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Printing the Prime Material Plane in the Ether

Fri, 10/18/2019 - 11:00

This was an idea I posted on Google Plus (may it rest in piece) and mentioned it again earlier this week on Discord, so I might as well preserve it here, too.

The idea of Elemental Planes existing outside the Prime Material Plane seems strange, when the elements are presumably fundamental building blocks of matter. That is why they are called elements, after all.

I think a better analogy for the relationship of the Elemental Planes to the Prime would be CYMK printing. The Prime is "printed" on the ethereal medium by overlay of patterns of Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. The elemental planes (branes is probably more appropriate) maybe not be center over the prime, perhaps they have poles or sources they emanate from, but they could be.

The arrangement could be represented diagrammatically like this:

Wednesday Comics: Star*Reach #1

Wed, 10/16/2019 - 11:00
A new episode of the Bronze Age Book Club Podcast is here! This time, we talk about "ground level comics" and Star*Reach #1 from 1974.

Listen to "Episode 7: STAR*REACH #1" on Spreaker.

The Psychonauts of Gyre

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 11:00
The Psychonauts, also known as the Alchemists, are a policlub in Gyre who believe that most intelligent beings are incapable of perceiving the true nature of the multiverse and the Godhead (if such a thing exists), but the appropriately altered state of consciousness can unlock these hidden secrets. To this end, the Psychonauts engaged in personal experiment with a variety of chemical substances are neurologic modifications of their own devising. To fund these experiments they are also the primary suppliers to Gyre's illicit drug trade. They also supply many of the legal mood altering drugs many a citizen of Gyre and provided the experimental research central to much corporate subliminal media.

Psychonaut club members are always eager for more subjects (willing and unwilling, in some cases) for their experiments. They also will at times pay handsomely (or more likely over drugs or chemicals in trade) for exotic psychoactive substances from the Outer Planes.

Weird Revisited: Do You Have Alignment or Does It Have You?

Sun, 10/13/2019 - 14:30
Recent discussion of alignment on discord brought to mind this post from 2014...

What follows is some brainstorming on a conception of alignment that probably just over-complicates things, but hopefully will be of some interest to somebody.

As we all know, alignment is derived from Moorcock and Anderson and is suppose to provide some moral and ethical structure to--well, the universe--and to provide a behavioral check on certain character types, but any attempt to relate it to actual moral quandaries, leads to discussion of baby orcs. Some people (myself included) have suggested at times the obvious solution of just viewing the sides as teams or opposing armies free of a moral dimension, but mostly it seems like people just ignore it. While I'm still advocating for a bit of blue and orange morality here, I want to suggest another wrinkle.

I recently finished the third of Hannu Rajaniemi's science fiction novels, The Causal Angel. One of the futuristic societies, the zoku, tend to form group minds, but individuals joining one or more zoku (Japanese for "clan") related hobbies, interests, or vocation. This process involves "entanglement," a sort of co-mingling of though and desires. The higher one's rank (i.e. the longer one is a member or the more "good" they do for the group) the more entanglement the individual becomes and so the more their thoughts and desires are reflected in the group consensus and action, or "volition." This effect is reciprocal, though, so the higher rank, the more one's on thoughts and actions are shaped by the zoku volition.

Maybe alignments could be a bit like that? Joining up with a fundamental metaphysical power of the universe means getting benefits (positive reaction, access to power) but also means you lose a bit of your individuality (or at least have that individuality altered). for someone powered by alignment (a paladin, a cleric), the higher level you become the worse it gets. A high level Paladin would be unlikely to worry about straying from their alignment; they would become one with it, or at least part of it.

This would make adhering to any alignment sort of like bartering your soul for magical power. The only difference is, with bartering your soul you are still quite aware you've given something up. With this approach, it would get harder and harder to ever imagine yourself doing anything differently.

This of course means that gods and other beings of great power and strong alignment allegiance have probably become more or less avatars for the consensus overmind/soul of the alignment.

B/X Mars is Upon You! Who Will Save You Now?

