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Nutmeg in the Dark

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 11:11
By Edward Deboinare Esoterik Games Knave level 1

Something has happened to the northern mountain pass, those who have survived to  return reported the smell of nutmeg before their party was ambushed in the dark. The town guard is raising a party to go clear the pass. He enters the local tavern to conscript all the patrons …

This 46 page adventure uses twenty pages to describe 33 rooms in a single column format. The rest of the page count is new monsters and some new class backgrounds. But, those 33 rooms? A combination of goofy funhouse puzzles and bizarrely minimal writing. To no effect.

Let’s get this out of the way: the shambling woodpecker boss monster at the end smells like nutmeg. You now know why the title is what it is. No, I am not holding out on you. It makes no sense to me either. I’m a square though so maybe I’m missing something.

The map is … different. The entry room is, like #14 and the exist #23 and there is no number ten on the map. You can’t really make out any doors. There are minimaps next to the individual (single-column) room descriptions, but, you can’t really make out the features on them. And this is blown up on my monitor to about 1.5! Printed out, in digest form, as the adventure suggests …  there’s Norfolk & Way for shipping an elephant overnight from New York to LA. Or to make out the map. Also, weirdly, the formatting doesn’t work at all on my mac, for the text. The built-in PDF viewer gives me garbage, so I have to use the Chrome built-in PDF viewer … which still will not render certain pages. 

The writing is … interesting. Here’s a room entry: “Roll an encounter with [-] guarding the room, its unhappy. The chest contains loot.” No? Not your thing? How about “Ceiling is magically the night sky; there is loot[-] here.” Ok, ok, how about this one? “That is blood on the floor from the giant guillotine blade trap located there; it goes off every time.” That’s the extent of the description. There is nothing else. No mechanics, nothing. These sorts of things make up maybe about a third of all the encounters in the dungeon.

Room type two, Hezrou, has a few more things going on in it. Such as “A Grasping Giraffe guards this room; upon entering the giraffe will trigger the switch on the wall, causing the door to slam shut; investigating behind the throne near the switch will reveal a wheel that can be turned to lift the plate shutting the door. There is a set of platemail here.” No, that’s all of the description. No, I don’t know what a Grasping Giraffe is. There’s no pic. There is an entry in the rear in the monster appendix. “Their eye stalks enable the giraffe precision and protection during their head-whip attacks.” So …. They must have eye stalks. You should be detecting a pattern by now. There is something here, just under the surface. But it’s almost like 50% of the sentences in the adventure were left out … the 50% that would explain what the fuck is going on and add depth to the thing. A giraffe with eyestalks? Uh, ok. Sure. I’m in. But … you need to actually put enough words in to make this work. Another room has “a dire shadow bear with a silver dagger stuck in its heart is frozen into a statue, in mid-attack.” Nice! It’s ALMOST there. It’s ALMOST an actual encounter. Maybe it would be in Dungeon of the Bear days. 

Room Type III is an actual funhouse room. One of the rooms starts with “When the party sees the mirror or is in range, have the mirror introduce it self as the Opposite Mirror.” So … uh, I guess there’s a mirror in the room then?  Anyway, there’s a message on the floor. “Always coming to take me down.” If you give the password (the opposite, of course!) then the figure in the mirror (ok, so, now I guess there’s a figure in the mirror?) reaches through the mirror and activates two immovable rods that he uses to pull himself out of the mirror.” So … there’s two immovable rods somewhere? Outside the mirror I guess? And the figure comes out of the mirror? I mean, I’m not leaving anything pertinent out of the description here. The map doesn’t show anything important … or legible. It’s a funhouse room. And there are other funhouse rooms. And I can almost grok out what is going on. ALMOST. 

The boss monster is labeled as BOSS on the map. It’s a  Shambling Woodpecker. It can the flying tree from the cover (Small Evil Flying Needle Tree) are listed as Unique monsters. Which means that the grasping giraffe and putrid peacocks are not, by inference? DId I mention the electric deergull, a seagull with the head and antlers of a deer? It’s weird all right. It also feels PROCEDURALLY weird to me, rather than a creation. Like someone stuck some words in n app and is testing their new AI program. 

The loot table, which you dice on for all oot, is full of hings like “Magic Weapons [+] to hit” or Magic Weapon Damage Die Up. 

Things like a dire shadow bear that can be turned in to a statue by stabbing it in the heart with a silver dagger? Excellent! Idiosyncratic and great! I’m not morally opposed to a funhouse room; they are not my favorite, I prefer cohesive design, but I recognize them as a thing. But, the minimal encounters, lack of effort in a third of the rooms, and incomplete data in the other ?’s, along with map legibility issues? A hand drawn cover is only going to get you so far with me. That charm has to pay off, and it doesn’t. In the same vein, but less coherent, as Unbalanced Dice.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $7. The preview is eight pages but doesn’t really show you any encounters. Maybe check out that last page for the flying tree thing to start to get the right ideas about how it is written. 


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/366931/Nutmeg-in-the-Dark?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 1980 (wk 2, pt 2)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 09/29/2021 - 11:00
My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around September 25, 1980. 

Legion of Super-Heroes #270: Conway's and Janes' story continues with most of the Legionnaires in the hands of the Fatal Five. Timber Wolf warns the others, but Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl are captured when the villains assault the Legion headquarters. Only Light Lass and Timber Wolf remain free to come to the rescue. The Fatal Five, however, are at least somewhat distracted by their resentment at having to take orders from the mysterious Dark Man. Timber Wolf discovers the identity of the Dark Man at the end of the issue: he's an unbifurcated Tharok! Another solid issue from this creative team.

