Monday, April 30, 2012

Planet Stories ... Greatest Covers in Comic History?

Maybe. Maybe not. But this one is a humdinger ...

Visit the Comic Book Catacombs and read about Aura, Lord of Jupiter, won't you?

You couldn't get this much awesome for 1 slim dime in the modern day, I can assure you.

Princess Vara, despite getting a smaller font than Reef Ryan, appears to get the cover (I can't imagine why), if in fact those aliens getting slapped around are the Green Legions of Xalan. She's wearing her gold-plated titanium Venusian lady-parts armor (protection where you need it, when you need it - AC +1) and wielding a short sword while riding something that came out of a random monster generator.

Let's tick off the alien parts on that beast - lower body of a horse, feet of a camel, talons of an eagle, neck of a hairy lizard, ears of an Elfquest elf, horn of a ... I have no idea ... and beak of abject, eye-poking horror. It needs some stats (S&W and Space Princess this time):

AREMIHC: HD 4; AC 6 [13]; Atk 2 talons (1d4), beak (1d6) and gore (1d6); Move 18; Save 13; CL/XP 5/240; Special: Run x5, only surprised on 1 on 1d8.

AREMIHC: HD 4; DEF 17; FIGHT 11 (Beak/Gore 1d8, Talons 1d4); MOVE F; STR 7; DEX 5; KNO 0; MEN 3; Special: None.

 The Green Legions are somewhere in the kobold-goblin-orc continuum - I'd go with goblin stats, since they're clearly pretty easy to pick up and hurl. I dig the polearms and golden shields with the suns. They also have a sweet ride in the background - you can't beat old school starship design, I always say.

I also dig the "Slaver-Hordes of Neptune" - good name for a Space Princess module - maybe a sci-fi version of the classic Slavers series for AD&D.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dragon by Dragon - June 1976

Who drew it? Couldn't find it in the issue.
Yeah, everyone else does the whole "review every issue" or "review every page" thing, so why the heck can't I?

Other than Great Britain and Iceland finally ending their codfish war (such a terrible waste), the first issue of The Dragon (formerly The Strategic Review) was probably the big highlight of June, 1976. So what does this little gem contain?

We have an article by Fritz Leiber, the man himself, talking about his wargame Lankhmar and giving a brief tour of Nehwon. Leiber closes this article with a bit on houris. Here's an adaptation for Blood & Treasure (you know, the game I haven't actually released yet).

Every hero (4th level fighter) attracts a houri as one of his followers provided he has a charisma of at least 15. The houri requires upkeep to the tune of 100 gp per month. As Leiber explains, a houri is so "slimly beautiful" that she "make all men their helpless slaves and intoxicate even a Hero to madness". In play, this works as follows:

- Houris have 1d4 hit points (i.e. they can be killed by a dagger). They wear no armor, and may only wield a dagger themselves.

- All 0 or 1 HD male humans, demi-humans and humanoids within 10 feet of a houri must pass a Will saving throw or move directly toward the houri, rapt with fascination and unable to attack her (unless they are attacked by someone else, in which case the spell is broken).

- All higher level male characters within 10 feet of a houri must pass a Will saving throw or have their effective level cut in half.

Sounds like a useful follower to have, but heed the Mouser's warning - "Women are ever treacherous and complicate any game to the point of sheerest insanity."


Larry Smith provides a guide to running the Battle of Five Armies using the Chainmail rules.


Wesley D. Ives provides a task resolution system, as he informs us that a "more standardized system is needed" than DM's just making it up as they go along. New School and Old School were clashing even back in 1976.

The system works by determining randomly a type of dice (by rolling d% and adding the attribute to be tested), from d4 to d12, rolling it and multiplying it by the attribute to be tested to find the percentage chance of success.

So, let's say I want to jump across a chasm. This involves strength, and my dude has a strength of 13. I roll d% and get a 35. I add 13 to 35 and get 48, which tells me I need to roll a d8. I roll it, get a 5 and multiply that by 13, giving me a 65% chance of success. See - much easier than saying "roll under your strength" or "roll a save vs. paralyzation" or "roll 1d6 - you succeed on a 1 or 2". Thank goodness for systems.


James M. Ward asks whether Magic and Science are compatible in D&D. Of course, he thinks it is (else it would be a pretty boring article). He introduces a race of people called the Artificers who use a trio of interesting high-tech items.


Lee Gold delves into languages. She notes that humanoids have a 20% chance of speaking Common, which makes much more sense than 3rd edition allowing dang near every sentient creature in the multiverse speaking Common (and thus negating the point of even having languages).


Jake Jaquet tells the tale of "The Search for the Forbidden Chamber". Check it out for a picture of the infamous "Greyhawk Construction Co. LTD" and a Recyclesaurus.


Len Lakofka presents some miniature rules that were apparently going to be used in a 64-man elimination tournament at GenCon.


The creature feature presents the ever-loving Bulette (pronounced boo-lay, except not really), with an illustration that is really quite good. The reproduction isn't perfect, but it's a nice action shot featuring three armored warriors (God, do I prefer realistic armor to some of the fantasy nonsense that seems to predominate these days). The stats note that its mouth has 4-48 pts and its feet 3-18 points - i.e. 4d12 and 3d6. It took me a minute, but I finally realized this was the damage they dealt.

The description notes that it is a hybrid of armadillo and snapping turtle, and that, when full grown, they can dwarf a Percheron (a draft horse that originated in the Perche Valley of northern France of course - man, don't you guys know anything?)


Mapping the Dungeons is a neat little feature, presenting the names of active DM's. The FLAILSNAILs of its day, I suppose.


Joe Fischer gives tips on mapping a wilderness. He uses colors for the terrains and simple symbols for features - triangles for hamlets, squares for towns, circles for cities and crosses for fortresses. Circle any of these for ports. Article has a nice Conanesque barbarian illustration as well.


Peter Aronson adds four more levels onto the illusionist, as well as a few extra spells (1st - ventriloquism, mirror image, detect illusion*, color spray*; 2nd - magic mouth, rope trick, dispel illusion*, blur*; 3rd - suggestion, phantasmal killer*, illusionary script*, dispel exhaustion*; 6th - mass suggestion*, permanent/illusion* (no - the slash doesn't make sense to me either), shadow/monsters III*, programmed/illusion*, conjure animals, true sight*; 7th - astral spell, prismatic wall, maze, vision*, alter reality*, prismatic spray).

The spells marked with an asterisk are detailed in the article, in case you wondered who invented phantasmal killer. Lots of classic spells here. Alter reality apparently works like a limited wish, but you first create an illusion of what you want to happen, and then the ... spell description cuts off.


Lin Carter and Scott Bizar present "Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age", which reminds you of how important wargaming still was to the hobby then. I think wargaming is pretty basic to the experience, really, which is why I threw some basic rules into Blood & Treasure for mass combat. I'm hoping to test them out this weekend with the daughter. She doesn't know this yet - so keep it under your hat.


Gary Gygax (you might have heard of him) gives rules for hobbits and thieves in DUNGEON!, a game I so completely regret getting rid of I'd like to punch myself in the face.


"Garrison Ernst" (pseudonyms are as much a part of the history of this hobby as dice and beards) presents a chapter of "The Gnome Cache", in which he gives an introduction to Oerth and its place in the cosmos. Oerth is a parallel Earth with the same basic geography as Earth, it claims, save Asia is a bit smaller and Europe and North America a trifle larger. It is peopled by folks similar to ours, with similar migrations, but it separates from Earth about 2,500 years ago. He also explains the difference in scientific laws (i.e. magic vs. technology) and that nobody knows what lies in the Terra Incognita of Africa and across the Western Ocean.