Fri, 10/11/2019 - 11:00

Michael "Aos" Gibbons released his long-awaited B/X Mars this week. As the name suggests, it's based on the Moldavy/Cook iteration of D&D. It is also inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom, but that's only the roots; Mike's Martian tree grows in much more of a "Dying Earth" direction, with more than a little Kirby and perhaps a bit of Heavy Metal attitude in there.

In addition to the basic rules, it covers the society and culture of Mars, numerous factions, monsters, and equipment. It's also got a gazeteer of the Zerzura area ready to start a campaign.

Of course, it's profusely illustrated with Michael's high contrast black and white art that is at ERB accurate in terms of nudity and decidedly unlike any of the famous Barsoom illustrators of the past. The cover's above, but here another taste:

Go get it!

Jacked into Etherspace

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 11:00
This is a follow up to this post about the data etherspace of Gyre.

The natural Ethereal Plane is the substrate that underlies material spacetime, and is continuous with it. The artificial ether network of Gyre is surrounded by an astral bubble, a firewall, that keeps it from being accessed without the use of specific nodes. The legitimate and illegitimate users of etherspace most employ stables of proxies or individual avatars constructed from etheric stuff. Artificial subtle body avatars are sometimes called "subs." Ethernauts can construct them in any form they wish, limited only by the available resources. The subs are controlled via technology and a neural interface.  Not only does a sub allow the creation of a secondary identity, it also insulates the user from the dangers of etherspace. If the sub dies, the users consciousness returns to their body, unharmed. Usually.

Proxies are programs that have many different names depending on their use. They are simple etheric creatures for the most part; mindless, engineered etheric fauna and flora that have a specific data function. Sometimes these programs slip their chains and go feral in the network. Most starve or waste away without a way to perform the function they were built for. Rarely, some can undergo evolution to more free-living forms and become vermin. They may prey on legitimate programs or gnaw holes in data conduits, but they are perhaps more of a danger to rogue ethernauts lurking in the shadows, so aren't as vigorously hunted as they might be.

Wednesday Comics: Vermillion

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 11:00

Vermillion was a series from DC's Helix science fiction imprint created and written by the science fiction and fantasy author, Lucius Shepard. Like all the Helix line save one title, Vermillion was short-lived, lasting along 12 issues, published 1996-1997. (The one that had staying power was Transmetropolitan, which moved over to Vertigo.) Vermillion is a science fantasy about an eponymous endless city that is the entirety of its universe. Vermillion came after our universe and was created through the machinations of dark gods, the survivors of the universe prior to ours. Only Jonathan Cave remembers what came before and fights against the entities to restore his world. It bears some resemblance, perhaps, to John M. Harrison's Virconium (and maybe prefigures his Kefahuchi Tract, a bit). It is definitely not typical comic book science fantasy, even for the Vertigo 90s.

Vermillion has an interesting set up, but the stories read like they were written by a prose writer rather than a comics writer. The art in the first arc is by Al Davison and is firmly of the 90s "the writing is the important thing" camp, so it can't come to the rescue. Shepard hits more of a groove in the second arc, and John Totleben and then Gary Erskine improve the art side, but it is perhaps too little too late.

Still, the setup up and universe is interesting, and Shepard gives us a sort of complicated protagonist for a comic in Cave. It has never been collected, but if you run across the issues for cheap it is worth picking up.

Weird Revisited: Gill-Man vs. Wolf-Man

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 11:00
This post was originally presented in October of 2010, part of a series on the Universal Monsters.

The gill-man and the werewolf. Both are zoanthropes, and perhaps as such, both represent fears of nature or man’s own animalistic side, though at that point the similarity seems to end.

The gill-man is elusive. His appearances in media are more rarified, no doubt due to his proprietary, rather than folklorish, origins. In addition to the Creature trilogy, stand-ins make appearances in The Monster Squad, and Monsters vs. Aliens--where interestingly he’s grouped with decade-appropriate monster stand-in colleagues rather than the Universal monster old guard.

