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The Sword & Sorcery Paperback Renaissance

Sorcerer's Skull - Sat, 10/16/2021 - 14:00

 Likely touched off by the success of the Lancer (and Ace) Conan paperbacks, the '70s was a Golden Age of Sword & Sorcery paperback fiction. Okay, most weren't that good, admittedly--but there was stuff like Karl Edward Wagner's Kane, Charles Saunders' Imaro, and a number of works by Tanith Lee that were good, just to name a few. Also, even books that weren't all that great were often graced with Frazetta covers.

These gradually disappeared in the 80s. Sword & Sorcery was a genre born in short fiction, and while perhaps workable in slimmer novels, the multi-volume, thick fantasy series was ill-suited to telling tales of wandering swordsmen or rogues. The small press magazines that published this sort of fiction were already rare and soon disappeared entirely.

Amazon and ebooks have provided an avenue for the genre's return in something resembling its 70s glory. A number of small presses (and self-publishers) put out this sort of material with suitable, throwback covers. I confess to not having read many (well, any) of these volumes yet, though I do have a couple on my list. What's more exciting, though, is some new collections of stuff I already like.

Sorcery Against Caesar: The Complete Simon of Gitta Short Stories collects all of Richard Tierney's Sword & Sorcery tales of his version of Simon Magus of New Testament fame. He mostly fights Lovecraftian menaces cloaked in pseudo-historic references. Chaosium had a collection a couple of decades ago, but there's wasn't complete.

Charles Saunders has passed on, but his Imaro novels are back in print, and then there's Nyumbani Tales, a collection of non-Imaro stories in the same setting.



Westernesse

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 10/15/2021 - 11:00

While traveling some for work, I listened to Vance's Suldrun's Garden as an audiobook. It gave me an idea for a setting:
Westernesse (the historical place, not the one in Tolkien's legendarium) is first mentioned by that name in the 13th Century chivalric romance, King Horn, though there is little truth of the place in that work. The Greeks knew the isles by many names: the Hesperides and the Fortunate Isles chief among them. The unusual apples, tended by priestesses of such power they were believed by the Greeks to be goddesses, were known to the Celts as well. The Irish spoke of their source as Emain Ablach. Geoffrey of Monmouth would call it Insula Avallonis and noted that Arthur's half-sister Morgan was one of nine sisters who ruled there, though Geoffrey's information is a distorted echo of past political arrangements, not the status quo of the 12th Century.
Homer knew it as Scheria or Phaeacia. The Phaeacians were perhaps the isles' original inhabitants, besides the fairy, and were themselves of part fairy ancestry. They would later be called elves, and perhaps still later be mistaken for extraterrestrials, if what is said about the abilities of Phaeacian ships is to be credited.
Greek, Celtic, and Phoenician peoples and religions found the islands at some point and left their mark. Brendan of Clonfert introduced Christianity to them, though only heretical forms chased out of Europe have ever had any real purchase, and they always existed side by side with paganism in a pragmatic pluralism.

Merlin is said to be entombed there, somewhere in the ancient forest of Broceliande, home to fairy creatures and prehistoric animals long extinct elsewhere in the world--though there were persistent accounts of encounters with a living, and mad Merlin in those woods. A certain Duke of Milan was shipwrecked on a smaller island of the archipelago and managed to make of himself a great wizard with the aid of a trove of Merlin's lore.
What became of these wondrous islands in the mid-Atlantic? Certainly they appear on some old maps, though their multitude of names make their identification uncertain and their placement on these charts often fanciful. Irish legends of Hy-Brasil (yet another name for Westernesse) suggests that they are cloaked in a strange mist save for one day every seven years. Stories of the Bermuda Triangle (not the islands location most likely, but not far off either) are full of strange appearances and disappearances. Eventually, like so many other Phantom Islands, Westernesse was merely dropped from the map entirely.

Wednesday Comics: DC, January 1981 (wk 1, pt 2)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 10/13/2021 - 11:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm continuing my look at the comics at newsstands on the week of January 8, 1981. 

New Teen Titans #3: Wolfman and Perez introduce the Fearsome Five. They get together by answering an ad Dr. Light placed in an underworld paper. The Titans take them on twice and get beaten both times in variance with the usual superhero plot structure. They manage to do some infighting before that over Raven's mysteriousness, which Wolfman doesn't handle as well as Claremont would've. In the end, it's revealed that Trigon is using Psimon who is in turn manipulating Dr. Light to Trigon's ends. This title continues to really move. Everybody else this week seems less momentus (even Momentus, see below) by comparison, but I wouldn't say we've had a particularly good issue since the first.

