting something about paying customers and the differences between honest businesses and those whorish libraries, and since I could no longer concentrate with his blathering filling up my ears, I decided to set off and return to the first tomb. There was a secret door to explore!  
[This is becoming a novel in my head. SO much fun writing this.]
Interlude Two: Of Stalwart Keep
I have made passing mention of my home, but thought it was due something of a descriptor. Stalwart Keep is, to put it plainly, ten weight of dung in a five-weight satchel. It was originally intended as a mid-journey layover between North Brisford to the north (obviously) and Elsingston to the south. However, North Brisford fell into the hands of the northern ork tribes (we get it – they are north; stop putting it in the title already) and was rechristened Blood Haven (because ‘ork city’ would have been too on the nose, one presumes), and Elsingston suffered something of a setback when it was set upon by a dragon and large numbers of folk decided that living in an unwalled city in dragon territory was not the best long-term decision. In short order, a keep designed to comfortably quarter one thousand had been turned into the abode for either 5,220 or 3,897, depending upon to whom the question was posed. According to the official census, the tally was 3,897 – which the Whitebridle family brandished routinely to justify an ever more ponderous policy of taxation. “You want to live like a keep with 5,000, but we have fewer than 4,000 – someone has to pay for all of this!” However, 5,220 was the official population writ upon the application to the Alliance of Cities of State, which requires a minimum population of 5,000 to meet the threshold for city statehood.   
Whichever number was honest, the truth was such: there were too many damned folk. Zoning laws had changed to allow alleys to shrink to 3’ wide and ‘streets’ to 6 (curious, considering the average carriage is 5’ wide); building permits were issued to allow two-story structures to grow to five stories, and suddenly the family that had been living on the first floor (and was NOT about to move) was dwelling beneath a stable that had been erected on the second level, with an awkward ramp system to allow horses to travel to and fro. And above that was an apothecary, which was only accessed by a rope ladder, because that was all the room we had and you had best make use of what you could and stop complaining so much Elwick, you should be happy you got to open your stupid shop at all.
But Stalwart Keep was on a good mound, and it had a good wall, and there was arable farmland about, and trade came in from many directions, so the minor inconvenience of being routinely squeezed by your neighbors in all directions was considered a necessity for modern life. But the fact is that we were all packed in like so many sardines in a tin.
Therefore, any opportunity to stretch one's legs was welcome, even if (or especially, to be honest) that meant descending into the tombs of the dead to plunder their riches.

