Monday, October 30, 2017

Underground Comics

I'm proud to announce that Underground Comics is coming. In an unexpected turn, an idle G+ comment has become an anthology comic with a crew of stellar old school gaming artists: Jason Sholtis, James West, Jeff Call, Stefan Poag, Karl Stjernberg, and Luka Rejec. Coming along for the ride are myself and Billy Longino, penning a couple of stories, and pitching in elsewhere as we can.

Underground Comics will be 52 pages of black and white dungeon-related comic goodness, available in print on demand in 2018. Stay tuned for further updates as things develop!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Three Years in Azurth

October 20th marked the third anniversary on 5e Land of Azurth campaign, though we played our anniversary month game a couple of weeks earlier. The sessions have been about monthly, so it isn't as many adventures as it might be, but still is a milestone for a group of adults with busy lives.

In that time, the party has ventured briefly into the depths beneath the Clockwork Princess's Castle Machina. They defeated the schemes of a witch and cult of jaded gourmands in the Enchanted Wood. They took on the crime lords known as the Baleful Burly Brothers in Rivertown. The escaped the clutches of a manticore named Mortzengersturm. They explored a Cloud Castle and escaped a cloud giant wizard, Zykloon. The cleared out a wererat carnival. They rescued Gwendolin Goode from the Motely Pirates, and almost obtained the Confection Perfection from the Candy Isle.

Then things got really weird. They explored a floating Gelatinous Dome. They headed out into the Etheric Zone to break a Super-Wizard out of the Carnelian Hypercube. The investigated a whole in the ground and fell into a land of mushroom people, then a land of warring clans living in a ruined spacecraft, and hunted by invisible bugbears. Escaping their they were accosted by wooden gargoyle puppets, and encountered a weird control of dragon-wannabes, before finally getting whisked back to Azurth by the timely intervention of Father Yule on a windswept peak.

They were barely back in Rivertown when Shade's estranged mother sent them into the fairy-madness of House Perilous. Their adventures there included a brief sojourn to France. On their way back to Rivertown, they got sidetracked helping a milltown and forest overrun with iron woodsmen.

At the moment, they're looking for a fallen star in the caves of a group of Death Dwarfs.

Dagmar (Cleric): Andrea
Erekose (fighter): Bob
Kairon (sorcerer): Eric
Kully (bard): Jim
Shade (ranger): Gina
Waylon (thief): Tug

Thursday, October 26, 2017


Art by Jason Sholtis
Large monstrosity, neutral evil

Armor Class 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points 84 (8d10 + 40)
Speed 30 ft. (40 ft. on all fours)

 STR 18 (+4) DEX 13 (+1) CON 20 (+5) INT 7(-2) WIS 9 (-1) CHA 6 (-2)
Skills Perception +2
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 12
Languages Skarzg
Challenge 5 (1,800 XP)
Keen Smell. The skarzg has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell.
Regeneration. The skarg regains 10 hit points at the start of its turn. If  it takes acid or fire damage, this trait doesn’t function at the start of the skarzg’s next turn. The skarzg dies only if it starts its turn with 0 hit points and doesn’t regenerate.

Multiattack. The skarzg makes three attacks: one with its bite and two with its claws.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (1d10 + 4) piercing damage. If the target is a Medium or smaller creature, it is grappled (escape DC 14). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained and the skarzg can’t bite another target.
Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (2d4 + 4) slashing damage.

Skarzg are rapacious predators, animalistic but cunning. They are very hard to kill, and they will eat anything. Their origins are lost in the mists of time, though some believe they were brought to this world by the Ylthlaxu who used them in sadistic hunts. They now roam free in the wild places, though thankfully, not in great numbers.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Slayer of Eriban (part 3)

My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Slayer of Eriban (1985) 
(Dutch: De Doder van Eriban) (part 3)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

After docking the ship on the strange planetoid, Marrow, the young assassin, Renter, decides he needs to reconnoiter the city to figure out a way to get close to his target. He takes Ember with him to look less conspicuous: She can pass as his sister--or mother. Ember isn't pleased.

They see people entering some sort of arena and decide to check it out. They learn it's a sort of gladiatorial game called Barsaman. It's more than a game to the people of Marrow; it's practically a religion.

The columns lower at different rates, providing a constantly changing battlefield. In the end, only one competitor is left standing.

