Sorcerer's Skull

Subscribe to Sorcerer's Skull feed
Updated: 21 hours 24 min ago

Abhumans [ICONS]

Thu, 01/17/2019 - 12:00
Art by Agus CalcagnoABHUMANS
First Appearance: FANTASTIC TALES #56

The Abhumans are a hidden human subspecies created around two hundred thousand years ago as a result of exposure to an accidental dumping of Otherworldly toxic waste. An archaic human tribe was genetically altered by the wastes, developing superhuman abilities and extended lifespans.  Certain traits common among them—such as severe allergies to iron and silver and sunlight sensitivity—led them to a more nocturnal and subterranean lifestyle, further separating them from the rest of humanity. Brief encounters with these hidden folk gave rise to legends of fairies, trolls, dwarfs and the like among primitive humans.

By the end of the European Middle Ages, a group of Abhumans decided to withdraw as far as possible from human civilization. They trekked into the Arctic where they discovered an abandoned city that appeared to be made of ice. This was the former domain of another offshoot of humanity, the Hyperboreans, whose civilization had fallen into decadence, then died out. The Abhumans took refuge in the abandoned city and made it their own.

In 1950, the Abhumans discovered young Arno Kaltmann (see Frozen Führer) in the Arctic after his escape from the custody of the United States government. Kaltmann had been genetically modified through use of Hyperborean technology and was adapted to extreme cold. Curious, the Abhumans took him back to their city and nursed him back to health.

When Kaltmann’s link to the Hyperboreans was discovered, a group of disaffected Abhumans (who believed they were heirs to the Hyperboreans and destined to plunge the world into a new Ice Age) came to view him as a messiah-like figure. Aided by power-hungry members of the Abhuman elite, the cultists staged a coup and installed Kaltmann as their ruler, though in fact, he was mostly a figurehead.

The previous monarchs, King Oberon and Queen Titania were forced to flee with their close allies the trickster Hobgoblin, the dwarf engineer Brokk, and the lumbering gnome, Kobold. Later, with the help of the Kingdom of Sub-Atlan the exiles were able to establish an underground community beneath the British Isles with other Abhuman refugees. Though Kaltmann, as the Frozen Führer, has been defeated and imprisoned at various times, his adherents still maintain power over the Hyperborean Abhumans.

KING OBERONAbilities:Prowess: 3Coordination: 4Strength: 4Intellect: 6Awareness: 7Willpower: 7
Stamina: 11Determination: 1Specialties: Leadership, Occult Expert, Magic Expert
Qualities:Abhuman Leader in ExileMore Scholar than Warrior
Powers:Magic (Extras: Blast, Force Field, Illusions, Phasing): 7
Telepathy: 6
Nullification (Magic Only): 7

Wednesday Comics: Martian Manhunter #2

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 12:00
The first thing you might notice  about Martian Manhunter #2 (in a 12 issue maxi-series, a name I have not heard in a long time) is the word balloons on the cover. This bit of retro contrasts with the art itself that is slightly cartoon and tinged with some photoshoppy sort of effects. I don't know how this relates to the books contents other than it suggests you ought to expect something different.
The first issue intrigued me with its imagining of Mars as a place familiar enough, but very alien. Though it synthesized elements of J'onn Jonzz Silver Age origin, the 1988 DeMatteis/Badger "most everything you know is a lie" limited series, and the Ostrander/Mandrake ongoing from 1998, it add new stuff to it, and looked it the old continuity from a new angle. It also revealed that J'onn J'onzz on Mars was a dirty cop.

I am happy to report the first issue was not a fluke. The second continues to be just as interesting with its parallel stories on a murder investigation on Earth and J'onzz's life on a doomed Mars. As life continues mostly as normal for the "manhunter" and is family, tension has begun to creep in. The deadly Curse of H'ronmeer is spreading. Rossmo's art really adds to the alien sequences, but is adequate in the more True Detective Earth-bound portion of the story. The coloring style seems to shift a bit between the two sections as well.
It gets bonus points for providing an explanation for J'onzz's bettlebrow: a brief Martian Neanderthal-mania.

Solar Trek: The Orion Syndicate

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 12:00
This is an expansion of this post.