Mimsby’s Journal: A Solo Play for Tales of the Splintered Realm

The Splintered Realm - Fri, 04/03/2020 - 17:06

Inspired by this post by Dyson Logos, I decided to create a solo character (Mimsby, a gnome trickster) and use the Solitaire Framework and Tales of the Splintered Realm to do some old-fashioned tomb raiding. Away we go…. I keyed the map as I adventured.
Part the First
Having learned of a Rod of 9 Parts hidden among the Funeral Mounds of the Sullen Marches, I set out to recover them. I first entered the Mound of Remembrance, the rumored rest of a skeletal soldier of some repute.
I was able to pick the lock to the door of the mound, sneaking within quietly. I was met with thick cobwebs and ancient dust. I failed to notice the trapped stair just beyond the door, and I set off the spear that fired upon me from the opposite wall. I deftly evaded this, and it wedged itself into the door. I vowed to move forward more carefully.
Entering a main hall, I was attacked by some form of minor dust elemental that arose from the thick grime. I timed my defense perfectly, cutting through it in two quick strikes of my blades. It dissipated immediately. The tombs nearby had been prepared but never used.
(Note: Mimsby failed to find a loose stone in one of the alcoves that contained something of interest).
I continued northward and watched as rats scurried away from me. I entered what appeared to be a mundane storage area. Many of the less valuable possessions of the dead soldier were placed here, but they have long-since rotted and decayed. I found nothing of value. However, I found a fabric covering a strange shape, and removed it to find the carefully-preserved corpse of a war dog. It came to life and attacked me.  I was able to evade its bite, but I struggled to prepare my blades to counter-attack. I dodged its second bite, and my swords found their mark. I gave it its final rest. Another check of the chamber gleaned nothing of value.
(Note: There is nothing of value to find)
As I was leaving, I realized that something had attracted a small pack of rats that set upon me. 4 of them attacked. I still had my swords at the ready, and I was able to bring the fight to them. I killed one immediately, but then the other three were upon me. I managed to beat one away, but two delivered cruel bites to my arm and leg. (Mimsby suffers 5 hp damage). I managed to deliver a grievous wound to one and decapitated another. Only one remained. He hesitated a moment, but decided his hunger was greater than the threat I posed. As he leapt at me, I stabbed him through the heart. I rested for several minutes to recover my strength, drinking some of the thin wine and eating a piece of the flatbread I had brought along. I hoped that I would find something soon that would afford me a better meal.
I made my way to the tomb towards the east. The door was locked and trapped. I discovered the poison needle in the door, but set it off while trying to disarm it, much to my chagrin. The poison turned my arm blue, but I managed to tie off the arm below the shoulder and cut myself to bleed out enough of the poison to survive. It made me violently ill, however. I was worried the sounds of my screaming and the smell of blood would bring on scavengers, but I was lucky to avoid that fate. I rested again.
Once I had my wits about me, I entered the door and descended into the resting place of the old soldier. It was a casket surrounded by valuables – crates of coins, a variety of jewelry, a handful of weapons. As I perused it, I quickly noticed the forgeries. At best, the entirely of the chamber was worth a handful of copper coins. It was all fakery of the lowest quality, easily detected by even a mediocre fence. As I prepared to wedge open the casket, I was attacked by a huge spider that had been slowly descending upon me as I examined the chamber. I cursed myself for my foolishness in not looking up before entering this hall.
I felt the presence of the spider just before it bit at my neck, and managed to leap forward of its snapping mandibles. I swung at it twice, but my strikes met only air. It fell to the ground and charged at me, snapping viciously. It bit the ground at my feet, kicking up a cloud of dust. I decided to press my luck no further, whispering an incantation that loosed an arcane dart, which burst directly into the mouth of creature, causing it to combust. I could see its web 30’ overhead. I could see something bundled up there, and decided I must investigate. I first opened the casket to find a skeleton inside; this instantly came to life and attacked. I was not surprised in the least, and I drove my sword through its eye socket as it sprung to life, destroying it quickly. I searched the chamber twice, but I was unable to find anything of value. I was frustrated beyond measure; either the rumors I had paid for were wrong, or I was missing something. Either possibility was unnerving. I returned to Stalwart Keep no richer, but perhaps a bit wiser than I had been at the start of this fool’s errand.
(Note: He failed to find the secret door! Ugh)

Weird Revisited: The Ahistorical Historical Setting

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 04/03/2020 - 11:00
This post first appeared in 2017...

Historically accurate Aristotle?A social media thread about bad history in historical costume drama caused me to recall an idea I had years ago upon a re-read of Aaron Allston's wonderful Mythic Greece: Age of Heroes. At the time, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was still in syndication, and while not particularly good, it did suggest the using of Greek Myth and geographic as a backdrop for a fantasy setting that might not otherwise have a lot of the trappings of Greek myth. For the most part, Hercules stuck to the big names, but there's no reason you couldn't get as detailed as Allston's book, but give it a wholly un-Mythic Greece feel.

The changes can be big. Reign: The Conqueror (based on the novel Arekusandā Senki by Hiroshi Aramata) re-imagines the life of Alexander the Great as a sort of science fantasy thing with giant Persian war machines and Pythagorean ninjas. Or, they can be subtle, like Black Sails weaving historical pirates with a sort of prequel to Treasure Island. (The difference I see between this last one and a standard historical setting which would generally tend to insert fictional characters, i.e. the PCs, into history, is the "high concept" of the literary/historical mashup.)

A lesson on Greek myth every week?So I say go ahead and run a Kirby-esque space opera based on the book of Exodus. Recontextualize the War of Roses to have it take place in something like Warring States Japan. Or take the history presented in the Book of Mormon and turn it into a hexcrawl as Jeff Reints did.