Renter is interested when he hears there is a more important Barsaman game coming:

He has figured out how he can get to his target. He returns to the ship with plans to sail to the capital. He finds that in his absence Storm and Nomad have been playing a new game--and they've got spectators.

Renter has no patience for such things. He tells them to set sail.

[Note: In the publication of this Story in Heavy Metal, Barsaman was called Barsball.]


Monday, October 23, 2017

Mortzengersturm: Back in Print

That manticore wizard is at it again on the Prismatic Peak. I have a few copies available of the adventure that Christopher Helton at Enworld declares "channels the darkness of an 80s fantasy movie through the lens of old Hanna Barbera cartoons" and John Arcadian at Gnome Stew calls "incredibly fun and whimsical."

Order soon, supplies are limited!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Duelling Babysitters

The Halloween season is upon us, and if that puts you in the mood for a horror-comedy about kids who seem a bit old to have babysitters in bloody confrontation with said babysitters, then there are options available for streaming. Before I go into details, I have to warn you that discussion of these films necessitates some spoilers, so if you are particularly adverse, the bottom line is both Better Watch Out and The Babysitter (2017) are worth checking out.

(here we go...)

Better Watch Out is also a Christmas film, and it suggests that Home Alone might have a lot to answer for. Precocious 12 year-old Luke and his medicine-cabinet raiding, bad influence best friend, Garrett seem to have learned its lessons in mayhem well. At first, though, all we know is that Luke has high hopes of seducing his 17 year-old babysitter, Ashley, involving watching horror films. Before his clumsy efforts get too far, there is apparently a home invasion, but all is not as it seems. Suffice it to say, Ashley spends a night trying to escape a pre-teen sociopath amid some gruesome deaths and a few booby traps.

The Babysitter is directed by the infamous McG and is consequently more over-the-top than Better Watch Out, and bit more farcically humorous. Here, the 12 year-old is Cole, who is bullied by neighbors and suffers from anxiety about almost everything, but he does have a very attractive and almost preternaturally cool babysitter, Bee, who genuinely seems to enjoy spending time with him. The downside is that Bee is the leader of a Satanic cult and she and her cult of evil high school stereotypes have sacrificed a guy in Cole's living room after a game of spin the bottle. Cole must find his courage to make it through the night, and in the process deliver improbable and occasionally gory cinematic deaths to the Satanic teens.

So you've got choices: evil charge or evil babysitter. Then again, you could just make it a double feature.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Weird Revisted: Hobogoblin Garbage Kings!

This post related to the City and Weird Adventures first appeared on Halloween in 2011. I think I may can coined the term "nyfitsanthropy."

The City generates a lot of garbage, and most of it goes to the expansive Klaw Island landfill. Marshy Klaw Island has always had a sparse human population, but the coming of the landfill with its hills of garbage and pits of refuse has drawn gangs of hobogoblins.

The hobogoblins have divided up into tribes with zealously guarded territories. They mine the garbage for usable (and saleable) items. Hobogoblin “alchemists” have become adepted and making various minor potions with the most dubious of alchemical wastes, and can distill hooch from virtually anything organic.

The hobogoblins must defend their holdings from monsters of various sorts, attracted to the waste. They’ve been able to train giant rats as guard animals to protect their settlements from giant insects, aggressive fungi, or hungry otyughs. In years past, inbred wererat clans sometimes contested the hobogoblin hegemony, but periodic eradication and vaccination campaigns by City sanitation officials seemed to have sharply curtailed (if not eradicated) nyfitsanthropy on the island.

Hobogoblin legends tell of the first and greatest of the landfill kingdoms, Wastenot, a scrap Atlantis now sunk beneath the brackish waters of Lake Zathogua. Hubris of the swells in Wastenot led to neglect of due tribute to the beast of the lake, and all of Wastenot’s “grandeur” was pulled down by pale and vengeful tentacles in a single night.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Castle Zyrd Treasures: The Jeweled Thief

One of the most unusual treasures rumored to be have once resided (and perhaps does still) in the Castle of Zyrd is the remains of the once-famed thief, Kathulos, who specialized in the theft of valuable jewels. The archmage Zryd (so the story goes) for a time dabbled in the creation of miniature worlds within large, semiprecious stones. He would populate these worlds with animalcules and homuncules and watch their lives play out with in.