Secrets of Haunted House #32: That guy, Judge Kobold, who escaped Mister E last issue was a werewolf and a vampire. Rozakis and Spiegle give his origin this issue, and it turns out he was a witch-hunting judge of colonial Boston who got cursed by a witch. Kobold attacks Kelly O'Toole who has now taken a job with Mister E. After making a disconnected telephone ring, E shows up to shoot the judge with a silver bullet. Mrs. Charlie Seegar and June Lofamia open this issue with an old Chinese man imparting a story about prejudice to some kids excluding a kid on crutches. It seems that a noble in ancient China was brought a paw cut from a marauding tiger by a warrior. The paw had transformed into a woman's hand with a ring the noble recognizes--his wife's! He confronts his now one-handed wife, and she admits she's a shapeshifter and pleads not to be cast out, but the husband condemns her to death. Before she is executed she curses him, and he wakes up the next day with a tiger paw in place of a right hand. The children now let the boy with crutches play with them thanks to this morally muddled story, and we see the old man has a tiger paw for a right hand.
The final story is a goofy yarn by Kelley and Sparling about vampire pirates. They're defeated when they break into a cabin full of nuns all brandishing crosses.
Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes #1: This seems like an excuse to retell the origins of the Legion and many of its members, but Bridwell/Kupperberg and Janes have wrapped a story around it. R.J. Brande, the Legion's inspiration and benefactor, is dying. While the Legionnaires are distracted, a man and woman dressed in black break into their headquarters to review their records (providing a recap on their history). When the Legion confront them, we find the man is Brande's assistant. He's convinced that the Legion files contain a clue to helping Brande. Brainiac 5 jumps to the conclusion that this means one of the Legion is suspected of killing Brande, which seems a bit of a leap, but I guess makes a good issue-end cliffhanger.

Superman #355: Bates and Swan have dared to imagine Isaac Asimov as a super-villain. Well, not technically Asimov, but a writer named Asa Ezaak with Asimov-sideburns who gives a lecture called "Science Says You’re Wrong If You Believe That–." It turns out he's used some dubious theories about gravity to give himself powers. He's into sort of an orange Clayface in appearance and calls himself Momentus. He kidnaps Jimmy so the "ace reporter" can't reveal his doings. Luckily, Jimmy finds a way to summon Superman. At first, it appears the Man of Steel has met his match, but Superman's super-dense body (being from Krypton and all) adds to Momentus's power until he overloads and explodes. Superman did try to warn him.
Bates and Swan are also on the Superman 2020 backup. We see the entirety of the Midwest is a desert waste, so that's one way their fictional 2020 is worse than ours. Anyway, human purists trap the young Superman in a way that if he breaks out it will set off a bomb and destroy New Metropolis. Young Superman gets wise to their scheme and summons Superman I and II to save the day. Crisis averted, he's ready to get the symbol on his chest, too.


Superman Family #205: Harris and Mortimer/Coletta continue with the return of the now villainous Enchantress. The Enchantress taunts Supergirl into coming to see her latest magical feat on Miami Beach. Just like last time, she's using the Moon, and Supergirl plans to just kick it slightly out of orbit. When she does, know, Enchantress casts a spell that stops her from moving it back! It also gives the witch the power she was looking for to become the premier crusader against evil in this Florida beach town. Anyway, Supergirl tricks her into using her magic in a way that gives Maid of Might the means to break her spell and depower her. She's also figured out the Enchantress is June Moone, but a quick spell remedies that, and the Enchantress is again free to swear she'll get Supergirl next time.
In the "Mr. and Mrs. Superman" story by Bridwell and Schaffenberger, the mop-topped Earth-2 Luthor pulls a hunk of kryptonite to Earth in an elaborate plot to eliminate Superman by pretending to be a statue of himself made out of kryptonite. He's foiled by a kick to the shin and a hotfoot. "The Private Life of Clark Kent" is as boring as ever with Clark surreptitiously helping the annoying Steve Lombard save his aunt the mystery writer from a kidnapper. 
The Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen multi-part stories by Wolfman and Saviuk finally come together. Lane knows her name now and begins the process of reconstructing how she lost her memory, which leads her to Al Diamond, crooked would-be Congressman. She manages to make a pretty badass escape, all action hero-style, and runs into Jimmy Olsen. Olsen has been busy disguising himself as Diamond to dust his office for Ryan's prints, then scaling the side of a building with suction cups (do these two even need Superman?). Lois doesn't know Jimmy at first so she fights him like superheroes are wont to do upon meeting. The two manage to escape and make it to safety. Ryan is revealed as a HIVE agent, Jimmy and Lois save Diamond from a HIVE base and escape in a helicopter before it explodes. In the end, Lois calls Superman with Jimmy's signal watch and sits him down for a talk.