Let history be your guide, not your boss.

MTDAA Twilight Issue 2 Now Posted

The Splintered Realm - Thu, 04/02/2020 - 16:04
The second issue of MTDAA: Twilight is now posted. 

I like how this turned out... the termites are nice and crazy, just as I wanted them.

It's PWYW, and uses the Solitaire Framework.

It has solo rules, so you can play today - even if you are stuck under a quarantine.

So that's something!

And urmugurd, I just realized this is my 700th posting! Go me.

Weird Revisited: A Plague of Goblins

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 04/02/2020 - 11:00
The original version of this post appeared in 2010...

"Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours."- Planet of the Apes (1968) Goblin plagues are suffered in the less settled areas of the world. They are more common in places which lie near ancient ruins. In such an infestation, tens, perhaps hundreds, of goblins swarm forth from underground dens or nests. They overrun manor, hamlet, and village, and have even been known to assail the gates of small cities.
No one knows what spawns goblins, but it is certain they don't reproduce in the manner of most humanoids. All goblins seem to be of the same sex, though in truth, this is something of a conjecture. Smaller goblins, perhaps immature ones, are seen among their swarms, but never is any parental nurturing or concern directed towards them by any of their fellows.

It's difficult to guess the intelligence of goblins. There's no questioning their cunning, but they don't build structures or make tools; they behave only as brute beasts. This may be more preference than lack of capacity, as there are reports of them taking up knives and smallswords and brandishing them in deadly mockery of humans. Though they may wear rags or stolen bits of clothing or armor as rude decoration, they are just as happy to go naked.

When swarms of goblins pour forth from the underground, they tend to move toward human habitations, though wild animals will sometimes suffer their assaults. While popular stories make much of the mischievous nature of goblin attacks--their crude pranks, surprise scares, and harassment of livestock--their deadliness should not be discounted. Typically, the actions of the swarm escalate from behaviors which create fear or annoyance to outright attacks with their sharp teeth, stolen weapons, fire, and sheer numbers. They have been known to consume humans they kill, but that seems to be an after-though.

The infestations may last as little as a night or two or as long as a month, depending on the amount of resistance they encounter. If the swarm doesn't end of its on accord, it can be dispersed by killing a quarter or more of its number.

Scholars have attempted to discern how goblin plagues might be predicted. Folklore suggests that they are "summoned"--perhaps by a child entering puberty. Adolescents suffering from the anxiety of an unwanted betrothal, the birth of a new sibling, or other sorts of emotional duress are thought to become unwitting "Goblin Kings" or "Goblin Queens," and call forth their subjects in some psychic manner.  Naturalists remained unconvinced but are at a loss to explain the tales of goblins paying rude homage (in imitation of human courtly deference) to a single child in a decimated village or attempting to abduct such a child without harming them in any other way.

Dark Sun Sword & Sandal Style

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 03/30/2020 - 11:00

Dark Sun certainly seems to have an element of Sword & Sandal films in its DNA, either directly or indirectly through the obvious influence of 80s Sword & Sorcery films and art. I feel like that's an aspect that could be played up.

To do it "pure," you'd want to lose some of the Dark Sun grittiness. The desert is less Arrakis and more the arid regions of the Levant or possible Egypt. The struggle for survival is less important than the struggle against oppression and injustice. Luckily, there's a lot of that on Athas. Pretty much everything else can stay: gladiators, city-states, the occasional monster, muscular dudes without shirts.

For the full Sword & Sandal effect (at least in the Italian Muscle-bound hero vein as opposed to the Hollywood Biblical epic), it might work best to use something like Crawford's Solo Heroes rules like in Scarlet Heroes so the protagonists can pummel groups of mooks into submission with just their fists.

A D&D Party as Skillful Companions

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 03/29/2020 - 14:00
There is a type of folktale called Skillful Companions tale. It's exemplified by stories like the Grimm Fairy Tale "The Four Skillful Brothers." In these tales each character has a valuable, specific skill (sometimes highly specific). The use of each companion's ability is necessary to successfully complete the group's undertaking.