It might be fun to draw the nations of Oerth on a map of Europe. We've all heard that Gygax's campaign was originally set in a fantasy North America, but here he says Europe, so perhaps Europe it should be.


Larry Smith now chimes in with the three kindreds of the Eldar - the Silvan (or Wood Elves), the Sindar (or Grey Elves) and the Noldor (or Exiles, the greatest of the elves). Apparently they all have a chance each game year of crossing the sea to the land of Valar - that would be a fun house rule to spring on players of elf characters.

"Say Bob, roll d% please"

"Okay ... got a 9"

"Sorry Bob, your 6th level wood elf just went to the land of Valar. Roll up a new character."

The wood elves can advance as fighters as far as they want, but are limited to 2nd level magic-user spells and may not use wands or staffs and have a 10% chance of going to Valar each year. Sindars are the regular D&D elves (and have a 25% chance of going to Valar each year). Noldor are uber elves with no level restrictions and with a 150% bonus to ranges and effects of spells. They have a 5% chance of going to Valar after performing a great deed.

Which begs the question, why would you ever play a non-Noldor elf?


Note: Totally digging the art in this issue.


Not a bad issue. Lots of goodies. I like the houri bit for fighters, the elves going across the sea is fun, and you get some neat hints about Lankhmar and Oerth from the guys who invented them. Worth the read.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Thun'da, King of the Conga/Congo [Comic Mockery]

It's time for another look into the wonders of old jungle comics with a Thunda story posted at The Comic Book Catacombs (for all your old jungle comic needs, one convenient location on the world wide web).

OK, first and foremost, Thun'da is a dude. Name ends with a vowel, immediately I'm thinking a jungle girl, but no, it's a jungle boy. Naturally, he has a jungle girl (every Tarzan needs a Jane). This episode is about Jungle Killers (i.e. killers in the jungle, as opposed to people who kill jungles).

I wonder what the berber's "% in Lare" is?

This scene, killing an elephant with one blast of a gun, does bring up a shortcoming of D&D combat, namely that for a single gun shot to take down an 11 HD elephant, it needs to do about 11 dice of damage (or maybe 6, if we're allowing for double damage on some sort of critical hit). You could make 10d6 damage elephant guns in D&D, but if you let the monsters have them, the players are going to be pissed.

Well, maybe that last elephant just rolled shitty for hit points, because Muka is only annoyed at the little lead pellets, an annoyance he demonstrates by tossing around the Arabs.

What the heck is Pha doing in that middle panel? She's either distressed at the sound of gunshots or swooning over that dreamy Thun'da, the Frank Sinatra of the Conga.

"Drops like a falling stone" does not really paint Thun'da's dexterity score in the brightest light.

You know how great it would have been if they misspelled "Flee" in that last panel?

The adventures of Thun'da, Jungle Veterinarian. "That mud will draw out the pain, and introduce a host of bacteria into the wound."

Meanwhile ... Pha Pha Pha Phooom. Thun'da done alright for himself in the jungle. Ain't it just like a female sidekick, though - you tell them to stay, and they always wander in just in time to be attacked by the one bad guy that got away from you. Sheesh.

Ooo! Ooo! Gold pieces! He said gold pieces! At least we're dealing with an economy I can understand.

Also ... SMATTT? Nice sound effect. Not exactly up to Batman quality.

Hours after days, Thun'da makes his Tracking check and finds the caravan. He then fails his Spot check and is apparently unable to see the guns they're carrying - those same guns they were carrying on the last page (hours and days ago).

Now Thun'da goes into guerrilla mode - the picture of the impaled dude is actually pretty badass. This brings up a though ... how often have your players ever used guerrilla tactics against goblin and orc tribes?

Of course, then Thun'da decides to pick on the African bearers, who are already being whipped and beaten by the Arabs and I lose all respect for the jungle douche.

Oh, I take that back. By jumping on his back from a tree, Thun'da only meant to warn him, not hurt him. It's like the time a warned a friend about the dangers of bricks by throwing one at his head.

So he gets rid of the bearers, leaving the Arabs with useless ivory (not sure why it's useless ... they may have to carry it themselves, but it will still fetch a pretty penny ... er, gold piece ... in Djibouti.

Oh, and for those who don't get the geography involved ...

These knuckle heads are traveling 4,300 miles to grab ivory and slaves in the Congo (or Conga, depending on the page) and deliver them to the markets of Djibouti. No, the map's not perfectly accurate, but close enough for government work. Given the terrain involved, this could be a 2 year trip on foot. Methinks the writer was not acquainted with the immensity of Africa.

I like the last panel. Just in case being shot in the head and tied to a post had taken Thun'da mind off the problem at hand, Pha provides some helpful exposition.

Just when things look their darkest, Thun'da remembers an old trick he learned watching Tarzan movies, and summons his faithful elephant and sabretooth tiger to kill everyone. Which, of course, begs the question ... why not summon those two to begin with?

So after saving Muka from the Berbers, he sends Muka to his death against the Berbers. Nice. But it's not a total loss, as Thun'da finds an alternate route home. You know, for when the jungle is crowded around rush hour. Interesting that the Elephant Graveyard appears to be within sight of the city of Shareen, and yet its existence was a complete surprise to the King of the Congo.

Oh - and love the look on the one guy's face in the upper right hand panel. Looks like he has a serious noogie coming.

Time for stats!

Thun'da will use have levels in the beastmaster, a variant druid class in Blood & Treasure (yes, I'll release it pretty soon - give me a break, one guy working on a 400 page RPG book in his spare time). The beastmaster is a druid who loses the shapechange abilities and armor use of a druid, but gains the unarmored AC bonus and speed bonus of a monk and the favored enemy and tracking ability of a ranger. I'm going to be a bit on the brutal side with this guy, given that he's kind of an ass.

9th level Beastmaster
Neutral (cause he just ain't that good)

STR 16 (+2 bonus)
DEX 10 (would have been higher, but the whole "fell like a stone" thing didn't help him)
CON 16 (+2 bonus)
INT 7 (-1 bonus)
WIS 13 (+1 bonus, and only because he needs it to qualify)

Hit Points: 36 (9d6+18)
Armor Class: 14 (10 + 4 for unarmored AC bonus)
Saving Throws: Fortitude 7, Reflex 12, Will 8

Skills: Survival [8], Tracking [8]

Special Abilities: Druid spells (6/5/4/3/2/1), move through undergrowth (Lvl 2), leaves no trail (Lvl 3), +2 save vs. spells of the fey (Lvl 4), immune to poison (Lvl 9), establish stronghold (Lvl 9; we'll say his city of Shareen is his stronghold), armor class bonus (+4 at Lvl 9), speed bonus (+20 ft. at Lvl 9), favored enemy (double damage vs. Berbers)

Gear: Short bow, 20 arrows, spear

Henchmen: Sabre (smilodon), Pha (total babe)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Changing Mind on B&T Layout ...

So, a couple days ago I showed off some previews of the class advancement table layout for Blood & Treasure. Then last night, my mind started wandering and ... well, what if I did this instead ...

The pro here, for me, is that I get to show off Jon Kaufman's art at the size I had originally intended, plus I throw some class information in for quick reference. I could maybe add on the classes' special abilities with their associated level in brackets as well.

This way, I don't have the full page, classic artwork sitting next to the more modern artwork - so less clutter, and I can use those full page bits elsewhere to better effect. By plucking the individual class artwork out of the text, it also makes the text much cleaner and easier on the eyes.