Weird War Tales #95: This issue is kind of bland. Kashdan and Carillo open it up with a diminutive alien showing up on a Crimean War battle field. He takes command of a Russian force--the actual general is eager to get ahold of his advanced weaponry. Soon it's revealed that the Turks have an advanced weapons benefactor too, and the humans are all slaughtered. The two aliens congratulate each other on the game and remark on how war is all humans seem to want to do. Mishkin and Cohn and Infante deliver a short tale of Native Americans who become centaurs to avenge their tribe against the white man. Kanigher and Ditko have the statues of Easter Island (when they had bodies not just heads) avenging the slaughter of their people by another tribe. 
Finally, DeMatteis and Zamora deliver the best tale of the issue, though that's damning with faint praise. In WWII, A cornfed country boy full of violent fantasies from pulp barbarian stories beats up a Romany soldiers who dares disparage his affinity for violence. The aggrieved soldier takes revenge via "gypsy magic" to show the Texan the error of his ways. The Texan finds himself transported to a barbaric land where he is attacked by his barbarian hero. The Romany solider wakes up in a hospital to find they were both injured in an attack, but the Texan was killed--presumably by the illusions he intended to teach a lesson. He feels remorse, but soon finds himself assaulted by the fictional barbarian himself for being guilty of the crime of wanting bloody revenge.

Wonder Woman #275: Wonder Woman and the new Cheetah have their first confrontation, and it's underwhelming. Conway and Delbo have the Cheetah moving swiftly and stealthily in her high-heeled catsuit. She manages to sabotage a dam and flood a town for her radical environmental agenda. She also beats Wonder Woman in their first fight despite the fact we've been given no indication as to how she got super-powers. Wonder Woman figures out that Debbi is Cheetah, and they fight on Debbi's yacht-- which explodes in a collision with a ferry and Cheetah is presumed killed. Kobra is angry at the loss of an operative and ready for a confrontation with Wonder Woman. I wonder if Conway planned Cheetah as a one off villain? This issue certainly makes it appear so.
In the backup, Power-Girl and Huntress deal with The Thinker's crimewave. They attempt to visit the D.A. again, but the Thinker's got him in a closed-door session. Soon he's having him jump out the window, and the duo save him, but he recognizes Huntress as Helena Wayne!

"Game Wizards" Has Arrived!

Zenopus Archives - Wed, 10/13/2021 - 02:35

 

Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons is the title of the new book by Jon Peterson of Playing at the World fame. I had eagerly awaited it since hearing about it, and had pre-ordered from Amazon, and it arrived in the mail today, like magic, on its official release date. Shelfie above. 
After checking out the images in the book, I naturally looked up Holmes & the Basic Set in the index and skimmed some of those parts. This lead to reading more parts before I forced myself to stop, so I can start at the beginning. But my early verdict is that it is very readable.

Get your copy of Game Wizards here(" As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases ")
In the weeks leading up to the release, Jon made a related series of "behind the scenes" posts to the Playing at the World blog:
Game Wizards: My New Book
Game Wizards: TSR Financials
Game Wizards: TSR Staffing
Game Wizards: D&D Development Timeline
Units of Value and the Tactical Studies Rules Partnership
There were also several tie-in media articles:
Polygon: History of Dungeons & Dragons chronicles the battle between Arneson and Gygax
Polygon: How a pending lawsuit changed the original D&D Basic Set (a "never-before-seen piece that was cut from the final book")
Wired: The Missing Teen Who Fueled ‘Cult Panic’ Over D&D ("This story is adapted from Game Wizards")
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Minaria: Immer

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 00:12
Immer is a hinterland compared to the grander, more civilized nations to the south like Mivior and Muetar. However humble its settlements, simple its castles, or rustic its lords, it still serves an important strategic purpose both as a buffer against the elves and goblins and as a rich source of natural resources.

