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Weird Revisited: On Venus

Fri, 10/09/2020 - 11:00
This post appeared in 2016 and was itself an expansion of a post from a couple of years prior but with art...
Art by Luka Rejec

Wet where Mercury is desert and as fecund as that world is barren, Venus is covered by warm, shallow seas and dense, tropical forests. Its natives are women--or creatures in the semblance of women. They are seldom surpassed in all the Cosmos in beauty, if one can abide their inhumanly colorful skins and their hair the texture of flower petals. They go almost entirely naked, and chastity is not counted a virtue among them.

There is a ruler on Venus, recognized by Earthly and Mercurian powers, called the Doge, who is always from another world. This title may be held by a man or woman, but in either case, the floral and lovely native Venerians are the Doge's solicitous wives or concubines. The Doge's identity is always hidden behind an ornate mask of that durable Venerian fungal matter that resembles teak. The ruler scarcely wears any more clothing than the Venerian women, save for the notable exception of an impressive phallocrypt, decorated and enlaided with gold, for public ceremonies.

A Doge’s rule lasts only a Venerian day, as measured by the fixed stars, which is hundreds of Earth days. When the sun sets, the Doge is taken by the Venerians into the forest and is seen no more.

We Have Always Lived in the Megadungeon

Thu, 10/08/2020 - 11:00

 I have on occasion riffed settings which were small or at least smaller than the typical D&Dish setting. This goes against the grain of published settings which tend to want to give you big, as in a world big, and perhaps classic play which starts circumscribed, but is about expanding the frontier.

There is one archetypal D&Dish experience that doesn't quite work this way and that's the megadungeon. Certainly exploring the megadungeon means opening up more area, but the scale is so much smaller generally than the hexcrawl. Distance is not a primary factor.

It strikes me that the dungeoncrawl could easily combined with the player's living space. Megadungeons under towns are pretty common, but then the town becomes a place of relative safety and refuge that may or may not enter into actual play as anything more than "base camp." What if the megadungeon space and the living space bled into each other? Like say the PCs lived in a place like Gormenghast or Xuchotl from "Red Nails," or the starship Warden, and the exploration was progressively moving into rooms, levels, sections or whatever that were unknown? (You could perhaps include small settings with actually dungeons/underground spaces in this. See MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblins.)

This could be combined quite easily with the mystery sandbox. Indeed, the incremental accumulation of vast wealth is probably a bad goal for a smaller setting of this sort. Not that money might not be a motivator, but the real big payoffs should only come at the end.

Obviously, this sort of setting would differ from the standard D&D approach even without the downplaying of vast wealth. Parties would likely be less eclectic. The length of the campaign is probably somewhat limited without a change in approach unless the structure they reside in is really weird, but I think it would make for interesting low level play.

Revisiting the Wild Wild West Season Two

Wed, 10/07/2020 - 11:00

Jim Shelley and I are continuing our selective re-watch of the Wild Wild West weekly on the Flashback Universe Blog. We're now starting the second florid, full-color season.

You can catch up on installments here.

Star Trek Ranger: Patterns of Vengeance (part 2)

Mon, 10/05/2020 - 11:00

Player Characters:
The Crew of the USS Ranger, Federation scout ship:
Andrea as Capt. Ada Greer
Billy as Lt. Cmdr. Sobek, Ship's CounselorDennis, as Lt. Osvaldo Marquez, Medical Officer
Paul as Cmdr. D.K. Mohan, Chief Helmsman
Supporting Cast:Ensign Elana Duffy, Security OfficerLt. Thera ch'Reith, Security Chief

Synposis: With Capt. Greer trapped on the USS Brackett with a being that calls itself "Unity" possessing some of her crew, Mohan takes Ranger to the icy planetoid of Mycena to try and determine what this has to do with the transporter experiments of Janet Hester. They discover the experiments in long range matter transmission may have lead to one or more of Hester's team being somehow trapped in dematerialized form.
Commentary: The Deneva Research Team which Hester and her ill-fated team were a part of are first mentioned in the Spaceflight Chronology
Within the Star Trek Universe, long distance transporter experimentation was attempted by Emory Erickson has depicted in the Enterprise episode "Daedelus," and has been depicted in use by other civilizations such as the Kalandans in "That Which Survives."
The away team encountered a monster that burrowed under the ice on Mycena that was inspired by the Delta Vega creature in Star Trek (2009).

