Friday, February 28, 2014

The Future of Wednesdays

I think once I finish my Warlord Wednesday run, my next comic series to review (unless I get a better idea between now and then) will be Jim Starlin's Metamorphosis Odyssey. It's a cosmic science fantasy tale that first appeared in serialized fashion in Epic Illustrated in early 80s. It also introduces Vanth Dreadstar who will go on to appear in his own series.

I'm still entertaining suggestions, though, if you've got 'em.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Android's Dungeon

I've been reading Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross, which takes place in a posthuman future where the civilization of humankind's android/bioroid creations have spread out into the stars. These beings can look pretty much human and act pretty much human--including eating and excreting biological material. The difference is that they are made of mechanocytes instead of biological cells that must "learn" to form organs and "tissue" types and their brains have soulchip backups they can be placed into a new body if their old ones are destroyed. Interestingly, priests (like those of the Church of the Fragile, who seek to disseminate old style "fragile" humanity in the galaxy) have "powers." Special structures and training that allow them to control the mechanocytes of others to heal or alter forms.

All of this sounded like a good way to in-setting rationalize traditional dungeoneering rpg tropes, if you're into that sort of thing. Imagine a future where humankind is extinct and its android descendants live in a pseudo-medieval society--except for things like soulchips (or something of that nature) and clerical healing. The androids (who would just think of themselves as "people," of course) would go down into the underground ruins of old humanity (who they probably wouldn't realize were any different than themselves) to wrest treasures from less socialized posthuman intelligences, i.e. monsters.

What would be the point? Well, it would be an interesting mystery to add in the background of a science fantasy sort of campaign (like a variant Anomalous Subsurface Environment, maybe). Also, the increased durability and easy resurrection of posthumans would explain some things about how D&D works as written, but could also be used to ramp up the carnage to Paranoia-type levels. Death wouldn't necessarily mean starting with a new character most of the time, it would just mean starting with the same character, poorer than before or owing a debt to somebody.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Warlord Wednesday: The Final Issue

My issue by issue examination of DC Comics' Warlord continuesThe earlier installments can be found here...

"Storm Over Skartaris!"
Warlord (vol. 4) #16 (September 2010) Story & Art by Mike Grell.

Synopsis: Joshua and Alysha meet with Machiste to ask his help against the alien threat to all Skartaris. They must have convinced him, because we next see him helping McBane find Morgan's crashed SR-71. McBane finds something he thinks he can use.

In the Age of Wizard Kings, Mongo is teasing a shrunken Deimos by letting him jump at his magic mirror. He can't get through because the other side is broken. But in Shamballah, little Morgana is re-assembling Jennifer's broken  mirror...

Alysha's and Joshua's next stop is a tavern where they find the crew of the airship they took down last issue. They need the airship crew's help, but Captain Bloodhawke wants to fight Joshua to first blood for crashing her ship. He accommodates her:

McBane takes the radio from the plane wreckage. He plans to get it working so they maybe they can get a signal out and warn the surface world about what's coming. Tara oversees the removal of some the defensive guns from Shamballah. They plan to mount them on the airship. McBane asks how they plan to power them. Shakira replies they're going to use magic, just like Deimos.

Mariah and Machiste arrive to take over the defense of Shamballah. Mariah notes that even the Therans have joined them this time. Joshua and Alysha are astride the hippogriff and everyone else boards the airship.

On the surface world General Ketchum is pretty surprised to get a message coming in on a polar comsat from the SR-71 of Travis Morgan. McBane tells them about the coming alien invasion. His warning is soon confirmed by the "bogies" breaking through the missile defense. McBane tells the General to have his fighters hold outside the arctic circle. The ship of "the united people of Skartaris" will take care of things from there. The general demands to know what's going on; McBane promises to transmit a digital file that will explain.

Most of the airship crew gets off at the polar opening. Only Joshua and Shakira go on from there. The alien ships are heading toward Skartaris through the passage. When the airship is in position, Shakira places the last piece of glass in Jennifer's mirror. The conduit to Wizard World is re-opened!

Morgana and Jennifer channel the magical power to begin collapsing the passage. Joshua blasts the incoming aliens with the airship's weapons. Deimos, raging against the seed of Morgan, tries to get through the mirror, but Shakira keeps holding him back.

As the tunnel collapses, Joshua and Shakira escape the now-trapped airship leaving Deimos behind.