Outland Collective Site ... Great Art

Dude. New art collaboration site. OUTLAND COLLECTIVE. Check it out. Front page has many images that can inspire your horror, cyberpunk and sci-fi games.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Quantum Rainbow Photon Guns [Space Princess]

Hmmm, a title like "Space Princess Quickie" could bring the wrong kind of traffic.

Anyhow. I just read an article (okay, I read the title) called "Quantum Rainbow Photon Gun Unveiled". Now, besides the fact that I'm using that for my non-existent band's name, it also struck me as a great new weapon for Space Princess.

Image found HERE

Quantum Rainbow Photon Gun (DC 25): The quantum rainbow gun fires a blast of multi-colored energy strands in a 15-ft long, 10-ft wide cone. Creatures with 4 or fewer Hit Dice are knocked unconscious for 2d4 rounds, and then are stunned and blinded for 1d4 rounds. Creatures with 5 to 8 HD are blinded and stunned for 1d4 rounds. Creatures with 9 or more hit dice are merely stunned for 1 round. A STR test is allowed to ignore the effects of the blast. The quantum rainbow photon gun has enough power in its battery for 10 blasts.

Great thing about the modern world - I googled "rainbow gun" and found that image in about one second.


Now, making a rainbow gun got me thinking about a rainbow monster of some kind. So, enjoy the Prismal for Space Princess and Blood & Treasure.

PRISMAL: HD 5; DEF 20; FIGHT 11 (fists 1d8); SHOOT 8 (energy blast); MOVE N; STR 6; DEX 3; KNO 2; MEN 7; DL 6; Special: Laser Refraction, Immune to Heat, Cold and Electricity.

Prismals are crystalline beings with a humanoid shape. Their crystal bodies are transparent and translucent and are actual composed of thousands of small crystals bound together with electrical energy. Prismals seem to be born deep underground by an unknown natural process, for they have appeared on many worlds and do not seem intelligent enough to have invented space travel.

Laser Refraction: When struck by a laser or energy attack, the prismal can make a STR test (DC 10). If successful, it absorbs the energy and can fire it the next round from its eyes. If it fails, the blast scores half damage against the prismal and the remainder of the energy is refracted into a rainbow of colors (per the Quantum Rainbow Photon Gun), with each creature within 30 feet (except other prismals) being affected.

Medium elemental, neutral (N), low intelligence; cluster (1d8)

HD: 5
AC: 20 [-1 for S&W]
ATK: 2 slashes (1d8) or energy blast (see below)
MV: 20
SV: Fort 11, Ref 13, Will 14
XP: 500 (CL 6)

As described above. Whenever a prismal is struck by light (from torches, lanterns, spells, etc.) its body gives off a color spray effect that affects all within 10 feet. If struck by any sort of magical ray, the prismal, if it passes a saving throw, can capture the ray in its helix and then fire it at any target (with the same original range and effects) the next round. Even if it does not save against the ray, it takes only half the normal effect of it.

Special Qualities: Immune to cold, fire and electricity.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Blood & Treasure Class Tables - A Preview

Here's a little preview of the class tables from Blood & Treasure. I still have a few more to finalize art-wise. I'm hoping this will help them stand out in the book, for when somebody needs to flip to one for quick information.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hark! What's That I Hear? [20 Random Dungeon Noises]

20 Things You Might Hear in a Dungeon

1. Dripping water (save or it echoes in your head, draining you of one point of Wisdom/sanity per round until you've moved at least 120 feet away, and then 1d6 rounds after)

2. A roaring flood of water (aural illusion created by air flowing through a couple of holes in the wall that create a chill breeze through the area; 1 in 6 chance of encountering a small air elemental)

3. Desperate sobbing (comes from a lead-lined chest in which a female efreeti has recently been imprisoned; the exterior of the chest looks like carnival glass; the lock has been welded shut)

4. Creaking footsteps from above - which makes no sense, because above you is solid rock

5. Creaking footsteps behind you - still doesn't make sense, but 1 in 6 chance it's an invisible thief (level 1d4+1) who's down on his luck and trying to follow the party out

6. Slow hiss (50% chance of a pit of vipers beneath your feet, 50% chance of poison gas flowing into the room or corridor from a ruptured copper pipe that has been struck by a black fletched arrow)

7. Silence (entire corridor has been permanently silenced; 5 in 6 chance of random ambush here by monsters who know about the effect)

8. Clicking (50% chance of monstrous crabs or crabmen, 50% chance of ice cracking beneath the stone tiles of the dungeon - will give way in 1d4+1 rounds sending everything down into a rushing torrent of chilly water)

9. Slapping sound (flag hung over a hole through which flows an updraft from deeper in the dungeon)

10. Electricity (around the corner there is an arc of electricity flowing between two metal plates on either side of the corridor; chance in 12 equal to a character's armor bonus that (metal armor only) it is drawn to them and deals 1d6 points of damage per round until they are freed)

11. Howling (from an ancient pipe organ enchanted to play on its own - detects as magical - skeletal rats lurk within the pipes, will swarm those who investigate)

12. Snapping of bones (50% chance of trolls eating, 50% chance of goblins breaking up firewood and throwing it in a hearth to feed a small fire elemental)

13. Crackling (50% chance of a fire elemental guarding a room or corridor, 50% chance of a fire burning within the walls - corridor or room is hot and there is a 1 in 6 chance of a roof collapse each turn)

14. Laughter (50% chance of a magic mouth, 50% chance of gnolls reading comic books)

15. Evil Laughter (50% chance of high level wizard torturing a hero, 50% chance of a pack of vampiras mocking a new recruit)

16. Chanting (50% chance of 1d6 lawful acolytes at the bottom of a pit praying for strength, 50% chance of 3d6 chaotic acolytes sacrificing a thief who tried to steal their idol's good eye)

17. Din of Battle (50% chance of two major dungeon factions locked in battle that swiftly overtakes the party; 50% chance of the noises coming up through a chimney, the battle being a level or two lower)

18. Rumbling (from a primitive elevator located on the other side of the wall - it may not stop on this level)

19. Clanking (50% chance of kobolds mining the dungeon level for building materials, 50% chance of animated chains preparing to strangle curious adventurers)

20. Whispers (50% chance of pygmy goblins in the walls, plotting your doom, 50% chance you have wandered into a stark, black dome that serves as the extra-dimensional brain center for a chaos god - his "brain" is a giant, pulsing mass with the same stats and attacks as a double-strength gibbering mouther)


IMAGE from HERE - Buy one if you take a shine to it

Saturday, April 21, 2012

She-Ra and Fantasy Archetypes for Mystery Men!

Illustration by FeiLong EX at DeviantArt
So I was watching She-Ra this morning ...

No, I don't really know why. It was on Me! TV this morning, and I was eating my breakfast, and ... anyhow, when He-Man and all that jazz hit the scene, I was just about too old for it. A friend of mine got all the original He-Man stuff for Hanukkah one year, but I'll admit it didn't do much for me. I was never into fantasy stuff as a kid - I was a Star Wars and G.I. Joe man myself. About the only times I ever handled a He-Man figure was when I was playing with my cousins, who were younger. Now that I'm an adult, though, and a fan of gonzo fantasy/sci-fi, I have to admit you can't go wrong with something as bonkers as He-Man. As I was designing Mystery Men!, I always thought it would be an excellent system for running something like He-Man.

Which brings me back to She-Ra. They were showing what I gathered to be the second episode, since it was the second part of a two-parter and appeared to be introducing the characters. A couple things came to mind.

First, She-Ra was a mega-babe. Yeah, I know, immature. But there it is.