The kingdom of Immer has its origins in the Vidvarnii adventurers who traveled north from Lake Lorimer to hunt and trap and trade with natives of the wilderness. They supplied the lands to the south with furs, honey, and beeswax. Eventually a stockade fortress and trading post was established at Muscaster, which would grow into the town as settlers followed the woodsmen north.
The nominal king (or Grand Prince, more accurately) of Immer is Euwint I, often called "Euwint of the Marshes" which he fancies as a byname to commemorate his dubious victory over a Muetarian sortie in the Wrogga Lowlands, but his detractors imbue his sobriquet with a different meaning entirely. Euwint is of the line of Hrorvikid warlords who beat back the encroaching Muetarians and subdued the northern tribes, establishing modern Immer. However, his upbringing was entrusted to the wizards of the Invisible School in the modern custom. They fostered him in the household of his more tractable cousin, a border lord of the Lowlands. The lords of the north and west consider him a bit effete, perhaps even soft. 

None would ever make such a claim regarding his wife, Igweena. Though she comports yourself in the required courtly fashion, she is the daughter of the Duke of Monen who holds Gap Castle and defends the land from the approach of the goblins of Zorn through the mountain pass. Igweena, it is known, has been counselling her husband in reinforcing the North, possible in preparation of seizing the land beyond the River Rapid to secure access to the gold found therein. 
It is also whispered that Igweena, like the peasantry of her mountain home, still holds to the tripartite goddess in secret--in fact, some claim she is even a priestess--despite public allegiance to the official Ansharite cult. 

Cold Wind Whispering

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 10/09/2021 - 11:11
By Markus Lindermun Apes of Wrath OSR Level 4? Wjo knows.

A crying statue, missing children, a mad wizard, raging conflict and a sentient wind whispering words of madness …

This 68 page digest adventure features a seventeen encounter pointcrawl up the side of a wintery mountain, with a couple of small seven-ish room dungeons in a few of the locations. You can see what it is trying to do, but it just comes off as … static? 

I don’t really know what to say about this. It exists. It’s not great. It’s not insufferably bad. It’s just mediocre. (And, in my taxonomy, there’s no room for average.) I think I know why it is the way it is, and that’s what I’m going to talk about. Mostly.

First, though, the adventure. The usual assortment of “someone paid us to go here” hooks, along with a decent one: they say that a goddess sleeps at the top of the mountain and provides boons to those that awake her. They journey through hell (a frozen one, in this case) to seek knowledge is a classic one, and fairly easy to fit in to a campaign. So, up the pointcrawl mountain you go. Your decisions, right or left, are generally arbitrarily made and not toward some specific goal. Individual locations tend to give you a hint of the next location, but not your progress towards a goal. So “a trail leading in to a sense forest of red foliage, with a distant amber glow coming from deep inside it.” Ok, so, check that out I guess? It’s as good as any other choice. Red door or blue door, you choice is arbitrary.

Why is this different? What makes this different, say, then taking a right hand turn or a left hand turn in the dungeon? This choice. Also, is seemingly arbitrary. And yet, it feels different. In our usual exploratory dungeon adventure we have a reconnaissance in force: the party is loaded for bear and looking to fuck some shit up and get the ca$h. It IS an exploration and therefore the decisions are (almost) arbitrary when deciding right or left. But when an adventure is NOT an exploration, when there’s a goal, then we have different things needed. The mindsets have changed. I am looking for the lost valley; is this the way? I am making choices to help me find that, to accomplish my goal. In front of this we place the red door and the blue door. It is arbitrary. The decision is meaningless. Is there a place for this? Sure. But too much and our mindset and framing is lost to the “who really gives a fuck anymore?” cause. And this blog exemplief time and again, Apathy Kills. It doesn’t matter that left is the red forest with golden glow and right winds further in to the forest with a huge tree visible. I mean, piquing someones interest is good, but you need to feel like you are making progress also. Otherwise this is just a funhouse museum visit.

The individual encounters in this, taking a page or two each with the mini/lair dungeons taking a few more, engage in a couple of interesting sins. One is perhaps forgivable and the other NOT. 

First is that new sin, the inappropriate use of randomness. In several locations, when the party first enters, the DM is instructed to roll to determine what currently inhabits the area. This is not a superior way to describe an encounter. A randomly rolled encounter can not be integrated by the designer. The encounters next to it can not be influenced by it, in the text. It cannot be hinted at in the next room. It cannot be integrated in to the room text proper. It’s just The Town Square with some random monster standing in it. Yes, absolutely, emergent game play from randomness is totally a thing. But, I point you to Websters Unabridged Dictionary, again, as the model of perfection for this type of adventure. There’s not context to the encounter, either local or in the scope of the large adventure. Sure, “reroll on every subsequent visit” could be a thing. As could “roll on the wandering table on subsequent visits.” The role of the designer is not to ask the DM to roll, but rather to create an integrated environment that riffs off of everything. Inappropriate randomness doesn’t do that and is lazy design.