The proto-gill-men of Lovecraft’s "Shadow Over Innsmouth" have miscegenation fears in their DNA, which seem absent from Universal’s creature--unless his attraction to human females is a hint at this. In some ways, the Lovecraftian angst underlying the Deep Ones makes them more interesting than a fish King Kong. That’s part of the reason D&D’s Kuo-toa (more Deep One-ish in character) have always been more interesting to me than the other evil fishmen, the Sahuagin (Gill-Men).

I guess Dr. Who's Sea Devils and Silurians might be mined for gill-man inspiration. Anything might help. Gill-man’s got a good look, but little else to give him real monster memorability.

Neil Gaiman has a short-story called “Only the End of the World Again” where Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man, winds up in Innsmouth and tangles with Deep One cultists. This may be as close as media has given us to a Gill-man-Werewolf bout.

Werewolves seem to have what it takes for urban fantasy fiction. Werewolf sex probably seems even naughtier, I suppose, than lovin’ the living dead. In fact--Teen Wolf aside--there’s always been something a little “adult situations”--maybe even exploitation--about werewolves. They don’t just strangle like the mummy or Frankenstein, or give a killer kiss like a vampire--they rend and tear and chew. Werewolves are as much serial killer as wild beast.

Is it any wonder that werewolves are almost as likely as vampires to get the grindhouse treatment? I would suspect only “almost” because vampires maybe give more excuse for nudity, and blood effects are cheaper than wolf prosthetics. But the wolf man gets by, and whatever budget.  Paul Naschy’s got a whole series of werewolf movies where the werewolf's origin involves being bit by a Yeti, and he fights Templars--how’s that for game inspiration! Then we’ve got a werewolf biker film (Werewolves on Wheels), a werewolf women in prison effort (Werewolf in a Women’s Prison); and, if Rob Zombie had his way, a werewolf Nazi-ploitation film--Werewolf Women of the S.S.

Werewolves: the most gameable of monsters, whatever your genre.

Collated Gyre

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 11:00

Since they don't have a specific tag, I figured I should collate the the Gyre-related posts so far for folks who might have missed any. So here they are, in no particular order:

Ain't No Gods in Gyre
The Silver Metal Face of Gyre
Three Policlubs of Gyre
The Monster Makers of Gyre
The Etherspace of Gyre
The Highway Across the Outlands
The City at the Center, Reprise
The City at the Center

The Etherspace of Gyre

Thu, 10/03/2019 - 11:00

Gyre, the city at the center of the multiverse, has a ghost. It envelopes the city like an invisible fog or unseen shroud, bunching and gathering in centers of commerce, thinning out in the lonely, post-industrial stretches. In its unfathomable complexity, it is more solid--more real--than the city to which it belongs. It's only ether, but ether is more tangible than ideas, after all.

The ghost is a network arising from the interconnected computers of Gyre. It's a bubble of ethereal space floating in the Astral Manifold, somehow built around the city. Like most things about Gyre's construction, no one remembers at all how it came to be there. Inside this etherspace, the data of Gyre takes on an emergent if abstract form perceivable by human minds, but not constructed by them. It's a memory palace without an architect.

In addition legitimate users, rogues slink through the pale mists, between the bright-edged, corporate data-monoliths with their constellations of vibrating, platonic solid programs, glowing like neon wrapped in fog. In the shadows, they snatch will-o-wisp secrets and pick the fractal locks to chest full of ones and zeroes that become gold in the real Gyre.

The Ethereal Plane proper has no access to Gyre's etherspace, nor do any of the Outer Planes. Officially. There are persistent rumors that hackers based in any number of planes have created backdoors, dug ether tunnels, into etherspace for their own purposes.

Wednesday Comics: The Joker

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 11:00
A new Bronze Age Book Club podcast is up: The Joker #7.

Listen to "Episode 6: THE JOKER #7" on Spreaker.

If that's not enough Joker for you, then check out The Joker: The Bronze Age Omnibus that collects the entire series this issue is from.

Weird Revisited: The Two Cities of Hoborxen

Mon, 09/30/2019 - 11:00
I think this post from February of 2011 may be one of my favorite Weird Adventures related posts...