Second, she was a paladin ... or at least I saw her "lay on hands" in the episode.

This got me thinking about some of the archetypes in fantasy games other than the fighter, magic-user and thief, and how they might be done in Mystery Men!

First and foremost, you have the cleric. The cleric could be a sorcerer who devotes more XP to his level (thus getting more hit points and a higher attack bonus) and less to his sorcery pool than your typical sorcerer, or he could be an adventurer who takes a few powers related to healing - maybe embedding them in a holy symbol to cut down on the cost. There is no "turn undead" power per se', but one could use the Fear power and tie is solely to the undead, thus cutting the cost from 10,000 XP to 5,000 XP. If you also embedded it in a holy symbol, you could cut the cost down to 2,500 XP.

That covers the main classes pretty well, which leaves us with the sub-classes.

The assassin could be a thief with the Inflict Wounds power.
Barbarians are just adventurers with the Rage power and maybe Catfall - just look at my previous post on Conan to get the idea.

The bard is probably a sorcerer with a small sorcery pool and the Enthrall and Suggestion powers.

The druid is probably a sorcerer who maybe goes to the trouble of taking Polymorph (self, one animal only) as a power. By and large, you can just use a sorcerer who focuses on druid-y kinds of spells.

The illusionist, and other specialist mages like necromancer, enchanter, etc. is just a sorcerer who picks and chooses his or her spells. No need for special rules.

The monk is really just an adventurer with a few powers - Catfall, Inflict Wounds, etc. - who doesn't wear armor.

The paladin is an adventurer with the Heal Wounds power, probably embedded in a holy symbol or the paladin's sword, along with Remove Impairment.

The ranger is actually a tough one. Tracking is just a task check - no need for anything special there. The extra damage against "giant-class humanoids" or the 3rd edition "favored enemy" could be a limited Inflict Wounds, and thus bought at half price. Maybe throw in things like Weapon Master (longbow), Catfall and Speak With Animals, and you're probably in the right neighborhood.


Anyhow, as I finished my eggs this morning, I decided I should throw together some stats for She-Ra, who is a good example of a character that straddles the "swords & sorcery" and "superhero" genres. Enjoy the Princess of Power, and if you're in the middle of a game, why not let her show up and kick Wolverine's ass or something, just for fun ...

SHE-RA, Adventurer 9 (Captain of the Guard, Princess of Power)
STR 13 (+6) | DEX 5 (+2) | CON 5 (+2) | INT 3 (+1) | WIL 3 (+1) | CHA 8 (+4)
HP 63 | DC 16 | ATK +7 (+13 melee, +9 ranged) | SPD 2 | XP 13,900

Ability Boosts: Str +10, Dex +2, Con +2, Cha +5

Powers: Heal Wounds (others), Invulnerability I, Speak with Animals, Strike True

Gear: Longsword (Potent Attack, Shield; 1d8+8, can hit ethereal and incorporeal creatures)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Deviant Friday - Minnhagen Edition

Mats Minnhagen is something else. Since I started this series of spotlights on Deviant Art artists, I've been waiting for Minnhagen to come up so I could post his floating fish painting. Love it. Great inspiration from Tenggren.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

DIS, Grand City of Hell - Preview 2

Still plugging away. I'm working on "spades" tonight, which I was going to have revolve around violence, but then got my head out of my butt and realized needed to revolve around bureaucracy. How could I have missed that? Anyhow ... enjoy some crazy diamonds.

2. Natijula: This block is as hot as an oven, with brick buildings of bright red, with flint roofs and wrought iron accoutrements that give it the appearance of a Hellish New Orleans. The buildings hold bakeries of hellstoker demons producing ashen loaves and deadly delicacies, café’s that serve scalding coffee and bitter tea and every sort of restaurant and tavern. In the streets there are fire pits on which are roasted stench kows and other hellbeasts. These pits are tended by lemures whose flesh drips into the pits, the fire hissing and sending up gouts of steam that become sinister steam mephits. Zombified shades in silk finery walk the streets selling wine from casks on their backs or giant rats on iron skewers.

The gates of Natijula are tall and composed of ivory-colored stone with steep battlements and blue, conical roofs. The battlements and towers that flank the gates of thick, bluish wood, are defended by a company of anti-paladins sans heads. Behind the gates are hidden a giant ballista, cranked by a stone giant in black platemail and armed with a giant halberd.

Natijula, the self-proclaimed Lady of Agony, is an inhumanly tall woman with an hourglass figure. Her head is bald and she has deep-set green eyes. Her body is covered in golden scales and she wears a classic chainmail bikini and many rings on her fingers and toes. Two massive eagle wings sprout from her back, and she has the ability to take the shape of a roc.

Her “palace” is a great courtyard paved with azure stones and filled with long tables where all manner of demons and devils feast, served by emaciated halfling shades weighed down by iron boots. About 1 hour in 6 is filled with a melee between the demons and devils, always over something trivial, but always fought to the death. Natijula has a deep, abiding hatred for all Mephistopholes (they’ve had dealings in the past), and will do everything in her power to oppose him and his servants.

5. Liro: This quarter is reminiscent of Venice, with many canals of water, Stygian black, cutting through the Renaissance-style buildings of glistening, slick black stone with silver highlights and ornaments; the tarnished domes, the thin bell towers with their black, iron bells that, when struck, cast a deafening silence over the quarter (save or deaf) and their crooked piazzas of spongy stone that spurt blood as one walks over them. Floating above the streets are ghostly shades engaged in a never-ending dance and cavorting in the heady fumes dispatched from great, silver braziers that line the streets and produce no light or heat, only a thick, white smoke that stings the nostrils.

Within the canals there float black lotus that attract ill-tempered sprites, and on great burgundy lilly pads there sit black-fleshed hezrous, fat and self-satisfied, eyes drowsy and glazed, thick purple tongues darting about, capturing screaming sprites and sending them to a terrible death in their bellies.

Leather goods are the business of this quarter, leather drawn from every creature imaginable. Some shops sell the prepared hides, while others fashion them into suits of armor (always of the finest quality), scabbards, boots, saddles, cloaks and other goods. Leprechauns handle most of the fancy craftwork, the other goods being imported from other quarters.

The gates of the quarter are located about 20 feet below the surface of these waters – quite a surprise to those who have entered through a normal gate from elsewhere – and are secured by walls of ice one foot thick. Swarms of giant piranha guard the gates, under the seeming command of the hezrou, who make some effort not to displease the mistress of the quarter.

Liro’s palace is set between three of these canals, giving it a triangular shape. It is the most imposing building in the quarter. It is a gracious affair, though much of that grace is robbed of the place by the tempestuous behavior of Liro. Liro is a short, elegant, petite demoness with dark, ruddy skin that is slightly scaled around the hands, feet, shoulders, neck and eyes. Her eyes are teal in color and appear to be looking directly into the eyes of every person within 30 feet of her (even those behind, who see her as facing the other direction). She wears only a cloak of tiny, triangular gold panels and a diadem of gold and pearl. She is surrounded by a pall of the same stinging white smoke that issues forth from the braziers on the streets, though this acts as the death fog spell. Liro is always accompanied by a guard of chittering rubinous xaocs, visitors to Hell who find it entirely too stifling and staid for their tastes.

J. Astaroth: Astaroth is a prince of Hell, and through the markets of his quarter flow spices, narcotics and other such substances sought after by the manors of the demon lords and arch-devils. Astaroth’s quarter is a maze of zigzagging corridors between ziggurats of iron and marble, atop of which pit fiends on thrones of fire roar defiance to the assembled masses of bearded devils who cluster at their feet.

