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Updated: 3 weeks 1 day ago

Weird Revisited: Middle Earth with More Pulp

Mon, 03/16/2020 - 11:00
"Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Númenor and the gleaming cities, and the years of the Fourth Age, there was an Age undreamed of, when realms of Elf, Man, and Dwarf lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. . . Hither came Aragorn of the Dúnedain, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a ranger, a wander, a chieftain, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the thrones of Arda under his feet." - The Red Book of WestmarchI posted that bit of Howardian remix on G+ yesterday goofing around, but it's a serious idea: What would Middle-earth be if presented in a more pulp fantasy (not just Robert E. Howard) sort of way? You could do a really comprehensive overall, sure, where maybe only the names remain the same, but I think a few tweaks here and there would make a big difference. Just take a look at things that are already pretty pulpy: 1) a fallen age following the sinking of a "Atlantis"; (2) Orders of beings with some more advanced and others more degenerate than others; (3) a lot of ruins strewn about; (4) a lot of wilderness separating civilized areas; (5) Magic (to the extent it is practiced by Men--i.e. humans) seems the province of sorcerers who are engaged with evil forces.

So let's start with Eriador, also called the Lone-Lands, which is pretty cool, because that's where the stories do, and see how it goes. Eriador is definitely a "Points of Light" place; a former advanced kingdom where most of the cities have fallen into ruin after a war with a Witch-King.


Witch-King Cultists: When a guy named the Witch-King used to rule, I think there probably should be hidden enclaves (or whole villages) fallen to his service and maybe worship of Sauron or Morgoth. They probably also engage in sacrifices commiserate with their Satanic cultist behavior.

The Rangers of the North: The Dúnedain who struggled against the Witch-King were descendants of Numenoreans (like Conan was a descendant of Atlanteans). After their defeat they become badass wilderness types organized into tribes or bands, I'd guess. They're about as much "barbarian" as Conan is, except they're in tight with elves. They roam the wilderness and hunt orcs and trolls (and probably those Witch-King cults). They could be part frontier lawmen, but also a lot like the settlers described in Howard's "Beyond the Black River":  "They were all gaunt and scarred and hard-eyed; sinewy and taciturn."

Replace the Picts in those Pictish Border Howard stories with orcs or Hill-men, and you've got it. Or replace Solomon Kane in any of a few of his stories with a lone ranger (heh), and that works as well.

Woses: Speaking of Picts, a couple of Howard's Pict stories are perfect inspiration for the mistreated, more primitive Drúedain. Check out "The Lost Race." Here's a perfect description:
"Scarce above four feet stood the tallest, and they were small of build and very dark of complexion. Their eyes were black; and most of them went stooped forward, as if from a lifetime spent in crouching and hiding; peering furtively on all sides. They were armed with small bows, arrows, spears and daggers, all pointed, not with crudely worked bronze but with flint and obsidian, of the finest workmanship. They were dressed in finely dressed hides of rabbits and other small animals, and a kind of coarse cloth; and many were tattooed from head to foot in ocher and woad" Hill-Men: Again speaking of Picts, in either Howards frontier stories or some of his other Pictish yarns where their degeneration is more sinister (after Machen) and less sad, the Hill-Men can be those sort of Picts. A little degeneration won't hurt. They're really likely to be those cultists mentioned above, too.


The towns: As to the civilized or more settled areas of Eriador. I strongly support MERP's idea that Tharbad (before it was a ruin) was a decaying city of cutthroats and thieves. A standard Conan tavern ought to fit in well, in any of those towns, too. Just substitute "Brythunian" with "Breeland" and you're good to go.

Elves from the Broken Sword

Sun, 03/15/2020 - 14:00

The elves of Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword are like the standard elves of D&D to the extent they both share similarities to Tolkien's elves (in the case of Anderson's book, it's because they share the same sources), but are very different in other ways: they are haughty and cruel, more classic faerie-like, invisible to human's without witchsight and vulnerable to iron.

Here's an elven subrace for 5e that is a bit more like Anderson's version than the standard D&D ones:
Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 1.Elf Weapon Training. You have proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.Cantrip. You know one cantrip of your choice from the wizard spell list. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for it.Fleet of Foot. Your base walking speed increases to 35 feet.Iron Sensitivity. Iron weapons do +1 damage against one. You cannot wear iron weapons or armor, or even touch it without taking 1 point of damage per round.

