Celestial4ever – aka Melissa Ismail Celestial – has a great, quirky style. I could see her taking a traditional fantasy project and spinning it somewhere interesting – and injecting loads of personality into character portraits. Not the traditional fare of old school aficionados, but I think worth a look. You can read her blog here.
Here’s a nice piece of prose by George MacDonald from his story The Princess and the Curdie.
“All this outside the mountain! But the inside, who shall tell what lies there? Caverns of awfullest solitude, their walls miles thick, sparkling with ores of gold or silver, copper or iron, tin or mercury, studded perhaps with precious stones – perhaps a brook, with eyeless fish in it, running, running ceaselessly, cold and babbling, through banks crusted with carbuncles and golden topazes, or over a gravel of which some of the stones arc rubies and emeralds, perhaps diamonds and sapphires – who can tell? – and whoever can’t tell is free to think – all waiting to flash, waiting for millions of ages – ever since the earth flew off from the sun, a great blot of fire, and began to cool.
Then there are caverns full of water, numbingly cold, fiercely hot – hotter than any boiling water. From some of these the water cannot get out, and from others it runs in channels as the blood in the body: little veins bring it down from the ice above into the great caverns of the mountain’s heart, whence the arteries let it out again, gushing in pipes and clefts and ducts of all shapes and kinds, through and through its bulk, until it springs newborn to the light, and rushes down the Mountainside in torrents, and down the valleys in rivers – down, down, rejoicing, to the mighty lungs of the world, that is the sea, where it is tossed in storms and cyclones, heaved up in billows, twisted in waterspouts, dashed to mist upon rocks, beaten by millions of tails, and breathed by millions of gills, whence at last, melted into vapour by the sun, it is lifted up pure into the air, and borne by the servant winds back to the mountaintops and the snow, the solid ice, and the molten stream.”
Image by Charles Folkard via Golden Age Comic Book Stories.
Makes for an interesting early version of the “Gamma World”. Here, we have an alien invasion instead of nuclear war – even better, an alien invasion after everybody disarmed. The volta men are ragged looking aliens sporting pickelhauben, talking like Yoda and fretting over another group of aliens from Venus – the sponge people (no, not this guy). If I’m being completely honest, I think I prefer this to nuclear apocalypse-land.
A few more encounters from Western Venatia. Enjoy …
1416. On the fringes of the domain of Blackpoort lies the castle of Elsien, a barbaric fighting-woman. Elsien’s manse is a motte-and-bailey castle built of white stone. A famed warrior woman in the Gaestly Hills, she has an uneasy alliance with Blackpoort that was sealed by her marriage to the son of Lord Mayor, a scrawny little complainer called Twearne who spends most of his time undermining Elsien’s authority and going on about life at court. In truth, his father was glad to be rid of him, and half hopes that the baroness will kill him, ridding him on an ineffectual heir and giving him a casus belli to launch a conquest of the barony. Elsien keeps seven storytellers in her castle – each living in a comfortable cell barred by a copper grill and emerging only at the behest of Elsien to recount some ancient legend or invent a new tale. The storytellers want for nothing in their cells – women, wine, etc. It is a strange life, but they seem to be satisfied with it. Elsien commands 20 men-at-arms in chainmail hauberks and winged helms armed with spears, short swords and short bows. She also has an elite corps of berserkers, all tall men with white hair and ritually scarred faces – veterans of campaigns against the hobgoblins in the Klarkash Mountains and natives of the barbarian tribes of that terrifying place. The elite berserkers wear black kilts and iron bracers and carry long-handed battle axes and dirks. Among their number is a wild cleric of Mars called Resek. Of late, Elsien is growing bored of her pathetic husband, annoying subjects and her retirement from adventure. She could easily be persuaded to take up her axe and once more descend into the dark places of the earth.
The castle is surrounded by a large, sprawling village of sheapards and farmers known for their love of a good fight (assuming somebody else is doing the fighting). Visitors will be goaded almost constantly into fisticuffs with other visitors through the use of innuendo and other acts of subterfuge. The village proper is surrounded by a wooden stockade and water is drawn from a number of wells.