They ride away on the hippogriff. The polar opening to the outer world is seal and the aliens and Deimos are crushed in its collapse.

On the surface, the general and his staff begin watching the file they downloaded. Ewan McBane is reporting from Skartaris:

Things to Notice:
  • This issue lampshades (finally) Morgan's ability to carry around enough ammo for his pistol despite never having any place to carry it.
  • Joshua accomplishes what his father never did: uniting all the people of Skartaris (at least briefly).
  • This issue is the very anti-thesis of decompression; There's enough incidents here for 6 issues, easy.
Grell gives his series a decisive ending: closing off the polar opening that was Travis Morgan's entrance to Skartaris to begin with. Most of the Grell-era supporting cast winds up with at least a cameo in the final issue, too, though Ashir and Faaldren are absent, as they have been from this whole run.

Still, Grell leaves open the possibility of further adventures of the new Warlord. The story teases the possibility of a new setup for fantasy adventuring: a world where characters are actually trying to build a better society instead of just talking about it. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Born for War

The thrax are famed soldiers of the Alliance sphere in the Strange Stars. They are a clone race, created long ago by an unknown culture who put them to use in a plan to conquer the galaxy--slowly. Asteroids were turned into habitats and launched toward certain worlds, manned by robots and carrying an army of clone embryos. The sublight voyages afforded more than enough time to grow and train the embryos into warriors before planetfall. 

It's possible the creators of the thrax were dead before any of their attacks met their targets. In any case, the ai administrators and bot trainers were unable to impart anything to the thrax other than their mission parameters. Thrax did subjugate some worlds, but others resisted their assault. Their appearance probably helped to disrupt the Radiant Polity and hasten its end.

Contact with other cultures gave the thrax goals of there own. They destroyed the machines that had nursed and trained them and took control of their own destiny. Still, from the moment of their decanting as infants, thrax are evaluated for and trained in capacity for war.

Appearance and Biology: Thrax are tall, powerfully built humanoids, with whitish gray skintones. They have somewhat pronounced and heavy brow, and nasal slits rather than an external nose. Neither sex has much body hair, but females do have head hair. 

Psychology: Thrax are taciturn, serious, and greatly concerned with honor and discipline as defined by their warrior's code. Some allow themselves displays of emotion in the heat of battle, but others view this as excessive display. Their possessions are few and their quarters tend to be spartan. Rarely do they use intoxicants, and very few would do so at any time they thought combat might be imminent.

Thrax express their individuality through their armor, which they are allowed to individualize within parameters set by their unit.

Stats: Stars Without Number: Thrax have a minimum Strength of 12. No thrax has psychic abilities.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Where is Your Mind?

Just as morphological phenotypes are variable among the sophont entities of the Strange Stars, so are the mental structures. In fact, the science of noetics recognizes different levels of mental structure that can be combined in different ways:

The base level is neuroform. This describes the basic functional arrangement of the mind. For most, this is the hierarchy inherited from paleo-humanity, but others (like the Magi and Circeans) have different arrangements to favor other states of consciousness, supress emotion, or increase task focus. It should be noted that neuroforms can be coded in actual cellular structure (like biological brains) or digital emulations.

Technology allows the linking of individual neuroforms into larger structures.  Network arrangements are referred to as compositions. Member minds of a composition may be independent, fully integrated, or somewhere in between. A composition might be two or more independent consciousness inhabiting one body or one hive-mind sharing many bodies. The ruling Consensus of Smaragdoz is an example of a composition.

Another facet of larger mental integration is distribution. A beings nervous system may be self-contained or may be involved in any number of mental sharing schemes. Though a degree of distribution may go hand in hand with composition, these are actually somewhat independent considerations; Individuals can share perceptions through a composition while still retaining independent consciousness, for example. Also, distribution can be limited certain aspects of consciousness rather than its entirety. Memory sharing or dream sharing are examples. Conversely, one could share a personality without real-time sharing of memories or experiences.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Hidden Land--Revealed!

Thanks to the artistic talents of Michael "Aos" Gibbons, my lost world setting The Hidden Land is lost no more:

I wanted something in the mode of several old comic book maps, and this is just about perfect, Future posts will give details of some of the locations, but right now bask in the mystery!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Baroque Space

Sustained on tales of heroes and finding little solace in the numbing pleasures and controlled comforts of Earth, some youths seek escape to the stars. They buy passage (or stow away) on the barrel-shaped lift-boats of Earth, luminous fungal vessels of Venus, or a swift clippers from the outer worlds and go to seek an adventurer's life.