The second problem, though, is far far worse. Nothing is going on. I mean, NOTHING is going on. Oh, sure, there are places to visit. There are people to stab. There’s a machine to fuck with. But, overall, the general vibe is one of a static environment. There is not much, if any, dynacism to the environment or the individual encounters. “Hawk Meadows” is a perfect example of this. You’ve got tents, a shooting range and an aviary. They torture prisoners, worship a nihilistic god, and conduct lavish feasts.This is it. Their leader, 6th bastard of a 6th bastard, runs a tight ship, we’re told. But that’s just it. There is no inciting action. There is no tight ship to interact with. In spite of generalized hints, which I quoted above, there is nothing going on. If I just said “village of dudes who worship a nihilistic goddess” you’ve have as much to run the encounter as the half digest page provides the DM with. No sacrifice in progress, or prisoners in a cage. Nothing you WANT and not really anything that they want from you. (I guess you could infer “dinner”?) It’s just this static place. And this happens times and time again in the adventure. We get some hint of something. A spaceship. Refugees. A buried statue. But, all we get is that thing. There’s nothing actually going ON with it. Not much to explore or interact with. Over and over and over again. Yet another giant buried statue. The encounters don’t have a disposition to them. There’s a passiveness to everything. 

This robs the adventure. Everything is supposed to be connected, for the most part. THings in one area relating to things in another. Instead it all just comes across as individual THINGS in individual PLACES. There’s very little cross-pollination. There’s very little motivation in the individual encounters. The malaise of existence comes back to you, instead of being driven off by bread and circuses. Sysyphsus fails, time and again. 

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages, but you don’t get to see any of the encounters. Boo! Boo I saw, Sir!


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/353958/Cold-Wind-Whispering?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Review & Commentary On Guilds and Orders by Steven Chenault From Troll Lord Games For Your Old School or OSR Fantasy Game

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 10/08/2021 - 16:49
 "Guilds and Orders is a simple resource guide for use at almost any table and any roleplaying game. It lists several dozen possible guilds or orders that you can port into your game and use to augment an adventure through role playing. It’s a book that adds depth to a region by giving its people that much more flavor. Below you’ll find outlined scores of guilds and orders, that serve as ready toNeedleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review & Commentary on Bounty Hunters In The Clement Sector By John Watts From Independence Games For The Clement Sector Campaign Setting For Cepheus Engine & 2d6 Original Science Fiction Games

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 10/07/2021 - 15:20
 "Bring 'em back alive!With the many independent governments of Clement Sector, it is necessary to have a method to capture criminals who take advantage of the lack of a ruling interstellar polity and go on the run from justice.  For most governments in Clement Sector, the answer is the manhunter.  ""Manhunters include those who have dedicated their lives to tracking down criminals on the run, Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Small Setting

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 10/07/2021 - 11:00


For some reason, the idea of a small setting has long had some appeal for me. Something like the British Isles or any other single country, sure, but also even smaller, like an single province of a country (Averoigne, Poictesme)--or smaller still, like an immense Gormenghast-esque castle and its environs.

Obviously, hexcrawling has limited to no utility in a setting like this, and it's probably not grist for a long term campaign, if you do the usual D&D activities. But you know, most campaigns I play in or run don't seem to be long term enough that that would create into a problem. My Land of Azurth campaign will be 7 years old this month, and while the players have now ventured beyond Yanth Country, I feel like we could easily still be in that terrain (roughly the size of the state of Georgia), allowing for the brief planar, time travel, and underground other-realm excursions they've done.

What's the appeal to me of the small setting? I'm not exactly sure. Perhaps it's the thought of accreting a lot of granular detail in one part of a setting in a way players will actually find interesting versus that detailed city supplement approach where most of it never gets used. There's also the possibility of developing more of a robust "supporting cast" and layering in mysteries big and small. It also makes adventure locales less likely to be one-offs, encouraging the portrayal of them as living, changing places.

In short, maybe, it's bringing some of the aspects of the megadungeon to a setting that isn't centered around a megadungeon.

