Travis Charest’s Spacegirl

I just discovered Travis Charest’s Spacegirl comic strip online. I’ve been a fan of his artwork for years, and I can’t wait to read this space opera. It sparked the following two notions:

Notion 1) The Villain’s Lair

We see villain’s like this in many books and movies – the guy in the dark chamber, spying on the heroes and doing his best to thwart him. Perhaps all those wandering monsters that adventurers are dealing with aren’t wandering at all – perhaps they are directed by a secret Villain and can provide a clue to where the Villain is hiding. You can make capturing intelligent monsters pay off if every (or many) captured monster has a piece of the puzzle – and a specific piece as well. So, to find the Villain requires the adventurers to discover three pieces of information – information that can be found through dangerous exploration, or by interrogating (or searching for clues like a certain kind of mud on their paws in the case of non-intelligent monsters) the second, fourth and seventh wandering monsters that they come upon on certain levels of a dungeon. This makes spells like comprehend languages (and intelligent characters with a wide range of known languages) or even speak with the dead more useful spells, since they can save adventurers a lot of time and trouble when they’re after the Villain and/or his horde of treaaure.

Notion 2) Pulp Sci-Fi Role-Playing Games

If you’re in the process of creating a retro sci-fi sort of game, how cool would it be to blend the game with art from this series. I wonder if a deal could be struck up between an enterprising game designer and Mr. Charest to feature some select panels in the game – not reprinting the entire thing, but maybe an image of a spaceship to illustrate the chapter on spaceships, etc. It would help the game product by making it more attractive, and could be a source of exposure for Charest (who, admittedly, probably doesn’t need much exposure). I mean, the web-comic is free, so maybe he would be open to such an arrangement.

Pars Fortuna Preview #4 – Final 4 Races

These are the final four playable races populating the world of PARS FORTUNA. My next task will be to preview some aspects of magic and a few of the spells.


The attractive quadruped on the crest of the hill is a Skathra. The Skathra look like centaurs with the lower bodies of antelopes and spiral horns atop their heads. They have light brown skin and darker, auburn fur with black markings on their faces and sides. A skathra stands about 5 feet tall from hooves to head. They are wise, though sometimes confounding, creatures who dwell in the wild, green hills. Skathra have a natural wanderlust, and a desire to see everything there is to see before they die.

In game terms, Skathra are one of our magic-using classes. They combine their magical abilities with a talent for archery, lightning quick reflexes, survival skills and a knack for divinatory magic.

Slinking down the hill next to the Skathra is a Vindlu. Vindlu resemble long, thin lions covered in scales of silver tipped with aquamarine. They have long “whiskers” like those of a carp. These whiskers are extremely sensitive, making vindlu difficult to surprise and allowing them some insights into the emotions of others. Their four legs end in clawed hands. Outside their home city, they live in tight-knit family bands, hiring themselves out as “problem solvers”.

In game terms, Vindlu are one of our skill classes. Vindlu are stalkers and pouncers, and have a talent for avoiding traps and getting into places they are not wanted.

In the middle of the group is a Tachi. The Tachi are intelligent macaques who live in lattice-work cities on the thickly forested southern coasts, west of the lands of the Cakrol (and often in competition with them). The Tachi are merchants, moneylenders and bankers extraordinaire, and are always looking for a new path to riches.

Tachi are another skill class. They can literally smell gold and silver, and couple their natural proclivity for finding treasure with a head for business and a silver tongue. Tachi make natural spokespersons for adventuring parties in PARS FORTUNA.

And so we come to the last of the races of PARS FORTUNA – the Oraenca. The Oraenca are a race of stout, heavy warriors with skin like scarlet sandpaper and bones of iron. They measure four to five feet in height and are broad and muscular. Oraenca have flat faces, golden eyes, nose holes set high in their faces and broad mouths filled with chisel-like teeth. They are egg-layers and amphibious, having evolved in a shallow sea that is now a dry, salty wasteland. Exiled from their homeland, they found a home in the Empire of Vex, and have served as the foot soldiers for that empire and its Ilel rulers, for generations.