Noting that D&D characters (and rpg characters) are defined by classes, races, and player chosen abilities that make them ideally different from the other characters in their party, I going to suggest that D&D adventures really click when they work a bit like a Skillful Companions tale: when ever player gets to contribute their thing and their thing helps the adventure reach a happy conclusion.

I think "player skill" and creative solutions to problems should of course play a part in rpgs. Players derive more satisfaction from solving problems when they feel like they did it, not just their characters. But contrary to some not infrequently repeated old school wisdom I think the answer should sometimes be on your character sheet, or at least the tool your going to leverage to derive the solution ought to be. Having different character types or arrays of spells, weapons, and other abilities having mechanical differences would be inexplicable otherwise.

Adventure design for an unknown group of players obviously has a hard to tailoring challenges, but I think if you're making adventures for your regular group, maybe they should be crafted with the players in mind. There should never only be one way around a problem, of course, and player's can and should be able to avoid encountering a problem entirely, but there's nothing wrong with at least thinking of things that might give each character their time in the spotlight.

Setting Creation: Patchworks & Found Objects

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 03/27/2020 - 13:11

To an extent, almost all world-building relies on borrowing, it's just a question of the size of the blocks being borrowed. Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age can show its inspirations pretty nakedly in places like Vendhya or Asgard, but even Tolkien's less derived-appearing subcreation has pretty clear analogs like an Atlantis myth. It's not surprising really; real world sources are built on foundations of history; completely imaginary cultures are not only harder to come up with, but also less detailed and less well thought out. The real question is how are these borrowings used?

Mystara (The Known World) is what I would call a patchwork. Its sources are almost always pretty obvious (and the writer's tell you what they are just in case you missed it), and they are stitched together with not much thought to realism. Patchworks have the advantage of being easy to get a handle on for GM or player, but run the risk of hampering the ability to create a vivid, new world. It's also easy for things to run to stereotypes and unintentional comedy, perhaps.

The other form of the borrowing in settings is the one I called the found object. Here the borrowed blocks are smaller, or less overtly recognizable, and they are used in a more transformed fashion. Howard's Hyborian Age actually straddles the border between patchwork and found object. Some of this, admittedly, may be the remove between our pop culture adventure fiction and that of Howard's day. It may be his sources were more obvious in the 1930s. But in any case Asgard as a "Viking culture" and Stygia as "evil Egypt" are pretty big patches. Nemedia gets a little harder to recognize. It's mostly "rival Medieval nation" but its elements of Holy Roman Empire aren't too difficult to see, and it also has details like a band of Northern mercenaries like the Byzantine Varangian guard. Then there are a few lands that are more obscure: Khoraja, for example, has a (Near) East meets West thing going on that might remind on of Howard's historical actioners in the Outremer, but also likely Trebizond.

Tolkien did this sort of thing, too. The Arnor/Gondor divide just changes the cardinal directions of the Roman/Byzantium split, in a way that mirrors the Israel/Judah divide. The Dunlending/Numenorean conflict has echoes of the Anglo-Saxons versus the Celts in the British Isles. These things are there without the borrowing being complete or obvious.

Is there a downside to the found object approach? Well, if the borrowings are too obscured you don't get any advantage of easy recognizability, which might be a problem if you are making a product to sell or trying to communicate things quickly to players. But you still get most of the advantages of patchwork for ease of your own work on the setting.

Conan, 1963

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 03/26/2020 - 11:00
What if during the late 50s to mid-60s Sword & Sandals movie crazy, somebody had got around to making a Conan film? Here's my suggestions for the cast of a 1963 adaptation of "People of the Black Circle."