Its All In Today's Mail - Paul Elliot's Zaibatu rpg & Postcards from Avalidad by Miguel Ribeiro, & Manuel Souza Combined

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 10/07/2021 - 02:29
 “Every man has inside himself a parasitic being who is acting not at all to his advantage.”― William S. BurroughsSo this blog entry is gonna pick right up from here. And I asked for a physical  copy of  Postcards from Avalidad by Miguel Ribeiro, &  Manuel Souza. And the author came through in spades. Why would I need a physical copy? Because my eyes are ready to bleed out of their sockets Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Blackapple Brugh

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 11:11
By Kyle Hettinger & Vasily Ermolaev Self Published Basic Fantasy Levels 1-3

Blackapple is a small village on the edge of a great wood, near a brugh (an earthen mound) wherein is confined a cruel elf lord who once ruled the people of the village. He cannot leave the brugh, but is he truly no longer a threat?

This 46 page “local region” adventure is fucking magnificent and I’m a fucking tool for waiting so long to review it. It’s whimsical, serious, and full of the sort of delightful, but terse, specificity that makes an adventure and locale come the fuck alive. I’m mother fucking buying it and it’s going to be a staple of my games from now. 

I bitch so much about token and half efforts on this blog. So many adventures lack any JOY in them. And I don’t mean happy adventures, but adventures by designers that seem to take a certain glee in creating them. You can tell. It’s obvious, almost immediately, when someone GROKS it. This dude (these dudes?) grok it. And I want to communicate that to you with one encounter/locale.

The adventure has a Sanitarium in it. “Ug! Sanitarium! Fucking Magical RenFaire garbàge!” Oh, no gentle reader, not at all! Recall that this blog and it’s lowly writer LUVs him some tropes. When well done, just like mom used to cook my steaks. And this fucking thing is DONE. There’s a stone country house with four rooms on the top floor, the front and rear doors locked and the windows barred. Hmmm. “That’s different than the usual dreck…” I say to myself. The good doctor gets the following description: “Doctor Livinius is a thin middle-aged man with soft features and a wisp of white hair. He is typically garbed in tan or light rose-colored robes. While acting as a healer of madness, he wears a funnel- like aluminum hat purported to focus his mental exertions.” FUCK! YES! This is the shit! Dude is in it to win it!  And he’s truly dedicated to healing mental illness, “which includes exorcism, leechcraft, and ad hoc brain surgery.” Oh god yes! This This THIS! I soooooo want to run this dude! And, while I’m normally not a big fan of laundry-list room contents, and this adventure generally doesn’t engage in that activity, this guys house does give a description of the contents of the treatment room: “Hand saw, pliers, hand drill, dagger, scalpel, reams of bandages, bucket, eight dishcloths, a straight-waistcoat, four 8’ ropes, a metal-framed glass aquarium (worth 30 gp), 24 leeches, a bottle of cheap wine (sedative), a cudgel (sedative), a lamp, a small silver bell, Goodbody’s Book of Prayer, six candles, a silver holy symbol (worth 20 gp), and 2 vials of holy water.” Can you imagine?! The players searching this room, looking around, and finding that shit! Oh, the delight in their reactions! Oh the joy! Other parts of the adventure interact with the sanitarium. There’s an escaped madman in the woods. The good doctor is treating the local lords son, which comes in the play. And he’s an expert on fairies, which could be needed (elves in this are fairy-like) And he’s fucking competent, being a CL3 and an actual expert. With his bizarre metal hat and trepaning drill. Oh geez, I’m dr000ling to run him. 

And this is just, I don’t know,  page of text. This shit is sticky as all fuck. It says with you. You KNOW how to run this shit. 

Oh, oh. The local kids? In the village? There’s a local legend, you stare in to a mirror and chant a rhyme “mirror man mirror man (other stuff)” and the local spirit comes to treat with you. AND HE FUCKING DOES! Ooooohhhhh, I love it! THis shit works! It all fits together! It’s relatable. It’s fun. It’s sticky. It’s fucking D&D!

There’s a witch, on the wandering monster tables. She’s a nasty old crone who’s lost her cat. If you find it she gives you “The Blond Lady’s Wig of Mediumship (9 charges) which allows the wearer to speak with dead..” That’s it. That’s your text for a new magic item. FUCKIGN PERFECT. A dead ladies hair, I’m imagining. Maybe some scape holding it together? Maybe with a bloody wound? Fuck yeah man! None of this clean and sanitized magic shit. REAL magic items, imbued with power!