The Orion Syndicate is transnational criminal organization involved cybercrime, money laundering, piracy, drug and weapons trafficking, and the slave trade. It originated in the Orion Colonies of the Belt (a loose association of libertarian ultra-capitalists of unclear origins), but the current center of its operations, to the extent such a diffuse organization has one, is believed to be in the Jovian Trojans.

The Syndicate are perhaps most infamous for their traffic in artificial humanoids. Their "Greens" (named for their green skin-tones) came to the attention of Federation authorities in 2250. Greens are promoted as having heightened sexual appetites and intoxicating pheromones. What is not mentioned by the Syndicate is that the conditions of their accelerated growth and training often lead to violent responses and animalistic behavior.

Despite the remoteness of their base of operation, operatives and associates of the Syndicate are involved in smuggling, hijacking, and hostage taking in the high traffic regions of Earth orbit. Syndicate associated hackers are all concentrated in this region.

While the Orion Colonies are officially neutral, the Syndicate's haven is likely protected by the Klingon Empire who may employ in them cyber-espionage against the Federation.

What Ho!

Sun, 01/13/2019 - 15:00

You've waited for it, and now it has finally arrived in soft cover. The fourth publication set in the richly drawn, a little bit Slavic, a little bit Vancian, all old school D&D, Hill Cantons settings: What Ho, Frog Demons! Even if you have the pdf, you'll no doubt want this handsome volume on your shelf.

What Ho has two shorter adventure sites, an overview of Marlinko Canton where this and the other publications have take place, and supporting tools like random village and frog demon generators. It's written by Chris Kutalik (owner-operator of the Hill Cantons campaign) and features art by fan-favorite Luka "Witchburner" Rejec.

Reserve your copy today!

Solar Trek: An Alternate Star Trek Setting

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 13:29

Bold proposal: Take the "stars" out of Star Trek. Make it a hard(ish) sci-fi alternate history setting taking place within our solar system. Yes, this would lose some of the mission statement of the voice over intro, but it would actually put it in line with Roddenberry's pitch noting similarities to Wagon Train and Horatio Hornblower (spoiler: neither series featured journeys to other worlds.). In modern high concept terms we could think of it as The Expanse meets Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

So, there would have been genetic supermen in the 90s, leading to advances in spaceflight technology unencumbered by democratic concerns. The supermen dictators would have sent out space probes, maybe even began colonies. (One of these expeditions would start the terraforming of Mars. Their colony of genetically modified individuals would centuries later provide the famous half-Martian first officer, Spock.) As the post-Eugenics War chaos ushered in World War III, some would flee the Earth to set up settlements elsewhere.

In the 23rd Century, some of these farflung colonies and societies are only now being re-contacted. Some have grown strange in isolation. Other have grown into military powers in their own right, like the bellicose totalitarian state lurking around Jupiter's moons, the Klingons, or the mysterious Romulans of the cold depths of beyond Uranus.

The solar system could be updated to modern science, or it might conform to the state of knowledge in the late 60s when Star Trek debuted. I suppose one could push in back even to the 50s science of Asimov's Lucky Starr series, if you just needed Venus with an ocean. Science fiction's knack in the era for coming up with creative ways life could be almost everywhere might prove instructive.

Weird Revisited: The Pulp Core of Trek

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 12:00
I was once again talking about how I might run a slightly alternate ST:TOS game with fellow fan, Jason Sholtis, the other day, which reminded me of this post from 2012...

While I've enjoyed all the Trek series (well, maybe not Voyager) to one degree or another, my favorite has always been the original. It's very much of it's era which gives it a cool design sense and adapts a lot of Golden Age and pulp science fiction elements. The "core canon" for my game would be the original series.

(As an aside, I'd say that a lot of later accretions on the Trek universe have served to downplay the old school science fiction feel. Genetic supermen and a interplanetary sleeper ship coming from the 1990s does not suggest the 20th century history of space travel in Trek played out like it did in our history, but rather more like the imaginings of Werner von Braun and Willy Ley.)

I mean, what would Trek be without Rigel II cabaret dancers?