Some will find a swift death and others a somewhat slower end on a penal asteroid, but some will eventually find means to arm themselves with energized sword and phlogiston pistol and armor themselves against the weapons of foes and the harshness of the void. So arrayed, they can find work. Ever bellicose Mars is always in need of mercenaries. The heliocephalic Mercurian Emperor welcomes new armigers to his court, so long as they dress as well as they fight. The Doge of watery Venus seeks to employ guards of cunning, able to devise (and survive) intrigues both real and simulated.

Beyond the asteroids, the outer planets loom, and there are monsters to be slain and fortunes to be won by the fortunate and the daring.

Art by Einherja

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Warlord Wednesday: Back to the Beginning

The next installment of Warlord Wednesday will be delayed on account of work. While you wait, why don't you check out my very first post almost exactly 4 years ago.

"Land of Fear"
1st Issue Special #8 (November 1975)
Written and Illustrated by Mike Grell

Synopsis: Colonel Travis Morgan, USAF, is forced to ditch his plane after taking fire during a spy mission over the Soviet Union. Expecting to come down in the arctic, he's surprised to find himself in a lush jungle. Finding a woman, Tara, in combat with a dinosaur he rushes to her aid. No sooner have they overcome that danger, then they are captured by soldiers and taken to the city of Thera. Morgan quickly earns the enmity of the high priest, Deimos, though use of his pistol convinces the rest of the Theran court that he's a god. While guests of the Theran king, Morgan pieces together the remarkable truth of his situation--he's in the hollow earth! Ultimately, treachery by Deimos leads Morgan and Tara to flee Thera.

Things to Notice:
  • The story begins on a specific date: June 16, 1969. Though time is strange in Skartaris, stories will often give reference to the passage of "real time" on earth--something very different from most comic series. This also dates Morgan, allowing us, as more information is given, to construct a timeline of his life.
  • Morgan has a .38 special in this issue and only 12 rounds of ammo, all of which he uses here.
  • The women of Thera seem go in for the colorful, raccoon-patch, eye shadow which is also styled by some female members of the disco-era Legion of Super-Heroes, Marionette of the Micronauts, and Dazzzler, among others.
Where It Comes From:
The portrayal of the hollow earth in both fiction and purported fact has a rich history going back to Sir Edmund Haley (of comet fame) and possibly before. The primary inspiration for Grell’s version seems to be Pellucidar, a savage land debuting in At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs, serialized (as “The Inner World”) over 4 issues in All-Story beginning on April 4, 1914. A novel version was published in 1922, and in 1976 there was a move adaptation with Doug McClure, Peter Cushing, and bond-girl-to-be Caroline Munro.

In the introduction to the collection Savage Empire (1991), Grell cites the Burroughs influence on Warlord and calls the Pellucidar series "the best of the [Earth's core] genre."  In a later interview, he seems to downplay this influence, emphasizing instead Jules Vernes' Journey to the Center of the Earth, and The Smokey God by Willis George Emerson.  Certainly a case could be made for the primacy of these works in Skartaris' conception.  Verne's work has prehistoric survivors in his underground world, while Emerson's novel has a central sun (the titular Smokey God).

Still, Burroughs' work has those similarities to Skartaris, too.  It also shares one feature not found in any other "hollow earth" fiction with which I'm aware: time is strange there.  The odd timelessness of Skartaris is also found in Pellucidar--despite neither ever giving a good explanation as to why things should be that way.

An interesting parallel to Burroughs, though probably not a direct reference, is this issue's title.  Burroughs' sixth novel of Pellucidar is called Land of Terror.

One thing clearly does come from Verne, and that's the name of The Warlord's hollow world.  In Journey to the Center of the Earth, "Scartaris" is a mountain whose shadow marks the entrance to the center of the earth in the crater of Snæfellsjökull.

The dinosaur gracing the cover and appearing in the issue is identified as a deinonychus, which is a species related to the velociraptor family.  Unlike its depiction in this issue, deinonychus apparently had feathers.

The character of Travis Morgan got his first name from Grell's nephew, and his surname from the privateer and rum bottle spokes-model, Henry Morgan.  Morgan got the facial hair that Grell himself had at the time, and also Grell's experiences in the air force.