I’m doing a shitty job, here, with this review, as I do with all of the reviews of good things. The hooks involve a rascally nephew that needs a talking to, a crazy uncle gone missing, and a wounded treasure hunter buddy. Just those descriptions can tell you things are different here, and their actual one-sentence descriptions are very good, giving the DM just enough detail to run with. 

And that’s true with SO many aspects of this adventure, from wanderers, to locations to NPC”s and so on. There’s just enough information to fire the DM’s imagination and let them run with it. It’s using a pretty traditional organization/formatting scheme, with just enough cross-references to help the DM, and a clear writing style that makes it easy for the DM to run with. And the village is full of little shit children, my favorite fucking kind of little shits! The kind that makes you just want to smack the shit out of them, kids or no. 

There’s a variety of things going on in Blackapple Brugh. A few more “mundane” things, with only tangential relations to the main “elf lord” quest, and others with varying degrees of stronger connections. 

And there a fucking ownbear in the damn woods! Need I say more about this things old school cops? At level 1! Delightful!

A couple of suggestions: The children, a major focus of the adventure, are a bit abstracted in to a generic “little shit” or “scared mindless” description. A sentence on each would have provided some more personalization for such a major part of the adventure. Likewise, the “generic’ elves could have used a one page description of their personality/dress, all of them on one page, I mean, to help personalize them some also. I’m getting a strong “Bioshock” read off of them, and helping to play that up would help with the fey-ness. Finally, the descriptions, the DM text in particular, can get long in places. It is in no way unmanageable, but, it does stick out. This combines, I think, with the Basic Fantasy house style, to produce a somewhat cumbersome experience in places, especially in the Brugh proper. I’m not sure what more to say about this. I think the house style has reached about as far as it can, in this adventure, and perhaps is just over the line, or close enough to it that you can it becoming trouble very soon. 

But, these are minor quibbles. This is an excellent sandbox location. Not handholding, and leaving A LOT of room for the DM to run things like “killing the wild dogs in the woods”, while supporting the DM with that they need to run a memorable game. With some fucked up Mr Norville type fey. Fucking elves man! 

This is free over at Basic Fantasy, and only $3 at lulu for a print copy. You should own it.

https://basicfantasy.org/downloads.html#kh1

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: DC, January 1981 (wk 1, pt 1)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 11:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I start my second year (cover date-wise). I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of  October 9, 1980. 

Batman #331: Wolfman and Fleisher team-up on the writing credits (Fleisher is credited as "scripter." Maybe Wolfman is spreading himself thin?) with workmanlike Novick pencils. A lethal vigilante, The Electrocutioner, stalks the streets of Gotham killing criminals that got off on a "technicality" which there seemed to be a lot of in 80s media. These days, we tend to think of that as "due process" and "civil rights." Anyway, Batman wants to stop this guy, but almost gets electrocuted the first time he tries. The next time they fight, the Electrocutioner seems to die of his own gimmick, but we get the ol' hand reaching out of the water bit, so you know he'll be back. In the midst of all that Robin just wants to talk about their relationship, because he knows Bruce is mad at him for quitting college, but Bruce just wants to catch the bad guy. When Dick discovers Bruce is letting Talia stay at his place, he blows up and storms out. Honestly, Wolfman is really trying to make this riff between the dynamic duo a thing, but at all comes off so one-sided, like Dick is just spoiling for a fight with Bruce. 

The backup story by Barr and Newton, has Batman disguising himself as a cop to infiltrate the GCPD and expose a corrupt cop who may be a friend to Gordon. It turns out there is a corrupt cop, but he isn't Gordon's friend, but one of that guy's colleagues. What's interesting about this story is Barr has Batman in disguise on a police firing range unable to shoot because he has a "psychological block" against using a gun. It's odd that Barr writes this, because in 1987 he'll write the infamous "Batman: Year Two" arc where a young Batman is forced to use a gun against the Reaper. He also will write other Batman stories post-Crisis where Batman will occasionally pick up a gun. I wonder what changed his mind?