Oraenca are the heavy warriors of the game – they can use any kind of weapon and armor, and their fighting skills are primarily defensive – they gain an increased bonus with shields and can apply that bonus to a nearby comrade. Unfortunately, they are natural followers, and suffer a penalty when saving against mind-control effects.

And there you have it, the race of PARS FORTUNA – from slightly different to what-the-heck!

NOD #3 Cover

Okay – looks like I’ll definitely have this up by Friday. Here’s the cover I’m going with …

Artist is Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957), a Czech artist. The painting is called Resistance, or The Black Idol, from 1903.

Thoughts on Suspense

Over the past three days, I’ve been listening to recordings of Francois Truffault’s interviews with Alfred Hitchcock. I read the book based on those interviews a decade ago in college, but it has been enjoyable revisiting them.

Hitchcock, at one point, discusses the concept of suspense in film. He stresses that it is important for the audience to be aware that a momentous or terrible event is going to occur and when it is going to occur, and, of course, for the characters to be unaware. Simply blowing up a bus generates surprise, which fades fairly quickly for the audience. Letting the audience know the bus is going to explode – and that the people on that bus have no idea they’re about to die or be injured – creates a suspenseful situation that can last for several minutes.

In role-playing games, the players are both the audience and the characters. I think Referees mostly use surprise – “Black Dougal gaspsPoison!’ and falls to the floor” – with a bit of mystery thrown in by some of the old stand-bys – will the statue come to life and attack? does the lock contain a spring-loaded poison needle? etc.

My question is: Has anyone ever used suspense as Hitchcock defined it? For example, letting the player’s know that in 5 rounds the ceiling is going to collapse, but reminding them that their characters are unaware of this and must proceed with their fight against a gang of hobgoblins. I’d be interested to know how such a situation worked out.

Venatia – Sturmdrang Mountains

Here begins the preview of the northeast quarter of Venatia. This map introduces a new geographic region – the Sturmdrang Mountains. The Forest of Dread lies on the western periphery, and the Golden Coast and Golden Sea take up most of what is left.

Sturmdrang Mountains
The Sturmdang Range is connected to the westernmost portion of the Great Yamas. The Sturmdrangs are lush mountains and very ancient. A host of rivers originate in their snowbound peaks, with the Rhodon River merging with the River Dan and flowing into the Tepid Sea, and the others (Dinar, Scorda and Oeagrus) emptying into the Golden Sea.

The slopes of the Sturmdrangs are covered with coniferous forests, and the valleys are choked with broadleaf forests. The mountains are rich with flora and fauna, including brilliant red poppies, edelweiss, wild thyme, bilberry, black bears, wolves, foxes, martens, wild goats, badgers, lynx, eagles and bats. The most conspicuous inhabitants of the Sturmdrangs, and the reason for their name, are the storm giants.

NOD, unlike a world founded on immutable scientific laws, does not have natural processes per se’. The natural progress of seasons, the patterns of wind, rainfall, etc are all the labors of the fey folk and other agents of the Old Gods, including their ancient, defeated foes, the giants. Weather, of course, was the purview of the storm giants, and every region of NOD has a storm giant (or family of storm giants) assigned to govern wind and rain. The storm lord of Venatia made his home in the Sturmdrangs, where he still accepts offerings and sends forth life giving rains and death dealing bolts of lightning..

Random Monster Encounter (Roll 1d12)
1 Alp (1d6)
2 Beast (see below)
3 Carcohl (1)
4 Drude (1d6)
5 Giant (see below)
6 Griffon (1d6)
7 Humanoid (see below)
8 Lantern Goat (1d3)
9 Oread (1d2)
10 Rothran (1d6)
11 Waldgeist (1d6)
12 Wraith (1d6)

Beast Encountered (Roll 1d8)
1 Badger – Giant (3d6)
2 Bear – Black (3d6)
3 Eagle – Giant (3d6)
4 Goat – Giant (3d6)
5 Lynx – Giant (1d6)
6 Musimon (2d6)
7 Ram – Giant (3d6)
8 Wolf (4d6)

Giant Encountered (Roll 1d3)
1 Giant – Stone (1d6)
2 Giant – Storm (1d3)
3 Ogre (3d6)

