Altered States of America … A Bit More Info

Well, the teaser post yesterday seems to have sparked some interest. Now I want to give a little more information to keep from overselling it – yes, my brilliant marketing plan is to get people interested in something and then quickly douse that interest. Seriously, though, I don’t want people buying NOD 9 and then being disappointed because they though it was going to be something it was not. So …

Altered States of America
This article is part of a loose “series” of articles I’m calling Campaign Sketchbook. They are intended to be just that – an idea for a campaign with a few details sketched in, but overall leaving most of the work to the prospective Referee. ASA is not is a fully fleshed out campaign or game of Napoleonic fantasy with all the trimmings, although maybe it will be at some point. For now, it is an 8 page article with the following:

The campaign concept. In this case, wilderness delving in a Napoleonic milieu set in a North American continent divided between a number of quarrelsome nations – i.e. no United States, but independent nations like the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Texas Republic.

The inspiration – well, I’ve always had an interest in this sort of thing. I think the first “wargame” I ever played was one of my own invention, where I took a map in a coloring book that showed the growth of the United States (i.e. Original colonies, Northwest Territories, Louisiana Purchase, Gadsen Purchase, etc), pretended they were all separate countries, and then devised some manner of them fighting battles and expanding their territory. This idea popped back into my head when I watched an episode of How the States Got Their Shapes. I knew that I wanted to do a blog post about the show (which originated from this blog, apparently), because I liked it, but I had other things to do so I put it on the back burner. In planning NOD 9, I realized I needed another article, and so I thought about exploring the idea of a USA with different borders and city names, and tried to find a way to make it relevant to role playing games.

As for alternate history … well – pretty light on that in the article. It’s more of a “we need an excuse to explore the continent and fight battles, so here you go” than a study in what bizarre historical twists were necessary to bring the Altered States of America into existence. Marie Antoinette and other historical figures show up in the descriptions of the nations of North America, but the historical details are left up to the Referee.

The article covers the following ideas:

– A quick sketch of the idea, which is, in a nutshell, “swap dungeon crawling with wilderness crawling. Party of adventurers with followers (max for each character) is financed by a company or government for 6 months to head into the wilderness and explore it, planting their nation’s flag as they do.”

The campaign is ultimately about working towards the end game of building forts. To that end, it makes use of a Leadership score (level + charisma) that allows for a number of henchmen. This creates the likelihood of mass battles (or mass skirmishes). Of course, dungeons might be found in the Mysterious Interior and explored, but they aren’t the focus. The main focus is finding enough “treasure” to keep the exploration going and thus have a hand in drawing the map of North American.

– A small list of Napoleonic-era weapons and cannon.

– A small run down of Napoleonic men-at-arms – grenadiers, voltigeurs, lancers, etc.

– The leadership score table.

– Quick sketches of the nations of North America, with population number, capital, other cities, form of government and ruler. The countries use the original names of cities where possible to give the place an otherworldly feeling. The base start year of the campaign would be a very loose 1800.

– Some ideas of what might be lurking in the Mysterious Interior. Including pilgrims setting out to found a New Zion in the wilderness, monsters, lost cities and tribes and, of course, Native Americans.

The article does not contain a massive hex map of the Mysterious Interior, but I am working on such a map that I’ll post on the blog when it is finished. I might even try to run an ASA play-by-email campaign, though I’m not certain about how well that would work.

Hopefully I’ve given folks a better idea of what the article entails. It’s not earth shattering, but might be useful for folks wishing to wrap their heads around a campaign of exploration in an alternate North America of 1800. If it seems that there’s enough interest, I might expand it into a beer & pretzels game like Space Princess.

Future Campaign Sketchbooks should include a campaign of mutant caravans on the Polyester Road and JD Jarvis’ Mutant Front.

Image of Lewis & Clark Expedition by N.C. Wyeth. From HERE.

Magic Belts – American-Style

1. Bible Belt: This wide leather girdle is studded with large (4”-diameter) medallions depicting in relief the faces of seven saints, spaced evenly around the belt. Around the waist of a neutral character, it provides a constant protection from evil effect, but also utters constant corrections for sinful behavior. Around the waist of a chaotic character, the belt constricts for 1d4 damage per round until removed, all while the faces issue forth howls of rage (potentially attracting wandering monsters). Around the waist of a lawful character, the belt acts as it does around the waist of a neutral, plus the faces chant (per the spell) during combat.