Adventuring in the Harveylands

Sun, 10/04/2020 - 14:30

I wrote a post about a year and a half ago about the Harveylands, the setting of the Harvey Comics universe as codified on the map above in the 80s.

While there are obviously elements of the comics that wouldn't fit a game of a D&Dish of even a somewhat unusual sort, I feel like you could jettison those and have something that wouldn't be that off-model. The only Tieflings of the "standard races" would appear, of course, providing for Hot Stuff and the Devils. There are several ghost races (for Casper types) floating around the internet, though. Witches like Wendy and rich kids like Richie would just be classes.

As presented, something like the Harveylands would be a fairly small setting, but big enough for a campaign, I think. Particularly, if the edges bled into more fantastic realms: the Hells, the Land of the Dead, etc.

Weird Revisted: Monster Apocalypses

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 11:00
The original version of this post appeared in October of 2013...
Zombie apocalypses have been done to death with films, books, and tv shows. Other classic monsters deserve their (proverbial) day in the sun, too:

Vampires: The most obvious non-zombie contender for virtually extinction of the human species. Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and it's various movie adaptations have already ventured into this territory (as has the film Stake Land and the TV show The Strain) --and the comics Planet of Vampires and Vampire Hunter D have already shown on vampire overrun post-apocalypses. Trading bloodsucking for flesh-eating is almost too obvious.

Piscoids: Cast them as Creatures from Black Lagoons, Manphibians, or walking catfish men, fishy humanoids are ready to climb from the depths and overwhelm the surface world. Perhaps a full-fledged takeover is the ultimate goal of the Deep Ones in Shadow Over Innsmouth? Global warming and rising sea levels would no doubt be part of their plan. A piscoid apocalypse might wind up looking more like Waterworld than Walking Dead.

Werewolves: Like vampires and zombies, werewolfism is passed by a bite, making them a reasonable stand-in. I don't know of any media werewolf apocalypses, but Dog Soldiers sort of does the "trapped in an isolated farm house" riff of Night of the Living Dead. Depending on exactly how the werewolves worked, things might be pretty tough for humanity: zombies are slow and dumb, while vampires have to sleep in the day time. Werewolves have neither of those limitations. Of course, their just humans in the day, trying to scourge for survival just like everybody else. Only at night would they join packs of killers to howl at the moon as they hunt through the ruins.

Frankenstein's Monsters: This seems like the biggest stretch given than Frankenstein had only one monster (or maybe two, depending on who you believe). Still, two monsters can overrun the world (unless they're giant, which still movies us out of zombie apocalypse analogous territory). Technology has advanced a lot since Frankenstein's day, though. Wein's and Wrightson's Un-Men in Swamp Thing (and Burroughs' Synthetic Men of Mars, for that matter) point the way: Mass production of monsters. In some ways, this would resemble an alien invasion apocalypse or robot apocalypse more than a zombie one--though perhaps the monsters "consume" humans by dragging them back to their secret factories to use as raw materials for more monsters?

Wednesday Comics: Waiting for the Omnibus

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 11:00

 A couple of DC Omnibuses I've been waiting for sometime are finally available.

One was solicited over a year ago, then cancelled only to be resolicited again. As of last week, it was finally released. The Legion of Super-Heroes: Five Years Later Omnibus vol. 1 collects the series by Keith Giffen and Tom and Mary Bierbaum that imagined a darker future for the United Planets and the now adult members of the Legion.

This was the run that got my interested in the Legion of Super-Heroes.

The publication of the Batman by Grant Morrison Omnibus vol. 3 was probably never in doubt, but it's been one I've been eagerly anticipated since they embarked on this series. Batman RIP has good, but marred by changing ideas of what the series was going to be and the need to fit in with the Final Crisis event. Batman and Robin was better still, but to my mind Batman Incorporated is the best of Morrison's work it takes the Silver Age-y flourishes with a modern sensibility that had surfaced from time to time in the early portions of his run and makes it the centerpiece of the seris. 