Grell has said that the appearance of Tara was inspired by Raquel Welch.  Presumably he was thinking of her in One Million Years B.C.  The name "Tara" was a popular one in the United States in the 70s, probably due to the enduring popularity of the film version of Gone With The Wind.  In this context, the name Tara derives from the Hill of Tara in Ireland. The hill is also known as Teamhair na Rí (“The Hill of Kings”) because of its association with ancient kingship rituals. Tara also means "shining" in Sanskrit and is the name of a Hindu goddess.

Grell tells us he got "Deimos" from the name of Mars' smaller moon, the larger being Phobos.  These names derive from Greek mythology where Deimos ("dread") and Phobos ("fear") are sons of Ares.  Again, the title of the issue seems to have unintended connections.

The name of the city where Deimos is high priest, Thera, is also Greek in origin.  Thera is part of what is now the Santorini Archipelago and the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history.  This eruption, some 3600 years ago, led to the decline of Minoan civilization, and popular theory holds that this event may be the ultimate source of the Atlantis legend.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Haunted Mansion

My WaRP Weird Adventures gaming group met for the first time since September last night. The PCs were still exploring Charles Ranulf Urst's estate, looking for treasure of some sort. After checking out the opulent pool house, they moved on to the grand main house. What they found only deepened the mystery.

First, there was a sound like an audible exhalation when they first entered the house that set the creepy mood. Then, the theater room had a film playing without the benefit of electricity--a film that appeared to be from the point of view of something waiting just outside the room. Professor Pao, stepping out side of the room, felt a cold chill that sent him to his knees and Rob glimpsed an errant shadow fleeing away from his stricken companion.

Rue tried again to contact spirits. She felt a pervasive presence, but nothing specific. Then a playing card drfited down from...somewhere. One with Urst's own monogram printed on back.

Things only got weirder from there. A visit to the refectory (a large dining room) had the gang intruding on a ghostly dinner with phantom food and diners who paid them no attention. There seemed to have been places set for the group, but they declined to partake.

In the large, social room, there is a young woman (her image sort of flickery, like a movie) playing cards. She offers to tell the PCs' fortunes by a draw from the deck. Only Rue takes her up on it. She draws a card with the image of the grim reaper on it! He swings his scythe and she drops dead.

The rest of the gang can't believe it at first. They question the woman who gives her name as Camille. She nonchalantly confirms that Rue is indeed dead--but adds enigmatically that the house is a collector and spirits are unable to leave it. When they try to question her further she flickers and disappears. Rob and Jacques start looking around for where Rue's spirit might be. The Professor stays behind to guard her body.

Meanwhile, Rue awakens in an overstuff leather chair in a library of some sort. She feels a bit less substantial physically, but is otherwise okay. A man with the head of a wolfhound is sitting across from her reading a book. He introduces himself as Claude and confirms that she's dead. He says he was Urst's dog, until the wizard uplifted him to sentience to serve as an assistant. He goes on to say that Urst purposely built this house on a borderland between dimensions. There are spirits here but also "termites" in the walls that came from elsewhere.

Rue bids him good-bye to try and find her friends. Before she goes, he warns her not to trust the cat-headed man in the fez.

To be continued...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Weird Mystery

The internet (at least part of it) has been a buzz with the references to Robert W. Chambers' King in Yellow, among other weird tale nods in the new HBO crime drama True Detective. While it remains to be seen if this is just flavoring or their is really something weird (in the supernatural sense) afoot on the show, there are a number of other works that can scratch the "weird mystery" itch. I should note, I'm making a difference between "an investigation intersects the supernatural" from the activities of "occult detectives" who frequently interact with the supernatural as a matter of course. The former is what I'm focusing on here.

These would be great inspiration for Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, or other horror games in that vein.

Film and TV:
Angel Heart: New York private detective Harry Angel heads to New Orleans to find a missing crooner for a mysterious client.
Twin Peaks: An FBI agent investigates the murder of the homecoming queen in a very strange Washington town.
"Cigarette Burns": The best episode of the Masters of Horror anthology series has a rare films dealer looking for a an obscure French film, La Fin Absolue du Monde, which is rumored to have sparked a deadly riot at its premiere.
The Ninth Gate: A rare book dealer is hired to find the three known copies of a rare occult tome and determine which is the real one and which are forgeries.