A cabal of sorcerers of Carsulth, rightly fearful of the archmage, but also covetous of his knowledge and art, hired Kathulos to infiltrate Zyrd's Tower of Magic and bring one of the world stones back for their study. The thief was supplied with certain charms to aid his trespass--minor ones lest Zyrd be alerted by arcane means the cabal all agreed he must possess--and given a substantial advance against the sum of his final remuneration to be paid upon delivery.

The existence of the jeweled statue of Kathulos argues persuasively that the initial phase of his mission was successful, but latter portions less so. The prevailing belief is that Zyrd transmuted the substance of Kahtulos's living body to ruby or something very like it it. Some legends say the thief still lives in this state, after a fashion.

It goes without saying that a human-sized statue made of gemstone would be quite valuable--an emperor's ransom--but of course the not-insignificant difficulties in carting it away are likely smaller than the attendant difficulty of finding a suitable and trustworthy buyer. The world stones that Kathulos sought are a far more reasonable prize, though the jeweled thief remains a singular cautionary tale against their pursuit.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wednesday Comics: The Clandestinauts

Comics don't get much more D&D than Tim Sievert's The Clandestinauts. There are, of course, others to mine this territory (including the Intrepideers, which Sievert also did some issues of), but the Clandestinauts has pretty much perfected a combination of random death, weird encounters, seat-of-the pantaloons improvisation, and  character casualness to the above that really feels like something out of a longrunning campaign.

The Clandestinauts starts in media res with an established group of adventurers in the thick of things in a dungeon. Things are not going well:

They manage to make it out of this predicament, but then the part gets split for a while, having encounters both dangerous and at times a bit farcical before coming together again. The characters are not particularly heroic, though they are competent enough to do this job--if not in a particularly elegant way.

Obviously not completely serious, but not a lampoon either, Sievert shows up the gaming dungeoncrawl as it generally is, not how D&D fiction (or some adventure designers) would like it to be. Check it out.It's free to read!

Monday, October 16, 2017

More Operation Unfathomable Comics Pages

Here are more of the comics pages that will appear in the Operation Unfathomable Player's Guide, coming soon.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Castle Zyrd Rumors

Rumors abound regarding the castle, that crumbling yet still imposing ruin, built by the quite possibly mad archmage whose name it bears, Zyrd.  Here are a few of them told only scant leagues away in the taverns of Gyrfalcon:

1. The environs of the castle exist in a bubble of twisted time and possibility, they are both ruined and unruined, and sometimes one can walk between these worlds. Some say this is due to Zyrd imprisoning a manifestation of the Cosmic Androgyne of Neutrality within his donjon.

2. The octagonal Tower of Might holds all prizes ever taken by the All-Brawler Tyco Wraxl, but to take it will call forth the great warrior from Hall of Heroes for another match.

3. Zyrd still lives, in fact, he was never a wizard at all, but an avatar of the demiurge, Gigas.

4. The Tower of Magic once was a conduit for magical energy. Now that it is broken, the use of spells is dangerous within it.

5. A heretical order of Issian monks sells relics of arcane power somewhere within the castle.

6. An Elven Commando unit resides on the castle grounds. They have long ago lost contact with their commanders in Ylvewood and their methods have become unsound.

7. A golden sphere lies somewhere deep beneath the ruins and grants wishes.

Art by Gary Chalk
8. Some rogues choose to waylay wounded delvers exiting the ruins and relieve them of their loot rather than braving its dangers themselves.

9. The dwarves claim all the underground treasure as their own and their excisemen prowl the ruins to tax looters.

10. There are several enigmatic wizards within the ruins. All of them have claimed to be Zyrd.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The World of the Glass Harmonica

It has been argued before, that Barbara Ninde Byfield's 1967 "Lexicon of the Fantastical," The Glass Harmonica (republished in 1973 as The Book of the Weird) was an influence on D&D. It's easy to understand why, given Byfield's atmospheric illustration and whimsical prose. While it would certainly be a variant, more fairytalish world, I think you could do a lot worse than basing a campaign on the details from the book.

Here's a few tidbits:

"If times are not propitious for battle, Berserkers tend to sink into lethargy and untidiness and show interest in little save becoming Werewolves."

"Dragons drag; they are lazy  and sluggish and prefer to live on their reputations...Like Nobility they take place names for their own."

"Dwarves own all treasure underground, and all treasure that originated underground. Dwarves do not steal; they reclaim what belonged to them in the beginning."

"Frogs live under a Monarchy."