Weird Revisited: Adventuring in The Time of Plague

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 11:00
This post originally appeared in 2010, but recent events brought it to mind...


A little light reading about the Plague of Justinian the other day (and the plague of no home internet access I continue to suffer) got me to thinking about the use of epidemics or even pandemics in gaming. Obviously, succumbing to infectious disease isn’t the most adventurous way to die, but plagues, particularly big ones, have a tendency to cause a great deal of social, economic, and religious upheaval, which is the perfect backdrop for an rpg campaign, or fodder for adventures.

First a few terms. An “epidemic” occurs when the outbreak of new cases of a particular disease exceeds the expected number for a given population. This is, as the definition suggests, somewhat subjective. A “pandemic” is when epidemic conditions exist over a wide geographic area--possibly even the whole world.

The most famous historical pandemic is probably the Black Death which affected Eurasia, and peaked in Europe around 1350. Low-end estimates have it killing a third of Europe’s population. The traditional culprit was thought to be bubonic plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, though their are some new theories.

The societal effects were profound. Depopulation meant fewer people to farm, and that coupled with livestock plagues, and climatic changes lead to famine and starvation. Fearful people blamed convenient scape-goats--often Jews--and Jewish communities were wiped out in some places. Fringe religious groups like the Brotherhood of Flagellants became more widespread.

The Plague of Justinian (541-542 CE) is also thought to have been caused by bubonic plague. This plague may have weakened Byzantium enough that Justinian I was unable to reconquer Italy, shattering any hopes of reconstitute a whole Roman Empire. It may have also weakened Byzantium for its coming face-off with the Arabs a century later.

Y. pestis isn’t the only malefactor out there. Smallpox, influenza, cholera, and typhus caused pandemics before the the 20th century. Measles, yellow fever, and dengue fever never had the same spread, but have caused localized epidemics. Of course, in a fantasy world plagues might be more exotic, even magical in nature.

I can think of three broad ways a plague could be used in gaming. The first is plague as background color. Carts of dead, or oddly dressed plague doctors might just be part of the general ambience of a setting--particularly one with a grubby, "real" Middle Ages feel. It could be treated seriously, or darkly humorous.

The second is plague as apocalypse. As its been pointed out before, there is a post-apocalyptic element to the implied setting of D&D. Perhaps the apocalypse isn’t just a remote event, but ongoing? This could cast the player’s not as pioneers on the frontier, but as defenders of the fire of civilization. This might or might not have implications on the sort of adventures had, or it might just influence the tone.

The third is plague as campaign focus. Maybe the point of the whole campaign is defeating the forces of evil behind the plague? It could be introduced early, as a minor background element, but as more people succumb to the disease it grows in importance. Eventually, finding a cure might become the PC’s central concern, but only after its grown “naturally”( or unnaturally).

Weird Revisted: Demonland

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 11:00
Art by quiteproustianThe promiscuousness of infernal beings is well-known, so it isn't surprising that by-blows of their trysts are found among mortals. While rare in most of the world, those with infernal blood are the majority of the populous in Demonland1, a city-state across the mephitic Wastes from the Country of Sang. Why so many descendants of infernal bloodlines should be found in one place is a mystery, but perhaps the area had a sulfurous air of hominess for their grandsires and granddams.

Demonland proper is built upon a cluster of small islands in a lake formed by hot springs. The boiling, caustic, malodorous waters are a perfect defense --though they also make life less pleasant for the inhabitants. Demonland’s potable water comes from filtered rainwater collect in cisterns and also by magical purification of the water of the lake itself. The city is only accessible by boat and all goods and visitors make the trip over by ferry.


Demonland is nominally ruled by a Duke (or Duchess), and though this ruler’s power is theoretically absolute, it is most commonly exercised in throwing lavish revelries at which the true rulers of the city go masked. These princes (and their masks) represent the seven capital vices exalted in Demonlander religion and culture. The prince of each vice is officially appointed by the Duke but in practice is more or less elected by general consensus, as the Duke shrewdly defers to the inclinations of the mob. They serve for an indefinite tenure, usually a year and a day. The princes are meant to most perfectly embody their vice, and would-be candidates campaign vigorously (all except the candidates for Prince of Sloth, of course) for the title by engaging in the most audacious (and public) displays of sinfulness to capture the jaded hearts of the populous. The princes hold absolute authority with regard to the practice of the vice they personify and make legal proclamations and levy taxes or duties that might be pertinent as they see fit. They are allowed to keep a percentage of any monies collected for themselves.