Kim Newman, "Big Fish": Innsmouth isn't the only place with a shadow over it. A California gumshoe finds out sunny Bay City has one, too.
Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Club Dumas: The book The Ninth Gate was based on, but with a lot more literary references and a different ending.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Sorcerer's Skull Valentine

Happy Valentine's Day. Here's a couple of recycled classic posts with a theme of love. Or at least sex.

From the world of Weird Adventures, we've got 2011's "Love (and Sex) in the City." If that's too retro for you, you can always visit "The Pleasure Domes of Erato" in the far future of the Strange Stars.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Kuznuh Unveiled

Kuznuh is the primary world of the neshekk and a member of the Alliance. The neshekk aren't natives; they arrived there after being displaced by the Great Collapse. The neshekk have made their fortunes primarily through investment banking.They have a reputation for ethical behavior and conservative investment, but are sticklers for the letter of contracts and do not tend to offer easy terms.

Perhaps because of their wealth or perhaps due to a separate cultural quirk, the neshekk are greatly concerned with privacy. They go through the streets wrapped in a shroud of nizara, making them invisible or unrecognizable (depending on their settings) in the metascape of their world, unless they choose otherwise. It is a misdemeanor privacy violation to view public spaces of Kuznuh unfiltered by the metascape. All social interaction on Kuznuh is a process of negotiating the level and setting time parameters for permissions to access personal information. Even among family, neshekk may completely cloak themselves in nizara for privacy’s sake.

Their desire to protect their privacy and wealth (and the wealth of their clients) has led the neshekk to become security experts in both electronic and data security. Neshekk infosecurity firms are noted for their ruthlessness; they have been known to employ basilisk patterns and other forms of deadly intrusion countermeasures.

Neshekk society is divided into clans. The heads of these clans elect a Chief Executive Officer of Kuznuh. When the neshekk clan leaders lose confidence in a CEO, he or she is replaced--and memory-wiped to insure the protection of board secrets. This process is referred to as “beheading.”

Kuznuh City, the capital of their world, has a walled and checkpointed city center full of windowless, unadorned cylinders where the wealthy neshekk reside. Offworlders that work for them reside in partitioned areas around it. All visitors and offworlders are given rudimentary nizara shielding, but don’t have as many options with its use nor are theirs as opaque to legal inquiries as that of citizens.

(For those that are interested, FATE stats for the neshekk and other species can be found in a newly updated file here.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Warlord Wednesday: Everything Changes

My issue by issue examination of DC Comics' Warlord continuesThe earlier installments can be found here...

"Everything Changes"
Warlord (vol. 4) #15 (August 2010) Story & Art by Mike Grell.

Synopsis: Following the events of last issue, scientists are filling General Ketchum in on the signal that originated from 4 ancient sites (in Egypt, Mexico, Bolivia) and is directed at Orion. They give him a crash course in various fringe theories including the ancient astronauts--and the hollow earth. That's where the coordinates encoded in the signal are located. The "scientists" (you could doubt there credentials at this point) also tell him about the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012 with its the annotation: "They Return."

In the hollow earth, Joshua and crew are making their way back to Shamballah. Joshua is worried about what the alien had said: "We expected you to be more civilized. More useful."

When they get home, our heroes find a pleasant surprise. Thanks to the weirdness of Shamballan time, Tara has given birth already:

Joshua realizes it was his link with his new sister that healed him after he was burned by the dragon's breath. Jennifer explains that Morgana is linked to her, as well. The baby isn't just destined to be a mage; she is somehow magic herself in a pure and powerful form as it hasn't exist since the beginning of the world.

Joshua carves a horse for his new sister (He doesn't see when it becomes a winged horse in her hands.), then he and Alsyha go off for some private time. Later, they see a black hippogriff in a pond. Alysha approaches it, but then:

Alysha grabs on to the net to try to save the animal. Joshua has no choice but to follow, and the two are taken aloft. They manage to cut the hippogriff free before the raiders have reeled them in, then ride away on the animal's back. They fly over the area of devastation where the dragon's ship crashed. Alysha notices the surrounding area looks like the Nazca lines: the alien was making a landing strip!

They return to the palace convinced that trouble is coming. Joshua retrieves one of his father's belonging from a box: it's Morgan's automag. Joshua suggests McBane better teach him how to use it.