Treasure: 4,500 gp, five 2 lb ingots of silver worth 20 gp each and 2 casks of olive oil (100 lb each, worth 60 gp each).
| Elsien, Barbarian Lvl 11: HP 60; AC 3 ; Save 4; CL/XP 11/1700. Chainmail, shield, battle axe. Grave, short and sturdy, bossy, light skin, blue eyes, platinum hair, square jaw.
| Resek, Cleric Lvl 4: HP 27; AC 9 ; Save 12 (10 vs. poison and paralysis; CL/XP 5/400; Special: Spells (2nd), command undead. Black kilt, flanged mace, holy symbol. Tall, white hair, scarred face and back, gold tooth.
1443. This hex and sometimes those that surround it are home thousands of small, luminous jellyfish. The jellyfish mostly dwell in the depths, but at night, especially when the moon shines down, they come to the surface and dance just beneath the surface like thousands of little stars. The jellyfish often form strange, hypnotic patterns and have an effect on sailors or divers similar to a magic spell (i.e. save or fall into a trance). Entranced people cannot move until a dispel magic or remove curse spell is cast on them.
1513. Blackpoort is a large human port on the shores of Blackmere Lake. It is a rival to Antigoon and controls trade on the lake and beyond. Blackpoort is ruled by guilds, the most powerful being those of the thieves and assassins. Most of Blackpoort’s manors are located near the River Swiven or its tributaries. One might encounter fishermen, herdsmen and farmers in these villages, along with the odd craftsman.
[Blackpoort will be featured in NOD #7 along with Antigoon and Lyonesse – a triple city edition – Lord, what am I getting myself into with that?]
1516. This narrow canyon is hemmed by limestone cliffs that resemble towers and battlements. The shallow caves are inhabited by a great multitude of giant vampire bats. These bats become active at night, and will be encountered there at double their normal numbers (i.e. 6d6). One cave (1% chance of finding per day of searching) contains a partial map of the upper level of the the infamous Dungeons of the Mad Mage and a scroll of protection from oozes.
A small altar has been erected at the entrance to the canyon in honor of Camazotz, the demonic prince of bats. It is visited (during the day) by a small cult. The cult is located in Blackpoort and consists mostly of students and thieves. The cultists hold raucous orgies at the altar, spilling wine and a little blood in honor of Camazotz. Desecration of the altar has a 5% chance of attracting the attention of Camazotz, who will send a flock of 20 demonic bats ridden by demonic monkeys armed with obsidian swords to punish the heretics. There is a 1% chance he will investigate himself.
| Demonic Bat: HD 1; AC 7 ; Atk 1 bite (1d4); Move 3 (Fly 24); Save 17; CL/XP 2/30; Special: Only harmed by magic weapons.
| Demonic Monkey: HD 1; AC 6 ; Atk 1 bite (1d4) or 1 weapon (1d6); Move 9 (Climb 9); Save 17; CL/XP 2/30; Special: Only harmed by magic weapons.
| Camazotz: HD 15 (300 hp); AC -3 ; Atk 2 claws (2d10) and 1 bite (3d10); Move 30 (Fly 30); Save 2; CL/XP 17/30; Special: Immune to normal weapons at night, magic resistance 75%, charm monster 2/day, comprehend languages, detect evil, plane shift, geas, teleport without error, deific powers. Camazotz appears as a huge bat surrounded by an aura of grey flames and 1,000 normal bats.
1529. This portion of hills is haunted by three in-famous dwarf robbers, the Kolldens. The Kolldens are highwaymen of the first order, preying on traffic on the Swiven River. Their names are Broon, Droon and Zoot. The Kollden’s lair is a hidden cave in a dry gulley, the entrance trapped by a tripwire to cause a cave-in (2d6 points of damage).
The lair consists of a dirt tunnel that slants downward for about fifteen feet and then drops into a crevasse 4 ft wide and 40 ft long. At the end of this crevasse there is a 2 ft wide crack that runs back ten feet before emptying into a spacious cavern that has been improved by the brothers.