Diabolism is the state religion of Demonland. It inverts the morality of most human faiths, promoting vice and condemning virtue. Self-interest and the pursuit of pleasure are valued over altruism and self-denial; Greed and vanity are extolled, and charity and modesty condemned. Demonlanders, however, are only a trifle less likely to fall short of the ideals of their faith than folk elsewhere, so their practice of immorality is as prone to lapses as the practice of morality in other lands.

Art by Arthur Asa1. The correct demonym is "Demonlander." Never call a Demonlander a "demon" as this is both inaccurate and rude. "Tiefling" is just as bad.

The Half-Seen Tower

Mon, 03/09/2020 - 11:00
Art by Petr PassekOur 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night with the party trying to find a way to close the portal to the Umbral Realm after having slain the shadow drakes. Nothing they try seems to work. They do discover the missing artifacts of the cervine centaur people (and 3 shadows in the process), and glimpse a partially ruined tower in the near distance, but only when the roiling shadow rising from the portal passes between them and it. Otherwise, it's invisible.

They decide to investigate, but first thing's first: return the artifacts to the tribe. Waylon and Erekose surreptitiously decide to Identify the items first, lest they turn over something truly valuable to the forest dwelling folk. The staff is nothing magical. The diadem is, but the specifics are hard to understand. Waylon asks Tualla if they might borrow for a while, but after Shade intervenes the matter is dropped.

But on the way back to the tribe's encampment they discover another enemy. A pale, black-eyed elf and a couple of hulking humanoids of unknown type are threatening a yearling of the tribe. When Erekose and Kully intervene, the elf and companions make their escape. The kid tells them they wanted to know about "the strangers that killed the drakes."

Shade will brook no child-threatening, so the party tracks them through a shadow-darkened mire to a dark, unwholesome pond surrounded by tall grass--and the half-ruined tower. Ever on the lookout for valuables, Erekose spies a glint of gold in the grass 'round the pond. It turns out to be a ring on the pinky digit of a half-decayed, severed hand.

Waylon tries to get the ring via mage hand, while Waylon goes in closer to investigate and a putrid undead thing rises from the muck to attack. Then another!


While the party is fighting the creatures, someone hidden snipes at them with poison arrows. When they are finally able to catch a glimpse of them, it's two more of the strange elves. The snipers press the party hard, but eventually 7 against two, causes one to beat a retreat and leaves the other asleep in the grass--a captive for interrogation.

East of Caldwellia, West of Elmoreon

Sun, 03/08/2020 - 14:00
In recent discussions of vanilla fantasy, my friend Paul (owner of the long-hiatused blog, Dungeonskull Mountain) and I have bandied about the idea of an "80s fantasy" world. While we perhaps don't share exactly the same vision for that, both of us agree that famous D&D artists of mid-1e to 2e eras--particularly Clyde Caldwell, Larry Elmore, and Keith Parkinson--play a big part in that.

The visuals are clear and distinct, but is there a setting in the work of these artists distinct from just generic D&D?

I'm not entirely sure, but I think we can say make guesses as to what elements it may have and what elements it does not.

Glamorous Not Grotty
Glamorous might be a little strong, but hey, alliteration! Anyway, we are certainly not in the Dung Ages, or any version of gritty pseudo-Medieval verisimilitude.

Complicated Costumes and Culture
Compared to work of Frazetta, Kelly, or Vallejo, the clothing of the characters has a lot going on: fur trim, feathers, scales, etc. This tends to be true even when female characters are scantily clad. It's all more renfair that Conan. This suggests (to me) more of a high fantasy world than a sword & sorcery one, and an interest in visually defining cultures that doesn't get into the heavy worldbuilding of a Glorantha or Tekumel, but is definitely of the "needs a glossary at the end of the book" level.

Dragons & Drama
There are an awful lot of dragons. I mean,  they're showing up all the time. And often characters are confronting them in a way that suggest they are big, powerful heroes, not the type to die pointless in holes in the ground. The another name for high fantasy is epic fantasy, and that's what these images often convey.