The streets are lined with walls covered with blue tiles and mosaics of serpent people, demonic lions, pit fiends and great battles between devils and demons, all with the bodies of mortals trampled beneath them. Alcoves are set into these walls wherein sit wrinkled, pot-bellied shades wrapped in tattered, dusty azure robes. Before them are spread shallow wicker baskets filled with all manner of herbs, spices and narcotics. Anything you could want, at tremendously high prices, though they will sell almost anything for a drop of a person’s blood. Mangy camels covered with oozing sores, some with leathery bat wings, are led through the dusty streets, laden with goods from the world above, or with the bodies of shades in need of correction and punishment. The everpresent buzz of fly demons can be heard above, the demons swarming over the streets and sometimes swooping down to pluck up a shade, camel or traveler for a quick meal (i.e. 1 in 6 random encounters is with 1d8 fly demons).

The streets are patrolled by scorpion demon magistrates, on the lookout for double dealing and a cut of the proceeds of the shades’ business. They serve Astaroth as his enforcers in his quarter, keeping the spice lords (there are several) under control. Among them are Tizu the hezrou who controls the opium trade, Mosheveti the marilith who controls the supply of saffron and white pepper and Vucarik, the pit fiend who controls the flow of honey. These lords dwell in the ziggurats with their retinues.

The gates of Astaroth’s quarter are numerous, though most of them are false. Finding a gate in this quarter can always be accomplished in 1d3 hours of travel, but only 1 in 4 found gates is genuine. False gates drop people into deep pits lined with burning coal, where they are roasted alive. All of the gates are guarded by twin sirrush and a company of bearded devils armed with mancatchers and heavy crossbows that fire spiked spheres. When these spheres hit a person, they discharge an electrical shock that deals 1d6 points of damage and paralysis for 1d6 rounds (save to negate).

Astaroth dwells in the largest of the quarter’s ziggurats, one surrounded by a moat of mercury (those passing over must pass a saving throw or lose 1d6 points of wisdom and suffer confusion for 10 minutes). Within the ziggurat there is a grand palace of chambers thick with painted columns and deep pools of icy water inhabited by bound water elementals which Astaroth can shape into the form of beautiful women who dance seductively for the arch-devil and his court of pseudo-intellectuals. Astaroth commands three squadrons of inquisitor demons (xxx), five companies of scorpion demons and ten companies of bearded devils. Astaroth is mounted upon a wolf-headed black dragon so ancient it may predate Hell itself.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hengeyokai for Blood and Treasure

Here's my take on the much requested hegeyokai for Blood & Treasure. I tried to keep it simple, since they're a playable race. Let me know what you think.


Magical Beast, Alignment Varies, Average Intelligence; Solitary

HD 1
AC 14
ATK Staff (1d6) or dagger (1d4) or by animal type
MV 30
SV F 11, R 11, W 13
XP 100

The hengeyokai are magical beasts that can take human form, usually to play tricks on human beings. They can also take a hybrid form of animal and human, often to good effect when attempting to shock their human victims. Some hengeyokai are rather malevolent, others merely mischievous.

Hengeyokai are usually tiny or small animals in their animal form. When in their animal form, they have the same armor class, movement rate, attacks and damage as that animal form, as well as any special abilities that animal might have. When in hybrid form, they retain the animal form’s attacks, but inflict +1 damage due to their larger size. Hengeyokai can change their shape (i.e. from animal to hybrid, or hybrid to human, or back) three times per day. In animal and hybrid form, hengeyokai have darkvision to a range of 60 feet.

Hengeyolai in hybrid and human form have the following additional abilities, depending on their type:

BAKENEKO (Cat) are usually malevolent creatures. They are immune to poison and can cast dancing lights once per day. Bakeneko with 6 or more hit dice or levels can also cast animate dead, turning corpses into zombies by leaping over them in cat or hybrid form.

INUGAMI (Dog) are loyal and generally lawful in alignment, the protectors of humanity from other hengeyokai. In human form, they typically take the shape of an armored warrior. They can cast cure light wounds once per day, and can cure disease once per week by licking a wound in dog or hybrid form.

JORŌGUMO (Giant Spider): Like the kitsune, the jorōgumo is a temptress, her human form being that of a willowy, elegant woman. They can cast spider climb and web once per day each.

KITSUNE (Fox): Kitsune, or fox maidens, may be the most famous of the hengeyokai. They appear as beautiful women and use their powers to charm and seduce men, using them as bodyguards and servants. Kitsune can charm person once per day and, when they have an instrument, fascinate as a bard with as many levels as the kitsune has Hit Dice. For each additional level or Hit Dice a kitsune gains, they grow an additional tail in their fox form, up to a maximum of nine tails.

MUJINA (Badger): The mujina are not particularly evil, but they do delight in frightening people. They can use the spell change self once per day to give themselves a frightening appearance, and cause fear once per day to frighten those who are not shocked by their appearance. Like badgerd, they are tenacious and ill-tempered when their tricks go awry.

TANUKI (Racoon Dog): Tanuki are pot-bellied tricksters, often drunk and always in good spirits. They can change self once per day, using this ability to make humans feel foolish.

Hengeyokai characters are whimsical and capricious, and thus suffer a -1 penalty to their starting wisdom score. Bakeneko and jorōgumo gain a +1 bonus to their starting dexterity score, kitsune and tanuki a +1 bonus to their starting charisma and inugami and mujina a +1 bonus to their starting constitution score. They retain the ability to change shape and to cast the spells of their normal type. Hengeyokai cannot take levels as clerics, but can advance as druids. They can multi-class as fighter/sorcerers or sorcerer/thieves.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thieves, Giants and She-Devils [Mystery Men!]

In the last article in this series, I laid out the basics of using Mystery Men! for a Swords and Sorcery-style campaign, the likes of which you’ve probably read in Conan or Red Sonja comics.

This article continues this with some thoughts on the idea of thieves.

MM! uses three classes. The adventurer is your standard super hero type, with a set array of powers. The sorcerer can have some set powers, but also devotes their XP into a sorcery pool that allows them to use ad hoc powers during a game (i.e. cast spells). The third class, the scientist, puts XP into a science pool that allows them to invent devices (i.e. powers) at the beginning of a game session, making them more flexible than the adventurer, but less flexible than the sorcerer.

By all rights, sneaky thieves should be portrayed as adventurers in an MM!SS game. They probably won’t spend as many XP on boosting their ability scores as the typical barbarian, and therein lies the problem. Since barbarians and thieves are both adventurers, and thieves will probably be higher in level, it is likely that they’ll end up as better warriors than the barbarians. What to do?

How about we introduce a new class called ... The Thief!

The thief (or reaver, pirate, tomb robber, assassin ... whatever you like) uses the scientist’s hit dice and attack progression, and can put XP in a “thievery pool”. The thievery pool allows them to apply a +1 bonus to any of the traditional thief tasks (pick pockets, open locks, find/remove traps, climb walls, hear noises, move silently, hide in shadows) by spending 500 XP of their thief pool on the roll. Spend 1,000 XP, get a +2 bonus. Spend 3,000 XP, get a +6 bonus.

In addition, thieves can backstab (after successfully hiding in shadows), adding 1d6 to their damage for every 1,000 XP of their thief pool they spend (up to an extra 10d6, or 6d6 if they’re throwing the dagger into someone’s back). Finally, thieves can spend 5,000 XP to avoid certain death (i.e. no save required, automatically avoid a death trap or a killing blow).