Things to Notice:
  • Those scientists apparently spent a lot of time watching In Search of...
  • The "time works different here" thing is back in full force, after being officially abandoned by Grell's successors on the original series.
Where it comes from: 
After being absent for over a decade, the fringe theory is back in Warlord: ancient astronauts, ufos, and (of course) the Hollow Earth. The last bit is significant, because DC had repudiated the Hollow Earth explanation of Skartaris after Grell left.

The time Ewan McBane refers to in the Dark Ages was the dust veil of 535-536 AD.

While Morgana was presumably named for her father, the name is an obvious reference to Arthur's sorcererous half-sister Morgan (or Morgana) le Fay.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Like It; Haven't Played It

There are some published rpg settings that I'm really fond of, but I've never gotten around to playing and don't think I ever will. Not that (in most cases) I would be opposed to playing them, but--well, I'll have to explain that on a case by case basis:

Tekumel: I first heard about Tekumel in college and over the next ten years, accumulated as much as I could on it from trips to gaming stores in various cities and ordering things off ebay. Despite having most of the publish Tekumel material in my collection for almost another decade now, I've never played it. I love the richness and wealth of detail in Tekumel, and I like aspects of the world (I've even read all the novels!). I think the problem has been two fold: until the internet, I never really had a crowd that would be willing to play it, and I tend to like to put my own spin on the games I run. (A few licensed properties for brief games being the exception, perhaps.) I'm well aware I could make Tekumel my own but then it wouldn't be Tekumel to me.

Transhuman Space: GURPS puts out a lot of great supplements, and the Transhuman Space supplements are no exception. It's the most detailed and supported near future game that I've seen (post the cyberpunk 80s). And it's really good. I'm unlikely to run this one because my days of playing GURPS are likely passed--particularly for a complicated realistic science fiction game. I did utilize the TS books to play my own near future game--one that was more Transhuman Cowboy Bebop with a bit of Bruce Sterling thrown in.

Glorantha: Though I got into Glorantha later, but scratches a similar itch to Tekumel in that I appreciate the wealth of detail in it and certain aspects of the world. It's a bit more like Transhuman Space in that it hits me in a "what can I steal from this?" place rather than a "I should play this!" one.

Exalted: This one is a bit different from the others, in that I have mixed feelings about Creation, the setting of Exalted. A lot of things about it I find really cool (mainly the underlying concepts of the session), then there are a number of things that are okay, and a few things (like a lot of the place names) I do like very much. Still, the good things are good enough to me, that I have thought about running a game in the setting before--but only after adapting it to another game. The system just doesn't appeal to me, and adapting the system plus tweaking the setting has always teamed so large a tast when I had easier game oppurtunities elsewhere.

So that's my list. What's yours?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Species of the Alliance

I just uploaded a draft of a document Strange Stars: Sophonts of the Alliance. It's statted for FATE, and it's a product of my tinkering with that system to get to know it. Some of those species I've already statted for SWN on the blog, so I'm not even out the old school among you. The doc has some information that hasn't appeared on the blog. There's something for everybody.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Appendix N+1

In a discussion a few weeks ago, Aos said he was tired of the typical Appendix N and more interested in what creators specifically found inspirational in the works they cited. This is not at all a bad idea and something that I've seen in blog posts (and done some of myself), but there should probably be more if it.

To that end, here's a look behind of the curtain of some of my Strange Stars material. Since most of the posts are written vaguely "in world" maybe part of the fun is picking out the references, so if there is anyone who enjoys that, "spoilers" as the kids say. You can follow the links to the original post:

High Concept: A Jack Vance science fantasy riff on Oz as illustrated by Moebius
Important Bits: The "feel" of the world outside of Smaragdoz City is loosely in the mode of my vague (and possibly incorrect) recollections of Vance's Durdane trilogy, but not in any specific detail. The nature of the Wizard (an obvious Ozian veneer) was inspired by the Id monster of Forbidden Planet and the Uni-Mind of Kirby's Eternals.

High Concept: A Greg Eganish take on posthuman insect men.
Important Bits: A myriad of science fiction insectoids underlie this (except, of course, they aren't really insect men, except visually) but the Vrusk made me want to put an insectoid in the setting, and the Hokun from Empire of the Petal Throne influenced the visual. The works of Egan (particularly Diaspora) influenced their post-humanness, and the Sturgeon novel More Than Human supplied the name and idea of blesh (from a portmanteau from "blend" and "mesh.").