William Smith as CONAN

Former Miss Israel and Bond girl Aliza Gur as YASMINA

Jack Palance as KARIM SHAH

Christopher Lee as THE MASTER OF YIMSHA

Raf Baldassarre as KHEMSA

and Chelo Alonso as GITARA

Wednesday Comics: New Science Fiction

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 03/25/2020 - 11:00
This continues to be a good era for science fiction comics outside of the Big Two. Here are a couple of recent releases:
ProtectorSimon Roy, the co-writer of Protector, is no stranger to quality science fiction, and he and his co-creators (co-writer Daniel Bensen and artist Artyom Trakhanov) have crafted a story set among warring tribes in a North America post a global warring apocalypse. The Hudsoni tribe worship the Devas who seem to be advanced artificially intelligent technology of some sort, but they may have met their match when a member of the Yanqui tribe awakens a robotic demon. There are two issues of Protector out so far, but I'm eager for more.
Starship DownCultural anthropologist Jocelyn Young is brought to a secret site in Siberia where delegations from other all over (including the Vatican) are congregating in secret around a startingly discovery: an ancient, crashed spacecraft. And then there's what's inside... Written by Justin Giampaoli with art by Andrea Mutti, starts with a vibe not unlike Arrival. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

Weird Revisited: Scientia Potestas Est

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 03/22/2020 - 14:00
This post originally appeared almost 8 years ago to the day...

[This relates to my previous "Apocalypse Under Ground" posts, so take a look.]

Wizardry is a curse on all mankind.

This is what the common folk say, and sages acknowledge the rise of arcane knowledge went hand in hand with the emergence of the underground--perhaps more than once in history. Wizards are aware of how they are viewed (and feared) and are unconcerned. When you’ve held the words that encapsulate the true forms of reality in your mind--when you’ve experienced true gnosis--you’re above petty concerns.

Practitioners of the arcane art have always existed. Mostly they’re solitary, exploring their art removed from the intrusion of the mundane world. The opening of the underground changed that. It's entrances glowed like an arcane beacon. Those who might have lived their whole lives without ever knowing they had the talent were transformed by what they encountered, reborn into a new world--if they survived their first delve.

The old wizards came out of seclusion to tutor these fledging sorcerers--and to use them them to grow their own power with secrets wrested from below. In time, the adventuring wizards came to surpass their masters, sometimes frighteningly so. These new grandmasters took apprentices of their own, for much the same reasons--though as wizards grow older and more steeped in the arcane, their thoughts and desires sometimes grow more alien, their whims more capricious.

One question above all concerns the grandmasters, though they seldom speak of it, even in their rare conclaves of peers: Does the arcane have a life of it’s own? Does the symbolary that is humankind’s closest approximation of the true description of the universe have its own agenda? If so, does it favor humanity--or the Monsters?

Weird Revisted: Savage Swords of Middle Earth, Part 2

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 03/19/2020 - 11:00
The original version of this post appeared in 2016...

Continuing an attempt to pulpify Tolkien's legendarium, let's take a look at the races other than Men.

Elves in Tolkien are superior to men in just about every way. Pulp fantasy has that sort of thing, too. Check out this quote regarding an ancient race from "Queen of the Black Coast":
“Cast in the mold of humanity, they were distinctly not men. . .in physical appearance they resembled man only as man in his highest form resembles the great apes. In spiritual, esthetic and intellectual development they were superior to man as man is superior to the gorilla.“Howard makes mention of  evolution in several places. Sword & sorcery pulp worlds tend toward (pseudo-)science, as they partake of the genre-blending weird fiction tradition, whereas Tolkien's is mostly a mythic world. For the complete pulp feel, The Silmarillion would be merely myth and the true origins of most Middle-earth creatures would be scientific/materialistic--or perhaps some Theosophy-inspired mix of science and mysticism. No need to make a decision one way or another, though, for day to day adventuring.
"Do you not see now that your coming to us is as the footstep of Doom? For if you fail, then we are laid bare to the Enemy. Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlórien will fade, and the tides of Time will sweep it away. We must depart into the West, or dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and be forgotten." - Galadriel in The Fellowship of the RingDecline of advanced races/cultures is a trope common to Tolkien and Howard, so good to go. The decline to "rustic folk of dell and cave" even kind of resembles the decline of the Picts as presented in Howard's "The Lost Race." Lord of the Rings is full of a lot of elvish badassery (the movies moreso) but the more that is downplayed and their waning and decline is played up, the more pulp fantasy it will be. Elves can still be a potent force, but they should mostly stay in their dwindling enclaves.