It’s easy to forget that Red Sonja as we know her was an invention of Roy Thomas and, to a lesser extent, Esteban Maroto, rather than one of REH’s creations. With her chainmail (it always looked like scale mail to me) bikini and powers imbued on her by the goddess Scathach, she was a far cry from the 16th century pistol-packin’ mama REH called Red Sonya of Rogatino. It’s almost like the difference between an old school D&D character and a Mystery Men! Sword and Sorcery character. Thus …

RED SONJA, Adventurer 10 (She-Devil, Swordswoman)
STR 7 (+3) | DEX 11 (+5) | CON 5 (+2) | INT 3 (+1) | WIL 7 (+3) | CHA 12 (+6)
HP 73 | DC 23 | ATK +8 (+11 melee, +13 ranged) | SPD 2 | XP 16,330

Ability Boosts: Str +4, Dex +8, Con +2, Will +4, Cha +9

Powers: Catfall, Invulnerability I, Weapon Master (Longsword)

Gear: Longsword (Potent Attack; 1d8+5, can hit ethereal and incorporeal creatures), chainmail bikini, dagger (1d4 +4)

I’ve decided to send a few of my regular players “Against the Giants” (i.e. through the classic series of AD&D modules of the same name) on Google+ to test out this little experiment in MM! fantasy gaming. Naturally, that means I need to apply some statistics to those giants.

LVL 12 (42 hp) | PH 8 (+4) | MN 3 (+2) | DC 20 | SPD 2 | XP 1200
ATK Club (3d8) or fists (2d4) or rock (3d6)

LVL 15 (53 hp) | PH 9 (+5) | MN 4 (+2) | DC 23 | SPD 2 | XP 1800
ATK Greatsword (4d6) or fists (2d4) or flaming rock (3d6 + 2d6 fire)
POW Darkvision, immune to fire, vulnerable to cold

LVL 14 (49 hp) | PH 8 (+4) | MN 4 (+2) | DC 21 | SPD 2 | XP 1700
ATK Greataxe (4d6) or fists (2d4) or rock (3d6)
POW Darkvision, immune to cold, vulnerable to fire

LVL 4 (14 hp) | PH 5 (+3) | MN 2 (+1) | DC 16 | SPD 2 | XP 700
ATK Club (2d8) or javelin (1d8)
POW Darkvision

LVL 6 (21 hp) | PH 7 (+4) | MN 2 (+1) | DC 16 | SPD 2 | XP 1500
ATK Claws (2d6) and bite (1d6)
POW Darkvision, regenerate

Saturday, April 14, 2012


In my day ...
I made a little post on Google+ today about an ancient Roman aqueduct recently found via a secret door in a chapel. I commented that had elves been real, they would have found it a long time ago, in reference to the ability of elves to detect secret doors more easily than humans can. My buddy Luke commented that, if elves were real they'd probably just remember where the door was located. It was a good point, and one that's worth thinking about. So, let's do a little experiment ...

Let's take some average adventurers from the "core" races as starting adventurers and treat each of them as an action/adventure hero from a movie or book published in the year they were "born", using 2012 as our current year.

Then, we'll look at some major event from world history and see how much these characters and their parents and grandparents experienced.

Our team of first level adventurers might look something like this ...

That's a pretty divergent group. The half-orc and humans are the young punks of the group - Gen Y, who never lived without a computer or cell phone. The halfling and half-elf are products of the '80s and '90s - Gen X. All in all, those four a pretty close to one another and probably speak the same language - after all, culture doesn't change so quickly in the faux-Medieval settings embraced by most fantasy games.The dwarf, on the other hand, is going to be a bit less modern in his sensibilities. From the perspective of the human and half-orc, the gnome is practically from another century, and the Victorian elf is a relic in his manners and language. And these are all first level characters (which does bring up a problem of the whole "different life spans" thing in the game, which we'll happily ignore for the purpose of this article).

Imagine the life experiences they have to draw upon, these characters. Imagine how their manners and mores will clash. They're all first level, but the dwarf and gnome have to regard the others as young punks, and the elf has to feel a bit superior to them all.

Side Note - This makes me picture elves as a bunch of Doctor Who's ... wearing all sorts of odd fashions and using odd phrases because they remember when they were hip and still see them that way.

Another way to think of it ... The human and half-orc are 4th edition D&D, the halfling and half-elf 3rd edition, the dwarf grew up on Moldvay/Cook, the gnome played wargames and the elf plays pinochle.

What They Know

Most of us have a good grip on the history we've lived through, and have heard the stories from our parents and grandparents about the history they've lived through. We might have also heard a few tidbits second hand about things our grandparent's grandparents lived through. When you bring super long lifespans into the mix, this opens up a vast amount of historical knowledge to the average party.

Click to increase size; numbers represent the generations

In other words, "Who needs to hire a sage when you have an elf around?"


Thinking about the way these generations overlap brings up interesting prospects for a first level party. The elf, for example, may have known the humans great-great grandfather, and might easily be the father of the half-elf, who is the issue of a wild May Day fling of the human's grandmother.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Deviant Friday - MiG-05 Edition

No, not a Russian fighter plane, the artist Michael Gullbrandson (that opening was so hacky I want to kill myself). This guy has ridiculously nice lines - clean and precise, but not cold and soulless. Good stuff. Give it a look and visit his page for more.

For me, this next one is the pièce de résistance that inspired one of the cities in Nod.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Swords, Sorcery & Mystery Men!

Come on, we all know Thor would have kicked his ass
Although I wrote Mystery Men! as a superhero game, there’s no reason it can’t be used to emulate other genres, so long as they are a bit over the top in terms of power. For the next few weeks, I’m going to delve into the fantasy genre to see how well MM! can emulate swords & sorcery.

Weapons & Equipment
In MM!, all hand weapons are created equally, at least in terms of damage. For a game of MM! Swords & Sorcery, it might be a good idea to substitute the damage ratings from traditional fantasy games – i.e. fists do 1d3, daggers and other small weapons 1d4, and so on, up to two-handed swords and axes doing 1d12 or 2d6 (or whatever).

I would also use the traditional armor values from the SRD.

You might also want to use a traditional approach to buying equipment, allowing to buy 1 gold piece per 10 XP spent to purchase equipment.

Exploration vs. Quests
A game of MM! Swords & Sorcery can be based around site exploration (sandboxes and dungeons) or quests, and will probably be a bit of both. Any storyline or plot you’ve seen in the pulp fantasy that spawned most swords & sorcery comics. The possible advantage of MM! for pulp fantasy is the ability to go solo, since the characters are usually a bit more powerful and their abilities and powers a bit more fluid.

MM! bases one’s skills one their occupation, and MM! Swords & Sorcery is no different. To keep things easy, think in terms of classic pulp fantasy tropes: Barbarian, captain of the guard, desert raider, sorcerer, witch, holy man, etc.

MM! has a host of monsters already, but naturally a few more won’t hurt. I’ll try to stat one or two with each of these posts.

Heroes and Heroines
The focus of swords & sorcery comics is the heroes, of course, so let’s start with the Granddaddy of them all … that grim fellow who goes about trampling thrones and reluctantly rescuing maidens. In all of these cases, I’m going to go for a 50,000 XP build to keep them awesome. Most of these heroes are low on genuine super powers, so most of the points will go to buying impressive ability scores and a few other little boons, the rest going to a high level and lots of hit points. If you’re going solo into Hyboria, you’ll want those hit points. If you want to start from the beginning of a barbarian’s career, I suggest starting with 10,000 XP and one non-adventuring occupation. For higher amounts of XP, think in terms of one occupation per 10,000 XP to simulate a life’s worth of experiences.