A Touch of Humor
Despite the epicness and high drama, things are seldom if ever grim. In fact, from adventures posing with the tiny dragon they slew, to a muscular female fighter manhandling an ogre, a bit of humor is pretty common.

Red-Eyed Goblin

Fri, 03/06/2020 - 12:00
A goblin made with Hero Forge, colors accurate to the AD&D Monster Manual, except the hair where I had to guess.

And here's a Hobgoblin:


Weird Revisited: Different Dwarves for 5e

Thu, 03/05/2020 - 12:00
Relevant to my earlier post on vanilla fantasy...


The Tolkien-inspired, Nordic-derived dwarves of standard D&D aren't the only dwarven subraces out there. There is another dwarvish tradition: a more folklore and fairytale one. The dwarves of the Country of Yanth in the Land of Azurth are that sort of dwarf.

Compared to the average D&D dwarf, they tend to be more social and affable. They are fond of good food and drink and are renowned brewers. While they may be miners or metalworkers, they are not as oriented toward these tasks as others of their race, and are just as likely to loggers, woodworkers, or farmers.They have no more love or precious metals or jewels than humans.

Unless otherwise noted, the folkloric dwarf subrace has the traits of the standard dwarf.

Art by Jerad S. MarantzAbility Score Increase. Wisdom increased by 1.
Lucky. Like a Halfling's.
Size. Folkloric dwarves vary more in height than other dwarven races. Most are medium, but a few are under 4 foot and so small.
Dwarven Combat Training. They eschew the battleaxes and hammers employed by other dwarves, but are handy with the axe and short sword.
Tool Proficiency. Their choices for proficiency are smith's tools, brewer's supplies, cobbler's tools, woodcarver's tools, or cook's utensils.

Wednesday Comics: Bronze Age Book Club - Marvel Spotlight #33

Wed, 03/04/2020 - 12:00
Last week saw a new episode of the Bronze Age Book Club podcast released Friday.


Listen to "Episode 15: MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #33" on Spreaker.

My Flavor of Vanilla

Mon, 03/02/2020 - 13:10

Since my post on my occasional craving for vanilla fantasy, I've been thinking about what sort of vanilla setting I would do, if I was to do one. At least, what sort I'm leaning toward right now.

I would start with a setup substantially similar to Tolkien's Middle-Earth at the start of the Lord of the Rings. A great war, devastated the shining human kingdoms of the West. Amid the ruins are scattered petty kingdoms and free cities, "points of light" in the D&D parlance, dominated by the Small Folk--dwarfs mostly, but more of the folklore or fairytale variety than a Tolkienian one.


There are still humans there, of course, but the human dominated lands are mostly to the South. Elves exist too, but they are diminished (quite literally) from their Golden Age. They were once fairy lords, but now the elves of the West are short in stature and decidedly less magical. The Dwarf Folk view the elves with some suspicion, since some of their race sided with the forces of darkness.


The approach would be a bit more The Hobbit than Lord of the Rings; leaning more whimsical than epic. The 1937 original version of The Hobbit would be the most central of Tolkien's work. Other influences include Weirdworld, Wally Wood's Wizard King series, selected stories from Lord Dunsany, Scott Driver's Dwarf-Land, and bits of The Princess of the Goblin and a smidge of my own Land of Azurth, particularly some early ideas that got abandoned.

Enter the Lumberlands!

Sun, 03/01/2020 - 15:00

Erik Jensen of the Wampus Country blog and related publications is Kickstarting a new zine in that setting called Lumberlands: 

"...spend some time in the misty Lumberlands, a vast expanse of enchanted forest where brawny lumberjacks ply their trade, seek adventure and fortune, and defend the frontier from horrible sasquatches."

I loved playing in Erik's Wampus Country game in the days of G+ and I'm pleased it's been resurrected in this zine. Check it out!

Weird(world) Revisited: Middle Earth the Mighty Marvel Way

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 12:00
My recent post on "vanilla" fantasy made me think of Weirdworld and this post from 2010...

"For those who thrilled to J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings"--An All New Adventure into Epic Fantasy!"