2. Sun Belt: The sun belt is a wide belt of polished brass. The surface of the belt writhes with the red whorls of the Sun’s surface. It grants the wearer immunity to fire and throws up around them a zone of withering heat (5’ radius) that inflicts 1d4 points of damage to plant and cold creatures and makes others uncomfortable (-1 penalty to hit and to AC). During combat, the surface of the belt roils and there is a 1 in 6 chance each round that it emits a solar flare in a 10-ft diameter arc in a random direction: 1 = Front; 2 = Back; 3 = Left; 4 = Right. The flare inflicts 3d6 points of damage to all creatures touched by the flare (saving throw negates). After the belt flares, it goes dormant for 1d6 hours, during which none of its powers are operative.

3. Rust Belt: This belt consists of multiple disks of rusted iron connected by a rusted chain. The character wearing the belt gains the attack form of a rust monster, a power they cannot turn off. In addition, the belt puts out the sub-harmonic vibrations that serve as a mating call to rust monsters, increasing the likelihood of encountering them when underground.

4. Corn Belt: This belt consists of hundreds of colorful, dried kernels of corn attached like beads to a leather belt. The wearer of the Corn Belt becomes as strong as an ox (i.e. hill giant strength), but also as dumb as an ox (intelligence reduced to 3).

5. Borsht Belt: This seemingly innocent leather belt turns its wearer into a Borsht Belt comedian. They have a tendency to complain loudly about things, but their over-the-top humor forces humans, demi-humans and humanoids hearing it to pass a saving throw or focus their attention on the comedian until he’s done with his set.

6. Frost Belt: This belt is composed of interlocking hexagons of silver. When worn, the wearer emits a cone of cold (10-ft long by 5-ft wide at base) each time they open their mouth. Potential damage from the cone of cold accrues at the rate of 1d4 points of damage per turn so long as the person keeps their mouth closed, to a maximum of 10d4 points of damage. As soon as they open it, the cone of cold bursts from their mouth, whether they want it to or not, and the potential damage resets to 0.

Mu-Pan – Eastern Encounter I

And so we move into the eastern portion of the Mu-Pan map. Started working on this a couple days ago – here are a couple samples of what I have so far.

4003. Kappa Lair: Two rocky promontories rise here, home to peregrine falcons. The promontories hide a stony hollow that contains a slightly brackish pond. Small caves in the sides of the rocks hold the bodies of tall humans with oblong skulls covered in platinum leaf and wearing robes of platinum scales. Each such mummy is easily worth 500 gp due to all of this platinum. The brackish water is home to a gaggle of seven kappa who lounge beneath the water’s surface during the day and emerge at night to hunt and cause mischief, for many foreigners believe the promontories to be an excellent campsite and make the mistake of staying the night. The kappa know well enough to leave the platinum-clad bodies alone. Those who disturb the bodies find themselves attacked that night by a luminescent, silvery orb that descends from the sky, attempts to destroy any burglars and then disappears.

4038. Teming: This small village of farmers is situated in a deep valley flanked by steep granite walls. The village consists of thatched cottages and a tea house of reddish bricks. The people collect their water from natural cisterns atop the granite cliffs, piping it down through a series of clay pipes into a central reservoir. The villagers grow rice, horseradish, peppermint and red mulberry trees.

Teming is ostensibly ruled by Qutli, a heavyset man with a face like a sated pig and misty green eyes that show his romantic side. Qutli lives with his sage uncle Nizanq, and both men are terrified of outsiders entering the village. Teming is defended by a squadron of shashu no ashigaru and three apparently tamed tigers that have the run of the village. The tigers are actually villagers that were polymorphed by the yawahu bugbear Bekta [4039], who truly rules the village.

Mystery Men! – Men of Yesterday

Supes wouldn’t do this trick for a few more decades

Everybody knows that Superman, the Man of Tomorrow, was the first ever superhero … provided you don’t count the many that came before him. Since Mystery Men! is designed to duplicate heroic adventures in any era, I thought it might be fun to stat up a few pre-modern heroes for the game – Men of Yesterday – in roughly the order they appeared.