On some moonless night in the City, you can look across the Eldritch River and see on the other bank a shining, alien city with buildings that look as if there made of blown glass and infused with a pale, fluorescent glow. In the morning, you might look again at the same place on the far bank, wondering if the strange city had just been dream, and you’d see the gray smokestacks and worn docks of humdrum Hoborxen, and you’d be sure you that it had been.

And you’d be wrong.

Since the earliest days of Ealderdish settlement, strange things have been seen and heard in the area that would eventually become the city of Hoborxen. These irruptions from elsewhere have only increased over the centuries since. Now, in the night, the working class neighborhoods and decaying waterfront of day Hoborxen are intruded upon, and sometimes replaced, by an otherworldly city of tall spires, all its buildings made of something resembling glass, warm to the touch like the mantle of a recently lit lantern.

Every night, some part of Hoborxen is replaced by the intruder--sometimes only a single structure, other times an entire neighborhood. On nights of the new moon, Horboxen is entirely replaced. The city begins to appear at dusk, as if emerging from an unseen but evaporating fog, or coalescing from the dying light. The strange glow of its structures rises slowly; it's brightest at midnight and wanes toward dawn.

No human inhabitants of the alien city are ever seen, but it's not completely deserted. Fairy-like creatures--obscenely jabbering, cinereous, and moth-winged--sometimes buzz about its streets or lewdly call from high perches. A low growl, a sound as much felt in the bones as heard, periodically reverberates through the streets, and some explorers have claimed to heard a woman crying or laughing softly.

Exploration of the glassy structures usually turns up everyday detritus from Hoborxen, most of which is of little value. Sometimes, things lost elsewhere in the world turn up here, but again seldom anything of real value except perhaps to the one that lost it. It’s a common tale among adventurers that there's a great treasure haul somewhere in the city, but no one has retrieved anything more than a few enigmatic, otherworldly trinkets.

Would-be treasure-hunters should weigh the likely gain against the potential dangers.  A number of people entering the areas of the alien city are never seen again. 

The people of Hoborxen are inured to these nocturnal visitations, and rarely remark on them, though addiction, violence, and suicide are more common there than in neighboring towns. No one knows where they go when they’re elsewhere. “Nowhere,” they say, and shrug and turn away.

Some thaumaturgist muse darkly that there may come a time when Hoborxen will be gone entirely, every night. And after that, will the incursion spread?

The Silver Metal Face of Gyre

Sun, 09/29/2019 - 14:30

"All right, for all you cutters out there in the Big Ring, all you street people with an ear for the action, this is Argent with a special request..."

Outlaw broadcaster, street artist, vigilante, and possible demiurge, the mysterious Lady of Gyre, the city at the center of the multiverse, is known as Argent for the silver mask all her manifestations wear. She is always a she. Cis or trans women, certainly, but also gynoid automata, on occasion. Within those parameters, she can appear as anyone, and on rare occasions, multiple someones at one time.

To say the Lady rules Gyre isn't strictly true. Despite the number of bureaucrats, elected officials, and megacoporate CEOs, no one really does much ruling in Gyre--but Argent has ways of making her displeasure known. When rendered, there are no appeals from her judgments. The surest way to bring down her wrath is break one of her rules like trying to incarnate a god in the city, disrupting one of the portals to the Outer Planes, or starting an unsanctioned policlub. Occasionally some small thing will piss her off, though. Those are more random incidents, but dealt with just as severely. Some get unmade in a blast of light. Others get trapped in nonorientable topologies and shot into the Astral.

Those that make a pretense of ruling Gyre don't mention her much, though occasionally one will publicly deplore her tactics. None that plan to hold office wrong with do anything close to breaking one of her rules.

Random Ultra-Warriors Generator

Fri, 09/27/2019 - 11:00

I made this new logo yesterday so it seemed like a good time to post my Random Ultra-Warriors Generator. It's just a first draft, but it does a serviceable job of creating the sort of characters seen in Masters of the Universe or similar media.