So cried the cover blurb on Marvel Premiere #38, the second appearance--first in color--of Marvel's decidedly un-Sword & Sorcery fantasy series. As such, it stands as an interesting artifact in comics history, fitting neither with the pulp inspired fantasies of earlier comics, or the D&D-influenced ones that were to follow.

The titular "Weirdworld" is a fantasy land inhabited by dwarves, elves, and goblins, and perpetually under threat from wicked sorcerers and other magical menaces. Its protagonists are two elves--Tyndall and Velanna--who are outcasts with mysterious (even to themselves) pasts. Their obligatory companion and comedy relief is Mud-Butt, an irascible dwarf.

Tyndall starts out solo and in black and white in Marvel Super Action #1, where he good-naturedly undertakes a quest on behalf of bigoted dwarvish villagers in "An Ugly Mirror on Weirdworld" (1976). Velanna joins him by that story's end, and they run afoul of a rejuvenation-seeking sorcerer in Marvel Premiere #38 (1977). Their next appearance, publication wise, would see them travelling with Mud-Butt to the City of Seven Dark Delights and crossing paths with the sorcerous Dark Riders, who were seeking to resurrect their fallen god, Darklens. The defeat of Darklens and the discovery of other elves, were related in the three part epic, "Warriors of the Shadow Realm" in Marvel Super Special #11-13 (1979). Epic Illustrated #9, and #11-13, in 1981 and '82, featured the "Dragonmaster of Klarn" storyline, that revealed more about the mysterious elves and their relationship with dragons. Finally, in 1986, Marvel Fanfare vol. 1 #24-26 saw a lost tale of Weirdworld--the first meeting of Mudd-Butt and the two elves, and vanquishing of yet another evil sorcerer. Work on this story had actually began back in the seventies, but it had been left unfinished.

Weirdworld was the creation of Doug Moench, and artistically designed, at least initially, by Mike Ploog. "Warriors of the Shadow Realm" had art by John Buscema, and featured a redesigned Mud-Butt--though no one knew it, since Ploog's original design didn't see print until nearly a decade later. Pat Roderick provided the pencils for the last two Marvel Fanfare issues.


I would have thought Weirdworld bore the influences of Bakshi's animated fantasy features Wizards and The Lord of the Rings--but it actually predates both of them. Any artistic resemblance may be due to Ploog's reported involvement in those two projects, or it may be coincidental. Tolkien would seem to be a likely source, but Moench maintained in that he had never read The Lord of the Rings in his essay on Weirdworld's origins in Marvel Super Special #11. He did admit to having read The Hobbit in high school, but denied remembering much about it.

Despite the superficial "Tolkienian" elements, I think we see in Weirdworld an artifact of a time when The Lord of the Rings-style portrayals of elves and dwarves (by way of D&D) were not taken as standard. The dwarves of Weirdworld bear more resemblance to the Munchikins of Oz than the ones from the Mines of Moria. Buscema's artwork in particular gives most of Weirdworld a kind of fairy-tale-ish look (inspired by Arthur Rackham, among others) that reminds me a little of later works by Brian Froud. The elves are likewise not wise and puissant beings superior to men in every way. Instead, their short and maybe more like non-Tolkien, pop-culture elves--like the sort that sell cookies or work for Santa. They're probably part of the pre-Tolkien lineage that influenced early D&D art (as James Maliszewski outlined here) and certainly seem to be kin of hapless Indel in the 80s D&D comic book ads.

Weirdworld offers a portrayal of stock rpg elements refreshingly free from the influence of the rising cultural familiarity with The Lord of the Rings, and the ouroboros-like D&D-ization of fantasy. Nothing in it is new, but their might be something there worth revisiting.

Talislanta: The Sarista of Silvanus

Mon, 02/24/2020 - 12:00
French Talislanta artThe Silvanus woodland of Talislanta is primarily home to the Sarista. They are clearly inspired at least to a degree by stereotypes of the Romani people, in fact, they are often called gypsies in the various texts, so it's not subtle.

Tamerlin's account tells us they are "a nomadic race of indistinct origin," and they are of "slender proportions" and have "skin the color of rich topaz, dark eyes and jet black hair." (Again with the topaz skin! I suspect their origins to be Phaedran, then whatever the mystery.) They tend to dress in a gaudy, ostentatious, or seductive way (their clothing sounds theatrical, to me), and they are known as "folk healers, fortune tellers and performers--or as mountebanks, charlatans, and tricksters."