The living chamber is furnished with piles of furs for beds, a long, narrow trunk locked with an expert lock and trapped with a deadly poisoned needle. One corner of the chamber holds several small barrels and sacks containing ale, flour and dried fish (treat as four weeks worth of iron rations for three people). In the middle of the chamber there is a fire pit and roasting spit. A very narrow chimney in the roof allows the smoke to escape.
Treasure: The Kolldens keep their treasure in the trunk. It consists of 345 sp, 390 ep, 200 gp.
| Broon Kollden, Dwarf Thief 5: HP 16; AC 6 ; Save 10; CL/XP 5/240; Special: Back stab for triple damage, decipher script, thievery, cant. Pistol (treat as light crossbow), short sword, pouch containing 23 gp and 18 sp and a four leaf clover.
| Droon Kollden, Dwarf Thief 3: HP 11; AC 9 ; Save 12; CL/XP 3/60; Special: Back stab for double damage, decipher script, thievery, cant. Musket (treat as heavy crossbow), thick club, pouch containing 15 gp and 67 sp.
| Zoot Kollden, Dwarf Assassin Lvl 1: HP 4; AC 9 ; Save 15; CL/XP 1/15; Special: Cheat death, decipher script, disguise, sneak attack for double damage, skullduggery, poison. Pistol, short sword, silver dagger, dog whistle, pouch containing 16 gp.
Image via Golden Age Comic Book Stories. To be honest, I have forgotten the name of the artist, curse my metal hide.
Most folks have seen the 15 games in 15 minutes meme floating around. Up till now, I haven’t participated because, frankly, I don’t think I could list 15 games that were influential on me. I’ve played most of the editions of D&D and AD&D, and they obviously have had some influence on me, for better or worse. I played some Warhammer Fantasy Battle and enjoyed it, likewise with Marvel Superheroes. That about sums up my wargaming and roleplaying gaming history. As a kid, I loved Battleship, Stratego and Risk, which are nominally about wargaming. Chess was enjoyable, but never really caught my attention – it mostly made me feel smart to say I was “playing chess”.
I’ve tended to fall backward into what one might called Geekishness (though I was always social awkward). When I was younger, I watched Star Trek with my dad and enjoy it to this day, though the spin-offs and reboots don’t really interest me. I was there for the beginning of Star Wars – had the action figures, watched the movies, etc. I started playing D&D before I discovered Tolkien and fantasy literature, and I was introduced to comic books after a friend convinced me to run Marvel Superheroes for him – up till then my only contact with superheroes was TV.
So, what are my chief influences?
Still my favorite Batman, although Brave and the Bold comes close. I like fun superheroes more than dark and serious superheroes. So sue me.
We played lots of Superfriends on the playground in elementary school. Most popular hero – Green Lantern. He could make anything with that ring!
Watched this one every week on TV.
Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman
Another one we watched every week. The robot people who could remove their faces scared the crap out of me as a kid.
Another one we watched regularly – and by “we” I mean my family. This was back in the days of one TV per house and watching it together more than apart.
My first favorite superhero.
Yeah, I had the electronic version. Took forever to set it up – and God forbid you screw up, because then you had to start entering your coordinates all over again.
Dungeons & Dragons
Started with Moldvay red box and in many ways it is still my favorite set of basic rules. The embed code has been disabled, so you’ll have to click to see.
Thundarr the Barbarian
Watched Thundarr before I encountered Gamma World, and in truth my first perception of Gamma World was “Wow, it’s like a Thundarr RPG”.
For my money, still the best adventure cartoon ever made. The high tech is make believe but feels real, the attention to detail is great – just love it.
As a kid, it was the alpha and omega.
I watch and enjoy them to this day, probably for the same reason I still love the 60’s Batman.
Oh – and a bonus video here (the embed has been disabled). For years I thought that I must have imagined that this existed because I could find no sign of it.