The Monster Makers of Gyre

Thu, 09/26/2019 - 15:12

The Promethean Society (Monstermakers, Frankensteins)
The learned members of the Promethean Society policlub believe that the multiverse is only intelligible when filtered through the senses of sophont beings, most specifically biologic sophont beings. They believe that a perfected biological being could perceive a more perfected multiverse, and thereby usher in a new age, the Godhead again made manifest through a creation worthy of it. To this end, the Promethean Society members are shapers of flesh and creators of artificial life. Some believe that mundane biological life could be upgraded through grafts or genetic alterations, while others believe only a bioroid Adam could possibly be the vessel for a new consciousness.

The equipment and supplies their experiments call for don't come cheap, so many members make a living providing biotech modifications to customers. Some make monsters for underground fight clubs, while still others illegal clones for the very wealthy.

Wednesday Comics: Wizards for Hire...Cheap!

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 11:00

Comic book writer and artist Von Allan was set to contribute a story to issue two of Underground Comix, which seems likely never to be, unfortunately. Von has a lot of comics work available, though. Stuff that you should check out like, Wizards for Hire - Cheap!
Bill and Butch are a wizard and his dog (possibly also a wizard; it's unclear) on the planet Rigel V. They are somewhat lazy, and somewhat cowardly, unless beer is on the line! Von Allan's short anthology of their adventures is sure to please anyone who enjoyed the comics in the back of Dragon Magazine back in the day, and may well also appeal to fans of modern, dungeoneering comics like The Clandestinauts. In fact, my favorite story of the three features a total party kill of an eclectic group of adventurers that would be very much at home in Sievert's work.
Von does more than D&D-related fantasy however, Head over to his website to check out other stuff he's got to offer.

weird Revisited: The Witches of Ix

Mon, 09/23/2019 - 11:00
This was one of the earliest Land of Azurth posts, appearing in August of 2014...

Art by Ian MillerIt is likely you will never have cause to visit the land of Ix, and in this, you should consider yourself lucky. The only exception might be those who have the misfortune to live in blighted, ghoul-haunted Noxia. To you Noxians an oft cold and mostly gloomy land of forests, bogs, and mountains, infested with goblins and ruled by witches, may not seem so dire. Remember though that you must cross the toxic badlands of the Waste to get there.

Ix has only one town worthy of note, and it cowers in the shadow of Hexenghast, an impossibly large and sprawling castle built beyond the memory of Ixians. Hexenghast is large enough to accommodate the four Great Houses of Ixian Witches and their various servants, mercenaries, guests, and prisoners. In fact, it is so large it houses these individuals and still has a great many halls and rooms that are unoccupied and perhaps unexplored for centuries.

Art by Yoshitaka AmanoA grand coven of the leaders of the Great Houses rules Hexenghast (no mean feat, given all the infighting and intrigue). The management of the rest land is done by lower level witches with mundane human and goblin subordinates. Mostly they are concerned with the collection of Hexenghast's due in taxes and farm goods, but they also suppress any unauthorized practice of magic and promulgate state propaganda.

There is an order of witches known as the Witchfinders. These cloaked figures appear within a day of the birth of any child in Ix. Every newborn is examined, and if the child bear some witches' mark, it's whisked off to Hexenghast and given over to one house or another to raise. When the children come of age, they cross the flickering Ghostlight Bridge that spans the chasm between Hexenghast proper and the sub-castle of the Scholomance. There, they are tutored in the dark arts until they are ready to assume their adult role in Witch society.

It has been the custom for new graduates of the Scholomance to spend some time abroad before settling into Hexenghast, engaging in the sort of infamies that youths who are schooled in the Dark Arts and confident in their own superiority are wont to engage in. This was the context in which Angvaine and Nocturose crossed into Noxia all those years ago.