I wouldn't leave it there, though. The now-noncanonical animated series adds the Kzinti (among other stuff) to the mix. Got to have these guys:

James Blish's novelizations of the original episodes give them a subtle sci-fi lit spin: I think Trek is better with a mysterious Vegan (VAY-gan, alright?) Tyranny in it's past than without it. Always early fan documents add a lot of stuff. The Starfleet Officer's Manual and Star Trek Maps are definitely in--as are parts of the totally out there on its on but well illustrated Spaceflight Chronology.

Wednesday Comics: Comixology Unlimited

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 12:00

DC Comics has joined Marvel (and a number of indies) on Comixology Unlimited. There are currently 52 (huh?) DC titles available along with the other stuff for $5.99/month. It's not a lot, and it's mostly newer stuff, but hopefully that's just where they are starting. It might be the excuse I needed to finally go with Comixology Unlimited, but we'll see.

In other news, after a bit of holiday, I'm getting ready to return to the adventures of Storm. You might want to refresh yourself on the last story, "The Living Planet" to get ready.

Highs and Lows of the Toad Temple

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 12:00

Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued last night, with the part just having escaped the bowels of the Toad Temple oppressing the land of Under Sea, to a loading dock on a canal surrounded by swamp. A swim across the canal provokes the attack of a giant leech, which is warned off by arrow fire. A trek across the swamp leads to a nocturnal encounter with a giant frog and a giant alligator that nearly bit Erekose the fighter in twain. (The random encounter rolls were not on their side.)

As they near civilization they borrow a boat and make it back to the frogling village. Avoiding the Toad cultist patrols who are eager to find the daring rogues who defiled their worship and killed their high priest, the party returns to their barn hideout for a rest.

The next morning, they decide to return to the temple and see if they can destroy it in some way. Kairon and Erekose favor fire. (Erekose had already shown a pyromaniac streak after his unilateral and pragmatic but cold-blooded decision to kill two captives with Burning Hands the night before.) Other party members just want to induce the cult to leave by any means necessary.

They ask the ambassador to get the townsfolk to stage a riot at the temple doors. The party hopes this will divert the cult forces so they can sneak back in. Kully the bard goes to help rally the townspeople.

The plan seems to work in that the loading dock and the lower levels seem virtually abandoned. After a search of the upper dungeon, they find stairs to a tower, where they overhear a ground of guards discussing a squabble over succession with the ranks of the cult luminaries. They get the drop on them and kill them all. Still, they can't kill every cultist in the place (probably), and they still haven't figured out a way to make them leave.

Cymrilians [5e race]

Sun, 01/06/2019 - 15:00
The country of Cymril lies at the center of Seven Kingdoms and its green crystal-spired capital is the greatest city and unofficial capital of the alliance. It's people are descendants of the Phandre, masters of sorceries and rulers of Old Phaedra, until a rebellion instigated by the Orthodoxist faithful. Many Phandre were put to torment, but most of the wizards fled like beetles exposed beneath an upturned stone. In the wilderness they founded Cymril.

The Cymrilians are counted among the Talislantan races of men, so the standard human 5e racial options could be used for them. However, I think something like these variant human subtypes probably fit the Talislantan millieu better. Unless otherwise noted, treated them as human in particulars.
Cymrilian Traits:Ability Score Increase: Intelligence score and one other ability score increases by 1.Size: Cymrilians are taller and leaner than human average, with most around 6 feet in height. Medium.Skills: Gain proficiency in one skill.Magical Aptitude: Though not all Cymrilians are wizards, all possess at least a small magical facility. Each knows one cantrip of the player's choice from the wizard list. Intelligence is the spellcasting ability for it. Languages: Cymrilians can speak, read, and write Low Talislan and High Talislan.Subrace: Choose one of following subraces.
KoresiansTypically just called Cymrilians, they are the dominant group in society. They have pale green skin and hair, and golden eyes.Ability Score Increase: One ability score increases by 1 point.Magical Society: Gain proficiency in Arcana.Languages: Koresians can speak, read, and write ancient Archaen.
TanasiansTanasians are the exiled descendants of the former Phandre ruling caste and make up less than two percent of the Cymrilian population. Some have been raised in exile by families perhaps yearning to regain their former glory. Others may have gone to live in the wilderness, abandoning what they seen as the folly of their ancestors and political intrigues. Tanasians physically resemble Koresians.Ability Score Increase: One ability score increases by 1 point.Skills: Traditionally raised exiles gain proficiency in Arcana, while dissenters gain proficiency in Athletics and SurvivalLanguages: Traditionally-raised Tanasians speak an additional language, likely one related to their place of exile.
PharesiansMake up about three percent of Cymrilians. They are voluntary exiles and nonconformists, owing to historical prejudice against the lime green of their skin. Many become itinerant peddlers of talismans and arcane parephenalia.Ability Score Increase: Wisdom score increases by 1 point.Skills: Gain proficiency in Perception and one other skill.