Mystery in Space #114: This issue is a mixed bag. The first story by Wessler and Craig has a couple trying to find a refugee from their world that's imperiled by an imminent collision with another planet, only to fall into the hands of a planetary despot. The woman appears to choose to marry the despot and have her former lover exiled, but that's only a ruse to allow him to escape. The planet they arrived on is the planet their homeworld is going to collide with! The next story by Levitz and Spiegle is slight, but a little more clever. We follow a day in the life of a really nice guy in the future, only to find out it is only for the sake of this good-hearted guy that tentacled, extradimensional horrors haven't yet destroyed the Earth.
The co-creators of Blue Devil and Amethyst, Mishkin and Cohn, team-up with von Eeden for a kind of shaggy dog story about a man escaping a future conquest of Earth in a vessel with a damaged warp drive. It sends him back in time to...Ellis Island. Skeates and Ditko team up for a cynical, EC-esque story about a loving couple leaving a time capsule to be found by future generations. Their heart-felt expression of love only becomes another reason for people to kill each other in the primitive, post-apocalyptic future. Conway and Yeates finish out the issue with a time travel yarn about an attempt to kill Hitler that leads to a worse consequence--which precipitates a chain of assassinations as successive time travelers try to fix the failures of the past.

New Adventures of Superboy #12: The lead story here is weird because Bates seems leave the primary conflict unresolved. A harried Superboy still dressed as Clark Kent winds up saving a rich man from driving off a cliff. The man uses his resources to track Clark down and begins publicizing his heroism and putting down Superboy as not as heroic because he has powers to protect him from danger that the man assumes Clark does not. Neither Clark nor the Kents like all the attention he is getting. This plotline is never really resolved; Instead, the rich man's nephew and heir tries to kill Clark and Superboy stops him. Maybe they're going to deal with Clark still being famous next issue, but I kind of doubt it. The backup by Bridwell and Tanghal relates Superboy's first meeting with Perry White where he reveals to the world in an interview that he's an alien. This story is mainly interesting because Superboy says he revealed his origins to President Eisenhower, thus setting these events somewhat specifically in time.

Sgt. Rock #347: This issue opens with one of Kanigher's blunt and simplistic, but not ineffective, anti-war tales. Easy is saved from a tank by the heroic actions of their CO, but the man is left blind and dumb, if not in something of a vegetative state. With the Germans advancing, the staff plans to leave him in the hospital for the Germans to find and move to one of their hospitals as the rules of war dictate. Rock isn't having any of that, so he personally drives the mute and expressionless officer through a forest, avoiding a German personnel carrier, and nearly getting blown away by a artillery. On the way, Rock talks of his father (dead in a steel mill accident), his brother (dead in a daredevil dive off a bridge), and his other brother (missing since the Japanese took the Philippines). Rock sees his company advancing into the range of the artillery and takes what action he can to save them. After the battle, they find the CO was killed by shrapnel in the drive over. Rock opines he bled to death without a word, as if perhaps that was a measure of his mettle, but the man hadn't spoken since his original injury. It was unclear if he could. Anyway, Easy Company buries him and moves on to the next battle.
In the next story by Kelley and Severin, a bomber going down under fire thinking it's mission to destroy a German refinery was a failure lucks up and hits the real refinery. We get a second Sgt. Rock story or vignette about the Easy Company member Little Sure Shot. There's a one page profile on the Seneca war chief Cornplanter, then a story by Eads and Veitch about the only woman "who ever lead an American armed expedition against enemy forces," Harriet Tubman.

Super Friends #39: The Overlord decides to send evolved clones after the Super Friends. The first proves too powerful for them until they use his advanced traits against him, finally weakening him with concentrated exposure to a trace element in the Earth's atmosphere--krypton. A clever, though perhaps goofy, turn in a definitely goofy story. The Bridwell/Tanghal backup story has the Wonder Twins at a disco and tangling with a DJ and lightning tech using their powers for no good. These Wonder Twin stories are mildly interesting (mildly!) if you think about the roundabout ways they defeat villains. Who would ever think "form of a peacock" would be the right call?

Unexpected #205: This one is pretty good. First up, we get a Johnny Peril story by Barr and Sparling. Young Angela Lake has apparently been possessed for a second time, but Peril smells a rat, not brimstone. It turns out the exorcist is also a hypnotist and has faked Angela's possessions. The story ends with the possibility the exorcist himself might be possessed, though Johnny doesn't buy it. "A Match Made in Hades" by Kashdan and Rubeny has a lovelorn businessman buying a love potion from an old witch. When the object of his affections becomes positively obsessed and scary, he pays a hefty price for the antidote. Only then do we discover that the young woman is the witch's daughter, and it has all been a con. The last story by DeMatteis and Catan winds up getting reprinted in the Best of DC digest in 1981. Bruce used occultism to literally retreat into a psychic realm of fantasy after Cornelia dumped him. But he can't escape reality entirely, and his efforts to do just that cause him to confuse the two, resulting in the tragic death of Cornelia. To pay for his crime, Bruce sends himself to a Hell literally of his own imagining.

Unknown Soldier #246: Haney and Ayers/Tlaloc have the Soldier in Egypt, trying to help defeat Rommel. He winds up chasing a spy named with stolen war plans from Cairo into the desert. There are sandstorms and bandits-- and then the Soldier finds out it was all a trick! He unwittingly delivered the plans to Rommel himself. Luckily, some quick improvising on the Soldier's part makes Rommel think the plans are misdirection, so the Desert Fox is defeated in the Allied offensive, though he escapes to fight another day. Kanigher and Yeates give us a tale of the Vikings where an aging Chieftain discovers his greatest warrior in a recent raid was actually his daughter in disguise. The final story by Burkett and Ayers is continued, but starts off with a classic war comic opening: U.S. aviator is disparaging the "ruptured duck" B-17 he's forced to fly. When they reach the bombing target the bay doors won't open. They are unaware one of their crew (captured after the last raid) is being held in the German installation beneath them.