Art by Yoshitaka Amano

Three Policlubs of the City Gyre

Thu, 09/19/2019 - 11:00
In conceptual realms like the outer multiverse, there are few armchair philosophers. In Gyre, the ring city at the center of the multiverse, policlubs are registered and tolerated organizations formed around philosophic principals with elements of street gangs, secret societies, and sometimes, organized crime. Here are three of them:

Annihilists (Doomsters)
Things fall apart, in the planar multiverse as well as on the mundanes. It's a cold fact more eternal than any promise of Law, and more certain than any ephemera of Chaos. You can deny it or even fight it, but you can't defeat it. The Annihilists choose to embrace it to varying degrees, some by taking the time (as it slowly ticks away) to appreciate, even revel in, its workings, others by actively joining in and hastening things along. What comes after everything crumbles to dust also divides the group. Some feel that only by the destruction of the current multiverse can make way for a new, better, one. Others hold that there will be a final oblivion, and the wounded Godhead will finally rest in peace.

The headquarters of the more action-minded wing of the Annihilist movement is the metal club Rough Beast, located in an abandoned industrial foundry. The official policlub's current leader is a young tiefling woman who sings lead for the house band, The Eves of Destruction.

The Free (The Wardens, The Jailers)
There is a harsh purpose to the multiverse and that is to confine souls. The Black Iron Prison, the Plane of Confinement, is just the maximum security section of a larger and more subtle prison. The Free's founder claims to have escaped the Black Iron Prison but only after achieving a sort of enlightenment while he was in solitary. He and his followers offer this enlightenment to the worlds, but it comes at price. None can truly experience the truth of it without first going through a great trial.

The Free are based in a prison in Gyre; both guards and prisoners are members. Their aim isn't punishment but the stern refinement of the souls in their charge.

Ontic Programmer Collective (Reality Hackers)
Everyone agrees that the mundane universes are essentially patterns in ether and the planar multiverse is a pattern vibrating in the astral manifold, but the question of what structure supports those patterns has been left up to theologians, who obviously have no consistent answer. The OPC believes that the answer is nothing less than the Godhead, and the name of the Godhead is math. The OPC plan is to obtain power beyond even the so-called gods by understanding and manipulating the computational underpinings of the multiverse.

The OPC is an eclectic group of academics, corporate programmer wage slaves, and gifted dropouts. There main need is etheric network time and bandwidth, and they are quite willing to acquire it by almost any means. They seldom rumble in the physical realm with other policlubs, but have been known to make things very difficult for rivals by their machinations on the net.

Wednesday Comics: New Episode! Lois Lane #114

Wed, 09/18/2019 - 11:54
There's a new episode of the Bronze Age Book Club podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or right here:

Listen to "Episode 5: SUPERMAN'S GIRLFRIEND, LOIS LANE #114" on Spreaker.

Ain't No Gods in Gyre

Mon, 09/16/2019 - 11:00

Belief is a virus. On the levels above those of heavy matter, the multiverse is an ideaspace, susceptible to co-opting or conversion by belief alone. The Outer Planes and their competing attempts to rebuild the Godhead are engines of it, and the City at the Center of the Multiverse, Gyre, is the one place with no agenda in the big game It has to keep their seductive memes suppressed at all costs, or the strange loop that enforces it's existence would broken, and possibly the stability of the entire multiverse with it. Again.

That's why Gyre's real ruler, not the corporate committees or the concerned citizen boards or even the occasional winners of the city's haphazard elections, works hard to keep belief out. There is a strict "no gods" policy, for instance. Gods are strange attractors for belief. The lost, outcast, or psychological vulnerable, have been known to fall for them on sight. So they're all banned. There have been attempts by rogue theists to instantiate a god in the city (in one case the smiling cat mascot of a fast food restaurant), but the Lady was on to them before they could power it up. Four manifestations of her twisted the whole block into a Klein bottle and tossed it into the Astral manifold.

The thing about sentient beings is they tend to want to believe in things, and even the Lady can't be everywhere. So registered policlubs are allowed. These tamed belief systems, whatever their intentions, only serve to strengthen the city's loop because they wouldn't exist without it. If one steps out of line despite the safeguards, well, they get disappeared too.

Though Gyre's citizenry complain about the policlubs, they are also a source of entertainment. Most have some sort of media presence from talk radio to slick television shows. Major street clashes between clubs tend to be televised events associated with gambling.