"Gnomes have an unfortunate tendency to become transformed into toads; their King is particularly prone to this enchantment."

"[Witches and Warlocks] lead disorderly lives, hate salt, and cannot weep more than three tears."

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Strange Stars Reviews

I couple of Strange Stars reviews went up this week. One for the OSR Gamebook and the other for the sourcebook. Both of there are by that reviewing machine Endzeitgeist. Also, here's a review I recently discovered from back in 2015. Any news you haven't heard is still news!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wednesday Comics: Head Lopper #7

Andrew MacLean's quarterly heroic fantasy comic Head Lopper is now up to issue #7, the third part of the "And the Crimson Tower" arc. (I discussed the first part here.) In an trap-filled "dungeon" environment belonging to Ulrich the Twice Damned, Head Lopper and friends are trying to collect a number of crystal eyes by overcoming a unique challenge.

MacLean's characters and story continue to be engaging and his art, while perhaps not to some tastes, is dynamic and serves the story well. I just wish it came out more often! Quarterly is not enough.

If you're new to Head Lopper, you should check out the collection of the first arc.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Shooting Stars & Death Dwarfs

Our 5e Land of Azurth campaign continued last night (brining an end to our 2nd year of this campaign), with Dagmar (Dwarf Cleric), Waylon (Frox Thief), Kully (Bard), Kairon (Demonlander Sorcerer), Shade (Elf Ranger), and Erekose (Fighter) making their way back to Rivertown after a series of adventures, when they see a falling star. It's large enough and close enough that they hear an impact so they decide to go an investigate.

In the foothills of the Dragonspine Mountains they find a crater in the side of a hill and evidence that the squarish thing that made the crater got taken away by some sort of humanoids. The track leads to a partially collapsed cave entrance. Inside are several dead creatures that Kully and Dagmar recognize as Death Dwarfs apparently killed by the cave collapse precipitated by the impact.

Given the unnaturalness (even anti-naturalness) of Death Dwarfs, Shade feels that need to root out this evil, and the others at least want to see what they are up to. They find another entrance to beneath the hill, this time through a natural cave. There, they encounter 7 Death Dwarfs and slay them in a quick battle.

Passing through a submerged passage, they find a hopelessly insane human slave moving rocks for the Death Dwarfs. The follow him back to a room with falls an floor covered with a disorienting black and white chevron pattern and kirby-esque machinery crushed by the cave in. Here, more human slaves are working under the watchful eye of seven more Dwarfs. These go down even quicker than the last, but three display a previously unrevealed ability to turn invisible and escape.

Following them down the passage, Erekose and Waylon kick in a door to find more Death Dwarfs studying a 7 foot metallic cube.

To be continued!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Various Azurth Updates

If you're still thinking about getting a print copy of the first issue of the Azurth Adventure Digest, you'll want to do so very soon, because there is (as I type this) 5 copies left. There may eventually be another print run, but probably not for a bit.

A second printing of Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak has left the printers and is on the way, so those of you interested in that keep a look for the announcement.

There will be a second issue of the digest, a "Player's Guide to Azurth" that will incorporate an updated version of the information I gave my players at the first of my home campaign as well as some information that appeared on the blog. Here's a rough, sketch mockup of the cover:

Lastly, if you're new to the Land of Azurth setting, here's an index of a number of the posts.

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Map

This is a map I did of the local environment of Gyrfalcon the starting town in my upcoming GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game. The icon location icons and compass are courtesy of DarhAsparagus.

The map is intended to get filled in a bit more during play. I didn't want to over-specific.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Art of Over the Garden Wall

I've talked about my love of the 2014 Cartoon Network limited series, Over the Garden Wall. Last week I got the gorgeous The Art of Over the Garden Wall put out by Dark Horse Books. It's 184 pages and covers the show from initial concept up through the comic book spinoffs.

The Nerdist had an exclusive preview, so head over there to check out so of the pages, or just take my word for it and buy it. Not convinced yet? Ok, here's a picture of a bunch of frogs, many of whom are playing musical instruments:

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Wednesday Comics: The Slayer of Eriban (part 2)

i>My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Slayer of Eriban (1985) 
(Dutch: De Doder van Eriban) (part 2)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

Once the young assassin was meditated and determined their destination, he fills our heroes in on his backstory. On Eriban, boys and girls are taken at a young age to train in the Academy of Assassins. They never know their own parents. They are trained to identify poisonous planets from all over Pandarve and learn to fight with a variety of animal life. They must master every form of weapon and none may graduate until they have killed a dream projection of one of their teachers.