Warlord #40: Read more about it here. No OMAC back-up in this issue. Instead we get a "Tale of Wizard World."

Plague of Frogs (Modern Horror)

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 11:11
By Goblin Archives Self Published Liminal Horror

The Plague of Frogs is an adventure/mystery for Liminal Horror that has the players investigate a rash of attacks that have end up being more than random bouts of violence. Can they stop the Plague of Frogs without fracturing their minds & bodies?

This eight page digest “horror” “adventure” contains as much information as a single page of loosely written notes for your game tonight.  It’s my fault. I was intrigued by the promise of a new horror framework, and using it for other systems, etc. Fuckwit Bryce thinks that you should be open to new things and innovations.

This “adventure” is for the Liminal Horror system/rpg. Which is a hack of the Cairn RPG. Which is a mashup of Into the Odd and Knave. Which are reimaginings of … Well, you get the picture. We are about to reach critical recursion depth. (I wonder how many cdr’s Scheme can manage, anyway?) Anyway, I’m not sure why the world needs another system for horror. Isn’t Call of Cthulhu the end all and be all of systems? I mean, yeah, big character sheet and lots of rules, but, I don’t think I’ve EVER seen it played that way. Basically the DM just tells you to roll the dice and something will happen to you. I’m not sure the rules or character sheet have ever come in to anything, except maybe how to roleplay my character. It’s one step away from Baron Munchausen to begin with, so I’m not sure why someone looked at it and was like “too much! Too much!” 

I have played a metric FUCK TON of Call of Cthulhu, as well as Danger International, the human spy version of Champions. Every adventure always goes the same way. A: Something weird is going on. B: Let’s search for clues and go places and talk to people. C: Oh no! It’s a bad guy! D: Look! A secret lair; let’s use shotguns and gasoline! This adventure is no different, following the standard trope format.

Except, it’s not an actual adventure. It’s a framework. Which is a fancy way of saying “I jotted down some notes.” The heart of the adventure is on page four. It takes up a third of a digest page and has eight sentences, listed in a table. These are the “potential clues.” 

Sewer grime on victims and frog-monsters, Video cameras catch glimpses of frog monsters, Dr Shelly is being consulted about a deformed corpse, B&H delivery van spotted at various scenes of attacks. There’s four more, but you get the idea. This isn’t a summary. There isn’t some vignette about the B&H offices, or some little scene or some summary of the various attacks. This is ALL there is for the investigation portion of the adventure. From this you, the DM, should put this together and make some stuff up for the players to do. It’s either on the spot improve or jotting down some notes and creating your own adventure from these components. It’s inspiration, not an adventure. I’m all for shotguns and gas cans, but, if this adventure takes 4 hours, then these eight sentences are supposed to be 2.5-3 hours worth of content. 

There’s always going to be this contention about how much content to provide the DM. Minimal keying, or frameworks & inspiration on one side and the explicit text verbosity vomited out by the pay per word gang on the other. But, there MUST be a happy medium in which 90% of consumers are satisfied. And it’s not this. It’s not eight sentences. I don’t care what the system is for, the designer needs to support the adventure more than this in order for it to be called an actual adventure. “I was sitting in a bar and jotted down some notes on the back of a napkin. I’ll send you a photocopy for $3. You should put in some filler so it lasts four hours.” Look, I’m open to new formats. I’m open to experimentation, especially in the realm of plot adventures and investigations. But, fuck, it has to SOMEHOW support the DM during play. Otherwise, it’s just a Fiasco playset. If you want to do that, fine, but that’s not an RPG. 

This is $3 at DriveThru.


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/366661/Plague-of-Frogs?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Minaria

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 11:00

Thanks to everyone who came to my aid after Friday's post and offered suggestions of settings to riff on. I actually might wind up dabbling in more than one as so many good suggestions were offered. First though, I think I'll start with Minaria, the setting for the Divine Right board game.
It turns out there is actually quite a bit of background for Minaria if you take into account the articles written by the game's author in Dragon. I've only read a little bit of that, but there's good stuff there. Still, I think I would like to go with the map itself--evocative of so much "pre-D&D as genre" fantasy--and the slim setting information in the rules and game components.

The art on the personality cards supports the older fantasy feel of the map. None of the characters look "cool," rather the art makes me think of classic illustration in older fantasy works like the works of Cabell, Dunsany, or Eddison. Also, the humor in some of the naming in the map puts me in mind of some of those works as well.

So in broadstrokes, Minaria (from this material) strikes me as a place of Medieval(ish) lords and nations jockeying for power through warfare and intrigues, not unlike Game of Thrones, but with the slight humor Dunsany or Byfield's The Book of the Weird.
More to come!

New Flesh On Old Bones

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 09/24/2021 - 11:00

Staying busy with other stuff (including gaming sessions), the blog has suffered from me having a lack of time to cogitate sufficiently for many posts on new ideas. I thought it might help to go back to the old standby of riffing off an existing setting. I find constraint sometimes stimulants creativity and placing boundaries on things limits the number of tangents that can distract you.
So, I thought it might be interesting to take some older setting that was perhaps open-ended in its approach or sparse in its presentation and see how I would develop that. At least, it's an idea to consider; whether I get around to it or not is another matter.
But what setting? The perennial favorite to "make one's own" is the Wilderlands. But there are two publishedindividual visions of that, and blogs with other good versions (and some good versions on blogs that are now lost as Atlantis). I don't know that I have anything to add there without getting really variant, and I've never really got the Wilderlands in the way these folks seem to, so I would really be riffing off them to some degree.