DC Comics Presents #29: Starlin brings a bit of his cosmic flourish to an encounter between Superman and the Spectre. Picking up where last issue left off, Superman is trying to find his cousin, who went flying off to who knows where at supraluminal speeds. Superman goes faster and faster until he shifts into higher planes of existence. He sees Supergirl, but then the Spectre stops him. Spectre tells Superman that the one he works for has sent him to stop the Man of Steel, but just like in the recent Martian Manhunter issue Superman takes anyone telling him to hold on a second as an invitation to fight. Not that he can do anything to the Spectre who is by now in his cosmic being mode. Superman eventually gives up, and Spectre presents Supergirl, still unconscious. He explains that Superman's actions ripping the fabric of reality and all could have destroyed whole universes. Superman has learned his lesson, and he and his cousin head home. This issue reminds me a lot of an issue of Alan Moore's Supreme, with a Starlin-esque style and a run in with a Spectre stand-in that humbled the titular character.  
The backup is "What Ever Happened To..." Dr. Mid-Nite. Again, I feel like Rozakis and Saviuk just give us essentially another Dr. Mid-Nite adventure. It doesn't really live up to the title.  

Flash #294: Conway pinch hits for Bates and has the Flash fighting the Pied Piper in a story lame enough that it loses the cover to the backup feature. Pied Piper is blackmailing cities by leading hordes of exotic animals (from zoos or something? I don't know) to attack unless he's paid off to "lead them away." No one can figure out how he's summoning them, but Flash eventually does and uses the Piper's own trick against him.
In the Firestorm backup, the Flash accidentally causes a sonic boom beneath Superman's flying prison, and the Atomic Skull gets loose. The Flash actually hitches a hide on a jet liner then runs across the clouds to check it out. Anyway, a blast from the Atomic Skull irradiates him, and the Flash will be a swift moving hazard unless he can find some way to get rid of it. He goes to Firestorm for help who obliges, but then gets drunk off all the nuclear energy. The Flash has got to manage drunk Firestorm to get him to take out the Atomic Skull. It's goofy enough for a Bob Haney yarn, but it's just more Conway.

Ghosts #96: Doctor Thirteen keeps ghostbreakin' in a story by Kupperberg and Adams. An air show is apparently haunted by the ghost of a WWI pilot, but when a vintage biplane with no one at the controls shoots down another plane, killing the pilot, Thirteen is on the case. It turns out it's a guy with a remote control device and an overly complicated plan, hoping to crash the plane into an office to destroy records of his embezzlement. See, there's no such thing as ghosts!
Meanwhile, the rest of the comic is full of ghosts. Kashdan and Henson have two stories this issue. The first involves a criminal who can't escape from a train because the engineer he killed still has his ghostly foot on the deadman's clutch until the train arrives at the prison. In "The Phantom Strangler" a buffalo poacher is smothered to death inside the buffalo carcass he's sleeping in overnight by the ghost of the man he killed. Finally, Allikas and Landgraf reveal "Dread of the Deadly Domestic" which is really a cautionary tale about not taking a reference for a housekeeper from the sister of your dead wife who thinks your a murderer. While Rodney's away in Europe, the new zombie-like housekeeper with fuchsia hair terrorizes his wife who becomes convinced the maid's the ghost of Rodney's former wife. Rodney returns form Europe just in time to reveal it was all a ruse and the housekeeper is actually his former sister-in-law doing some sort of Scooby-Doo-esque scaring. How has Rodney deduced all this? Twist! His plane went down over the Atlantic, and he's a ghost. The ghost of his former wife told him.

Jonah Hex #44: The story continues from last issue, with Hart and Hex having escaped the Apaches, but now facing the Spast Brothers. The Brothers crease Hart's scalp, knocking him out, and Hex gets shot in the shoulder. They make it to the river where they hide out until the Spasts are gone. Hex takes Hart to a farm house to heal while he sets out to clear his name. Mei Ling, meanwhile, has recuperated and gone to a saloon to try to find Hex, only to find the Spast Brothers. Hex shows up and guns them all down when they threaten his girl. Back at the farm, Hart reads the message Hex left for him, then helps the family fight off an attack by the bandits sent to run them off by the land-grabbing, wealthy cabal in town. That cabal hears that Hex is still alive when he and Hart appear to be facing off in the street. Hex outdraws the marshall, then goes to negotiate with the businessmen. They confirm his suspicions about their misdeeds and offer to cut him in if he'll finish running off the homesteaders. Marshall Hart, very much alive, has heard their confession and arrests them. He and Hex had planned a ruse to flush them out. DeZuniga joins as inker here. He'll be on this title for quite some time.
Next issue, Hex is to be married to Mei Ling. I'm sure that will go off with no problems.

G.I. Combat #225: As usual, there are two Haunted Tanks stories written by Kanigher with art by Glanzman and Ayers. The first is the best of the two, with the tank crawling through a cave on t