In MM!, an ability score of 1 to 6 represents the human norm. While fantasy characters are always a bit more than human, you might want to limit ability scores to a maximum of 12. You might also want to increase the ability bonuses from +1 per 3 points to +1 per 2 points.

CONAN THE CIMMERIAN, Adventurer Level 14 (Thief, Reaver, Slayer)
STR 8 (+4) | DEX 6 (+3) | CON 6 (+3) | INT 3 (+1) | WIL 4 (+2) | CHA 3 (+1)
HP 110 | DC 17 | ATK +11 (+15 melee, +14 ranged) | SPD 2 | XP 29,330

Ability Boosts: Str +4, Dex +3, Con +5, Int +1, Will +1

Powers: Catfall, Iron Grip, Jump, Weapon Master (Fists, Bastard Sword)

Gear: Atlantean Bastard Sword (1d10+4), chainmail shirt, dagger (1d4 +4), shortbow (1d6+3)

LVL 11 (83 hp) | PH 8 (+4) | MN 0 (+0) | DC 18 | SPD 2 | XP 1100

ATK Bite (1d10), Constrict (1d10)

LVL 5 (38 hp) | PH 7 (+4) | MN 0 (+0) | DC 18 | SPD 2 | XP 500

ATK Claws (1d8), Bite (1d8)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: The Metal Monster by Abraham Merritt

Doesn't come close to capturing the book
I just finished reading The Metal Monster by Abraham Merritt, and I wanted to dash off a quick review. The quick summary - if you haven't read it, read it. Now. I'll wait.

Here's the lowdown - and I'll throw in SPOILER ALERT just in case I give anything away.

You don't want to read The Metal Monster for the plot or characters, mainly because the characters are mostly stock, though Norhala, the alien-science-goddess-prophet of the Metal Monsters has a little depth and almost grows as a character, kinda sorta. The human characters are pointless - I even kept getting two of them mixed up because they were blank slates. I couldn't even form a picture of them in my mind. Worse than having no personalities, really, they only existed as observers with absolutely no impact on what was happening around them. If you don't believe me, read Lovecraft's assessment HERE.

We looked upon a vision of loveliness such, I think, as none has beheld since Trojan Helen was a maid. At first all I could note were the eyes, clear as rain-washed April skies, crystal clear as some secret spring sacred to crescented Diana. Their wide gray irises were flecked with golden amber and sapphire—flecks that shone like clusters of little aureate and azure stars.

Then with a strange thrill of wonder I saw that these tiny constellations were not in the irises alone; that they clustered even within the pupils—deep within them, like far-flung stars in the depths of velvety, midnight heavens.

Whence had come those cold fires that had flared from them, I wondered—more menacing, far more menacing, in their cold tranquillity than the hot flames of wrath? These eyes were not perilous—no. Calm they were and still—yet in them a shadow of interest flickered; a ghost of friendliness smiled.

Above them were level, delicately penciled brows of bronze. The lips were coral crimson and—asleep. Sweet were those lips as ever master painter, dreaming his dream of the very soul of woman's sweetness, saw in vision and limned upon his canvas—and asleep, nor wistful for awakening.

A proud, straight nose; a broad low brow, and over it the masses of the tendriling tresses—tawny, lustrous topaz, cloudy, METALLIC. Like spun silk of ruddy copper; and misty as the wisps of cloud that Soul'tze, Goddess of Sleep, sets in the skies of dawn to catch the wandering dreams of lovers.

Down from the wondrous face melted the rounded column of her throat to merge into exquisite curves of shoulders and breasts, half revealed beneath the swathing veils.

But upon that face, within her eyes, kissing her red lips and clothing her breasts, was something unearthly.

Something that came straight out of the still mysteries of the star-filled spaces; out of the ordered, the untroubled, the illimitable void.

And that's okay.

Why? Because the book is about the Metal Monsters. And they're worth it.

Merritt did a very fine job of presenting aliens with an alien point of view that you can grasp, but probably not accept. They aren't like klingons and vulcans, just adopting one human facet and turning it up to 11. They're wholly alien in thought and in their goals, and humans are just in the way. In this regard, it reminds me of Lovecraft - humanity getting trod on like a bug, the trodder not even knowing we were there.

Closer ... closer ...

What every OSR player will want to read the book for are the descriptions (and they go on and on and on, so be prepared) of the lair of the Metal Monsters and of the monsters themselves. The book is a veritable thesaurus of color words and, frankly, is the only book I've ever read that made me wish it were turned into a CGI spectacular on film. Except, the deeper you get into it, the more you realize it couldn't be. Aside from the fact that Hollywood couldn't get a book right if they had a gun to their heads (yes, Pixar too), the Metal Monsters and their world are just too much to animate. The only way you could turn Merritt's vision into a film would be if you could project the visions inside the mind of Jack Kirby while reading the book directly onto a big screen. I'm convinced Kirby read this book and was influenced by it - the cosmic grandeur of it all struck me as very Kirbyesque.

A new world? A metal world!

The thought spun through my mazed brain, was gone—and not until long after did I remember it. For suddenly all that clamor died; the lightnings ceased; all the flitting radiances paled and the sea of flaming splendors grew thin as moving mists. The storming shapes dulled with them, seemed to darken into the murk.

Through the fast-waning light and far, far away—miles it seemed on high and many, many miles in length—a broad band of fluorescent amethyst shone. From it dropped curtains, shimmering, nebulous as the marching folds of the aurora; they poured, cascaded, from the amethystine band.

Huge and purple-black against their opalescence bulked what at first I thought a mountain, so like was it to one of those fantastic buttes of our desert Southwest when their castellated tops are silhouetted against the setting sun; knew instantly that this was but subconscious striving to translate into terms of reality the incredible.

It was a City!

A city full five thousand feet high and crowned with countless spires and turrets, titanic arches, stupendous domes! It was as though the man-made cliffs of lower New York were raised scores of times their height, stretched a score of times their length. And weirdly enough it did suggest those same towering masses of masonry when one sees them blacken against the twilight skies.

That's more like it! Well, almost.
And the Metal Monsters. The fact that these things have never been given D&D stats on par with the modrons, slaad, demons and devils is a crime. They're fascinating, extremely powerful, and would make wonderful foils for a band of very high level adventurers. Reading the book, one could imagine, with the monsters' power level turned down a bit, a band of Mentzer D&D characters on the path to immortality tangling with these fellows. A cursory list of the monster entries would be (and yeah, I'm doing these guys - I call dibs):

Tiny Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) - Solitary and Swarm

Small Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) - Solitary and Swarm

Medium Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) - Solitary and Swarm

Large Metal Monster (Spheres, Cubes and Pyramids) - Solitary and Swarm

Advanced Metal Monsters - Discs, Crosses and Stars - maybe large and huge

The Keeper (Unique)

The Metal Emperor (Unique)

Of course, Norhala will need stats as well.

Listen, I couldn't do justice to his book if I tried. It drags in a few places, and it will absolutely bend your brain in half a few times trying to picture what Merritt is describing, but for folks in fantasy and sci-fi gaming, it is indeed a must-read book.

"I saw a world, a vast world, Goodwin, marching stately through space. It was no globe—it was a world of many facets, of smooth and polished planes; a huge blue jewel world, dimly luminous; a crystal world cut out from Aether. A geometric thought of the Great Cause, of God, if you will, made material. It was airless, waterless, sunless.

"I seemed to draw closer to it. And then I saw that over every facet patterns were traced; gigantic symmetrical designs; mathematical hieroglyphs. In them I read unthinkable calculations, formulas of interwoven universes, arithmetical progressions of armies of stars, pandects of the motions of the suns. In the patterns was an appalling harmony—as though all the laws from those which guide the atom to those which direct the cosmos were there resolved into completeness—totalled.