Another setting similarly sparse in its original presentation is the Greyhawk folio. The later box set, for that matter, is only a little more detailed. While not as popular as the Wilderlands for this sort of thing, certainly folks have offered there own take on it to--here's Evan again.

Beyond those, what else? The Known World (pre-Gazetteers) is terse in its original presentation in The Isle of Dread, though the helpful (for the neophyte GM) cultural references might hem it in more than the ones mentioned previously, despite it's shorter length. Is there anything else? Powers & Perils' Perilous Lands, or does in that way lie madness? (It's not really terse at all, but curious unspecified in some ways.)

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 1980 (wk 2 pt 1)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 09/22/2021 - 11:00
My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around September 25, 1980.

Action Comics #514: Everywhere computers are going haywire and causing trouble. After noticing the pattern, Superman traces the problem back to the Fortress of Solitude. There, he's bedeviled by his own robots and security measures, but fights his way through to the culprit: Brainiac. Brainiac is rebuilding himself after his last encounter with Superman and Supergirl and needs the help of the Fortresses computer to reprogram parts of his brain. When, he gets done, he says they won't meet like this again, shakes Superman's hand and flies off. It's a whiplash shift, and it made me wonder for a moment if their was a missing page or at least panels. But no, Superman explains that he used his powers while Brainiac was distracted to pull a Doc Savage move and reprogram Brainiac's brain for good. An interesting twist by Wolfman in an otherwise ho-hum story, one which will lead to a short "new direction" for Brainiac. Short, because he's only got only 3 more appearances over as many years before he gets his new, more robotic redesign.
The Air-Wave/Atom backup makes the Sunspotter out to be a super-powerful villain, but it isn't enough to keep him from being defeated, and it isn't really enough to make this feature interesting. Sunspotter does have sort of a Marvel vibe and design, though; he reminds me of some one or two appearance Marvel Team-Up foes. Next issue promises a solo Atom story (presumably still by Rozakis and Tanghal). We'll see how that one goes.

Adventure Comics #478: This issue will be the last of the 3-way split in Adventure. Each of the features is getting sent off to another title. But here, DeMatteis and Giordano/Mitchell finish their Black Manta storyline--sort of. Manta and his army of the disaffected attack Atlantis, but Aquaman escapes from the cell where Manta left him in time to rally the Atlantean troops and give an impassion speech to Manta's forces, many of whom desert and take an offer of sanctuary in Atlantis. Mera recovers from her illness and arrives in time to stop Black Manta, and Cal Durham is with her. Cal finally gets to tell Aquaman what he's being trying to tell him for 3 issues: that's not really Black Manta!
Levitz and Ditko have Starman succeed in saving M'ntorr from his own people, but M'ntorr is then exiled to the physical universe. He tells Starman he's proud of him and regenerates Starman's destroyed staff before deciding to die anyway. I have a hunch the follow up in DC Comics Presents will be more tying off loose ends than continuing the story. The Pasko/Staton/Smith Plastic Man has Plas up against a group of former criminals turned P.I.s who are acting like criminals again to prove they haven't "lost their touch." They also happen to look just like the Marx Brothers. Honestly, I'm surprised Plastic Man lasted as long as it did, not because it's terrible, but because I feel like it was very much out of step with what comics readers wanted in 1980.

Brave & the Bold #169: Barr and Aparo have Batman investigating Angela Marcy, faith healer of the Marcy Temple, after the suspicious death of her husband. Zatanna is an attendee of the temple and a believer. She tags along to prove Batman wrong. It turns out Raymond Marcy was killed by a mobster he refused to use his healing gift on. Angela's powers are a fraud, though her assistant has been faking the most dramatic cures without her knowledge. The killer is brought to justice, and Batman suggests Angela Marcy open a mission in Gotham's slums instead of a temple. A solid, if unremarkable team-up yarn. 
The Nemesis backup continues not to do much for me, other than I appreciate Spiegle's art. But hey, it graduates to a Batman team-up next issue so we'll see where it all winds up.

Detective Comics #497: In the lead story, Conway and Newton take Batman out of Gotham to track a gangster to Baja California. In one difficult night, Batman's mission intersects the disparate lives of several individuals, and leaves most of them better off--even when his actions interfered with their plans. It's a clever concept for a story, though I don't feel like it comes together as well as Conway might have hoped. 
The Batgirl backup is more interesting. Barbara Gordon is a suspect in the murder of Representative Scanlon, there appears to be a frame-up. The only way to alibi herself is to admit to being Batgirl. Her father has mysteriously disappeared, so she's on her own. Barbara is arrested in the issues cliffhanger ending. Delbo's art seems not up to his Wonder Woman standards here, though. 

Green Lantern #135: I just don't feel like this Dr. Polaris story needed 3 issues. It's decompression before decompression was a thing. Well, not really decompression, perhaps, but more not getting to the point. Polaris has conquered the world and a ringless Hal Jordan and his pal Thomas go to try and stop him somehow. Polaris recognizes them but spends so much time toying with Jordan that our hero has time to mentally call his ring back. Polaris keeps absorbing magnetic power so he doesn't think it matters. GL changes strategies, though, giving Polaris more power so that he becomes one with the magnetic field of the universe (or something) and disappears.
The Sutton/Rodriquez Adam Strange yarn likewise feels like a study in taking so long to get to the ending that the ending feels flat. The story title, though, is "The Zeta-Bomb Maneuver" which references the ST:TOS episode "The Corbomite Maneuver." Strange pulls exactly the same sort of trick as Kirk in that episode when he bluffs the existence of a super-weapon called a zeta-bomb to defeat the rebels.