Star Trek Endeavour: The Clarity of Crystal

Mon, 09/28/2020 - 11:00

Episode 2:
"THE CLARITY OF CRYSTAL"Player Characters: The Crew of the USS Endeavour, NCC-1895, Constitution Class Starship (refit):
Andrea as Lt. Ona Greer, Chief Engineer Officer and Lt. Taryn Loy, Geologist
Bob as Capt. Robert Locke
Gina as Cmdr. Isabella Hale, Helm Chief
Jason as Lt. Francisco Otomo, Chief Security OfficerEric As Lt.Cmdr. Tavek, Science Officer
Tug as Dr. Azala Vex, Trill Chief Medical Officer
Synposis: Checking in on the research station on the inhospitable Erebus III, the crew of the Endeavour discovers the unscrupulous head of the station is drugging the scientist in an attempt to make psionic contact with an ancient crystalline computer network.

Commentary: This is an adventure I wrote based off a session for a Star Trek Starships & Spacemen game back in 2013. When this group finishes the adventure, I may redo the notes to be Star Trek Adventures congruent and reshare them.
This adventure (inadvertently) featured yet another planet you couldn't transport down to. I'll have to avoid that in future adventures.

A Tale of Two TV Show Episode Guides

Sun, 09/27/2020 - 14:30

It would be reasonable to ask what's the use of a print episode guide to a TV show in an age where the internet makes the basic information readily available on the likes of Wikipedia or IMDB? If you're dead set against it, I won't be able to convince you, but I would say a good episode guide doesn't just relate facts easily amenable to one internet search. At a minimum, a print episode guide should collate information that would likely require multiple searches to get, but a truly good episode guide presents a depth of research not generally achievable on the internet. It moves beyond the basic facts to give insight into episodes for someone already familiar with the basic facts.

The three volumes of These Are the Voyages: TOS by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn are the most comprehensive guide to Star Trek the Original Series available. Cushman's commentary on the episodes as tv drama is limited (though as much as many other guides available), but he presents a wealthy of information on the development of each episode from story idea to final aired version, with quotes from interview with creative staff and memos from producers and network execs. 

If it has a flaw, it is that it is not concise. Every season is its on volume, and every volume is sizable. But then, the audience for this sort of detail would just go Wikipedia if they wanted surface detail.

Scott Palmer's The Wild Wild West: The Series is sizable and pricey, but is lacking in the sort of details that make These Are the Voyages worthwhile. The appeal of Palmer's book is that, unlike with Star Trek, there are few books on The Wild Wild West available. In fact, there's only one other: The Wild Wild West, The Series by Susan E. Kesler. 

Where Kesler's book resembles Alan Asherman's The Star Trek Compendium in being a similar sort of thing to These Are The Voyages, but much less detailed and confined to one volume, Palmer's book only gives a detailed plot summary of every episode, a list of the primary actors involved (with pictures), and a number of stills from the episode. In the number of photos it exceeds the other works mentioned, but that's the only way. There is not insight into the creation of the episodes. It doesn't even list the screenwriters. 

So is it valueless in this age of the internet? Well, it does contain information you'd need to go to Wikipedia, IMDB, and Aveleyman to get, so it simplifies your searches, but it's got a high price tag for that. My recommendation would be Kesler's book, if you can find one.

Buck Rogers XX5e: Venusians

Fri, 09/25/2020 - 11:00

Venusians are a genetically modified strain of humanity, with smaller, closer set ears than is typical for humans of Earth, and a nictating membrane over their eyes. The tend to heavier-framed due to Venus' thicker atmosphere.

There are three cultural groups the partially terraformed Venus of the 25th Century: the Aerostaters, Ishtarians, and Aphroditians.

The Aerostaters are nomads you engage in trade and herding from their dirigible cities. They are stereotyped as friendly and fond of festivals and large parties.

The Ishtarian Confederation dominates the planets surface-to-orbit transport. They are most known for their theocracy and mystic religion.

The Aphroditians are natives of the southern continent. They are descendants of the original colonists of Venus and live in a society constructed around large fiefs controlled by one of several families. The people are mostly farmers or miners. They are stereotyped as shrewd traders, but also stubborn and hot-tempered.