Humanoid Encountered (Roll 1d8)
1 Arimaspian (3d6)
2 Barbegazi (8d6)
3 Bugbear (3d6)
4 Knocker (8d6)
5 White Lady (3d6)
6 Wild Man (8d6)

NOD #3 – Getting Close

I’m almost finished with NOD #3. I have a little bit of writing left to do, some editing, some art to add, a few mini-dungeon maps to finish drawing and a cover image to find. Looks like this one will come in at around 120 pages, so the price might increase a little, at least on the print version. Slated articles are:

Nabu – The sandbox covering the eastern half of the wilderness map that first appeared in NOD #1 (free download just to the right). This time, there are about six mini-dungeons with maps. This sucker weighs in at almost 80 pages.

Gods of Nabu – A pseudo-Egyptian pantheon – around 20 deities and a few new spells.

Beastmen of Nabu – 13 bestial humanoids statted up as monsters, races and race/classes + art by Charles LeBrun.

The Druid – The druid done for S&W. I’ve made some alterations since posting it on the blog, mostly in terms of the spell selection and the special abilities.

The Elementalist – A magic-user who commands elemental spirits.

Phantastes – Second installment of George MacDonald’s fantasy story, along with annotations for role-players.

The plan is to publish by this Friday.

Thoughts on Henchmen

I was reading Al Nofi’s CIC on StrategyPage today, and saw this …

“When the Duke of Alba set out from northern Italy for the Netherlands in 1573, his army consisted of about 9,600 troops and nearly 7,000 camp followers.”

Could be interesting if every henchmen you wanted to bring on an adventure had 0-2 followers with him – wife, kids, whatever – or perhaps the requirements for strongholds (1 armorer for X troops) were carried over to expeditions as well. In truth, the added annoyance would probably guarantee my players would never use henchmen (or henchman – 10,000 gp in their pockets, and the most they would ever hire was one guy, with a few hit points, who always managed to die within an hour of leaving town … Gygax help me, I tried).

Venatia – Porpoises and the Eye of Ra

Final 6 preview locales for the southeast map. Starting next week – the northeast map.

6831 Wrecked Galleass: A long galleass, its sides covered in thin plates of bronze, lies wrecked upon a small rocky island. Close inspection will reveal two interesting facts. The first is that the island appears to be a column of basalt that was raised from the ocean floor. The second fact is revealed by a visit to the ship. Below decks, the oars are attached to bronze spheres. The sphere have two L-shaped pipes sticking from them on opposite sides and pointing in opposite directions. They appear to contain brackish water. Beneath each sphere is what appears to be a brass torch, but is actually a pipe. The lowest deck contains dozens of glass tanks, each attached to the torches above. Most of the tanks have been broken, but one contains a small, dead salamander, now reduced to the appearance of charcoal. The salamander deck appears to have burned extensively, for the air here is acrid and the walls are pitted and scarred. Two chuul lurk in the lowest deck, hiding in the shadows and eager to make a fresh kill.

The upper deck is still intact, except for the masts (felled and now gone). The captain’s cabin has been trashed, but one might find fragments of charts and schematics. The captain’s head and entrails have been nailed to a door which leads to his sleeping chamber, now occupied by a massive chuul that appears to be waiting for someone to foolishly open the door. Each chuul on the ship has a golden amulet on a chain around its neck. The amulets are almost impossible to remove. One minute after death, the chuul and anything it is touching will be teleported (via the power of the amulets) to the tower of Ingostos in [7047].

• Chuul: HD 11+2 (76, 68, 58 hp); AC 0 [19]; Atk 2 claw (2d6); Move 12 (Swim 9); Save 4; CL/XP 15/2900; Special: Amphibious, constrict, immune to poison, paralysis.

6934 Playful Porpoises: A pod of six porpoises (treat as dolphins) resides in these waters. Folk in need of rescue will invariably encounter these creatures, who know a great deal about the surrounding seas and will be happy to communicate (via a speak with animals spell) with folk they deem worthy. They will specifically warn people away from [6926], [6938] and [6831].