House of Mystery #287: The Micheline/Bercasio story must have inspired the cool Kaluta cover, but doesn't really have anything to do with it. An Arctic weather outpost is plagued by mysterious deaths where the bodies are found drained of blood. Oh, and there's that coffin that's there with them nobody can explain, so already several of the remaining crew are thinking vampire. In the end, one guy, the skeptic is left, though he manages to kill the vampire, he is bitten and finds himself transformed here in the middle of no where with no blood to drink. 
The other two stories aren't quite as good, but not terrible. DeMatteis and Cruz give us a story of an old woman who is domineering toward the niece she supports because she is secretly jealous of her youth. She makes a deal with a very chipper Devil for a second youth, and for a while lives it up. Then, she realizes she's been tricked and is aging back to childhood. Her niece takes charge of her life and finances and sets out to treat her as cruelly as she feels she was treated. The last story by Oleck and Saviuk seems overly complicated in that it makes the slaughter-happy treasure-seekers attacking Native American-appearing folk aliens instead of--well, Europeans. Captain Jurok is convinced there is a city of gold, so he leads a side mission without approval of his superiors to find it. They are taken captive and forced to toil as slaves in that hidden city of gold. Jurok escapes, but dies of exposure, though not before being found by his people. They leave the planet, never noticing the shackles he wore were made of gold.

Dark Sun: The Sand Raiders

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 09/20/2021 - 11:00


I've run two sessions now of Dark Sun using Forbidden Lands (and the Burning Sands Dark Sun adaptation you can find online). To keep it easy as we were getting used to the system, I decided to run the short adventure in the 4e Dark Sun book.

At the caravanserai of Dur-Taruk, the party (Eowen, Elf Ranger; Insam, Ranger; and Keeb-Raa, Thri-Kreen druid) accept a job from a dwarf factor named Urum ath Wo of the merchant house Zawir. It seems a Zawir caravan arrived with one wagon missing and with it its cargo of grain, wine, and wood. Fifty silver was offered for clear directions to the cargo or its return, and the party is eager for the coin.

The party is able to pick up the trail of the lost wagon and track it to a place it was set upon by saurian silt runners.  In fact, some of the silt runners are still there, and the party engages them in combat, ultimately emerging victorious. The bodies have attracted the attention of a pack of kruthiks. The party has to kill them before they can follow the tracks showing where the silt runners too the cargo. They lead to the ruins of an ancient tower.

Stealthily approaching the tower, the party finds a vault where the silt runners and their leader have taken the cargo and the still-living wagon crew. The leader is a largely reptilian creature who has a dagger coated with some greenish ichor. He doesn't get a chance to use it because Insam puts an arrow through a gap in his carapace and kills him.

In the battle that follows, one silt runner escapes but the others are slain. The party decides the cargo is too much trouble for them to carry back, but they free the crew, and after making camp for the night in the vault, they return to Dur-Taruk in the morning for their payment.

The Dwarf Folk of the Wilderness

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 09/19/2021 - 14:30
Art by Jason Sholtis
Another Antediluvian people of the Wilderness are often called names that would translate as some variation of "dwarf." They arrived as the retainers of the First Folk lords who called them simply "the smiths." They were, and often still are, forgers of implements of bronze and iron, and cunning artificers.
They are clearly cousins to mortal humankind, but are shorter in stature, more powerfully built, and courser featured. One of the first human tribes to meet them in the new world called them "hairy ones" in their tongue, a name adopted by later arrivers in a mangled form as goohagatch. These latter folk believed the dwarf people to be cursed to wander, but also protected from harm by the True God. This has not always sparred them violence from their human neighbors, and they have mostly moved away from encroaching settlements.
There are some dwarf folk who have adapted to a greater extent to humans ways, and perhaps even interbred with humans. They are sometimes called "civilized dwarfs" but just as often "petty dwarfs."

Weird Revisited: The Black Train is Coming

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 09/16/2021 - 12:25
This is a Weird Adventures related post from 2011. I don't think it made it into the book. I re-read the Manly Wade Wellman story that inspired it yesterday, so it brought it to mind...
“A black train runs some nights at midnight, they say..”

-- Manly Wade Wellman, “The Little Black Train”
Hobo-goblins, human tramps and bindlestiffs, and other Brethren of the Road, tell stories in their camps of a preternatural train that runs from this world to planes beyond. This lore is seldom shared with those outside their communities, but folklore records regular folk having chance encounters with the phantom.

The appearance of the train changes with time. It always appears old, like it has a decade or two of service behind it behind it, but otherwise stays current with locomotive technology and styles. It's not marked in any way, and has been described by observers in paradoxical ways. It’s plain and nondescript, yet powerfully commands intention. Some feel an intense unreality upon seeing it, others the cold hand of fear.

The train starts on mundane tracks, but as soon as it's "out of sight" of its observers it begins to shift into other realms. Some dreamers have seen it crossing the lunar wastes from the vantage of the parapets of the Dream Lord's castle. It is known to make stops in depots in the Hells. Planar travelers have attested to seeing rails that fade into nothingness at the mouth of the gyre at the bottom of reality.