Hugo Hercules
Created by William H. D. Koerner, 1902

Hugo Hercules was the star of a one-panel comic strip – super powered and heroic, and yet not quite a super hero.

From Wikipedia – “A good-natured man endowed with superhuman strength, the character of Hugo wandered about town, helping people with their problems and shocking them with his surprising displays of power. He was so strong he could pick up an elephant, kick a house like a football, wield an artillery cannon like a handgun, and lift a locomotive engine off the tracks and pull its cargo behind him at train speeds.”

Nyctalope
Created by Jean de la Hire, 1911

The French hero Nyctalope is the real deal, and a fan boy’s dream.

From Wikipedia – “The Nyctalope is Léo Saint-Clair (or Sainte-Claire or Sainclair depending on the edition), a crime fighter who can see in the dark with his eerie eyes whose irises shift colors. It is revealed later that the Nyctalope sports an artificial heart.

According to the internal chronology of the series, the Nyctalope was born circa 1877 (even though one of the later books updated it to 1892). His adventures roughly take place between 1910 and 1946.

Saint-Clair made his first appearance in Le Mystère des XV (The Mystery Of The XV) (1911) in which the villainous Oxus tries to conquer Mars and breed a new race of supermen. This book features a fictional crossover with H. G. Wells’ Martians.

Oxus had previously appeared in L’Homme qui peut vivre dans l’eau (The Man Who Could Live Underwater) (1908), which was retroactively said to have taken place 25 years before and featured Leo’s father, Jean Sainte-Claire, as a supporting character. In that novel, Oxus and the mad monk Fulbert, grafted shark gills onto a hapless victim, turning him into a waterbreathing man.

After an interval of ten years during which La Hire wrote other novels, the Nyctalope returned in Lucifer (1921). There, he was challenged by Baron Glo von Warteck who, from his citadel at the North Pole, tried to enslave humanity with his Teledynamo machine.

More novels followed, introducing grander villains and more incredible perils, such as La Captive du Démon in which the hero fought Prince Leonid Zattan, evil incarnate, Red Princess Titania, her son Belzebuth, and Gorillard the Mastodon. In Les Mystères de Lyon [The Mysteries Of Lyon] (1933), the Nyctalope fought the life-stealing Alouh T’Ho, a Chinese Empress.

The last Nyctalope story was the novella Rien qu’une nuit [Just One Night] (1944), taking place in 1941, in which the Nyctalope appears to have succumbed to the charms of collaboration with the Nazis. Two more uncompleted Nyctalope novels were finished and published by La Hire’s son-in-law in 1954 and 1955.”

Popeye
Created by Elzie Crisler Segar, 1929

Popeye was an adventure strip par excellence back in the 1930’s – less so as time passed.

From Wikipedia – “In most appearances (except during the World War II era), Popeye is a middle-aged sailor with a unique way of speaking, disproportionately muscular forearms with two anchor tattoos, thinning hair, and an ever-present corncob pipe (which he toots like a steamship’s whistle at times). Popeye is generally depicted as having only one eye, his left. In at least one Fleischer cartoon, Bluto refers to Popeye as a “one-eyed runt.” Mostly quiet as to how he lost his right eye, the sailor claims it was in “the mos’ arful battle” of his life with Sea Hag’s vulture. Later versions of the character had both eyes, with one of them merely being squinty, or “squinky” as he put it. According to the official site, Popeye is 34 years old and was born in a typhoon off Santa Monica, California. However, in Popeye, the Ace of Space, his original age is given as 40 by an alien aging machine. In 1934, Segar stated that Popeye was born in Victoria, Texas.

Popeye’s strange, comic and often supernatural adventures take him all over the world and place him in conflict with enemies such as the Sea Hag and Bluto. His main base of operations is the fictional town of Sweethaven. Popeye’s father is the wayward sailor Poopdeck Pappy, who is somewhat irresponsible and is represented as having a fleeting association with Popeye in some sources. Popeye’s sole sweetheart over the years is Olive Oyl; although the two characters often bickered in early stories. Popeye is the foster father of Swee’Pea, an infant foundling left on his doorstep. (Sweet Pea is a term of affection used by Popeye; in the cartoon We Aim to Please, he addressed Olive Oyl as “Sweet Pea” at one point.)