Dungeonmaster! [ICONS]

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 12:00

Prowess: 3
Coordination: 4
Strength: 3
Intellect: 5
Awareness: 4
Willpower: 5

Stamina: 8

Specialties: Geek Pop Culture

A Lonely Nerd, Deep Down
Impulse Control Issues
"I'm the Dungeonmaster, here!"

Icosahedron of Ioum (Magic Wizardry Device): 8
Images (Programmed)
Spatial Control (Shaping)
Teleportation (Portal)
Probably Control (When a situation doesn't go his way, he can "re-roll" the Icosahedron, i.e. utlizie this power. Either the will of the device or a psychological quirk of Dilbert's considers this cheating. After each use he must test his Willpower against his Probability Control Power level, with a failure meaning loss of his powers for a number of pages equal to the degree of failure.)

Background:Alter Ego: Arnold "Arnie" Francis Dilbert IIIOccupation: Former college student; Professional CriminalMarital Status: SingleKnown Relatives: Arnold and Patricia Dilbert (parents)Group Affiliation: Masters of MenaceBase of Operations: MobileFirst Appearance: SUPER-SENTINEL TEAM-UP #85Height: 5’10” Weight: 156 lbs.Eyes: Green Hair: Light Brown
History:Arnie Dilbert was a capable college student, but performed poorly due to the time he spent playing the role-playing game Monsters in Mazes with his few friends. Unhappy with his real life, Arnie began to immerse himself more and more into fantasy. He convinced his friends to act out their game characters’ exploits in a small cave system near their university. Annoyed by Arnie's increasingly demanding behavior, the others ended the session and left him alone in the cave.
Trying to find the exit, Arnie became lost. He later claimed to have found a hidden chamber where he discovered the large, crystalline Icosahedron of Ioum. This artifact obeyed his commands, giving him apparently magical powers, but whether by design or Arnie's own psychological quirks, it limited him to mimicking powers analogous to those wielded by a Monsters in Mazes referee.
Arnie, now calling himself the Dungeonmaster, used these powers to settle scores with his neglectful parents and former classmates before embarking on a criminal career. His modus operandi was to create a "dungeon" in the location the crime was to take place and force bystanders to achieve his goals for him, coercing them with monsters and traps of his making. At a comic book convention in Southern California, he attempted to force a group of costume contest participants to steal valuable memorabilia for him, but he was defeated by the second Rocket. Since that time, the Dungeonmaster considers her his archenemy, though Rocket does not reciprocate.

Jaka from Talislanta [5e Race]

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 12:00
Art by P.D. Breeding-BlackJaka are humanoid species with features resembling both wolves and panthers. They are covered in sleek black fur and have silver-gray manes. They hail from the beast-haunted wilderlands of Yrmania, particularly the area of the Brown Hills.  With a reputation as peerless trackers, Jaka easily find work as scouts, guides, and hunters of both men and beasts.

Jaka Racial Traits
Ability Score Increase. A Jaka's Dexterity increases by 2, and Wisdom increases by 1.
Age. Jaka reach adulthood around age 12 and typically leave to around 80.
Alignment. Most Jaka are neutral.
Size. Jaka are Medium.
Speed. Base walking speed is 30 feet.
Languages. Jaka can speak, read, and write Low Talislan and are fluent in Wilderness Sign of the Talislantan tribes folk.
Darkvision. Jaka have a cat’s keen senses especially in the dark. They can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. Jaka can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Natural Tracker. Jaka have proficiency with the skills Survival and Perception.
Scent Marking. As a bonus action, a Jaka can mark one creature it can see within 10 feet. Until the end of the Jaka's next long rest, its proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check to find the marked creature, and the Jaka always know the location of that creature if it is within 60 feet. A Jaka can’t use this trait again until it finishes a short or long rest.
Sixth Sense. Jaka have the uncanny ability to sense danger, or even potential danger within 30 feet. They cannot necessarily discern the type, location, or degree of danger, but they know it is there on a successful check of their Passive Perception (Wisdom). In cases where they are actively looking for threats they have an advantage on their Perception (Wisdom). They are particularly sensitive to magic and add 5 to their Passive Perception checks if magic is involved and +2 to their active checks.
Jaka Weapon Training. Proficiency with the shortsword, shortbow, and spear.