Mostly, it seems carry certain dead to the afterlife, though why it comes for some and not others is unknown. Hell Syndicate snitches know of it, but not who operates it. Angels likewise keep a serene silence. Most who ride the train are dropped off in the waystation realm of the dead, from there to travel on to their souls' final destination.  Some, however, are taken directly to the outer planes. Others seem to ride the train for longer periods of time. They're found snoozing in couch cars, or drinking and playing cards in the dining car. Waiting, perhaps, for something. They’re sometimes inclined to conversation, though they seldom have anything useful to say.

Adventurers have sometimes used the train as a quick ride, either to the Other Side, or the Outer Planes. Hobo-goblin glyphs sometimes point the way to likely places were the train may appear. The train’s gray, nondescript, and seldom seen staff do not object to taking on new passengers, so long as they pay the fare--which varies, but is always in silver.

There's always the option, for those with fare or without, of hopping one of the train’s empty freight cars, but riding an open car through other planes is a dangerous proposition, and the boxcars are only empty of freight--not necessarily other travelers.

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 1980 (wk 1, pt 2)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 09/15/2021 - 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 September 11, 1980. 

G.I. Combat #224:There are two Kanigher and Glanzman/Ayers Haunted Tank stories, as usual. In the first, the tank's crew must out think a German Panzer while on loan to the British Army in North Africa. As is often the case, the crew is mistrustful of their commander, Jeb, but he saves them in the end. In the second story, U.S. tanks keep disappearing in a secluded valley that was the site of a battle in WWI. The Haunted Tank is the last to go in, and they find themselves assaulted by poison gas. Thinking quickly, they escape and discover a WWI German unit has been improbably hiding and defending this valley since the last war ended. "You can't cheat death twice," as the title says, and these Germans and done in by the Haunted Tank team. 
"Reward for A Traitor" by Kashdan and Bercasio is a cautionary tale about trusting colonial powers if you're an indigenous person.  The son of a Pacific Island chief makes that mistake with the Japanese and gets put to work in a mine for his trouble. The O.S.S. story by Kanigher and LeRose has spies making a heroic sacrifice for the war effort, which is how these stories always go. Different here is that Control can't make the decision to shoot down their plane, even if not doing so reveals to the Germans their plans. He seems much more "all about the mission" in previous stories. The next story by Douglas and Evans is an appreciation of parachute fitters and is refreshing to the extent that its protagonist wants to be as far away from combat as possible at the end of the story, despite his heroism. The next story by Wessler and Bercasio is a short, bleak tale of a unit's practical joker who, despite being a thorn in his sergeant's side, jumps on a grenade to save him, thereby playing the ultimate joke: leaving the others "stuck with the whole lousy war."

Justice League of America #185: Conway and Perez's New Gods arc comes to an end. It's good JLA/JSA team-up storytelling, with the different sub-teams coming together in the end. Highlights include Batman and Mister Miracle comparing escape artist notes, and Wonder Woman and Big Barda tag teaming against Granny Goodness. In the end, the energy meant to destroy Earth-2 is redirected to strike Darkseid instead. Perez draws an off-model Darkseid this entire issue, but that quibble aside, I feel like this three-parter has been the best of Conway's run I've reviewed so far.

New Teen Titans #2: This issue continues to move at a pretty fast pace. Starfire doesn't yet know how to speak English (she learns it here, by kissing Robin), so how were they a functional team? Anyway,  The H.I.V.E. tries to hire Deathstroke (I didn't realize he had that name from the beginning) to take them down, but the Terminator refuses, so they decide to make their own. They get a volunteer in the form of Grant Wilson, a neighbor of the Titans who Starfire stopped from committing domestic violence. He becomes the Ravager and attacks the Titans with Terminator's reluctant help while they are Claremont X-Mening it in a fan service, pool frolic. The defeated Ravager ages pretty quick from pushing his power and dies. Deathstroke attends his burial and reveals he is Grant Wilson's father. He takes the H.I.V.E. job as revenge against the Titans, which seems to be what H.I.V.E. planned all along. 
This title doesn't yet have the character drama that would be a big part of why the Wolfman/Perez run is often praised, but it is definitely different from the other DC supers offerings (even ones written by Wolfman).

Secrets of Haunted House #31: This issue features the debut of Mister E in a tale by Rozakis and Harris. He'll become a bigger deal in the Vertigo 90s. Right now, he's just a blind guy who's been stalking a vampire who's been committing murders, but he's is easily stymied by a blow to the head by the vampire's immigrant, ingenue housekeeper. Luckily, she realizes her mistake and stakes the vampire herself, otherwise this would have been Mister E's last appearance.
In "Short Road to Damnation" by Drake and Henson, a nebbish, height-challenged secretary steals a pair of Napoleon's boots and suddenly becomes a proactive and commanding guy, which includes committing two murders. The boots that gave him the ability also prove his undoing as they link him to the crime scenes, as discovered by a Detective Leba, whose name is of course an anagram for Elba. A story by Kashdan and Brozowski rounds out the issue with an escaped convict happening upon a scientist's laboratory in a swamp. The scientist is working on an antidote to the "death factor" that causes cells to die and potentially could provide immortality. The criminal takes the antidote before the scientist can explain fully and kills him in a scuffle. The criminal's caught, but he doesn't die from his gunshot wounds, and he can't be executed. Every potentially mortal wound ages him at a faster rate, however. The antidote to death was senility (though the story calls this factor "morbidity.") We end in the future time of 1999, with the criminal locked away in a futuristic prison, a wizened husk.