In addition to a gravelly voice and a casual attitude towards grammar, Popeye is known for having an apparent speech impediment (a common character-distinguishing device in early cartoons), which either comes naturally or is caused by the ever-present pipe in his mouth. Among other things, he has problems enunciating a trailing “t”; thus, “fist” becomes “fisk” (as sung in his theme song, which makes it conveniently rhyme with “risk”) and “infant” becomes “infink.” This speech impediment even found its way into some of the titles of the cartoons. In recent interviews it has been brought to the public’s attention that his speech and eye situation could also have been brought on by a serious stroke.

Popeye is depicted as having superhuman strength, though the nature of his strength changes depending on which medium he is represented in. Originally, the comic-strip Popeye gained his strength and invulnerability in 1929 by rubbing the head of the rare Whiffle Hen. From early 1932 onward, especially the cartoons, Popeye was depicted as eating spinach to become stronger. The animated shorts depicted Popeye as ridiculously strong but liable to be pummeled by the much larger Bluto before his eating of the spinach.”

Ogon Bat (Golden Bat)
Created by Ichiro Suzuki and Takeo Nagamatsu, 1930

From Wikipedia -“Ōgon Bat is portrayed as golden, with a skeletal face and muscular body. He wears a high collared black and red cape, carries a pointed scepter that is able to conjure lightning and cause minor earthquakes. His appearance is heralded by a little golden bat flying in, followed by a reverberating laughter that seemed to come from everywhere.
Ōgon Bat is actually a protector from Ancient Atlantis, who is put into suspended animation in an Egyptian-like sarcophagus, to be awakened in the future to fight the forces of evil.

In modern times, Ōgon Bat is discovered by Prof. Yamatone’s family and a little orphan girl called Marie in a tomb in modern Egypt. The tomb’s inscription describes him as a “god of justice and protector of the weak”. When Yamatone’s family is threatened by Mazo (マゾ), Dr. Nazō’s main henchman, Marie starts to cry and beg for help. Her tears fall on Ōgon Bat’s body and re-animate him. From then on, he appears whenever Marie asks for his help.

His main antagonist is Dr. Erich Nazō (ナゾー), the leader of a crime syndicate bent on world domination. Nazō wears a black mask with Batman-like ears and has four different colored cat eyes which can each fire a different deadly beam. He also has no lower body, and hovers around atop a mini-flying saucer. Nazō also has a metal pincer in place of his right hand and has a habit of booming the name “LOMBROSO”.

Ōgon Bat’s other great nemesis is Kurayami Bat (暗闇バット Dark Bat), a somewhat darker version of himself who he was supposedly created to fight.”

Gladiator
Created by Philip Wylie, 1930

From Wikipedia – “The story concerns a scientist who invents an “alkaline free-radical” serum to “improve” humankind by granting the proportionate strength of an ant and the leaping ability of the grasshopper, both metaphors used to explain Superman’s powers in the first comic of his series. He injects his pregnant wife with the serum and his son Hugo Danner is born with superhuman strength, speed, and bulletproof skin. Hugo spends much of the novel hiding his powers, rarely getting a chance to openly use them.”

The Shadow
Created by David Chrisman, William Sweets and Harry Engman Charlot, 1931

Like the Lone Ranger and Green Hornet, The Shadow was created for radio.

From Wikipedia – “In print, The Shadow’s real name is Kent Allard, and he was a famed aviator who fought for the French during World War I. He became known by the alias of The Black Eagle, according to The Shadow’s Shadow, 1933, although later stories revised this alias as The Dark Eagle beginning with The Shadow Unmasks, 1937. After the war, Allard seeks a new challenge and decides to wage war on criminals. Allard fakes his death in the South American jungles, then returns to the United States. Arriving in New York City, he adopts numerous identities to conceal his existence.