Venusian Genotypical Traits
Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution and Wisdom scores increase by 1. You may also increase your Strength or Intelligence by 1.
Age. Same as humans.
Alignment. Any.
Size. Venusians are Medium.
Speed. Base walking speed is 30 feet.
Nictating Membrane. You have a Advantage against attacks which might cause you to be Blinded.

Revisiting the Wild Wild West

Wed, 09/23/2020 - 11:00

Here's a periodic reminder that Jim Shelley and I are continuing our selective re-watch of the Wild Wild West weekly on the Flashback Universe Blog.

You can catch up on installments here.

Star Trek Ranger: Patterns of Vengeance

Mon, 09/21/2020 - 11:00

Player Characters:
The Crew of the USS Ranger, Federation scout ship:
Aaron as Lt., j.g. Cayson Randolph, Operations Officer
Andrea as Capt. Ada Greer
Billy as Lt. Cmdr. Sobek, Ship's Counselor
Paul as Cmdr. D.K. Mohan, Chief Helmsman
Supporting Cast:Lt. T'Sar, Science OfficerEnsign O'Carrol, Security Officer

Synposis: The USS Ranger encounters the derelict USS Brackett, lost 22 years ago. They find all the crew dead having inexplicably murdered each other. Then, the Ranger away team begins to fall prey to the same strange madness.
Commentary: The USS Brackett (named for science fiction writer Leigh Brackett) is a Malachowski class ship as seen in Star Trek: Discovery. It's naming follows a pattern of naming Malachowski class ships for science fiction writers, including the USS Clarke and the Asimov (in the Christopher Bennett novel The Higher Frontier).
This is the second episode for Science Officer T'Sar. She was inspired by Phil Noto image:

Buck Rogers XX5e

Sun, 09/20/2020 - 14:30

I've recently been looking at 1990s Buck Rogers XXVc rpg from TSR. It's a not unclever update on the original Buck Rogers comic strip, which started as post-apocalyptic science fiction story but transformed over the original comic strip into a more pulpy space yarn. It keeps both of those elements, but weds them to a elements of hardish sci-fi, post-cyberpunk. 

Earth is mostly devastated and under the thumb of RAM (Russo-American Mercantile), a megacorporation that rules Mars. Several planets have been partially terraformed, and humans have been genetically engineered to live on them. Plus there are gennies, artificial transgenic organisms developed to help in the colonization of the solar system. 

The system the game used was a 2e derivative, which means it would probably be relatively easy to adapt to 5e. Not that any version of D&D is ideal for science fiction gaming, in my opinion, but hey, it's there so it's good for a blogpost or two.

Weird Revisited: Attack of the (Star Wars) Clones

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 11:00
The cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars had an effect on comic books, even in its first decade. Despite my pithy title, it's unfair to call these guys clones exactly, but some sort of force is clearly with them. Since science fiction comics and Star Wars draw on some of the same influences, it's not always easy to know what is Star Wars inspired and what isn't. Chaykin's Ironwolf had a rebel fighting a galactic empire in '74--3 years before Star Wars. Still, if one looks at Chaykin's followup Cody Starbuck (also '74) the pre-Star Wars appearances have the look of Flash Gordon and the widespread swordplay of Dune. In the post-Star Wars appearances, costumes have a bit more Japanese influence and guns are more in play; both of these are possibly Star Wars inspired innovations.

Star Hunters (1977)
Empire? A sinister Corporation that controls Earth
Rebels? Sort of, though the protagonists start out forced to work for the Corporation
The Force? There's an "Entity" and a cosmic battle between good and evil
Analogs? Donovan Flint, the primary protagonist, is a Han Solo type with a mustache prefiguring Lando's.
Notes: If Star Hunters is indeed Star Wars inspired, its a very early example. The series hit the stands in June of 1977--a bit over a month after Star Wars was released.

Micronauts (1979)
Empire? A usurpation of the monarchy of Homeworld.
Rebels? Actually previous rulers and loyalists; a mix of humans, humanoids, and robots.
The Force? The Enigma Force, in fact.
Analogs? Baron Karza is a black armored villain like Vader; Marionette is a can-do Princess; Biotron and Microtron are a humanoid robot and a squatter, less humanoid pairing like Threepio and Artoo.