Superman #354: Another Silver Age-y "mystery" plot from Bates, but again a not uninteresting one. Superman takes down a group of high flying thieves led by a Mr. Alpha, who winds up escaping into the sewers, which happens to put him a good place to hear about the origins of a suit of powered armor found in the Egyptian desert. Clark Kent is there too, having responded to an invitation from senior archeologist, Thalia Tate. Tate presents the young man who was wearing the armor who claims to be a time travel from a highly advanced, prehistoric civilization. He and his beloved were separated by a time storm--and he thinks Tate's assistant Susan is actually his long lost Myyla. Supporting his story is that Susan looks like Myyla and is wearing an identical amulet to his. When she removes it, she's no longer speaking English. Susan needs some time to sort this out, but Mr. Alpha kidnaps her, forcing the visitor from the past to get in his armor and fight Superman or else.  Superman manages to keep his attacker at bay long enough to located Alpha and free Susan. He's also figured out what's really going on. It's Tate that is really the visitor from another time. Separated in the time storm, she and her beloved arrived in the future decades apart. Not wanting her beloved to have to be with an old woman, she chose an assistant that looked a lot like the younger her, did some hypnosis, gave her the amulet, etc. The truth revealed, they return to their own time with Superman's help, and Thalia/Myyla is restored to youth in the process.
The backup story is about the Superman of 2020, the grandson of the original. That has some interesting implications for when Bates thinks the first Superman's adventures take place (if it's 1980 as in the first story, you'd think Superman would have to be having his kid pretty soon), and possibly for the expected duration of heroic careers. His future is brighter than our present: 3 supermen, and no pandemic.


Wonder Woman #273: This is the first appearance of the second Cheetah, courtesy of Conway and Delbo. Wonder Woman responds to a oil tanker accident and meets a group of environmental activists led by a young woman in a bikini and a captain's hat who happens to have access to a yacht. She's Debi Domaine. After Wonder Woman gets a shower and the yacht returns to dock, Debi gets a letter from the aunt who raised her who is apparently on her death bed. Wonder Woman heads off to work and some sitcom antics as she makes dates as Diana Prince and Wonder Woman for the same evening. Debi visits her dying aunt and discovers she was once the costumed criminal, the Cheetah, and then is captured by Kobra agents. While Wonder Woman puts on her disco cape and heads out on her date, Debi is subjected to the Clockwork Orange treatment, mentally conditioning her with images of environmental devastation. She emerges as the Cheetah in an outfit similar to her aunt's except with a deep-V neck and high-heels, and is ready to become an environmental terrorist for Kobra!
 In the Huntress back-up by Levitz and Staton, Power-girl threatens the DA over a new anti-superhero vigilante rule in Gotham, which really sort of makes his point for him, I think. Huntress shows up to intervene. She and Power-Girl go to chat, and she reveals to her friend that she's been dating the DA. Meanwhile, we discover that the Thinker is behind the DA's actions, because who could be against costumed vigilantes but a super-villain, right? In the end, a sudden crimewave breaks out in Gotham at the Thinker's command.

World's Finest Comics #266: Burkett and Buckler provide the Batman/Superman story where they tangle with the new super-villain, Lady Lunar who attacks a STAR Labs moon exhibit. She is actually a double bit of continuity referencing. She has the same powers (and origin basically) as Moon Man from World's Finest #98 in 1958 (in fact, this issue is the last appearance of Moon Man's alter ego), and she turns out to be an astronaut trainee from Wonder Woman's stint as an astronaut back in 1979. The Haney/von Eeden Green Arrow story is goofy, but charming. Editor George Taylor is sure Oliver Queen is Green Arrow, so he challenges him to 48 hours of flagpole sitting for charity, convinced that Queen will be unable to meet his column deadlines. With the help of Dinah send him stories via Morse code and what not, Ollie keeps writing his stories and sending them to Dinah via arrows right under Taylor's watchful eyes. 
The Red Tornado story be DeMatteis and Delbo has RT looking for an apartment and almost getting stabbed by a 13 year-old girl who's high on...something. He takes an interest in helping the girl and saves her from falling off a building, which finally gets her mother to recognize the severity of the situation. All, the time T.O. Morrow is watching. The Rozakis/Landgraf Hawkman story "Something Sinister in Sewer Seven" has the best title of the issue. The something or somethings are giant, mutant bugs. The main conflict is city bureaucrats trying to cover it up. Birdwell and Newton unleash a space armada of ships shaped like Dr. Sivana's head on Captain Marvel. This comes after Sivana and IBAC go planet to planet and have IBAC beat up planetary despots until they declare Sivana their ruler. Meanwhile, Mr. Mind intends to side with Sivana only until he has the opportunity to destroy him. I continue to enjoy this updated "Monster Society of Evil" saga.

The Fire and the Void

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 09/13/2021 - 11:00


Our Land of Azurth game continued last night with the party in the midst of exploring the strange, ruined temple beneath the Crooked Hills. The party ran afoul of a group of skeletons that they quickly dispatched. They avoided a pit trap where they also found another strange item--a vial of silvery liquid. They were disappointed to find it wasn't magical.

They came to a room with a relief of a muscular, bearded man holding a scorched brazier. The group tried burning something in it and a secret door opened. On the other side was a room with a large oven with a roaring flame inside. They discovered the flame was a fire elemental who suggested it needed to be bribed to allow them to pass through to the run beyond the oven. Dagmar gave it gold pieces, which it melt in its flames. Then it parted like a curtain to allow them to pass.