7250 Chasm: The western portion of this hex has been rent apart into a yawning chasm, some 400 feet deep and 3 miles long. Sand pours into the chasm constantly, and the chasm’s floor is covered in over 100 feet of sand, and acts as quicksand. The chasm was created during an especially vicious confrontation between two deities, and still bears the scars of their deific combat in the form of random magical effects. Each hour adventurers spend in or near the chasm, roll 1d6. On an even roll, generate a random effect (1d6 for level, and then the most appropriate dice for the spell) from the cleric spell list. On an odd roll, use the magic-user spell list, rolling 1d8 to determine level. The spell’s will always target one (or all) of the adventurers.

7428 Fractured Deity: Nine monstrous trilobites have attached themselves to the fractured head of what must have been a massive statue, well over 200 feet tall. The face is in the ancient Egyptian style, and is carved from a solid block of obsidian and is approximately 10 feet in diameter. Should human flesh come into contact with the stone head, they will feel that it is warm and it will send a tingle through their arm and up their spine. Prolonged contact will put one in contact with a voice from beyond, per the Contact Other Plane spell. These communications carry with them the chance of possession by an alien mind that knows only hunger (saving throw to avoid).

• Monstrous Trilobite: HD 4 (21, 20, 19, 19, 19, 17, 17, 17, 15 hp); AC 2 [17]; Atk 1 bite (1d4); Move 12 (Swim 24, Climb 3); Save 13; CL/XP 4/120; Special: Dissolve wood, glue.

7635 The Eye of Ra: The waters in this hex churn and eventually begin moving counterclockwise, drawing ships toward the center of the hex. This region is nicknamed the Eye of Ra. Ships drawn to the center of the Eye are dashed against the rocky island and destroyed. The noble families of Ibis, however, are privy to the Eye’s secret. By playing a secret tune on a reed flute, the Eye opens, the rocky island disappearing and a portal to the Astral Plane taking its place. This portal allows the merchant princes of Ibis to venture into the cosmic gulph, visiting far flung worlds and returning with their exotic cargoes. Few merchant princes ever dare venture into the Eye, for few know how to navigate the Astral Sea and return.

7736 Coral Battlements: What appear to be the crenelations of ancient battlements rise from the sea bottom’s silt in this hex. The battlements are ancient and worn, and are in the process of becoming a coral reef. Beneath the coral, one can still make out the shapes of five hunched statues. The gargoyles are really kapoacinths, aquatic gargoyles, and the reef is their lair. Their treasure, hidden in a hollow, consists of 500 ep, 1,000 gp, 10 pp, a pearl worth 5 gp and a brass icon of Sabazios worth 450 gp.

• Kapoacinth: HD 4 (23, 22, 19, 18, 14 hp); AC 5 [14]; Atk 2 claws (1d3), 1 bite (1d4), 1 horn (1d6); Move 9 (Swim 15); Save 13; CL/XP 5/240; Special: None.

Playing around with potential cover art for PARS FORTUNA.


This possibility features really nice art by Burne-Jones of Fortuna and her wheel … and probably is not even slightly appropriate for a game about sword-wielding clones, wasp-women and anthropomorphic pangolins delving in dungeons for gold and glory. Looks nice, but probably not what I’ll use.

I’ll probably go with one of my commissioned art pieces, but that means a black and white cover. I’m very hesitant about doing a throwback to the original booklets since it’s been done a few times before, but they do have a classic look in black & white. Other option would be to commission for color for the black & white piece, but I’ve probably spent as much on art as is prudent for a one-man operation like myself. I’ll keep playing around – maybe I’ll come up with something both cheap and dynamic …

Deviant Friday Five – Akizhao Edition

Another Friday, another five pieces of art from an artist I follow at DeviantArt. This week, I’m highlighting akizhao.

Akizhao paints in what might be termed an “anime” style, or at least with anime sensibilities. This style can be a bit controversial in old school RPG circles, but I like it – hell, if it’s good, I like it. Orthodoxy does not appeal to me.


Lao Dao
When fantasy games look to Asia for inspiration, they usually look to Japan. They might want to start looking at China, whose stories of “knight errants” is almost tailor-made for adventure games.

When the eight eyes peering back from a cave turn out to be this guy instead of the four kobolds the players were expecting, well then the game gets interesting.

Hope, Water and Heart Stop