One of these identities—indeed, the best known—is Lamont Cranston, a “wealthy young man about town.” In the pulps, Cranston is a separate character; Allard frequently disguises himself as Cranston and adopts his identity (“The Shadow Laughs,” 1931). While Cranston travels the world, Allard assumes his identity in New York. In their first meeting, Allard/The Shadow threatens Cranston, saying that he has arranged to switch signatures on various documents and other means that will allow him to take over the Lamont Cranston identity entirely unless Cranston agrees to allow Allard to impersonate him when he is abroad. Terrified, Cranston agrees. The two men sometimes meet in order to impersonate each other (“Crime over Miami,” 1940). Apparently, the disguise works well because Allard and Cranston bear something of a resemblance to each other (“Dictator of Crime,” 1941).

His other disguises include businessman Henry Arnaud, who first appeared in “Green Eyes”, Oct. 1932, elderly gentleman Isaac Twambley, who first appeared in “No Time For Murder”, and Fritz, who first appeared in “The Living Shadow”, Apr. 1931; in this last disguise, he pretends to be a doddering old janitor who works at Police Headquarters in order to listen in on conversations.”

Doc Savage
Created by Henry W. Ralston and John L. Nanovic, 1933

It isn’t hard to see why Doc Savage is often considered the “Superman” to the Shadow’s “Batman”.

From Wikipedia – “Doc Savage’s real name was Clark Savage, Jr. He was a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, and, as revealed in The Polar Treasure, a musician. A team of scientists assembled by his father deliberately trained his mind and body to near-superhuman abilities almost from birth, giving him great strength and endurance, a photographic memory, a mastery of the martial arts, and vast knowledge of the sciences. Doc is also a master of disguise and an excellent imitator of voices. “He rights wrongs and punishes evildoers.” Dent described the hero as a mix of Sherlock Holmes’ deductive abilities, Tarzan’s outstanding physical abilities, Craig Kennedy’s scientific education, and Abraham Lincoln’s goodness. Dent described Doc Savage as manifesting “Christliness.” Doc’s character and world-view is displayed in his oath, which goes as follows:[1]

Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.

His office is on the 86th floor of a New York City skyscraper, implicitly the Empire State Building, reached by Doc’s private high-speed elevator. Doc owns a fleet of cars, trucks, aircraft, and boats which he stores at a secret hangar on the Hudson River, under the name The Hidalgo Trading Company, which is linked to his office by a pneumatic-tube system nicknamed the “flea run.” He sometimes retreats to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic—which pre-dates Superman’s similar hideout of the same name. All of this is paid for with gold from a Central American mine given to him by the local descendants of the Mayans in the first Doc Savage story. (Doc and his assistants learned the little-known Mayan language of this people, allowing them to communicate privately when others might be listening.)

The Spider
Created by Harry Steeger, 1933

It’s interesting that by 1933, super heroes are already becoming copies of one another.

From Wikipedia – “Similar to the character of The Shadow, The Spider was in actuality millionaire playboy Richard Wentworth living in New York and unaffected by the Great Depression. Wentworth fought crime by donning a black cape, slouch hat, and face mask to terrorize the criminal underworld with extreme prejudice and his own brand of vigilante justice.

One distinguishing feature of The Spider was his “calling card.” Wentworth often left a red-ink “spider” image on the foreheads of the criminals that he slew. During the same time period, in a much more benign fashion and perhaps inspired by the Spider’s calling card, Lee Falk’s long-running 1936 sydicated comic strip hero, The Phantom, left a distinct skull mark in the faces of those enemies he fought, made by the ring he wore. The Spider’s seal, however, was concealed in the base of his cigarette lighter and was invented by Professor Brownlee.

Brownlee also invented the lethal and almost silent air pistol the Spider used for ‘quiet’ kills. He acted as a sort of on-call technical wizard for Wentworth, who he looked upon as being close to a son.

Like The Shadow, The Spider’s usual weapons of choice were a pair of .45 automatic pistols.

The Spider’s by-name was “Master of Men”, indicating that he had a voice commanding enough to get many people to do his bidding. Wentworth could also imitate other people’s voices. When he imitated Kirkpatrick’s voice, he could give orders to lesser policemen during a stake-out, even during one intended to capture the Spider, so he could himself escape.”