These things are stable across all editions of Talislanta, with only minor differences in the text. Sarista have the distinction of having had a supplement devoted to them in the third edition, and are also otherwise fleshed out in the deuterocanonical Cyclopedia Volume IV. That work reveals the Sarista to be the descendants of criminals, witches, and various nonconformists that fled Phaedra when the Orthodixists took over. It also suggests that Saristan fools are called Rodinns after the ancient wizard.

"Let them scoff as they see fit! I will never compromise what I consider my art, especially for the sake of gain!" 
"For the sake of gain I’d compromise the art of my grandmother,” muttered Zamp under his breath. 
 - Jack Vance, Showboat World

I think I would de-emphasize the "gypsy" aspect of the Sarista, and certainly dispense with distasteful stereotypes like child-stealing, to portray them as perhaps less an ethnicity and more a vocation or society. The texts mention that the Silvanus Wood isn't conquered by the Aamanians because its the kind of playground/preserve of the nobility of Zandu. Sarista are part theater troupe, part carny. They make their living traveling the forest circuit performing for their mostly Zandu visitors, and fleecing the rubes as they can. Sure, some may be outright thieves, but not near so many as the texts suggest--that's just prejudicial slander.

Weird Revisited: Hard Science Fantasy

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 12:00
This post first appeared in 2013, though I revisited the idea with some other details in the years since...

Art by Bruce Pennington
Genre titles are really imprecise things, so let me explain what I mean: A setting that looks like fantasy, but is in fact sort of post-technological science fiction. What would make it "hard" as opposed to the usual science fantasy is that it wouldn't resort to what are essentially fantasy concepts like extradimensional entities or psionic powers to do it. The fantastic would come from at least moderately more possible sources like near Clarketech ("any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic") nanotechnology, cybernetics, and bio-engineering.

I haven't really seen this out there in gaming. Yes, Numenera presents a world utterly drenched in nanotech that can be tapped like magic by the masses, ignorant of it's nature. But Numenera still has psychic powers and extradimensional monsters. What I'm envisioning is more like Karl Schroeder's Ventus (where the "spirits" animating the natural world are AI controlled nanotech) or the Arabian Nights-flavored Sirr of Hannu Rajaniemi's The Fractal Prince where spirits in ancient tombs are digital mind emulations and the jinn are made of "wildcode" malicious nanotech.

Beyond nanotech, monsters would be genetically engineered creations of the past or descendants thereof. Or perhaps genuine aliens. Gods would be post-human biologic or AI entities--or often some combination of both. Or figments of human imagination. Or leftover bombs.

Why a more "rigorous" science fiction masquerading as fantasy world than the usual Dying Earths or whatnot? No real reason other than it seems to me starting with far future science fiction and figuring out how it would be rationalized by a more primitive mindset might yield a fresher take on the standard fantasy tropes.

My Secret and Possibly Quixotic Yearning for Vanilla

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 12:00

Since I've entered the blogosphere (over 10 years ago now), I've imagined all sorts of variants of D&D-type fantasy from Weird Adventures to the cyberpunk planes City of Gyre, I've often even eschewed weird in the classic "Weird" sense. My takes were hardly even the most out there among the DIY crowd in which I have often found myself.

But there are times when I think back with nostalgia to a sort of game I never really played. Or games, I should say, it's not always the same. Sometimes it's nostalgia for fantasy before D&D was a thing, something like a mix of Byfield's The Book of the Weird, Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, and the film versions of The Last Unicorn and The Hobbit. Other times, I think it should be a bit grottier, like the World of Titan, and the illustrations in the Fighting Fantasy books, and more adventure-y like select illustrations from the Moldavy-Cook editions and the earliest AD&D books. The rarest, least frequent itch is for something like the illustrations of the "High D&D" era defined by the likes of Elmore and Caldwell.

All very vanilla, I know. Our elves aren't different, they're just elves. Feudal Kingdoms, bearded wizards in towers. All the tropes!


I don't really know what the yearnings about. Some of these things were the inspirations of my pre-D&D days, so maybe its sort of the world that had moved on before I was old enough to take part in it. Others, well, they were maybe what was in the gamebooks I was playing with, but I was ignoring it in favor of the stuff I was reading--comics books, Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, Conan yarns.