Wednesday Comics: The Good Stuff I Read in 2018

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 12:00
I read a lot of superhero comics in 2018, but a minority of them were new (within the past couple of years) but here, in no particular order, are the ones that stood out:

X-Men: Grand Design: I'm not sure the X-men needed to be woven into one sprawling narrative, and doing so has Piskor making some odd choices, but I like the retro approach and the Marvel Saga-esque dive into the past.

Green Lantern (2018) #1-2 and Earth One: Wonder Woman Volume Two: Middle tier Morrison (though with only 2 issues extant, the jury may still be out on Green Lantern) is still better than most stuff.

Supernaut: A little bit Morrison, a little bit Warren Ellis, this is a sci-fi superhero yarn very much of the exposition heavy "mad idea" school. And from an indie, no less. There's a trade, but Amazon doesn't seem to carry it. Comixology has the issues, though.

Martian Manhunter #1 and Electric Warriors #1-2: Both of these are written by Steve Orlando. MM has a take on Mars I found really cool. Electric Warriors has an interesting concept (covering some of the period between the Great Disaster at the time of the Legion). It's early in their runs, but I'm going to be optimistic.

Final Frontier #1: I'm not sure exactly when this was released, but it's a Tom Scioli take on a rock 'n roll band Fantastic Four, so you should read it.

Weird Revisited: Hyades Plains Drifter

Mon, 12/31/2018 - 12:56
This 2015 post is a bit recent for revisit, but playing with Hero Forge over the weekend and designing Tex Hex from Bravestarr brought it back to mind...

Take McKinney's Carcosa, remove whatever homology to Masters of the Universe is there, replacing it instead with echoes of Bravestarr. For the more literary minded: take out some of the Lovecraft and replace it with elements of King's Dark Tower series. Now you've got a weird western on an alien world.

A Bone Man, probablyDrop those sorcerous rituals that upset some people and replace them with drugs. Now you've got an acid weird western on an alien world. That ought to be enough for any game, but you're a jaded bunch with a decadent palate so don't let the alien thing keep you from borrowing from Forteana related to the America West: tombs of giants, tiny mummies, underground lizard (or snake) men. Thunderbirds. Season to taste with Shaver mystery.
Saddle up, cowboy. Lost Carcosa awaits.

Playing with Heroforge

Sun, 12/30/2018 - 15:00
Heroforge, a custom 3D printed miniature design site is pretty cool. My wife and I were playing with it over the holidays, and while there are some frustrating lacks, it already has an impressive array of design elements. Here are a couple of the characters in my Land of Azurth campaign:

Kully the Bard:

And Kairon the Demonlander (i.e. Tiefling) Sorcerer:

 Its inclusion of Western/Victorian elements not only helped Azurth designs, but also my old Wampus Country character, Horvendile Early:

And there's sci-fi stuff. Here are the three characters from the cover of Strange Stars:

More Monster Manual Taxonomy: The Demihumans!

Fri, 12/28/2018 - 12:08
This is a follow-up to this post. D&D suggests that tribe Hominini is much like Canini and has species, even genera, close enough genetically to reproduce. Here's what we've got:

In genus Homo:
Elves H. formosus
Drow H. formosus tenebrarum
Halflings H. pygmeus
Orcs H. ferox

In genus Genomus:
Dwarves G. barbatus
Gnomes G. artificis
Deep Gnomes G. profundi

It is likely that there is a genus Gigantanthropus which includes ogres (proposed G. atrox) and goliaths (proposed G. montanus) and perhaps other near giants. Research is ongoing.