The Clock
Created by George Brenner, 1936

From Wikipedia – “His secret identity is that of Brian O’Brien, a wealthy member of high society and a former lawyer. He had a secret, underground and was a hypnotist. His minimalist costume was a three-piece suit and a mask and he was a master of disguise. He had clever gadgets (such as a cane whose head becomes a projectile and a diamond stud that fires teargas) and he usually left behind a calling card bearing the image of a clock-face and the words “The Clock Has Struck.””

The Phantom
Created by Lee Falk, 1936

And after two Shadow retreads, something new enters the scene …

From Wikipedia – “In the jungles of the fictional African country of Bangalla, there is a myth featuring The Ghost Who Walks, a powerful and indestructible guardian of the innocent and fighter of all types of injustice. Because he seems to have existed for generations, many believe him to be immortal. In reality, the Phantom is a Legacy Hero, descended from 20 previous generations of crime-fighters who all adopt the same persona. When a new Phantom takes the task from his dying father, he swears the Oath of the Skull: “I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms, and my sons and their sons shall follow me”. (The comic sometimes runs flashback adventures of previous Phantoms.)

The Phantom of the present is the 21st in the line. Unlike most costumed heroes, he has no superhuman powers, relying only on his wits, physical strength, skill with his weapons, and fearsome reputation to fight crime. His real name is Kit Walker. References to “Mr. Walker” are in the strip often accompanied by a footnote saying “For ‘The Ghost Who Walks'”, although some versions of the Phantom’s history suggest that Walker was actually the original surname of the man who became the first Phantom.

A signature of the character is his two rings. One has a pattern formed like four crossing sabres, “The Good Mark”, that he leaves on visitors whom he befriends, placing the person under his protection. The other, “The Evil Mark” or “Skull Mark” has a skull shape, which leaves a scar of the corresponding shape on the enemies he punches with it. He wears the Good mark on his left hand because it is closer to the heart, and the Evil Mark on his right hand. The Skull Ring’s original owner was Emperor Nero of the Roman empire, and the Good Mark ring was made after the sixth Phantom founded the Jungle Patrol. It would later be revealed that the Skull Ring had been made from the nails that hung Jesus to the cross.”

Deviant Friday – Ben McSweeney Edition

Ben McSweeney – InkThinker on DeviantArt – does some nice, professional work. I think it’s some of the best line work I’ve ever seen, and the detail is excellent. Check it out.

Spellbound Cover

Stun Jelly

Alleyway

Pummel o7

Tuning

Belkar Bitterleaf

Ringo Noyama

The Ronin Scroll

Dwarf Portrait

Fantasy Craft – Long Shot

Old Spell

Monkey vs. Snake

Fantasy Craft Cover

Space Princess – Tech vs. Treasure

Still pondering Space Princess.By design, I want the game to very focused – group of heroes enter space fortress to rescue the “princess” (and “princess” here is a MacGuffin – it can be a prince, ambassador, secret plans to the Deathstar, the Space Emperor’s favorite potted palm, etc) and escape. That way, the game can serve as a core on to which new parts can easily be hung if they wanted to take it from being a beer & pretzels kind of game to being something more immersive.

The main focus for fantasy dungeon crawling is treasure and experience. In my rough draft for Space Princess, I’ve replaced those two goals with “find the princess”. The “princess” is the treasure. But players do like finding things when they creep through a space fortress (i.e. dungeon), so I think I’ll replace the traditional “gold pieces” with tech points. Different objects found in the space fortress are worth “tech points” that the scientist class can use to create inventions. I’m specifically thinking about Flash Gordon – Chapter 11, in which Dr Zarkov, who has been given access to Ming’s laboratories, whips up an invisibility ray that he uses to give Flash Gordon an edge, or episodes of Star Trek in which Spock has to rig something up by stripping the parts out of their communicators or phasers. 

The fun would be that unlike gold pieces, tech points aren’t “things” in an of themselves. That means all the “treasure” (wow, I’m using lots of quotation marks in this post) would be in the form of old ray guns (worth 5 tech), robot parts (worth 10 tech), crates of diodes (worth 15 tech) – etc. With enough tech points, a scientist could attempt to create a new invention – maybe 100 points of tech to create a 1st level invention, with extra tech put into the effort giving him a bonus on his roll.

Image found at ix: Woman of Mongo