Upon completion of their training, they are given a graduation assassination to perfom. Renter's assignment is to kill the monarch of a small kingdom not far from their location.

His original servants met with an untimely fate. The ship ran into a m'anganesse swarm. The legendary insects swarm in the millions and destroy every living thing in their path.

While his servants sacrificed himself for him, Ranter was safe in a timeless stasis in the regeneration capsule.

On the course Renter dictates, the windstream carries them farther and farther from Pandarve. After a week, they reach their destination:


Monday, October 2, 2017

Weird Revisited: Legend & Folklore in a Fantasy World

This post first appeared in October of 2011. It's as relevant today.

Perusing The Sutton Companion to British Folklore, Myths, & Legends got me thinking about the place of the strange, mysterious, and magical in fantasy worlds. The British Isles have got stories of all sorts of fairies, lake (and well) monsters, and more than a few witches--all of which could be easily approximated in local tales of nearby monsters in any fantasy rpg setting.

But real world folklore gets weirder than that. Ned Dickson’s skull on Tunstead Farm in Derbyshire would tap against windows to warn farmers about sick animals or cause the walls to shake as a sort of burglar alarm. Several phantom coaches roam the night roads. Every ghost is a story, not a monster to be battled.

It seems to me that most fantasy game encounters are mundane compared to this sort of stuff--or perhaps, utilitarian is a better word. As it has been said before, there ought to be more weird, unpredictable things in game settings.  Not just in the Weird Tales sense, but in the good, old-fashion folktale sense.

Beyond that, there ought to be more stories told by the local tavern denizens that are just stories. I don’t think the demonstrable existence of magic in a world, would make people less likely to make up tales to explain odd events or simply to pass the time--if anything, a world full of magic that the common man doesn't understand would seem likely to increase this sort of thing.  More events would need folk explanations; more fears would need comforting.

Player characters (no paragons of scientific rationalism, themselves) ought to never know whether the rumor they’re hearing is the inside-scoop on a local monster or another tavern tale. There ought to be as many fake magic items being horded away as real ones--maybe more.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Very Old Gods

Clerics need somebody to hear their orisons and NPCs (at least) need someone to swear by, so their must be deities for my upcoming GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game. Again employing some creative parsimony, I'm going to utilize some faiths and deities I've employed in my pre-Internet AD&D days, but also wrote about here years ago. In fact, four of these gods were created by my cousin who introduced me to gaming. I still have his original write-ups from the mid-80s. Here's one:

Here's my revision of them a few years back. My idea is that the original polytheistic faith was reconfigured/revised in the wake of at least two reformers/prophets. Current worshippers practicing polytheistic, henotheism, monitism, or even perhaps atheism, with same underlying traditions.

(The game reasoning here was to get to a place approximating the monotheism-inspired D&D cleric, without losing the fantasy polytheism flavor.)

The oldest reformation is Rannism or Rannite Ascensionism. When the ancient emperor and retired adventurer Rann achieved apotheosis he realized the so-called gods were merely older beings in a higher state: Immortals, like himself. The principle doctrine of the faith is that man may achieve apotheosis by following the ancient paths rediscovered by Rann. Ascension is achieved by deeds which may be beyond the power of many, but piety will at least guarantee the faithful who don't ascend a place in the afterlife ruled by their patron Immortal. Rannitism is very much a "bootstraps" belief where the "capable" rightly benefit from their good fortune, and the "incapable's" lesser fortune is just.

Over a century after Rann departed this Plane, a cleric named Issus had a new, further revelation: Issianity. Issus claimed the Immortals (Rann included) had shown him in a vision that apotheosis was the right of all souled beings. The fact that only a scant few achieved it proved the current paths were a flawed approach. These had been set in place by the demiurge, Gigas, and his helpers. The struggles of adventurers seeking these paths was part of some cosmic game for the amusement of Gigas and his fellow. Issus believed in a transcendent god or force above the demiurge and beyond the game, and that this source would rescue the faithful from the Great Wheel of the Cosmos. Good Issians are expected to live a life wherein they seek to perform their given role in the "game" (Issus' teaching and those of latter saints talk a lot of things like "cosmic alignment") while at the same time recognizing its inherent artificiality.