Of course, its all relative. I'm sure some people think my Land of Azurth game is pretty vanilla,  but to me is too knowing to be that. Maybe that's why I never pull the trigger on a game inspired by one of these things. Still, it's something I think about.

Wednesday Comics: Suicide Squad Classic

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 12:00

There isn't a comic named Suicide Squad Classic, but I not the original Suicide Squad or to the recent incarnation that got a movie, but to the run that spun out of Legends in 1987. Written and created by John Ostrander and illustrated by several artists over its run, Suicide Squad (vol. 1) would go to 1992 and 66 issues. Ron Edwards has written some good essays about the series on his Comics Madness blog.

Anyway, all this is preamble to my wanting to clue you in to what I discovered this past week: Suicide Squad is now all available in trade paperback. The series of trades is as follows:

Trial by Fire (2011)
The Nightshade Odyssey (2015)
Rogues (2016)
The Janus Directive (2016)
Apokolips Now (2016)
The Phoenix Gambit (2017)
The Dragon's Hoard (2017)
The Final Mission (2019)

Weird Revisited: The Otus Pantheon

Mon, 02/17/2020 - 12:00
This Pantheon first appeared back in 2016.

Blame Chris Kutalik. He did a post back in the day about imagining a pantheon based on Erol Otus's strange evocative illustrations in Deities & Demigods. This is what I came up with:

Click to check it out in its enlarged "glory." The domains provided are for 5th edition.

Bronze Age Book Club: Young Love

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 12:00
A new episode of the Bronze Age Book Club podcast has dropped, just in time for Valentine's Day.

Listen to "Episode 14: YOUNG LOVE #112" on Spreaker.

Wednesday Comics: Wild, Wild West

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 12:00

The 60s spy-fi Western Wild, Wild West has had a couple of comic book adaptations. Gold Key Comics published 7 issues from 1966-69 (the span of tv series). The most recent series was in 1990 from Millennium Comics.

I've never read the Millennium series, but several issues of the Gold Key run are available on the Internet Archive. Check them out.


Shadows on the Hill

Mon, 02/10/2020 - 12:00
Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night with the party leaving Rivertown on their way to the Sapphire City and from there Virid Country. In the forests north of Rivertown, they encountered a an injured, cervine centaur-like creature named Tualla. Seeing the Sylvan Elf Shade among them, she asks for the party's help. It seems that something strange occurred in their ritual circle, and eruption of shadow, and the arrival of two umbral drakes.


The party agrees to at least investigate to see if they can help her people. After defeating a shadow-touched living tree, they around at the mound with its circle of standing stones. A fear grips a few of them, and all of them feel the touch of the unnatural, but they proceed.

Within the standing stones, they find a portal of roiling shadow, encircled by skulls--and the two wicked monsters. The mated pair of drakes taunt them, them knock over half the party unconscious with a breath weapon of cold shadow, then toy with them further, allowing the surviving members of the party to escape with their friends.

They rest with Tualla's people and strategize. The Sorcerer Bell recalls that Umbral Drakes are creatures of the Shadow Moon and are susceptible to celestial radiance. The party recalls that the shadow creature that might before was exquisitely susceptible to the energy weapons they carry. They begin to formulate a plan.

Fortified by the bards make (improving their constitutions), Waylon and Shade stealth into the cirlce of stones in an attempt to destroy the skulls around the shadow portal. The other party members spread out around the base of the mound, at the edge of the clearing to make distance attacks--or escape, if necessary.


Waylon and Shade walk right in the midst of the conversing drakes without being spotted, but Waylon's attempt to destroy a skull (a failure) brings their attention. The female attacks them viciously, but the group returns the favor with energy rifles and she only lasts two rounds. She does unleash her breath weapon on the two PCs in the circle, but their boost Constitution pulls them through.

As she dies, she warns her "toothless worm" of a mate that if he doesn't slay these "vermin" her ghost will haunt him forever.

Enraged, the male attacks. Dagmar uses daylight to disperse the shadows so he can no longer hide or travel between them. Kairon slows him to limit his attacks. The others focus their fire. Bell delivers the coup de grace with a chromatic orb.

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