"The faceted world was like a cosmic abacist, tallying as it marched the errors of the infinite.

"The patterned symbols constantly changed form. I drew nearer—the symbols were alive. They were, in untold numbers—These!"

He pointed to the Thing that bore us.

"I was swept back; looked again upon it from afar. And a fantastic notion came to me—fantasy it was, of course, yet built I know around a nucleus of strange truth. It was"—his tone was half whimsical, half apologetic—"it was that this jeweled world was ridden by some mathematical god, driving it through space, noting occasionally with amused tolerance the very bad arithmetic of another Deity the reverse of mathematical—a more or less haphazard Deity, the god, in fact, of us and the things we call living.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dis, Grand City of Hell - Preview 1

This one took me a while. I couldn't map it, couldn't treat it just like any other city (it was too large to do it justice with a few shops and such) and needed to find a reason for characters to wander around a bit. I think (or hope) I finally cracked it.

Dis is like a collection of cities, which will still be represented on cards, that connect with one another - kinda like they predict the great eastern megalopolis of Boston - New York - Philadephia will be one day. Each of these cities/blocks/quarters is ruled by a separate demon or devil lord, and each is like a prison with heavily guarded gates. The only way to get through a gate besides fighting through it is to gain a brass seal from the lord of the place, and that means doing a favor (rolled randomly). This creates a reason to move about and explore - finding the other demon lord that has to be parlayed with / killed / paid tribute to etc.

Escape from one block to another is one thing. How about escape from Dis. The city of Dis just sprawls - it has no beginning and no end. Nobody can simply walk through it and get to the next circle of Hell. To escape, one must summon Geryon for a lift, and to do that, they need a silver seal from one of the more powerful lords of Hell, represented by the Jacks, Queens and Kings of the deck. Getting in to see them requires seals from at least three of the demon lords under them (i.e. of the same suit). The whole point is to draw players into the politics of Hell and, hopefully, produce a fun experience.

With that said, here's a sample of some of the quarters in the suit of Clubs, the suit of toil and despair.


The buildings in this block are tall and irregular, and covered in a greasy sheen that stinks of rotting flesh. Those who enter the block must save as though facing the noxious stink of troglodytes. The streets are narrow and twisted, and every so often empty into vast, circular courts. These courts are flurries of activity, as manes demons scurry about, tossing writhing mortals and shades into a pit, about 30 feet in diameter, of boiling liquid. Bearded devils armed with iron staves push these poor souls back into the pit when they try to escape. Other bearded devils are in charge of ladling off the greasy slime that these people are rendered into, scooping it into large black barrels carried on the backs of manes demons. These barrels are loaded on carts when they are full and delivered to other blocks for processing.

The gates of Borbazu’s block are composed of a vast weave of skeletons. Above the gates, bearded devils man great pots of boiling oil to pour through murder holes that send a great spray down before the gates (all within 30 feet of a gate must pass a saving throw or suffer 3d6 points of damage from the boiling oil). In towers that flank the gates there are 40 manes demons armed with heavy crossbows ready to send a volley of bolts down on invaders. Each gate is under the command of a barbed devil armed with a chain that ends in a three-pronged meat hook. If an attack with a chain beats an opponent’s AC by 5 or more, it hooks into their flesh and holds them until removed with a successful bend bars check (which inflicts an additional 1d6 points of damage). The skeletons of the gates can deliver 1d6 attacks to any within reach, trying to grab and hold intruders rather than kill them.

Borbazu, a minor lord of Dis, rules this block. He takes the form of a towering serpent of pallid flesh (not scales) that dwells beneath the block. He can emerge from any of the flesh pits scattered through the city. Borbazu can also assume the form of a ruddy-skinned, boyish warrior, handsome, but with vestigial horns and a lenonine mane. This form has aquamarine eyes and wears white robes. In this form, Borbazu can form metal objects of up to man-sized with the merest thought.


This block consists of crooked buildings made of pale, sweaty stone. The buildings hang over the streets, making the air close and stifling, though at odd intervals blazing hot winds whip through these corridors. The walls are spiked, and the doors are all clad in green copper. The streets sometimes empty into pit-like courts with ophidian designs carved into the sides, and winding ramps that lead down into the courts.

The gates of Caila’s block are all at the end of cramped streets, and consist of circular doors. The doors are coated in deadly poison, and touching the doors causes the spikes in the nearby buildings to fire (1d6 poisoned dart attacks, 1d6 points of damage from each). The buildings on either side of the street hold a company each of bearded devils. Behind each door, a purple worm lurks, waiting to lurch out and swallow people whole.

One of the courts is entered via a bronze arch hung with crystal beads that cut one’s flesh like razors and whisper portents of doom into their ears. The court’s walls are set with dozens of little windows covered by shutters painted with images of demons or devils, others with shocking scenes of hopelessness and despair. Behind each of these windows is an oracle who can give one piece of information, provided the questioner passes their palm with an equally valuable piece of information written on a parcel of their own flesh. The oracle reaches their hand through the shutter (as in incorporeally) to retrieve their payment and then reaches back out with a tiny scroll containing the desired information.

Within sight of this alley is the jagged red tower of Caila the Judge. The upper portions of the 10-story tower are circled by a guard of young red dragons. The tower’s interior is as red as the exterior, with ornaments of carnelian, ruby and bloodstone. Movement from one level to the other is via teleporting cabinets, though some of the cabinets in the tower instead fill with poison gas or spears that leap up from the floor.

Caila is a short, leggy demoness with blue-black skin that bristles into barbed scales when she is excited. She has almond-shaped eyes of azure. She surrounds herself with artists, who she can inspire with her gaze, replacing a portion of their soul with her own. Caila can summon 1d6 fiendish giant scorpions three times per day and can assume the form of a giant scorpion once per day.


Malphas is both a prince of Hell and a grand president, and he is the patron of architects and masons. As one might imaging, his sprawling block is composed entirely of stone buildings, and everyone a piece of art. Cathedrals, strongholds, towers, all ornamented with flying buttresses, fanciful water spouts, bridges, tunnels, fountains, statuary, veritable skyscrapers; amazing and very difficult to navigate, as it is so crowded and the streets so narrow. Construction is constant here, with bits of masonry sent falling to the ground at random intervals (1 in 6 random encounters forces adventurers to pass a saving throw or suffer 4d6 points of damage).

The gates of Malphas’ quarter are great strongholds, ten stories tall, with perfectly straight and smooth walls. They are patrolled by his gargoyles (three companies are assigned to each gate) and barred by wooden portcullises that instantly rust any metal that touches them. Within each gatehouse tunnel, Malphas’ soldiers can pour green slime on invaders and deliver fusillades of poisoned darts.

Malphas occupies the grandest cathedral in his domain, a veritable demon-made mountain of stone, all of it rare and expensive, with spires that defy gravity. Within this monument he houses the remainder of his infernal army and keeps a population of slaves, artisans (he has bargained for the soul of many great artists and can summon them at will) and priests. He sits at the center of a maze of passages, all trapped and well-guarded, for Malphas is paranoid in the extreme.

Malphas appears as a crow, but can be induced sometimes to take the form of a handsome humanoid with blue-black skin and curved, golden horns. In either form, he carries a mason’s trowel, which attacks as a +2 battleaxe, can cleave through any stone, cast disintegrate and earthquake once per day and can, at will, transmute rock to mud and mud to rock. Malphas is always at war with one demon lord or another, and is always in the market for spies.
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