On the other said was a wide, shallow bowl with a whirling void on the inside. As the party began to investigate, a group of the sleepwalkers came in. They largely appeared to ignore the party as one took a couple of items the party took to be trinkets and dropped them into the void where they disappear. When that was done, he extended a hand expectantly to the party.

They decided to give him a trinket to see what happened. He took it and put it in the void. They kept giving him the trinkets they had, even the newly acquired silvery vial, and they all disappeared. The sleepwalkers turned and left.

When they were gone, the party investigated the room further. Waylon figured out that the void was only an illusion. Items dropped into it went down a passage. Erekose found a secret lever to open a secret door. What they found, down a short passage, was essentially a glorified closet with a number of trinkets and other items that had been dropped into the void.

Mindful of the townsfolk's warning about the trinkets exploding, they cautiously experiment with putting groups of them together in the same place, but nothing seemed to happen. Eventually, they divided up the nonbroken items and took them with them.

The First Folk of the Wilderness

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 09/10/2021 - 11:00

This is a follow-up to this post.

The First Folk were the earliest inhabitants of the Western Lands, that is certain. Their tradition holds that all people emerged from the navel of the Earth, somewhere in the far west, but that they, the Children of the Dawn, were specially loved by the gods who taught them their secrets, which the first Folks used to found the earliest civilizations in the world in the Eastern Lands.

Some human scriptures teach that the First Folk are the hybrid children of rebellious greater spirits, sometimes falsely called gods, and humans. They cite the Great Flood as the True God's punishment for the iniquities of the First Folk and their parents. This religious condemnation did not stop human tribes from studying under the First Folk and learning their craft and science. Of course, these humans, too, committed the same sins in the eyes of God, perhaps, for was not their island home destroyed in a cataclysm for their wickedness?

After the Flood, the surviving First Folk lords and their people returned to the shores of the Western Lands. There they found members of their own race, fallen in their own reckoning, living primitively in the endless forests. They sometimes met these kinsfolk in peace, sometimes in violence. They raised new cities, though perhaps not as glorious as those in the East. The barrows and ruins of these people are still found, though in the end a strange fall overcame them, so that they were only a shadow by the time the first humans came West. 

These human tribes sometimes warred with the surviving First Folk from the East, but over time became beloved of the the First Folk of the woodlands. Later human tribes would not be so receptive to the First Folk ways.

The Folk of Forests have receded ever further as human civilization has encroached upon the dark wood beyond the mountains. It is wise for travelers to abide by their rules and attempt to placate them, however, as they have be known to punish those who do not respect their ways.

The First Folk of the east were taller (perhaps as tall as 8 feet, with some of the ruling class of the great kingdoms of the East even taller) and in general, considered more beautiful than humans. Their lifespans were exceedingly long--before the Deluge they were immortal--and their physical capabilities exceeded those of man. Their eyes and sometimes their faces, were said to have a subtle radiance about them, perhaps a suggestion of their Celestial heritage. The Folk of the Forest are not as tall, and often more angular, but still strangely beautiful, possessed of a glamor, it is said.

Solar Trek Episode Guide - Updated

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 11:00

In honor of Star Trek's 55th anniversary (yesterday), it seemed like a good time to revisit my 2019 posts on Solar Trek, a solar system confined, more hard science fiction rationalized Star Trek. Here are all the posts to date, titled with the TOS episode/setting element that inspired it.
The introductory post
The Orion Syndicate
"Return of the Archons"
"That Which Survives"
"The Cloud Minders"
"The Trouble with Tribbles"
"Tholian Web""The Amok Time""The Way to Eden"


Cepheus Journal Issue #001

Cepheus Journal - Thu, 08/13/2020 - 11:34
Download the first issue of Cepheus Journal. There is an article about CE skills, part one of a scifi adventure on salvage and recovery, a Sword of Cepheus NPC, a description of a free trader with deckplans, a small pseudolizard species to encounter, a piece on modern war, tech level comparisons and more. We want … Continue reading Cepheus Journal Issue #001
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Rosalis Cluster

Cepheus Journal - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 09:35
Rosalis Cluster is Sector generated using the Cepheus Engine rules. It can now be downloaded from the downloads page. The download includes a huge PNG-image (4227 x 5305 pixels), and two text-files with the UWPs and the XML-data. In the map of the sector we can see two multi subsector empires. The Raniera Worlds and … Continue reading Rosalis Cluster
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Traveller Character Creation: Best Background Skills

Cyborg Prime - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 08:21

You are rolling up a new Traveller character and you aren't sure which Background Skills to choose. In this article, I will show you the best background skills for your Traveller character.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Pioneer-Class Scout Ship Deck Plans For Roll20 And VTT

Cyborg Prime - Sun, 07/26/2020 - 23:41

You need scout ship deck plans for your virtual tabletop game. Check out my new Pioneer-Class Scout Ship Deck Plans For Roll20 AnD VTT.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Welcome to the Cepheus Journal

Cepheus Journal - Thu, 06/25/2020 - 13:41
The Cepheus Journal is a free and ad-free Fanzine. We are looking for submissions. While we wait for the first issue, these mock-up covers might provide some inspiration.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sci-Fi RPG Plot Hook: The Missing Survey Vessel

Cyborg Prime - Mon, 06/08/2020 - 02:49

Looking for sci-fi RPG adventure seeds for your next game of Cepheus Engine or Traveller? Check out The Missing Survey Vessel.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Traveller RPG Equipment: Cosmetics Autodoc

Cyborg Prime - Mon, 06/08/2020 - 02:49

Need a new hairdo?  Need that crooked nose straightened out?  Need to go incognito for a while?  Try the new Cosmedoc Cosmetics Autodoc!

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