Four more for Western Venatia …
1108. A large, abandoned monastery overlooks the river here. Once occupied by an order dedicated to Ceres, the place was eventually infiltrated by chaos cultists who invoked an elder god in a terrible ritual. The god destroyed what was left of the order and then struck its worshipers blind, dumb and mad and sent them out into the world to their fate. Being dedicated to Ceres, the nuns were known for their exquisite, light ales. The brew vats are now filled with a mouldy ooze and five ooze mephits. Other oozes haunt the surrounding hills and the rest of the ruins.
| Ooze Mephit: HD 3; AC 3 ; Atk 2 claw (1d3); Move 12 (Fly 18, Swim 12); Save 14; CL/XP 5/240; Special: Harmed by magic weapons, breath weapon, acid arrow, stinking cloud, summoning.
1412. The remains of a shattered tablet rest on the beach, partially obscured by the dark grey sands. If pieced back together, they contains remnants of the spell Conjure Elemental – not enough that the spell can be cast or copied into a spellbook, but enough that they will aid a magic-user in researching the spell.
1422. A massive catapult has sunk into the swamp here. Vegetation now clings to the device, which is rotted and shows signs of fire damage. A noisy, little bird has built a nest atop the crossbar, and will raise a ruckus if anyone approaches, attracting a wandering monster on a roll of 1-2 on 1d6. A sliding panel on the catapult conceals a bone scroll case. The case contains a map that shows secret entrances into the citadel of Blackpoort and three old gold pieces dating back to the Antigoon monarchy.
1431. A falling star has created a crater here recently. The crater is still warm towards the center, and one can find bits of meteoric iron and glass strewn about the site. Buried in the center of the crater at a depth of 10 feet there is a large, glowing cannister. The cannister is 10 ft in length and 4 ft in diameter, and is the last resting place of an alien high priest of chaos. Anyone touching the cannister with their bare flesh will watch their hand wither and drop off, but this touch is the only way to open the cannister. Inside are the mummified remains of a slug-like creature with a single pseudopod and five long, supple “horns” growing from its head. It has seven eye buds and a lamprey-like mouth on the end of a long proboscis. The mummy rests on a styrofoam “bed” and is swaddled in a tapestry covered with alien scenes of a bleak world with a green sun and rust red seas. At its feet is a brazen head that looks like a cross between a rotweiler and a crustacean. The head, if spoken to in the alien tongue, can recite chapter and verse of the Hymns of Nibiru, called by humans “the Living Planet”. For unknown reasons, the cannister has attracted the attention of hundreds of small, lethal giant centipedes. There is a 1 in 6 chance each round of encountering 1d6 of the little devils while in the crater.
Okay – it seems that one of the things modern game designers like is characters that last more than 5 or 10 minutes. The (almost) latest iteration of D&D, for example, seems to start characters out at a much higher power level than the old games. Part of this desire for survivability comes, I assume, from a desire to get young folks into the game. After all, kids don’t enjoy losing and if their first experience with a game is to spend time making an awesome character only to have them slain by the first kobold they see, they might shy away from the game and spend their allowance on penny candy and baseball cards (or whatever kids these days favor) instead of dozens of splat books. So, the thinking goes, the rules need to be changed to make the game more survivable at low levels. Wrong.
I started playing D&D when I was 12. My friends and I would spend lots of time trying to roll up awesome characters. This was AD&D, so I’m talking paladins and rangers here. The scores needed to get these characters were pretty hard to achieve, but we managed to do it more often than not using the age old trick of … cheating! We fudged our rolls to get the characters we wanted, and then we fudged them some more to keep them alive. Scandalous, I know – but there it is. Designing a game to appeal to children (or, God forbid, adults) by making it easier is silly, because children can easily solve the problem of survivability and awesome characters by cheating their little heads off. You don’t need to corrupt your rules and throw the system off by making the cheats official – just make your game and let the chips fall where they may. Heck – the only reason paladins and rangers were ever worth cheating to play was because they were so dang hard to roll up fairly.
Something to think about …
A few more glimpses into the wilds of Western Venatia.
On a side note, the Mystery Men! voting is underway. A few of the races are looking to be slaughters, while a couple are neck and neck. I can’t wait to see which heroes make the final cut for illustration.