Metamorphosis Odyssey (1980)
Empire? The Zygoteans, who have concurred most of the galaxy.
Rebels? A disparate band from various worlds out to end the Zygotean menace.
The Force? There's Starlin cosmicness.
Analogs? Aknaton is an old mystic who know's he's going to die a la Obi-Wan. He picks up Dreadstar on a backwater planet and gets him an energy sword.

Dreadstar (1982)
Empire? Two: the Monarchy and the Instrumentality.
Rebels? Yep. A band of humans and aliens out to defeat the Monarchy and the Instrumentality.
The Force? Magic and psychic abilities.
Analogs? Dreadstar still has than energy sword; Oedi is a farm boy (cat) like Luke; Syzygy is a mystic mentor like Kenobi; Lord High Papal is like Vader and Palpatine in one.
Notes: Dreadstar is a continuation of the story from Metamorphosis Odyssey.

Atari Force (1984)
Empire? Nope.
Rebels? Not especially.
The Force? Some characters have special powers.
Analogs? Tempest is a blond kid with a special power and a difficult relationship with his father sort of like Luke. There are a lot of aliens in the series, so there's a "cantina scene" vibe; Blackjak is a Han Solo-esque rogue. Dark Destroyer is likely Vader-inspired, appearance-wise.
Notes: This series sequel to the original series DC did for Atari, taking place about 25 years later. The first series is not Star Wars-y.

Omniverse: Looking for Professor Zunbar

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 11:00
This Omniverse post first appeared on the lost G+ on February 20, 2018...

In 1954, Captain Marvel and the whole Marvel Family disappeared. Later stories would suggest the Sivana Family had finally gotten the upper-hand on their enemies and placed them in suspended animation. This version of events also suggests that the Sivanas were caught in there own trap, as well.

But were they? Later that same year, the exiled Prince Namor encountered an ugly, diminutive scientist with a scheme to create a race of amphibious humanoids. He already had a prototype, but the creature proved to be afraid of water! Zunbar hypothesized that transplanting key areas of Namor's brain to the creature could resolve the problem.

Even if Zunbar's physical appearance didn't suggest he was in reality Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, the mad nature of his scheme might give him away. Why Sivana should be operating under an alias at a time when his greatest foes had been defeated remains a mystery.

The Demon Barber of Azurth

Mon, 09/14/2020 - 11:00

Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night, with the party at long last making it to the Sapphire City at the center of the Land--merely a waystation on their trek to Virid Country in the West. They immediately heard tales of a strange disappearances, and people being returned with no memory, sometimes strange minor physical alterations, and really good hair-dos.

Naturally curious, the party seeks out the district's only barber, Tom Sorr. Tom is a nice enough guy, but the party isn't convinced he isn't involved, particularly after they note an aura of transmutation magic about him. They become even more suspicious when a conversation with his young daughter reveals he sometimes has a false iron tooth and sometimes he doesn't, and his personality changes as well.

Deciding to watch the doings at his shop at night, they first have to deal with a misshapen, lumpish creature, they attacks them in the street. They don't know what that's about, but they assume it's somehow related.

They tried to entrap Tom with an illusion of the creature, but he's appropriately scared, so they drop it, and he chalks up the vision to stress. A few hours after he and his daughter are in bed, another Tom with wicked arched eyebrows reopens the shop.

Kully and Shade go in from a haircut. When Kully is seated in the barber's chair, manacles clamp in in place, and he is dropped down into an underground area, with Shade diving in after them. Whistling a tune, the nocturnal Tom descends after them.

(This adventure is based on "The Barber of the Silverymoon" by Jason Bradley Thompson.)

Weird Revisited: Hwaopt

Sun, 09/13/2020 - 14:30
This post first appeared in 2017...
Hwaopt are reptilian humanoids from a distant world. They have large eyes and their dorsal surfaces have tubercules and spines marked with splotches of drab colors. They have adapted to a trogloxenic existence, with the largest group dwelling in and maintaining a vast, library cave system, which may be the greatest repository of knowledge in the know world.