In the Cellar of the Silver Dragon

Thu, 12/27/2018 - 12:00

As I previously mentioned, I ran a short D&D 5e game for my inlaws on Christmas Eve. I ultimately elected to run "A Most Potent Brew," which I picked up on the DMs Guild. I thought it would be short and relatively uncomplicated, and it wound up being a good choice, having samples of exploration and puzzles as well as combat.

The setup involved a brewery (which I remained the Silver Dragon) where workman had inadvertently opened a whole into the buried lower levels of a forgotten wizard's tower. The monsters were mostly vermin: giant rats and giant centipedes. There was one unique monster, though, a giant spider with a fiery bit and web.

The party consisted of a fighter, a cleric, and a warlock, all first level. My wife (as usual) was the cleric. She let her parents take lead, but helped them with the rules and encouraged them when they dithered too long. Ironically, her character was the only one that came close to dying, having been heavily damaged by the fire spider, though some difficulty with a puzzled-based trap was a close call for the fighter.

A good time was had by all. The adventure had little novelty, but it was just about perfect for introducing rpg-naive player's to the mechanics and conventions of D&D in short session. A couple of observations, perhaps of interest: the oft-repeated old school saw of longer and more detailed character creation leading to player's not being sufficiently willing to let their character's die is, at best, only part of the picture. My inlaws were not involved with character creation at all beyond choosing their class, and they were very cautious and death-averse. Both being avid gamers, I suspect they equated death with loss and didn't want to lose. Secondly, so much of D&D mechanics are sort of legacy (ability scores as opposed to just their modifiers, for instance) and could probably be streamlined to make it easier for new player's to understand.

Wednesday Comics: Hey, Kids! Comics Sales

Wed, 12/26/2018 - 12:00
Christmas is over and the time of buying stuff you didn't get as gifts has begun. Comixology is running a number of sales on digital comics. Here's the big list of sales, including big sales from Marvel and DC. Most of these last until January 3rd.

More D&D With the In-laws

Sun, 12/23/2018 - 15:00
Headed to the in-laws for a couple of days and a bit of D&D may be in the cards. Having a newborn meant no family gaming last holiday season, but New Years 2017 my wife and I introduced her parents to D&D with a bit of Lost Mines of Phandelver--and a total party kill. We'll see what this second session brings.

The question is: What should I run this year? I need an adventure either 5e or easily adaptable (pretty much on the fly) that is navigable by new players and delivers some good stuff in just one setting.

The Christmas Specials

Fri, 12/21/2018 - 12:00

A few years ago, I managed to do three "Christmas Specials" in my two Weird Adventures campaigns (though I only did 2 write-ups): "Twas the Fight Before Yule," and it's sequel, and "Another Weird Yule." In 2016, there was a holiday related cameo in my Land of Azurth game.

I still haven't gotten around to doing the reskin of Slumbering Ursine Dunes involving the Weird Adventures version of the Tunguska Event, the mysterious Siberian cauldrons, a captive Father Yule, and talking bears, but I still think it would be great.

Monster Manual Taxonomy

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 12:00
A comment by Gus L of the now-dormant Dungeon of Sighs (though he recently started a new blog, I don't have the link at hand), led me to think about scientific classification of D&D monsters. Not useful for much perhaps, but a fun line of thought. I decided on the rules I would follow on the thought experiment and made several G plus posts along these lines, and got some good suggestions, some of which I incoporated in what follows.

Bulette (Geocacharias sp.)Bulettes are part of family of cingulate mammalsVelocifodiens.

True GiantsGigans is a genus of hominins with several extant species: G. horridus (hill giants), G. troglodytes (stone giants), G. gelidus (frost giants), G. igneus (fire giants), G. nubicolus (cloud giants), G. tempestatis (storm giants). Tentative identifications not completely accepted: fog giants (G. nebulosus) and mountain giants (G. rancens)

GoblinoidsCobalus is the genus of the goblinoids. They may be a separate subtribe (Cobalina) of hominins. Known species include:C. cobalus  (goblins), C. bellatorius  (hobgoblins), C. terribilis (bugbears), C. prodigiosus (nilbogs), and C. armatus (norkers)* 
*[Thanks to Paul V for this one.]