1246. On moonless nights (beginning or end of a Nodian month), this hex becomes inundated with hundreds of jellyfish, from tiny creatures barely the size of a gold piece to monstrously large entities. They float near the surface, swaying in time to an unheard tune and converging on anything foolish enough to wander into the midst of their reverie. Assume encounters here with 2d10 monstrous jellyfish.
| Monstrous Jellyfish: HD 2d6; AC 8 ; Atk 1 sting (2d6); Move 3; Save 16; CL/XP 3/60; Special: Paralysis.
1314. Amid the rugged splendor of the moors there are the charred remains of an ancient abbey. Little remains but the burnt out shell of the cloister and the weed-ridden medicinal gardens, which are home to several violet fungi who let out their terrifying screams whenever they detect creatures moving toward the abbey. The abbey’s courtyard has a well grown slimy with the passage of years. At the bottom of the well sleep the so-called “Beast of Bracken Abbey”, a troll-like creature covered in bubbling pustules of slime. The beast has large, yellow eyes and iron-hard talons, and can expel a killer slime from its mouth every 1d4 rounds. The color of killer slime* is rolled randomly:
Treasure: Covered in non-toxic encrustations of slime you find 2,300 sp, 980 gp and two soapstone busts worth 100 gp each, one bust depicts Apollo Helios, the other Diana. When both busts are displayed in the same room at an equal height they create a Bless effect through the entire room.
| Beast of Bracken Abbey: HD 10; AC 2 ; Atk 2 claws (1d4) and bite (1d6); Move 12; Save 5; CL/XP 11/1700; Special: Belch slime.
1333. Lonely Castle Carnifex stands brooding by the river, its black willows sipping at the lazy waters and its grey spires, showing no light or warmth, staring out over the endless woodlands. The castle is the home of a band of huntsprites, the executioners of the fairy court. The sprites look like slim humanoids with black butterfly wings and wearing simple white shifts. They arm themselves with longbows and short swords that give out a shrill ring when drawn from their scabbards. The sprites do not brook intrusion into their sanctum, and truthfully the place is so bleak and unwelcoming that few would want to spend more than a few minutes exploring its empty hall and the corridors and chambers that surround it. Each sprite’s sword is +1 in the hands of an elf, dwarf or gnome, but -1 in the hands of folk without fey blood in their veins.
| Huntsprite (3): HD 8 (39, 35, 26 hp); AC 1 ; Atk 2 +1 sword (1d6+1) or 2 +3 longbow (1d8+3); Move 15 (Fly 30); Save 8; CL/XP 13/2300; Special: Perfect shot, spells, magic resistance 45%.
1410. Blackmere Lake is known for its sudden, violent storms. One hundred years ago the wedding barge of the daughter of Argrave, Lord Mayor of Blackpoort, went down in such a storm with its passengers, crew and treasures. The barge still rests at the bottom of the lake, haunted by a wedding party that dances, sings and feasts on the living for all eternity.
The party guests and crew are now a collection of thirty wraiths. The guests and their servants appear as ghostly men and women dressed in medieval finery (long shoes tipped with bells, long turbans, doublets, etc.). When living creatures are spotted, the guests call out to them to join the party. Servants seat them before a ghostly feast and pour luminescent wine in golden goblets. It is then, when they are surrounded, that the wraiths turn on their guests and devour their life force. Unlike most wraiths, their depredations do not create spawn.
Should one manage to destroy or disable all of the wraiths, they will find that the barge holds a great treasure of wedding presents.
Treasure: 1,390 sp, 6,450 gp, a bronze statue of a satyr worth 20 gp, a silver statuette of Juno worth 125 gp, an amber brooch worth 100 gp, a brass waist chain worth 300 gp, a piece of polished coral worth 145 gp, a pearl worth 400 gp, an olivine worth 900 gp, a sapphire worth 4,000 gp and a silver decanter of endless water and a potion of extra healing.
* The killer slime is a monster that will appear in November in PARS FORTUNA. Of course, it will also appear in the free download of NOD #6 in December.