High Concept: A race of torture cultists
Important Bits: The primary inspiration was Uccastrog, the Isle of the Torturers, from Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique tales. There was a bit of Gene Wolfe influence with his Torturers Guild, too; Book of the New Sun was where I first encountered the term "algophilist." The appearance of the Torturers came from the Brom painting above, which probably reaches back to the Hellraiser films a bit.

Alright, that's enough secrets for one day. I hope it's interesting and not self-indulgent. If there's interest, I might do more of it at some point.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Worlds in the Ring

Circus is one of the Strange Stars' great wonders. No one knows who built the megastructure (it may even predate the Archaic Oikumene and be pre-human), but whoever it was had mastered technology beyond the reach of current civilization. It's gigantic ring has a radius of 1.9 million km and a width of about 1000 km, giving it a habitable surface area roughly 20 times that of Old Earth. It's rotational period is 24 hrs and it's tilted so that it's inhabitants experience roughly earth-like night and day. It's open to space, but centrifugal force and an upper "mesh" of radiation filtering nano hold a breathable atmosphere in.

In a system bordered by the Zuran Expanse, the Alliance, and the Instrumentality sphere, Circus has long been a center of trade. Its ruins attest to several stages of colonization by the human phyle. Modern, non-wilderness or waste sections of the great ring are a crazy quilt of petty kingdoms, communes, and experimental societies. These are the "zones"--or at least partial zones. The minimum size required of a political body for the term to be used is the subject of controversy. 

The most famous area of Circus is actually a free city--actually a megapolis or ecumenopolis--without a single name. It's most often called Interzone, though it's vast spaceport-adjacent tourist area is known as the Strip. Interzone's boundaries are vague, but including all of it's favelas and industrial parks, it covers an an area only a little less than the surface area of Sol IV (Mars). 

Spacers say there is no law in Interzone, but this is not strictly true. Rather it's a demarchy with minimalist government. The Wise Minds (a group of ancient infosophonts) select via lottery the anonymous rulers of the city--the Tsadikim--from among the populous. A Tsadik may serve for a few days or for a lifetime, based on the real-time evaluation of the Wise Minds. Every Tsadik (with the advice of the Minds) can create new laws at whim, though these must be approved by a majority of the other Tsadikim. Likewise, any Tsadik can supercede the decree of another with the same procedure. Tsadik can settle disputes among the populace themselves or a trial with a judge (this decision too is subject to review by the others).

The only immutable laws of Interzone are "property and self are sacred", "self-defense and common defense are a justification for violence", and "a contract is a contract."

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Warlord Wednesday

My issue by issue retrospective will return next week. Today, take a look at these Grell covers for previous issues, without the text or logo:

Here's Travis Morgan's last issue:

And Joshua's first in full costume:

Plus, Morgan in the midst of battle:

Monday, February 3, 2014

As Seen on TV

Catching up on some DVR'ed shows I missed this past week reveals a number of gameable ideas in them without much effort. Here's what a got in a couple of hours yesterday afternoon:

Helix is a science fiction mystery/conspiracy show on SyFy about a team of scientists from the CDC sent to biotech research facility in the arctic to investigate a possible outbreak of a deadly virus. Of course, all is not what it seems: the virus (that sort of zombifies it's victims) is some sort of experimental bioweapon--and people are willing to kill to keep it secret. The setting and situation would work well for an even smaller than usual investigative sandbox. You could always move the base to the Antarctic and make the bioweapon recovered shoggoth material and you've got a great Delta Green/Call of Cthulhu scenario.

Keeping with the somewhat horrific, the last episode of American Horror Story: Coven (which I've mentioned before). The season didn't end as well as I would've liked, but it did have the interesting element of the contest to become supreme (leader of the coven) requiring the completing of the "Seven Wonders" displaying the seven arts of the witches. A competition like that and a series of miracles to perform would make a great guild advancement ritual about magic-users--or the skulduggery around it something for PCs to get drawn into.

For a complete change of tone, we have Space Dandy, an anime airing on Cartoon Network's Toonami.The titular Space Dandy is a pompadoured and none too bright alien hunter who tries (and usually fails) to bring in unknown alien species for cataloging by the government. What Space Dandy does for laughs could easily be done seriously. Hunting new sapient species in an ancient galactic civilization teeming with life (like Star Wars) is a pretty good conceit for a campaign.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Light-Years from Home

Well, not really, but I am traveling. I've updated the Strange Stars Index, though, so it's a could chance to catch up on a transmission you might have missed.

Regular updates to resume this week.