"I saw plainly the stunted bodies, the gnarled limbs, the snake-like, beady eyes that stared unwinkingly, the grotesque, square faces with their unhuman features..." - "The Little People"Other Howard stories present the Picts or (a pre-Pict aboriginal race) as not just declining but degenerating. The same thing happens to the Winged Folk in "Queen of the Black Coasts" who become winged ape men by the time Conan meets them. One of several origins Tolkien considers for Orcs is that they are elves distorted and corrupted by Melkor. Perhaps the corrupted part is the main thing, then they sort of degenerate on their own?

In fact, there should be more evil, degenerate elves in general; the equivalent of the Black Numenoreans. I don't want to say, "drow," but Gary's description of Erelhei-Cinlu in Vault of the Drow is pretty pulpy.

Wednesday Comics: Social Isolation Edition

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 03/18/2020 - 00:35

If you're bored and stuck and home, you could do a lot worse than listening to our podcast The Bronze Age Book Club, where we explore one Bronze Age issue an episode. Our latest episode has been delayed, but not to worry, we have are continued to record and will get them to you as soon as we are able.

Still, there are already 15 episodes for you listening pleasure.


First Comics News - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 20:09

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, titles carrying the Closing Order Minimize-off Dates of March 16, March 23 and March 30 can be returnable at a later date.

“It is a tough scenario for everybody,” stated Picture Writer Eric Stephenson, “and whereas we commend each retailers and customers for placing their well being and security first, we do not really feel all of the burden needs to be positioned on the Direct Market. We wish shops to order with the arrogance they are not going to be caught with inventory they cannot promote, and we hope everybody acknowledges the half all of us can play by becoming a member of collectively to assist each other climate this disaster.”

A full checklist of the affected titles follows. Please Be aware: The titles on this checklist are topic to vary. The checklist can be up to date as these modifications happen.

FOC 03/16/20

  • FARMHAND #15 (MR)
  • REAVER #8 (MR)

ON FOC 03/23/20

  • CLOCK #3 (OF 4)
  • DECORUM #2 (OF 8) (MR)
  • DIE DIE DIE #10 (MR)
  • NOMEN OMEN #6 (OF 15) (MR)
  • SONATA #10 (MR)
  • SPAWN #307
  • STEALTH #2 (OF 6)

ON FOC 03/30/20

  • LOW #23 (MR)
  • OLYMPIA #5 (OF 5)
  • REDNECK #27 (MR)
Categories: Comic Book Blogs


First Comics News - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 20:06

The CW has shifted the release dates for the next two weeks of The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow episodes.

The March 24 episode of Legends of Tomorrow, titled “Zari, Not Zari,” has been taken off the schedule and replaced with a rerun of “A Head of Her Time.” Similarly, the March 31 episode “The Great British Fake-Off” has also been replaced with a rerun of “Mortal Khanbat.” The Flash‘s March 31 episode, “So Long and Goodnight,” will be replaced with “Grodd Friended Me.”

Production on all Arrowverse shows being halted because of coronavirus (COVID-19). Both The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow will air new episodes on March 17.

Categories: Comic Book Blogs

Top 4 Best Comics of 2019

First Comics News - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 19:00

2019 was a strange yet a strong year for comics. In the past 12 months of 2019, there were some of the best Indie titles released. However, the output of some of the mainstream outfits, such as DC, Marvel, as well as Image, can be well described as average with just one or two high points. If truth be told, the best work in the medium last year didn’t really come from the publishers with the glossiest names. So, to ensure that you didn’t miss the best of the year, we have come up with our best picks of the year. You can use this as your guide to ensure that you don’t miss any of the stellar comics of 2019. Now, let’s get started and take a look at the 4 best comics of 2019.


First – The River At Night

Publisher – Drawn & Quarterly

Maira, who works with a platform where you can pay someone to write a papersays that The River At Night is a reworked compilation of the material which first appeared in the much-hyped and well-acclaimed series, that is, Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges. This book again is a masterpiece where you’ll see a heartfelt sincerity and an inquisitiveness to interact with the people and the world around us. Further, it is an accurate depiction of phantasmagorical insomnia and the weird thoughts that it invokes in the people afflicted. Additionally, the comic has multiple moments that will seem recognizable to anyone who has ever had a sleepless night. It is witty, beautiful, and intelligent, all at once. I believe, if the book gets the recognition it deserves, it will surely make Kevin a household name.