As their vocation would suggest, hwaopt are bookish creatures--to the point pedantry in the eyes of many. Their tendency to verbose lectures on obscure topics is minor social deterrent to other species compared to their odor.  Hwaopt use chemical signalling as part of their communication with others of their kind, but non-hwaopt often find these pungent scents unpleasant.

Hwaopt are generally nonviolent, perhaps even cowardly in the estimation of other races. This is not true of their degenerate, brutish relatives, the troglodytes.
Hwaopt Traits
Ability Score Increase. A hwaopt's Intelligence score is increased by 2 and Wisdom is increased by 1.
Alignment. Hwaopt tend toward lawfulness.
Size. Hwaopt are medium.
Speed. Base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision. Accustom to life underground hwaopt can see 60 feet within dim light as if it were bright light, and darkness as if it were dim light for 60 ft.
Odor. Hwaopt scent glands deliver subtle chemical signals to other hwaopt. They can tell if another individual of their kind has been in a room or other enclosed location (60 ft. area) within an hour and make a DC 12 Perception to determine their general emotional and health state and whether it is an individual they have encounter before. Open areas, a lot of air movement, or other strong scents generally make this impossible. Other races tend to find hwaopt scents unpleasant, so they wear masking perfumes when they plan to be around other species in close quarters. Creatures with a keen sense of smell must make a DC 12 Constitution check or be poisoned until their next turn. A creature who succeeds their check is immune for 1 hour.
Languages. Hwaopt can speak and read the Common language of humans. They also speak their own tongue, a language whose grammar is notoriously difficult to master. Their scholar tendencies provide them one extra language.

Transhuman Space + 2300 AD

Thu, 09/10/2020 - 11:00

I think a mashup of Transhuman Space and Traveller: 2300 AD (later 2300 AD) would work quite well. They both share the trait of being relatively "hard sci-fi" rpgs. Both eschew world governments and the like for squabbling nation states continuing into the future. Both try to avoid most of the fantastical technologies of a lot of space opera.

There are a lot of differences, sure, but I feel like those differences could compliment each other. Transhuman Space's exuberant optimism regarding AI and biotech balances out 2300 AD's in places laughably conservative (and now dated) notions regarding future tech. Adjusting in the direction of 2300 AD's temporal setting (maybe meeting in the middle at 2200) would make Transhuman Space's rosy tech and space travel outlook look more conservative. Bringing in 2300 AD's stutterwarp drive and "realistically alien" aliens broadens Transhuman Space into interstellar science fiction, which is often more to the rpg crowds' liking than solar system-confined post-cyberpunk, while staying relatively true to the hardish sci-fi leanings of TS. Plus, 2300 AD has a star map and young space colonies ready for you.

Of course, you could do without FTL and keep 2300 AD's aliens and colonies. If you had things like Alastair Reynolds' "lighthuggers" and suspended animation sleep, you could still maintain 2300 AD style civilization, particular when you factor in Transhuman Space tech regrading brain downloading and bioroid bodies.

Wednesday Comics: Best of Trek

Wed, 09/09/2020 - 11:00

 Yesterday was the anniversary of the airing of the first episode of Star Trek back in 1966. It seems like a good time to talk about some Star Trek comics.

The earliest Star Trek comics were from Gold Key. They are pretty goofy for the most part, and the characters don't resemble their tv counterparts at all, but it's always interesting to see tie-in media from an age when there was very little of that media out there. These all have been collect in archives from IDW.

The Marvel Comics series of 1980-1982 is better than the Gold Key series, though it mostly fails to feel particularly Star Trekian. When it does, the episodes that inspired it are pretty obvious. It probably didn't help that Marvel was prohibited from using anything that wasn't in the first movie. IDW has collected much of the early Marvel stuff in an omnibus (now out of print).

DC had the Star Trek license for quite a while. Their output was on par with the best of the Marvel issues on average and better at times. Much of this has not been reprinted in a while (though there are Best of Peter David archives and other themed archives). A graphic novel by Chris Claremont and Adam Hughes Debt of Honor has been reprinted in a facsimile edition.

Revisiting the Wild Wild West

Thu, 09/03/2020 - 11:00


Just a reminder that my and Jim "Flashback Universe" Shelley's rewatch and commentary on the 60s TV show Wild Wild West continues over on Jim's blog