Second – Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me 

Publisher – First Second Books

This book by Mariko Tamaki is a touching yet fun take on high school relationships. However, despite the title, it not just revolves around romantic relationships, but rather uncovers the relief of overcoming the toxic influences in life. Brian, who offers online assignment help servicessays that the biggest winner of this YA graphic novel is certainly Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s art. Tamaki’s work is achingly beautiful. The color palette and the variation in the depiction are outright beautiful. Moreover, it is lifelike, and the performances by every character in the book are outstanding, The nervous “me” from the title, Freddy, to Laura, and the other supporting cast is brilliant in every way. It is one helluva romantic story that you have always yearned for.


Third – The Hard Tomorrow

Publisher – Drawn & Quarterly

Kiara, who offers online assignment help Sydneysays that if there’s one book that’s in sync with the world today, then it is The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis’. The book is heart-breaking and ambitious all the way, where the author writes with the hope of a better world. It revolves around a political activist and a caregiver. In the book, you’ll find instances where you can see how blurry the line is between the political and the personal events is, and how this thin line puts all the relationships at a risk. Honestly, it is an emotionally draining book yet one of the kindest books I have read so far. The best thing about The Hard Tomorrow is that it is a much-needed break from the earlier work by Eleanor. For me, it is the book of the year and for all the right reasons.


Fourth – Is This How You See Me? 

Publisher –  Fantagraphics Books

Just as we discussed above, if ‘Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me’ is the perfect book for our hidden high schooler, ‘Is This How You See Me?’, is the book from the age spectrum’s entirely opposite end. This book by Jaime Hernandez puts forth the story of Hopey and Maggie, who decide on revisiting their youth. So, from the middle age, they go back to the young days by attending a punk reunion show. Amidst the show, they realize how much has changed, and yet there are a few things that never change. After reading this book, it is pretty clear that Jaime’s work has matured to sensitivity and subtlety that the book is well able to hit you with the nostalgia of lost youth and leave you with a melancholic smile on the face. Lily, who offers the best online digital marketing courses online, says that for her, Jaime has always been the number 1 living cartoonist, and after reading the book, her thoughts for him have not changed even one bit.

So, these, according to us, are the top 4 best comics of 2019. You should take out some time and give them a good read. You will thank us later! If you have more to add to the list, leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Categories: Comic Book Blogs

Red Sonja: Age of Chaos #3 preview

First Comics News - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 18:52
Red Sonja: Age of Chaos #3

writer: Erik Burnham  |  artist:  Jonathan Lau

covers: Lucio Parrillo (A), Alan Quah (B), Alé Garza (C)

                Kunkka (D), Shannon Kingston Cosplay (E)

                Derrick Chew #4 Sneak Peek Cover (RI)

                Derrick Chew Monochromatic #4 Sneak Peek Cover (RI)

                Lucio Parrillo “Pure Pencil” Sketch Cover (RI/BW)

                Shannon Kingston Cosplay (RI-Virgin), Lucio Parrillo (RI/BW)

                Alah Quah “Pure Pencil” Sketch Cover (RI/BW Virgin)

                Icon Edition Cover: Adam Hughes (RI)

                Icon Edition Cover: Michael Turner (RI)

                Lucio Parrillo CGC-Graded Cover

FC  |  32 pages  |  Fantasy/Horror  |  $3.99  |   Teen+ 

Red Sonja, paired with the half-vampire Chastity, is on the path to setting things right, restoring the timeline and hopefully saving humanity in the process. But Chastity isn’t the only strange visitor from another time; Jade, Evil Ernie, and Purgatori have all come to Hyboria as well, and they’ve taken a shine to the savage world as an easy place to indulge their dangerous natures. They may not take so well to the notion of going home. (Plus, Ernie gets to ride a dragon, which is almost impossible where he comes from.) The She-Devil’s adventure in the Age of Chaos continues here!



Categories: Comic Book Blogs


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